I was looking for something properly atmospheric and paranormal for a spooky read so I was pleased to death when I cracked open this story that was full of Gothic elements, witches, demons and fairy magic all rolled into one even while giving a nod to old gothic literary tales like Dracula and Jane Eyre. It has the prerequisite chilly feeling at times, but it also has the soft edges of a fairytalesque story too.
The story opens when Cailleach (pronounced Kay-lex)McFay comes to Fairwick College and the village of Fairwick as a new professor. Her new home, Honeysuckle House, and the environs call to her and she deviates from the plan of living together in NYC and teaching there that she set with her long-time and long-distance boyfriend. Callie is confused by the disturbing dreams she has that seem more real and meaningful to her than her awake world. Ever since she was a child, she has lived in a fantasy world through her dreams where she is visited by first a friend and then as she got older, a lover. Until now, she has just thought it was her imagination, but now she knows her dream lover maybe a demon of old who seduces women and feeds from them until they die.
Just like with her dream lover, Callie is awakened to realize that all the races of myth and legend aren’t just stories, but real. Many of the inhabitants of Fairwick are not even human, but they live in a close-knit caring community in peace. With the revelations about the others comes new knowledge about herself and her own family. There is lots to occupy her as she attempts to help a couple of her students who are having a hard time of it, figures out whether to reach for the real man in her life or the dream, and is also confronted with choices that will affect the whole supernatural community. A crisis comes when something comes among them and starts sucking the very life from several people at the college. Fingers are pointed and suspicion is rife, but the clues lead in one direction. Callie is forced to decide the fate of the man of her dreams.
This was one hefty volume and it had a lot of set up and worldbuilding going on. This gave it a ponderous start and a slower pace to the action for much of the book. There was such a complex world being introduced that I had to really pay attention so as not to get confused. Part of this was because there seemed to be a few stories within a story when it came to Dahlia’s story and writings, the explanation for the fairies, demons, and witches along Callie’s present day story. Some things are brought into sharp focus and detailed out while other stuff was left murky. I’m not sure if it’s because it is intentionally that way so it can be addressed in a later book or just because. I liked the nod to Gothic elements and I loved the small town and small college backdrops. The inclusion of the intrigue stuff and characters up to their own agendas that was introduced late in the book felt rushed, but it does set up for what is to come.
Callie was the first person narrator for the story and that was a good and a bad thing for me. It was good because it meant that I was experiencing things as they happened with Callie so the mystique of the story and the tension building up to the end worked well. She really worked as the naive, dreamy, romantic gothic heroine of old.
However, some of the very traits that made me see her as a heroine in a Gothic novel did not endear me to her in a modern fantasy. There was all this push-pull thing with a practical hesitant side and an adventurous romantic side to her that cropped up with her view of her family, her career, her love life and even herself. It was always this huge struggle just to say or act on her true wishes. This was most evident when it came to her love life. She wouldn’t acknowledge what she really wanted and settled for the longest time. The romance aspect of the book didn’t really get going until late because she was dithering over her love interests and she never did give it a full effort just being satisfied with a bit of companionship and lots passion.
In general, she was oblivious a lot of times while stuck in her own head. She’s a dreamer sort (which probably helped her accept almost without a blink all the fantasy stuff thrown at her without freaking out- this was something that I found hard to believe, but just went with it), but she likes to see herself as an intellectual, incisive thinker with this well plotted out future for herself with everything including her real world love life tucked tidily into its place.
In the end, I wasn’t into her, but I didn’t hate her. I am still willing to give her a chance particularly because there are lots of other wonderful things going on. It was obvious that this book was just the beginning in many ways. She was awakened in to some truths and has a lot to figure out still about life in general and about herself in particular. I want to see where things go for her so I’m willing to continue on with her story in the next book.
Just a little sideline about the cover as I wrap up my review. To me, it screams YA Paranormal Romance, and truthfully the girl in the dress is pretty, but out of place. Don’t go by the cover with this one.
I’m recommending this book for those who enjoy hot, atmospheric fantasy, urban fantasy or paranormal romance with the patience to let a story build slowly and let a character have a broad growth arc that will be series long.
This was the first of the To Be nor Not To Be…Read TBR pile votes. It was a perfect choice for a fall spooky read. It was on my shelf for over two years just waiting for me to appreciate it. Thank you for choosing it for me and I look forward to what you choose for next month.