Bones of Faerie
Janni Lee Simner

Morality: C+
Writing: B-

Twenty years after the War with Faerie that devastated the world, and fifteen years after Liza was born, she and her town live in constant fear. Fear that magic will destroy the living they have slowly rebuilt for themselves. Fear that magic will come into their midst again. So whenever a child is born showing the signs of infection with magic, they expose it on the hillside. And Liza’s father is clear about what he believes should happen to anyone older who shows signs of developing magical powers: a quick death. So when Liza begins to develop magical powers herself, she has no choice to flee the village…both to escape her father, and to protect the citizens from the evil she fears is growing inside her.

Simner has a pleasant narrative style, and she draws a creative picture of post-apocalyptic America, a world where magic has infected nature, making plants hostile and changing the way humans relate with the animals and plants around them. From the conventional — attacking trees — to the much more original — corn and wheat that fight back when harvested and seeds that try to root in your skin — the ‘fallout’ of the magical warfare is portrayed in some inventive ways. Unfortunately, Simner’s worldbuilding skills don’t extend to magic itself — her development of magic’s rules, its limits, uses, and effects, is so sparse as to be practically nonexistent. This fuzziness — and, of course, Liza’s immediate development of and ability to use immense and undefined superpowers — left me confused more than once as to why things were working out the way they were.

And I really don’t buy the whole idea of a world so utterly changed in twenty years that a girl born five years after the apocalypse-War would not even know what a quarter is. I mean, for real. Doesn’t money still exist? And don’t these kids talk to their parents at all?

I don’t want to give away the entire story in talking about its moral content, because while many elements of the plot itself are somewhat conventional, the gradual revelation of the setting and background information is quite well-done. So I will just say that while Liza does find her life’s moral underpinnings completely turned on their head, those underpinnings were originally based on fear of destruction, inculcated by her (abusive) father. She replaces them with a more mature perspective on power (both magical and technological), tempered by personal experience of the harm it can cause. The dehumanization caused by crippling fear is illustrated with startling clarity. However, on the other hand, I do tend to get a bit annoyed by books in which the supposedly-reassuring resolution to the danger of exceptional and tempting powers is ‘well, we’ll just have to learn to control it, won’t we? [End of story.]’. Knowing people (and knowing history), this solution just doesn’t satisfy me, because, given human nature, it doesn’t tend to work. Without any external help (i.e. God), you just get Darth Vader out of that resolution.

Oh, and there is some weird stuff about the power to resurrect people and deciding when they want to be resurrected, as well as trying to resurrect them too late and bringing back a ghost instead. I don’t know that I’ve decided one way or the other about the moral implications of resurrection/reanimation in fantasy literature, but it is at least a bit weird in this book.

Posted by Sasha | September 16, 2008

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