4 out of 5 fairy stars
Again – kicking myself for not reading this sooner. Why didn’t I realize it was a historical???? A historical with FAIRIES IN IT?! I am a fairy!!! So, yes, I spent some time frothing at the mouth for not having opened it sooner…and for not knowing this is a trilogy – not a duology. Now my broke ass has to buy the third one from somewhere. Gah.
This is the story of Ava Hall in New York sometime the 1800’s. When we meet her, she’s working in a factory as a seamstress and still mourning the suicide of her mother. She knows very little about her own past. Before her death, Ava’s mother moved them from place to place, making hats for “The Four Hundred” – or the elite families of New York. Her mother would never tell her about her own past, or who Ava’s father is. What she does tell her are stories and mythologies, especially those about the fae and faeryland. Her mother attended a boarding school called Blythwood as a girl and talks about it with great fondness. But that’s pretty much all that Ava knows about her mother.
There are so many mysteries within this. Not only Ava’s own past, but she hears bells that warn her when danger is near, and the strange man in the Inverness cape. She’s convinced that he had something to do with her mother’s death. Then there is the factory fire, and who should be there but the man in the cape. There are also mysterious boys with wings, disappearing crows, and whisps of smoke coming out of his mouth. Telling this story gets her whacked in the nut house.
As a result of the fire and the whole madhouse thing, she ends up reuniting with her only living relative, her Grandmother. However, Grandma plays practically no part at all in the story and she still doesn’t get much info on her mom or who her father is. What she does find out is that her family is one of the Four Hundred. But why did her mother leave? Why did they live in poverty? Why was the expelled from Blythewood? As quickly as the is swept up by Grandma, she’s swept off to to the mysteries of Blythewood.
One of the great things about this book is the depth of characterization and that important things (besides time with Grandma) linger with the characters. It’s not like Ava’s mom died to get her out of the way. She is haunted by her mom’s death and it is an important element to the story. The other girls also have their own baggage and feel like real people. There are mostly rich girls, and Ava knows she won’t fit in, despite her family being among the upper echelon. She knows how these girls will react if they know that a girl who worked in a factory is among them. And this bothers her throughout the whole novel.
Her roommates are a nice mix. Helen seems shallow and elitist (and yes, she kind of is) but she has more depth than you expect at first. She comes to Ava’s rescue from the mean girls after very little time together, and sticks up for her. She knows a lot about the school because her cousin told her about some things she probably shouldn’t have – the thing about Blythewood is that is has many secrets. Most of the students are from The One Hundred, the more elite group of The Four Hundred, and have been for centuries. There is the occasional girl “discovered”, such as Ava’s other roommate, Daisy from Kansas. The occasional scholarship student is brought in, but of course, they are treated like second class citizens by the rich girls. Sarah Lehman is one of these, a headstrong, very smart girl that wants to find her purpose in life.
So many characters… so much magic. Because you know there is magic right? Those mysteries of Blythewood are closely held and of course, the elite of New York have been producing warriors for centuries. Ahem. I didn’t like the idea that the elite with money are the ones tasked with holding back the evil of Faery. Because that is just one of the secrets. The fact girls go missing is another. They don’t even bother to try and get them back. But there are some who think it’s time for the school and the Order to start doing things differently. The more Ava questions what happened to her mother and the more she learns, the more truths she discovers, she wonders if the things the school are doing are helping or hurting the world.
This was so good. It was creepy and atmospheric, well written and there are so many twists and turns. A few predictable moments happened, and I figured out some things way before Ava. There were some mysteries she seemed fine being the dark about. There is some romance, but it was slow moving, and there were a few options for the love interest. I didn’t know right away who it would be. We are on target for a love triangle in the 2nd installment, sadly, but we’ll see how it goes. This was a solid book 1 of a series, and I’m so excited to go on to the next.