You know those books you pick up excitedly and you can’t wait to read, but just never seem to get around to it? Wicked Lovely was one of them for me. It’s been on my TBR for, oh, two or three years now, and every time I saw it mentioned I thought, “Ooh, can’t wait to read that!”, but never got around to actually picking it up. Then on Saturday evening I was looking for a bedtime read and felt inexplicably drawn towards it. I don’t know why I picked that book on Saturday, when I’d passed over it for so long, but I’m so glad I did, because it’s one of the best fantasy books I’ve read in a while.
Wicked Lovely tells the story of 17-year-old Aislinn who, like her mother and grandmother, is gifted – or perhaps cursed – with the Sight. She can see faeries, and she doesn’t like what she sees. All her life she’s been taught to conceal her Sight from faeries, her Grams certain that such information being out in the open would make her a target, but when she finds herself the target of a particular faery’s attentions regardless she decides she’s done with hiding and running and ready to find out what they want from her.
I was utterly entranced with Marr’s faeries, right from the start. They’re at once the creepy, grotesque faeries of Celtic myth and multifaceted, sometimes even sympathetic characters. They’re clearly dangerous, many of them viewing humans as nothing more than playthings, yet not all of them are evil and cruel. Indeed, the core conflict of the novel stems from the fact that the Summer King is trying to protect his court from the encroaching Winter, and to do that he tramples on Aislinn’s life.
One of the most compelling aspects of the novel is the way that it plays with the paranormal romance genre. It sets up a relationship between Aislinn and Keenan, though with a catch; he may be a devastatingly handsome immortal, but all she sees is one of the race who invisibly pinch humans in bars or carry them off to their courts. He is convinced she will become his Queen, but she finds the notion repulsive. And through their developing relationship Marr explores the notion of free will versus fate; from the moment Keenan chose Aislinn, her future was inextricably bound to his, yet she still fights to carve out the life she wants.
Keenan chose Aislinn, and in doing so cut off her chance at a normal, human future. It slides into a wider theme throughout the novel, of how women in the faery world hold great magical power, yet are not treated as equal to their male counterparts. There’s a fascinating contrast between the magical power of faery women and their comparatively little social power and human women’s greater societal agency but impotent against faery magic. To add another layer to it, human women can and do become immortal and transform into faeries, at once gaining magical prowess but losing independence, but the only examples given are those girls Keenan has chosen and hoped to be his Queen in the past; although they ultimately make a choice as to whether or not to seek the throne, by the time they have reached that point they have been irrevocably changed by Keenan’s choice rather than their own.
Throughout the novel free will is a recurring theme – the free will of humans versus faeries, of men versus women – and Marr plays the grey line between choice and fate expertly. Are Aislinn’s choices truly choices when Keenan’s choice has already irrevocably changed her future? Was it even Keenan’s choice in the first place, or was it her destiny all along? These questions are never answered, but are left to be pondered.
Wicked Lovely is an enthralling, magical tale about choice and destiny, love and duty, that recalls faery stories of old and yet is wholly new. It forms a compelling start to a quintet that I can’t wait to continue.
Nicola lives with her husband in the ancestral home of the fey, down the road from the absolutely terrifying statues of kelpies