By “adult” I do not refer to sexual themes. Rather I mean that this isn’t a story that deals in happy endings or clever twists that make everything okay. It’s a story about what it is to grow up and understand that there is no going back. It’s about becoming who you are, whether you want to or not.
Lydia is a surprisingly well-adjusted young woman who is socially invisible. She copes well with her outsider nature at least in part because her family is her foundation. She cares for nothing so much as her parents and her younger brother and sister. A young man enters the picture, as young men will in stories like this, but he’s not prince charming. In fact he creeps Lydia out quite a lot, to the point where she lurks in the girl’s bathroom at school until she can sprint out and catch her bus without having to wait around and attract his attention. Stalker-y stuff, to Lydia’s mind, but not so much so that she’s actually told anyone about him.
The young man, Clive Barrow (An unfortunate name that made me think of Clyde Barrow, of Bonnie and Clyde fame, and made me picture him as Warren Beatty in a brown suit.) somehow manages to find Lydia in spite of all her best efforts, and just as she’s trying to get away from him and into her house, they’re attacked by what Clive calls “Darklings.” He drags her into a place he calls “The Between” where he says that the things that are looking for her can’t see her. It might have been a good idea for Clive to make friends with Lydia rather than stalk her, and explain a bit about why he was there. She’d still have thought he was crazy until proven wrong, but it might have made the opening of the novel a bit less frustrating. (I kind of hate when people get in trouble because they won’t communicate.) Still, it’s a small thing when you consider that the rest of the novel is darn good.
As it turns out, Clive is exactly what he says he is, a Fae. He’s been sent to fetch Lydia to the Bright Court of Oberon because she is a changeling and Oberon wants her back, he wants her power. She’s also being pursued by Titania, Oberon’s estranged wife and queen of the Shadow Court. The truth of Lydia’s life, Oberon’s and Titania’s true motivations and Clive’s shifting allegiances form the basis of the story, and it’s a story that actually makes some sense, which is refreshing when you consider how many supernatural novels are enormous muddles tarted up with rather silly magic. Lydia is forced to make hard choices with very little in the way of reliable information, and she succeeds because she believes in herself. She trusts her heart and her instincts, and they serve her well. Like another heroine who is close to my own heart — Buffy Summers — Lydia exists to change an outworn paradigm.
As I indicated, I found the opening a bit problematic, but once past that, I found the story engaging, and even inspiring because Lydia’s strength should inspire. She has moments of doubt, moments when she would prefer to hide. Her stubbornness could easily have turned into useless petulance, but her faults are part of the reason she is stronger than those who want to control her. She is quite a well-thought-out character.
The story ends a bit abruptly, and I have the sense that there is a sequel in the offing. I hope so anyway, because I have the sense that we’ve only seen the beginning of Lydia’s story. There is much more we need to know.