Stray by Elissa Sussman
Elissa Sussman’s debut novel reworks the Cinderella story in a pretty unique way. Rather than focus on the orphan girl or her stepsisters, Stray focuses on the fairy godmother. In Sussman’s world, young ladies are to keep to The Path – a strict set of rules for behavior – and if they don’t, they’re exiled. All girls have some level of magic within them, but The Path mandates that they exercise tremendous control over it and basically never use it. Aislynn, unfortunately, can’t keep her magic contained, and at the ball where she hopes to meet a prince and fall in love, she loses control. She’s sent a school to learn how to be a Fairy Godmother to some other princess, a school where The Path is enforced even more strictly. It’s Aislynn’s last chance. If she fails at this task, she’ll be exiled – she’ll be a stray.
I really liked the premise of the book, and thought the main idea behind The Path – that girls must always restrain what makes them unique, what makes them magical – was an interesting one that rings true even in our own non-magical world. Magic is a fantastic metaphor for so many things: girls’ voices or bodies or talents or smarts or humor or anything else that might make men uncomfortable, and therefore must be locked away. I also liked the twist on the fairy godmother, which was quite creative and not something I’d seen before.
There were also some pretty major problems: sketchy world-building (I never quite understood how the magic system worked), a lot of loose ends that just seem dropped rather than deliberately unresolved, and rough, unpolished writing. Stray has some great ideas, but I don’t think anyone would be surprised it’s a debut. Still, the faults don’t completely outweigh the good stuff; this is a worthwhile read. Recommended for readers looking for feminist fantasy or fairy tale re-tellings.
Review copy provided by a friend.
Starlight’s Edge by Susan Waggoner
I am such a sucker for alien books, so I was immediately drawn to Susan Waggoner’s first novel in this series, Neptune’s Tears. Though it had a terrific concept, the book as a whole was pretty mediocre. And yet, there I found myself several months later, reading the sequel, eager to find out what happened next to the characters. That’s the problem (can you call it a problem?) with books with great ideas – even when they’re executed poorly, the ideas are still great.
This is a big spoiler for those of you who haven’t read the first book – it turns out the “aliens” that landed on Earth in the 23rd century were not aliens at all. They’re humans from 1,500 years in the future, sent back to rescue Earth’s literature and art before it’s mostly destroyed in a series of imminent meteor strikes. I was a bit bummed that there weren’t any aliens, but I didn’t care that much because instead I had time travel, and that’s nearly as awesome. In this sequel, Zee travels to David’s home time, leaving everything behind that she’s ever known.
There are a fair number of time travel books around in the YA world, but not many that take it as far as 1500+ years in the future. The opportunities for futuristic technology are really exciting to think about, and Waggoner does provide some cool stuff. Reading about Zee’s acclimation to this unfamiliar time is intriguing. There are other time travelers from the past and they form a sort of support group, giving the reader a window into lots of different time periods, not just Zee’s and David’s. The story takes a turn in the later part of the book, where David travels back in time to Pompeii – another idea that I loved.
The problem with this book, and with its predecessor, is that not much is fleshed out. The books are very short and there’s a lot of plot. They feel more like an outline than a novel. I never got a great feel for the characters and what made them tick. There are interesting details in both time periods, but neither feels fully-formed and alive. There’s just too much shoved into not enough pages. Still, I enjoyed the read, and it wasn’t a bad way to spend a couple of hours. Readers who can’t get enough of time travel may find this worth their time.
Book borrowed from my library.