I finally finished it!
Teenaged Aislinn can see faeries, but she’s been well-trained since birth not to let them know that. Unfortunately for her, there’s a faerie who’s been looking for girls like her for centuries. King of the Summer Court, Keenan is handsome, charming, powerful, and he wants nothing more than to woo Aislinn. Over the five books of the Wicked Lovely series this initial plot point is revealed as a political maneuver by a weakened monarch who is contending with a handful of other, stronger courts and one embodiment of Chaos hungry for some mass destruction. Aislinn and Keenan both have other loves that conflict with their commitments and responsibilities. The whole series grows into a tangle of cross-court relationships, rivalries, and betrayals. Seemingly impossible choices are posed. Worlds are unmade. There is war, and death, and devotion.
I’m going to break the series out into books, so if you haven’t read them all be warned that spoilers lie ahead.
As previously mentioned, Sighted Aislinn find herself the target of Summer King Keenan’s affections. She doesn’t trust faeries, after a lifetime of warning about their capricious and cruel nature, but the pure power of pleasure that Keenan commands is hard to resist. On the one hand, Aislinn has a heavily-pierced playboy Trent Reznor lookalike (Seth) living in a boxcar that she hopes to make her boyfriend. On the other she has a golden god who’s been looking for her for centuries and wants to make her his queen. If she chooses mortality, she’s vulnerable to not just death but an early death at fae hands now that Keenan’s put her on their radar. This would also keep the Summer King weak and his power bound, due to a nasty trick played by his Winter Queen mother, Beira, and the Dark King Irial. The Summer Court is so weak at this point her refusal would basically be a death sentence for the king and all of his subjects. If she chooses Keenan, she stands to lose Seth…and spend centuries as Winter Girl if it turns out she’s not the one destined for Summer Queendom. Life’s tough, y’all, and everybody loves Aislinn.
I enjoyed this book well enough, though Aislinn’s character is so determined to be a tough girl and prove it to Seth that I rolled my eyes a few times. Keenan is charming, Seth is brooding, but this is really just the first advance of pawns in a promising chess game. The descriptions of the summer fae were my favorite parts.
Aislinn’s friend Leslie leads a life of pain and fear, but she’s sure she can banish both when she gets an elaborate tattoo that she’s been obsessed with ever since she saw it. What she doesn’t know is that the tattoo will link her inextricably to the Dark Court, drawing as much power from her as she ever hoped to draw from it. The balance of power among the Faery Courts has shifted, and the Dark King Irial is looking for ways to strengthen his fae. As he siphons her negative feelings to nourish his court, he finds himself developing feelings of his own.
Where I liked Wicked Lovely, I adored Ink Exchange. I’m not a willfully tough, hanging out in biker bars and buying skull-patterned accessories kind of gal. I don’t do tattoos and my piercings were plentiful, but in tame locations. I say this for context: I am not predisposed to like guns’n'violence posturing. Marr’s depiction of the Dark Court is intoxicating, Irial’s dark charm and Leslie’s descent into his world were so sensually depicted I couldn’t stop reading until I reached the end. The relationships that develop between Irial, Niall, and Leslie are so unexpected and unique in this type of book, but they feel inevitable. Fundamentally right. While it moves the chess pieces in the larger plot, the book explores the darkness that can exist in love.
Seth is dissatisfied with Aislinn’s attempt to have her cake and eat it too, which requires her to revel in pleasures with her Court (and Keenan) to keep them strong even as she tries to remain faithful to her mortal boyfriend. Keenan has his own love, new Winter Queen Donia, who he pines for but is prepared to abandon for the health of the Summer Court. Did I mention that Aislinn’s touch literally gives Seth sunburns? Keenan and Donia can’t touch for similar, mutually damaging, reasons. The attraction between Keenan and Aislinn is fated and sun-hot, but she nevertheless tries to resist in the interest of self-determination. Seth, being more practical, knows that the current situation will tear him and Aislinn apart…so he goes looking for his own solution.
This is my favorite book of the series for one reason: it introduces Sorcha, queen of the High Court. She is the creator of faerie and the embodiment of order and logic, and has her own artists’ colony in Faerie. She stands as counterpoint to her sister Bananach, the embodiment of Chaos agitating for war.
Half-mortal daughter of the Gabriel (the leader of the Dark King’s guard known as The Hunt) Ani has some appetites that cannot be satisfied short of murder. In a no-woman’s land between a mortal world she’s too fae for, and a faerie that could kill her, she mostly has to sit and hide. Your basic petulant riot grrrl, she spends a lot of the book sulking and running until she catches the eye of a very dangerous faerie indeed. Then she scowls and they run together. Meanwhile, Faerie is being unmade as Sorcha pines for Seth and Bananach is edging ever closer to destroying their entire world and everyone in it.
Though I enjoyed the character of Devlin (the High Queen’s assassin and brother-son creation with her sister Bananach), and his dreamwalker ghost-friend Rae introduced in this book, I found the book as a whole rather pointless. Like so much filler. There was one major plot point both introduced and resolved within it, so I feel the series could easily stand without this novel. I actually had stopped reading after Fragile Eternity because I knew this book was about Ani and I just wasn’t interested in her at all as a character. It took me five years to get back to the series. The whole thing reminded me of the advice to “kill your darlings”. Interviews with Marr reveal that she loves the Ani character beyond reason, and it does seem that she felt the audience would connect with the character intuitively (while I found her irritating and incomprehensible). This is probably because I lean more Sorcha than Bananach, and Ani just does things all the time for no reason other than to be doing them and then gets mad when they end in disaster. It pisses me off. The end result of this novel felt redundant within the framework of faerie. This is one darling that should’ve been killed.
The grand finale! Keenan is still roaming the world, attempting to gather allies while giving Aislinn space. Seth still won’t get busy with Aislinn because she hasn’t decided-decided that she’ll never get busy with Keenan. Donia hate-likes Aislinn because they both want the best for their courts, but the Winter Queen is jealous of the Keenan situation. Bananach is just waiting for an open declaration of war, trying to provoke one, and any help from on high is beyond reach due to the sealing of Faerie. The Summer Court is still weak due to its unhappy queen and missing king, Winter Court is doing well but Donia allowing early spring to strengthen Summer means a weakening of Winter, and the Dark Court is in shambles. Oh, and the Death Fae are in town, which means that at least one important faerie will die and they’ve come to collect.
This was an almost-satisfying conclusion. The introduction of Far Dorcha, spokesman for the death fae, was perfectly chilling. Every complicated thread of plot is woven into an airtight resolution that leaves everyone happy as can be. Which is kind of the problem. I like happy endings, but everything turns out so unexpectedly peachy-keen for everyone that it robs the series of some of its impact. Faerie is harsh, cruel, beautiful, and capricious. This ending is not. It’s vanilla-sweet. The series had such darkness throughout, that even this perfectly logical, well-supported resolution that comes at some cost just feels too easy. Everyone gets what they want, perhaps not how they thought they’d get it, The End. A disappointment after the masterful handling of the series arc as a whole, and the themes therein (Radiant Shadows excepted). Darkest Mercy started with suspense and kept it building all the way to an ending that left my mouth hanging open with shocked disappointment. I was prepared for it to hurt, then it didn’t.
As a series, I’d say Wicked Lovely is an enjoyable read. I would recommend buying it as e-books, because for me at least it will not be a re-read. The plot is complex and meaty on the political side, shining brightest with the darkest characters. The romance is a little lightweight, a lot of teenagers committing to eternity. The characters are many and varied, most so fully realized that one could easily imagine what they’d do an a new situation. Where it all really shines, without fail, is in the worldbuilding. The types of fae, the history and interaction between the courts, the particularities of what each court needs in order to thrive…it’s all beautifully realized. There are also a lot of very natural non-traditional romantic relationships, and an undertone of feminism. The weakest points for me were often characters at the center of things (Aislinn, Seth, Ani), which is a sizable weakness, and a tendency to get a bit hipper-than-thou, which is less so. The series could just as easily have been a trilogy. Still, entertaining enough if it’s up your alley.
Complex, beautiful, and well-crafted; but surprisingly dull in places.