Once you’ve read a lot of one genre, the pain of repetition sets in. You’ve seen all the tropes once, and while that first time (or two) they still have the chance to enchant, as they begin to pop up for the third, fourth, and fifth time, you find yourself rolling your eyes too often for comfort. Well. Thanks to Janni Lee Simmer’s 2009 faerie apocalypse novel Bones of Faerie, I am firmly out of eye rolling territory. For now.
Within five pages I knew I was going to have to order the rest of the trilogy as quickly as possible. The opening is gruesome, the setting dark. Though Bones would probably be considered a middle grade book, Simmer does not water down her portrayal of infanticide, abuse, physical and emotional pain, sacrifice, or death. Simmer does not reference these things gratuitously, but neither does she look away to save us the discomfort. This is a painful world. I wouldn’t want to live there.
Bones‘ world is in ruins thanks to a war between humans and faeries. Society has reverted to a collection of (mostly) low-tech, work-hard-or-starve agricultural villages that are suspicious of strangers and intolerant of magic, even when it shows up in their own children. Though we initially assume the faeries are of the evil sort—their weapons are enchanted plants, which attempt to attack with strangling vines or break through skin with quick-sprouting seeds—the concept of a binary good v. evil is not allowed to remain neatly defined, and our assumptions about who the good guys and the bad guys are evolves over the course of the narrative.
“‘Magic destroyed the world.’
‘Indeed,’ Samuel agreed. ‘And now it’s the only tool we have to mend it.'”
Malicious forests and plants—humans avoid the forest at night and have to fight the plants in order to harvest food—gave Bones a deliciously ominous setting. I was reminded of my fear as a child of the enchanted forest in the movie Babes in Toyland. That movie can no longer scare me, but, happily for this fan of the creepy, Bones of Faerie has stepped in to give adult Nikki the opportunity to be scared of the dark, enchanted forest. Trees no longer drop their leaves in autumn and sleep in winter, but remain awake, ready to attack any human who ventures too close, 365 days a year. Villages are kept meticulously free of plants. The smell of leaf mold hangs in the air.
As the story takes place a number of years after the War (I’d guess 15 or 16, based on the age of a character born afterwards), we don’t see much of the ruin/destruction porn I’ve come to expect in most post-apocalyptic fiction. Our first-person narrative Liza wasn’t alive then, and the enchanted plants quickly pull down any buildings they can. But the ruins and destruction we did see—largely in the form of visions of the past—were darkly beautiful.
“The road—a road of black stone—shuddering to life, shaking cars into ruins like a dog might shake off water.”
“Black roads buckling like leather, tossing away the cars that rode their surface. Roots breaking through black stone, twisting metal until blood streaked the steel like a child’s mud paintings—”
The plot revolves around a pretty standard quest—child (who insists she should be doing everything alone) and loyal friends (who keep saving her life in spite of her continual attempts to push them away) in search of a lost parent—but our conflicted narrator and her companions made for good company along such a frightening path.
Four out of five fluffy, purring cats.
Read my review of book two in the series, Faerie Winter, here.
Where I got it: Book Depository