This is the second installment in the Women in Fantasy Challenge, and another absolutely fantastic one, at that. In this world, Aetherials live alongside humans, although the Gates to the Otherworld are usually open so that the Vaethyr (Aetherial living on earth) can get back to their roots and reconnect with their true selves. However, the Gatekeeper, Lawrence Wilder, who controls when the Gates are to be open, has shut them and kept them shut, telling everyone that it's for their own good.
With this background, we are introduced to two very different families: the highly dysfunctional, dark family of Lawrence Wilder and his sons, Sam and Jon, and the tightly-knit, loving family, the Foxes. I don't want to go into all of the plot details: there's love, adventure, a fantastically beautiful world to discover-basically, everything I love in a good story! The characters and their relationships drive the story, which I always like in a story (as opposed to Lord of the Rings, which is plot-driven, with characters I don't relate to, which I found terribly dull at times).
Some of the tragedies that happen along the way were a little too extreme and created some soap opera drama, but I also felt like they worked in the story. It is a different world, after all, and the tragedies were necessary for the plot to move along as needed. One tragedy in particular (don't want to spoil it, but, trust me, you'll know it when you get there) was disconcerting, but it was rather necessary to allow the romance between Rosie and Sam, and it involved a character's image to shift.
Having said that, on to the characters, since I don't want to vaguely ramble about the plot in an effort to not spoil the story: the story is told by all the characters, switching the focus from character to character multiple times in a single chapter. This never bothered me, because it followed the action well (as in, a fast-paced scene wasn't interrupted by some unrelated conversation happening miles away, although it sometimes took a while to see how everything linked together). There were a few cliff-hanger moments, which was frustrating at times when the action was really picking up, but it was never halted for too long, and the aside was necessary to the plot of the other scene. I can't remember grinding my teeth as the perspective shifted to another character.
The most interesting characters were the ones whose roles weren't well-defined at the beginning. First, there's Sam Wilder, who goes from complete psycho to Rosie's secret love, and there's Sapphire Wilder, the wicked stepmother, who might be evil, but whose actions might also be justified in another light. Even the characters who are traditionally "good", like Rosie Fox's almost perfect parents, Auberon and Jessica, don't remain static and have secrets of their own. This made the story much more interesting (and the plotting was already wonderful, as it was); it added another layer of richness to the story.
The main element that I loved was the romance between Sam and Rosie. Now, yes, it does create utter chaos and ruins Rosie's marriage, which she never should have consented to. If you aren't a big fan of romance, and lots of drama centered around a love triangle bugs you to no end, this book won't work so well for you. But this was another interesting element-the love triangle that seems to be really common (especially in YA books) was there, but it wasn't like the Twilight love triangle, with teens gazing longingly after each other. These characters are in their early 20s, so the complications they faced were so much different. Marriage and duties to the family created complications that seemed much more realistic than characters with infinite time to weep and wail over their love lives. There is some element of that to the story, of course, but the tragedy was real, as a marriage fell apart and another relationship got off to a rocky start. The romance was wonderful, but there was also a realism to it, too, that helped ground it.
Then, there was the wonderful Otherworld that Sam and Rosie are forced to travel through. It was so beautiful, and I could so easily visualize it, since Ms. Warrington creates vivid descriptions. The world was very cool. Now, here is where I admit that I have never actually read a book focused on faeries (not sure how it's been so long since I finally read one, but, there it is). This world might not be completely original, I wouldn't know. It is completely new to me, and I found it just wonderful. The adventure, which really didn't pick up until the very end, with a very fast-paced climax, made the pacing a tad odd, since it was romance, romance, then, boom, crisis. In fact, I wasn't 100% sure that all the plotlines would be resolved, until it became clear in the last 50 pages that they were. The ending was very satisfying, which cemented my enjoyment of the book.
Here's an aside concerning the reaction other readers from this challenge have discussed. I can completely understand why this book might not work for everyone (see the review from Jawas Read, Too!, and the great discussion below it). I was perfectly happy for there to be a romance at the center of the story, and fantasy/magic elements just serving as a backdrop, but I also read a lot of romance. I was very content, because I had interesting, likeable characters, wonderful prose, and a fantastic world, plus a very, very satisfying ending. Although there were a few elements I didn't like as much (I'll admit, the soap opera drama did get a little tiresome), the main things I look for in a good romance were there. I think it also helps that I don't read enough fantasy to expect a certain amount of elements beyond the romance story, though; I think my background possibly helped me enjoy it more than a really avid fantasy reader might (but if you read lots of fantasy and like the romance element, that's cool, too!). I'm working off the comments left-it seemed like some people were bothered that the romance took over the story, and the world of the faeries was less important, for the most part. This makes sense, and I do agree that seeing more of the Otherworld would have been very cool. Still, I'm always happy with a good romance!
Grade: 5/5-absolutely wonderful, I loved every second of it! I cannot wait to get my hands on the sequel!
Next up: The Initiate, which I'm half-way through! Again, so sorry for the delay!