V. E. Schwab’s first novel reads very much like a first novel. Her writing is terrific, as always, but eeesh, the plot. Or, rather, the insistence on using idiotic reactions to further the plot. Our heroine, Lexi, is a teenage girl in the town of Near. Her father died three years ago, leaving her, her mother and her beloved younger sister, Wren, under the Protection of his brother, Otto. Protection with a capital P because Otto is Near’s Protector, a title given to men who protect the isolated town from… well, from possibilities, I guess, because nothing ever seems to happen there. The arrival of one entire stranger causes great consternation, especially when kids start disappearing from their beds soon after. Most of the town seems ready to blame the stranger, but Lexi isn’t so sure. No prizes for guessing that the stranger is a good-looking teenage boy, or what happens between him and Lexi next.
The prose is gorgeous, tho, and fans of Ms Schwab will find this a nice addition to their collections, especially since it includes The Ash-Born Boy, a short story set in the same world. I also give kudos to the atmosphere of the book, which is decidedly creepier than most fantasy tales, treading the border with horror in a quite delicious way. I just wish Lexi wasn’t so predictable in making dumb errors in order to move the plot along. Fortunately, this plot contrivance isn’t a problem I’ve had with Ms Schwab’s later, more celebrated books, so get this if you’re a fan (and if you can, get it in hardcover because it’s a gorgeous volume) or if you like easy-reading fantasy-horror, but don’t expect too much from it otherwise.