Sunday, June 11, 2023

Unseelie, by Ivelisse Housman

Iselia (or "Seelie") and her twin Isolde have managed to survive since they had to flee from home through their wits and their magic.  And it was their magic that first got them into trouble.  Seelie is a changeling who wields poorly-controlled magic that tends to get them into trouble.  But it is Isolde and her plan to burgle the home of the powerful enchantress Leira Wildfall that puts them in enough danger to set off the events of the story.  

While they are breaking in they find themselves face to face with another criminal duo (a boy named Maze and a girl named Odani) who are attempting to do the same thing.  The four of them are caught and have rely upon each other for their escape.  A much bigger heist/quest ensues where the four young people face greater and greater challenges, revealing strengths and powers that they didn't know they had.  All in all, pretty typical and unremarkable.

What makes this fantasy story about magic and fairies different from the rest is Seelie.  She's neurodivergent.  The idea is born from a theory the author has that people who were accused of being changelings or possessed by spirits were really autistic.  And so she imagines how an autistic person would understand a fantasy story.  Seelie's view of the world is our view.  From Seelie's understanding of her magic powers to the basic way she communicates with the others, she struggles.  Events are not always linear.  A huge stress is placed on sensory perception:  caves that are pitch black, walls that seem endless, lights that blind, and so on.  Scenes are not always easy to follow as Seelie sorts out what is going on around her, but they come together in their own way in the end.

The result is storytelling that is fresh and a voice that is unique and distinct.  However, I was less taken by story, which was repetitive (endless variations of the same basic set-up:   a battle that they inevitably lose, a hasty deal or a rash decision to escape the leaves Seelie disoriented, and then it just happens again).  There's an endless supply of new characters to supply these iterations of conflicts, but no clear direction to the story.  And a plot twist at the end suddenly undoes most of the understandings developed during the novel in order to create the requisite cliffhanger for the second half of this duology.  I'll entertain that my expectations for the story may bear a neurotypical bias, but I found the story boring.

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