I haven’t been doing a great job keeping up on writing book reviews for a few weeks, so this one is very overdue! But I received an eARC of Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin from Wednesday Books and NetGalley. Why am I not surprised that the publishers of Courtney Summers have given us another kickass girl-centred revenge plot? This time it’s loosely based on Macbeth, but even if you aren’t aware of or don’t care for the Shakespearean allusions, it’s still a captivating story of violence and revenge. For the first chapter or so, I was nervous I would end up hating it—Capin’s style is definitely distinctive here—but eventually I surrendered myself to the prose.
Content warnings for the book/discussion in this review: rape/sexual assault, violence/murder, scene that depicts transphobic bullying.
Elle and her friends crash a prep school party, and several of the popular boys at that school target Elle for rape. She responds to this by transforming into Jade, an avenging queen of a coven of witches—Mads, Summer, and Jenny—who together will bring down this group of boys in the bloodiest fashion possible. Jade transfers to the prep school and rises through the popularity ranks, courting an up-and-coming golden boy—Mack—and plotting murder.
One’s enjoyment of this book will depend greatly, as I intimated above, on how one feels about the prose style. Capin’s description and dialogue are lyrical in a way that probably is a nod to the story’s dramatic origins. Narration itself is sparse, exposition even more so. Although nominally told from Jade’s point of view, the only real glimpses into her mind we are allowed involve her thoughts on her revenge plot. We learn remarkably little about Jade as a person, because for the duration we’re entangled with her, she is a creature consumed by her need for revenge. Other exposition is delivered almost like an afterthought.
Honestly, though? In any other book I probably would have ripped this choice apart. I love novels because I love straightforward prose. That might make me boring, but it’s a subjective aesthetic! So take this for the high praise coming from me that it is when I say Capin makes this style work for me. Similarly, I reserve the label “cinematic” for very few books, because I don’t visualize when I read. Foul is Fair is undeniably cinematic. The pacing and expository style make me think of those movies where you start off having no idea what the hell is going on, but there’s a lot of flashy and glittery costumes and perfect white teeth and teens drinking, and eventually you grasp the plot. Again, I don’t normally enjoy those movies, but something tells me I could enjoy that kind of movie if it were Foul is Fair.
This really is a horror story, when you get right down to it. It’s a horror story where we’re on the side of the monster. It’s so interesting, because almost certainly that wasn’t Shakespeare’s intent when he wrote Macbeth, yet Capin has managed to take that kernel of an idea and turn it into this sympathetic murder plot, and I really like it! Morality is really ancillary here to Jade’s need to punish the boys for what they did. She doesn’t just kill them: she nefariously manipulates another person into doing the work for her in brutal and fantastic fashion. And it’s very hard to look away—yet I kept finding myself taking breaks because I was just so exhausted by the intensity!
Also, given my newly out status, it behoves me to mention: trans character! I appreciate how Capin almost casually drops in the fact that Mads is trans without making too big of a deal. There is a flashback that depicts some bullying Mads experiences after coming out in middle school, which I assume is meant to demonstrate Jade’s fierce and violent loyalty to her coven. However, I really do like that Capin doesn’t reveal Mads’ deadname even though Jade certainly knows it—there is no reason for Jade to share that with us. She just says “Mads’ deadname” wherever necessary, and it works very well.
I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I will say that Foul is Fair maintains its pace and adrenaline throughout the book. I was not disappointed.