This book, you guys. This book.
I'd been waiting for this book for months. I got it on pre-order. If you're reading this blog, I've likely recommended at least one of the Graceling Realm series books to you, and it was likely more than once.
This book isn't high fantasy like Graceling Realm, and it's a standalone. When I'd read the sample pages on Amazon, it reminded me of Aimee Bender (another of my favorites/writing influences). Jane, who makes umbrellas, gets invited to a mansion on a private island after her Aunt Magnolia dies in Antarctica. There are so many things that I adored about this book--the characters, the bi representation, the structure, how engaged I was. I don't want to spoil too much if you haven't read it. If you like Gothic lit, Lemony Snicket, Downton Abbey, Aimee Bender, Ray Bradbury, Alice in Wonderland, and/or The Wizard of Oz, then I urge you to stop reading my review right now and go pick up the book, then come back. I literally only knew about the premise I mentioned above and I think that is the absolute best way to read it. After this point, I'm getting into major tons of spoilers.
Oh. And also: If you're a writer, there's lots of innovative genre and structural things going on, too. That's as much as I want to mention pre-spoilers.
ALERT ALERT ALERT SPOILERS DO NOT READ AFTER THIS POINT UNTIL YOU'VE READ THE BOOK
Okay. You've read the book already? Good.
WHAT THE DAMN HELL, RIGHT?! And I mean that as the highest possible compliment.
Okay, so, in order to keep myself from going all over the place I'm going to do a list. I like lists.
1. Bi Representation
Jane is at least not monosexual. She shows interest in both Ivy and Ravi. She has a short passage that states her interest in men and women. Even before that, I got the hopeful sense that she might be, and it was nice to see that acknowledged in the narrative. Ravi's sexuality is described by Ivy as "panoptically" attracted to people. He might identify as bisexual, or pansexual. Ivy seems (in my reading) to be a lesbian, or at least this was how I took her complete shut-down of even flirtations from Ravi. The queer rep was awesome, and I loved how natural it felt. Plus, I was so excited that this was the second novel in a row where the main character was a bi girl.
This is possibly the most innovative structure I've seen in a novel. When I got to the beginning of section two, I thought it read a bit like a Choose Your Own Adventure (which is funny, because in the author's note Cashore mentions that it started that way). When I got to the end of section two, and the start of section three, I lost my mind. I was so excited to see multiverse. It felt so fresh.
3. Shades of Characters/Plots
Each section added new knowledge about the characters and what was happening. Though this is a multiverse and it's not all happening in the same universe, you can guess from what's been revealed in earlier sections what's going on in the background (where the sculpture's gotten to, why Mrs. Vanders et. al. are sneaking around, etc.). It's a clever way to reveal more without simply telling the same straightforward story over and over. Which brings me to...
The first section feels like the set-up for a Gothic novel where the house is alive, a character of its own. The second section was a mystery/heist with a Lemony Snicket vibe. The third a spy novel, Mr. & Mrs. Smith meets Downton Abbey. The fourth a dark magical realism (the most disturbing section by far if you ask me) that felt like "Quiet, Please" by Aimee Bender. The fifth section was a space adventure that reminded me of Ray Bradbury's "August 2026," with the addition of space pirates. And, finally, the last was a portal fantasy akin to Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz. This variety of genre helps each section to feel distinct.
The genre bending and structure felt natural to the story, and I think a lot of that has to do with what's going on thematically. So many of the characters are at in-between points in their lives--not quite here, not quite there--Jane, Kiran, Ivy, Lucy, Ravi (depending on the universe you're in). The multiverse predicated on every possible choice makes sense here, because choice during these in-between spaces these characters exist in is such a vital and important thing. To boot, these characters are at an age where they're trying to figure out who they are and how they want the rest of their lives to go. There's also loss and grief so deeply embedded in this novel--Jane loses Aunt Magnolia, Ravi loses his favorite art, Octavian loses Charlotte. How the characters deal with that loss shapes the plot and ultimately, it seems, the universe itself.
In general, as a reader the book excited me, especially once I realized, as Kiran was talking at the end of section two, that it was a multiverse. I loved the characters. Ivy was one of my favorites, and most versions of Jane, and Ravi was such fun. (Really, the only one I totally hated was Colin. He's the worst.) Each section complicated my understanding of the characters, and of what was going on. As a writer, the innovative structure and genre-bending really challenged me to consider what a novel can do.
This book was just such a delight. I even loved the cover--the dust jacket is gorgeous, and the actual hard cover of the book had a pretty surprise. I've already added this one to my favorites list. Now to find a way to squeeze it onto my favorite books shelf...
Bonus: Songs I had stuck in my head as I was reading: