I don’t think about fairies much: maybe when I see a Maxfield Parrish illustration, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare opened and closed the door in my opinion), or hear a classic fairy tale or or read about those two young girls who photographed fairies and convinced everyone they were real (that was really cool btw). But I can’t say I think about fairies in the way I do about…say…vampires or even werewolves as standard literary characters.
After the success of Twilight, Vampires (and werewolves) have of course been done to death in young adult fiction. The necessity for coming up with something new produced a few mermaid series (I can’t help but think of drowning) and fairies—lots and lots of fairy stories.
If I thought of fairies at all it was as a tiny, gentle Tinkerbell creatures, or some scary “wee folk” people in the midst of bad DMT trips describe seeing (I confess to seeing a small elf chipping away at my brain during a bad fever once). But who knew that fairies could be so damn sexy, and mean?
I discovered the fae phenomenon recently as I’ve been attempting to cast my net of reading habits a bit wider to include more YA (young adult) fiction because I’ve been writing for a younger audience myself. I want to see what’s out there, what the fuss is all about.
As an obsessive consumer of booktube videos which are dominated by young women reviewing mostly young adult novels, my attention landed on two popular writers: Sarah J. Maas and Holly Black. Both have produced very successful young adult fantasy series.
Not knowing much about either one, I ordered several YA books on Amazon prime and dug right in. If the covers were any indication—like beautiful jewels on my book shelf—I expected to love every word.
I began with Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince, which is book one in a series about fairy folk. Despite the book’s drab narrative (an unfortunate common characteristic in every one of these YA books I’ve read so far), I found the world Ms. Black describes oddly enchanting. But as a fan of page turners, I was frustrated by the story’s slow pacing and plot that meandered like the thorny vines depicted on its cover.
Are through-lines a thing of the past? Say it ain’t so.
The next book I read was the wildy popular A Court of Thorns and Roses, another first in a series by Sarah J. Maas. This story, a beauty and the beast retelling in a fairy land “beyond the wall” of mortals, held my interest a bit more; but I found myself skimming through the last quarter of it. What I found odd was how similar both books are to each other, causing me to check several times if they were perhaps a co-authored part of the same series or if I had picked up the wrong book by mistake.
I did dip into the YA genre a bit earlier this year when I read Cinder, a science fiction fairy tale retelling that I checked out of the library, as well as the pitifully bad Zenith co-authored by two popular booktubers.
Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but I found all four of these books to be extremely derivative of each other. Which came first? I’m not sure. They all feature very similar protagonists: kick-ass “damaged goods” tough girls. Even the romantic elements have a sadism to them that left this reader longing for the old Gothic romances I loved as a teen (and still do) when a girl was just a girl without the added pressure of knowing Jujutsu.
I understand the idea of genre tropes, but must every leader female character be a kick-ass fighter type? Must every male love interest be a dick? Must every book feature these strange courts and balls and red wedding type massacres?
I have two more new YA books on my shelf that I hope will offer up something a bit different. In the meantime I’m taking a break to read the science fiction classic Hyperion by Dan Simmons. Talk about world-building. Maybe these YA authors should stop reading each other’s work and dig into some good adult fiction, anything to clear away some of that fairy dust.