Briony has a secret. She believes her secret killed her stepmother, destroyed her twin sister’s mind, and threatens all the children in the Swampsea. She yearns to be rid of her terrible secret, but risks being hanged if she tells a soul. That’s what happens to witches: They’re hanged by the neck until dead.I think this book has been flying under the radar, generally, and I have no idea why--it’s pretty fantastic. I loved everything about it, really. But rather than going on and on (and on and on) about why I LOVED this book, I’m just going to list off the top few reasons I adored it.
Then Eldric arrives--Eldric with his golden mane and lion eyes and electric energy—and he refuses to believe anything dark about Briony. But he wonders what’s been buried beneath her self-hatred, hidden in Rose’s mangled thoughts, and whispered about by the Old Ones. And Briony wonders how Eldric can make her want to cry.
Especially when everyone knows that witches can’t cry.
-The setting--It took me a while to figure where and when this book was taking place, but as far as I can figure, it takes place in 1920s rural England in an area called the Swampsea, which is a dangerous marshy area filled with the Old Ones. The Old Ones are folktale creatures like witches and brownies and Dark Muses and Boggy Mun and Mucky Face. Because of the folktale aspect, the time period sometimes felt older than the 1920s, but then they’d mention automobiles or electricity, and I’d be like, Oh yeah. Long story short, I’ve never read a book with a setting like this. I think it may have some steampunk elements, but I’m not up enough with the genre to be sure. So I’ll just stick with the setting being crazy awesome.
-The writing style--The writing in this book isn’t the typical straightforward YA style. It’s more . . . literary? Stylized? I’m not sure what the word I’m looking for is, but basically, the writing in the book rocked my socks. Don’t get me wrong, I like clear, straightforward writing as much as the next person, but sometimes I crave something a little more creative. Which this book definitely had. Here’s a sample from when Briony is meeting Eldric for the first time:
“Please allow me to introduce my daughter Rosy.”-The humor--This book was fairly dark at times, what with Briony’s constant self-hatred and guilt and confusion. So it was a constant surprise to me how funny the book was. Briony and Eldric are both so quick and clever, and any time they were together, their conversations were just so witty. I loved their Bad-Boys Club and their speaking in fake Latin and Eldric teaching Briony boxing and just everything about them together. Which leads right into the next thing I adored about the book:
Rosy? Honestly, Father, there you go again, putting on your pretty mask, playing at the game of Perfect Family. We are not the sort of people who go in for pet names.
“How do you do?” Eldric smiled. He had golden lion’s eyes and a great mane of tawny hair. […]
How could I bear it, Eldric living with us, this non-child, this boy-man? I’d have to keep on my Briony mask. I’d have to keep my lips greased and smiling. I’d have to keep my tongue sharp and amusing. Already, I was exhausted.
“And you?” said Eldric. After a heart beat of silence, I glanced up. Eldric was looking at me, this golden London boy, looking at me with amber eyes. “What am I to call you?”
“You may call me Briony,” I said, “which makes it awfully convenient because so does everyone else.”
After a hiccough of silence, Eldric laughed. Then so did the others, except Rose. And me, of course. I don’t have much laughter left.
-Eldric--SA-WOON. That’s Eldric in a nutshell. He’s so happy and giving and full of life that you just can’t help but adore him. Briony is brooding enough for the both of them, so I was glad that Eldric wasn’t dark and mysterious as well--that would have been too much. Instead, he’s this glowing ball of light. Or, as Briony says, if Eldric were an invention, he’d be electricity. He kinda reminds me of Joe from “The Sky Is Everywhere,” by Jandy Nelson, which, as we all know, is a very good thing.
My only quibble with the book is that it was a little predictable. Not plot-wise, but I could tell what the truth was about the stepmother and about Briony’s powers by halfway through. So I started getting a little frustrated towards the end, because I was like, “Why doesn’t anyone see the truth! It’s so obvious!”
But overall, a REALLY good book. I’m not entirely sure what genre it falls into. Paranormal? Fantasy? Steampunk? All I know is that I enjoyed it mucho. So basically . . . go read it!
And p.s., I KNOW I already included a super long quote, but I have to share this one too. It just makes me smile and further cements my love of Briony and Eldric:
“We could have a club,” I said. “A bad-boy club.”
Eldric embraced this idea with proper bad-boy spirit. “It must be secret, of course. We’d need a secret handshake.”
“And a secret language,” I said. “We’ll speak in Latin, so no one will understand.”
Except Father, and who talks to him anyway?
“Here’s the problem with Latin,” said Eldric. “It’s so very secret, I can’t understand a word. Being expelled takes a toll on one’s Latin.”
“Oh, not that sort of Latin, not the ordinary sort,” I said. “It’s the difficult sort of Latin no one speaks anymore. But I’m sure you know it already. It comes from rarely attending to one’s lessons. Here, tell me what this means. Fraternitus.
“Fraternity?” said Eldric.
“Very good,” I said. “And what does fraternity mean?”
“Brotherhood?” said Eldric.
“See you do know the difficult Latin. What does this mean? Bad-Boyificus.”
“Bad boy,” said Eldric. “You’re right. I did learn the difficult Latin back in my perhaps not-so-misspent youth.”
“And Fraternitus Bad-Boyificus?”
“Bad-Boys Fraternity,” said Eldric. “No, I mean club. Bad Boys Club! We’ll need an initiation, of course.”