There's a dead girl in a birdcage in the woods. That's not unusual. Isola Wilde sees a lot of things other people don't. But when the girl appears at Isola's window, her every word a threat, Isola needs help.Isola can see ghosts and fairies and other magical beings and often roams the woods by her house. At first she reminded me a little bit of Luna Lovegood sans Hogwarts, but as we learn more about her we see that there is more to her character than meets the eye. Magical creatures aside, in the real world Isola has to deal with a severely depressed mother and an increasingly distant father. She goes to a nun-run school and has a few ordinary human friends but her struggles to cope with her aggressive haunting make her withdraw further into herself and away from her human friends.
Her real-life friends – Grape, James and new boy Edgar – make her forget for a while. And her brother-princes – the mermaids, faeries and magical creatures seemingly lifted from the pages of the French fairytales Isola idolises – will protect her with all the fierce love they possess.
It may not be enough.
Isola needs to uncover the truth behind the dead girl's demise and appease her enraged spirit, before the ghost steals Isola's last breath.
Fairytales for Wilde Girls is not a book to read quickly. Although it's not that long, I found it took me longer to read than another book of comparable length might have because there is so much in it I had to pay careful attention to try to catch all the nuances. Isola has a particular attachment to a book of fairytales her mother used to read from when she was younger — darker fairytales than the usual Grimm and Andersen — and throughout the text we're treated to several of the stories from that book. I've found those sorts of interludes jarring in other books, but in Fairytales for Wilde Girls they flowed and tied in with the overall story nicely. The transitions between contemporary teenage life (parties, mobile phones) and the magical world provided a change of pace that kept things fresh. This is a book I want to re-read at some point because I'm sure I'll pick up on things I missed the first time through.
Near weaves some interesting social commentary through her story. Isola's magical friends are brother-princes, including the female ones, because princes in stories are the ones who protect the princess. Quote:
Isola had never learnt to call them sisters — a sister was a wicked nun who smacked Mother's hands, and a sister in a fairytale was almost always evil. And so, Ruslana, Christobelle and Rosekin had remained brother-princes to Isola.The fairytales Isola cherishes most tend not to be the kind where the princess needs rescuing, instead they are the kind of stories about girls who kill, and girls who are killed. They are more empowering to Isola than Disney-fied fairytales. Her Rapunzel isn't rescued, but hangs herself with her hair. Those kinds of stories. Perhaps not a book for someone looking for a happy fluffy read.
Honestly my only complaint is that I would have liked to have seen a bit more resolution between Isola and her friend Grape. Things are sorted out between them, but the denouement focussed more on Edgar rather than Grape. Not that I had a problem with Edgar, but I sort of wanted to be reassured about Grape as well. Definitely not something which marred my overall enjoyment.
Allyse Near is an author to watch. I will not be surprised if Fairytales for Wilde Girls makes next year's Aurealis shortlist. I look forward to seeing what Near writes in the future. I highly recommend Fairytales for Wilde Girls to all fans of dark fairytales and gothic fantasy. It's not a terrifying read, but it is dark and there are definitely elements of horror throughout. Readers of YA and adult fantasy alike will find much to enjoy in this book.
5 / 5 stars
First published: June 2013, Random House Australia
Format read: eARC
Source: Courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Aussie Horror Reading Challenge