Bones of Faerie, by Janni Lee Simner (Random House 2009, YA, 256 pp)
"I had a sister once," Liza's story begins. "She was a beautiful baby, eyes silver as moonlight off the river at night. From the hour of her birth she was long-limbed and graceful, faerie-pale hair clear as glass from Before, so pale you could almost see through to the soft skin beneath.
My father was sensible man. He set her out on the hillside that very night...." And fifteen year- old Liza sneaks out to find her sister, but all that is left are baby Rebecca's cracked and bloody bones.
Twenty years ago, a war between humans and the faerie world had brought cataclysm to both. In a small village, a handfuls of human survivors eke out a fearful existence in a world of deadly flora--trees and brambles can kill, poison ivy is a predator, and even dandelions have teeth. Liza, surrounded since birth by vegetative nightmares, has never known any other world, and her father works diligently to keep any taint of magic from his community. Rebecca, born with the physical traits of faerie, could not be tolerated, and had to die.
A few weeks later, Liza's mother is gone too, escaping from the village to almost certain death. And Liza is beginning to acquire magic herself. In mortal fear of her father, whose beatings are already terrible, Liza flees from home, hoping to find her mother.
Her friend Matthew, his own family killed in a most terrible way years before, follows her. As they travel, she finds that Matthew is not the quite boy he has seemed all his life, and the world the Liza encounters holds much more hope for people and magic than Liza had dreamed. But first she must follow her mother into the land of faerie itself, and learn the true horror that the war brought to both realms, and she must face as well the dark shadow that journeys with her (this was a surprising sub-plot, that I won't say more about because it's a spoiler, but I liked it lots).
Pretty exciting stuff, with a great premise (post-apocalyptic earth meets faerie magic--how cool is that), and great characters. I found Liza's narration convincing and engrossing. The world is wonderfully realized, with survivals from our familiar landscapes and lifestyles made strange by their setting in the jungle of hate-filled flora.
I have only two quibbles. The first is that Liza's magic, which begins as chance visions in reflections, seems to grow and grow during the course of the book, until I wasn't exactly clear about what her powers entailed, and she became just a bit too gifted to convince. My second quibble is that I wish it had taken about 100 more pages to tell the story--it was all so interesting I wanted more! The back story of the war never became clear to me, the relationships between humans and faeries, in the past and the present, could have been explored in greater depth, and many of the walk-on characters didn't get as much attention as I would have liked.
On the other hand, the sharp focus on Liza's point of view, and the impetus that keeps moving her forward before the reader can settle down and hear some back story, are deliberate choices that keep the story riveting. And these are all issues that Liza herself would probably like to know more about. Perhaps in another book...
Here are other reviews, at Otherwhere Book Reviews, Fantasy Book Critic, and The Puck in the Midden.