Author: Franny Billingsley
Genre: YA, paranormal
Publisher: Dial, 2007
Read for: Fun
Briony knows that she is a witch. She knows that she caused Stepmother to die, that she caused her twin sister Rose to be dependent on her, that if anyone finds out her secret, she will hang. However, when a handsome stranger enters her life and a dangerous disease enters Rose's, she knows she can't hide from what she must do -- and the beings in the swamp that can help her.
This book grabbed me from the first sentence -- "I've confessed everything and I'd like to be hanged." Wow. I'd heard mixed reviews of this book before starting -- some said it was stunning, others that the writing was roundabout and frustrating, that the self-hatred Briony bears was difficult to stomach. I am definitely in the first camp. This book swept me up and dragged me along at a breakneck pace until finished, all I could do was hug it to my chest because it was over and I didn't want any other characters taking its place for the next few hours.
The writing was breathtakingly good. Briony tells her tale in stream of consciousness, without the bad punctuation (or lack thereof). Her sentences are formed, but her thoughts fly around and around, touching on random fears and witty retorts. I loved every second. I clicked the "Surprise Me" button on the book preview on Amazon, because I had to take this book back to the library, and sure enough, I got an excellent example on the second try:
"I don't like my shoes," said Rose.After typing it out, I don't know if it really is adequate to express the amazement that is the writing in this book, so just go read it.
"I'm wearing shoes and you don't see me complain."
"You only hear a person complain," said Rose. "Not see."
How has Rose lived for seventeen years and no one has ever killed her, not once?
But, if you need further convincing, the characters are even better. Briony, despite her marked self-loathing, is sharp-witted and amusing. Eldric, her companion in the Bad-Boys Club, is charming and almost perfect, but falls into enough male foibles to make him believable instead of too-good-to-be. Rose is just perfect, and I can't explain beyond that, even if it does make me a poor reviewer. She adds a twist to the story that makes it richer and more mysterious. And the Old Ones are creatively rendered and bizarre.
The whole mood of the story is so strange and unique that it is difficult to explain -- a mix of the modern with the ancient, of simple village life with dark magic. I've tried over and over to describe the premise of the story to friends, and the words fall short. But there is an air of darkness and magic that is absolutely enchanting.
My one complaint with the story is that I figured out a major plot point very early on. However, there were enough other added elements to the mystery that I was still satisfied and stunned at the end.
Billingsley's writing style may not appeal to everyone, although I wouldn't believe it except that I have seen it reported in other reviews. However, I think this unique and compelling novel will win it more admirers than naysayers.
Warnings: some innuendo, violence