17-year old Imogene is a recent arrival to Charles de Lint’s fictional town of Newford. Along with her brother and their permissive parents she is trying to put her teenage gang past behind her, but this proves difficult when she has to deal with the bullies at her new high school and she is constantly in danger of being drawn back into a cycle of violence. Then there are the fairies.
Charles de Lint is an award winning author who likes to interweave fantastic and urban concepts, often drawing out the most sinister aspects of both. In this case, the high school menace is by no means the last of Imogene’s worries: the school is inhabited by a tribe of house fairies who have lost their moral compass (a consequence of being forgotten by humans) and the ghost of a suicidal schoolboy who develops a crush on her, while mysterious and far more dangerous entities wait in the shadows.
There was a point about a third of the way through where the story suddenly took hold and became compulsive reading: when lovesick ghost Adrian realises that the only way he can save Imogene from the shadow-dwelling creatures that are closing in on her is for someone else to die, he doesn’t hesitate in the slightest. Nor does he put himself forward nobly – straightaway he identifies one of the bullies to take her place, imagining an impossible, happy future with Imogene as a result. This rescue fantasy is exactly what crushes are all about!
There is a lot to enjoy in this book, and it is also extremely sinister in places – the idea of fairies granting wishes in unexpected and dangerous ways is handled well. Imogene and Adrian feel like very real characters and their respective pasts have a strong bearing upon how they approach their situation. The book is also well written, making good, clear use of multiple narrators. However this is very much a teenage read, and sometimes felt a little too lightweight for me. Given the compelling twist above the ending felt like a cop-out – I expected a little more. I can’t help comparing it to China Mieville’s Un Lun Dun, a young adult novel which I thought had much more bite, and much more to enjoy for the adult as well as the younger reader. Giraffes, not fairies, are still the new zombies.