Supernatural creatures capture our imaginations for all sorts of reasons. Vampires are really very individualistic, singular monsters: they are an outward manifestation of our obsessions with mortality, sexuality, and appetite. Zombies, too, prey upon our fear of a loss of self and self-determination. Faeries, though, are a little different. Thanks to their firm grounding in folklore across Europe, with plenty of hints as to a larger society and hierarchy, faeries offer a reach source of material when one needs supernatural creatures with a little class.
In Wicked Lovely, Aislinn is a teenage girl like many other teenage girls—except she can see faeries. They’re everywhere but ordinarily invisible. She can’t let on that she can see them, because that would attract their attention, which is the last thing she wants. So, naturally, the story kicks off when a faery manifests himself in human form to try to pick Aislinn up. Good going, Aislinn. Way to keep a low profile.
The plot is fairly simple and easy to articulate: Keenan is the Summer King, but the majority of his power lays dormant until he can find a human to become his Summer Queen. To do this, she must pass a test by grasping the staff of the Winter Queen. But if she fails the test, she instead takes on “Winter’s chill” and becomes the “Winter Girl”, which is kind of like a runner-up position that involves serving the Winter Queen for eternity. And the Winter Queen, who happens to be Keenan’s mother, is definitely icy.
Yes, it’s rather like a soap opera in its details, but Wicked Lovely managed to grow on me. Marr drives Aislinn’s internal conflict through an ersatz love triangle: Keenan finds himself drawn to Aislinn, convinced that she is the one who will finally pass the test and become his queen; Aislinn loves a slightly older boy named Seth, whom she has, until now, been keeping in the friend zone lest she risk a relationship-collapsing one-night stand. After drinking some faery wine on a (probably ill-advised) date with Keenan, Aislinn’s fate is sealed: she’s turning into a faery one way or the other; the question now is only whether she will accept the mantle of Summer Queen. But if she goes along with it and becomes Keenan’s queen, where does that leave her with Seth?
Is there any doubt that Aislinn will end up as the Summer Queen? Marr tries her best to sow a few seeds, but it’s rather obviously the only fulfilling end to the story. The only question is whether Seth will figure in it at all. For what it’s worth, though, that question alone manages to keep the suspense ticking for the majority of the book. That’s fortunate, because there is little else going on here.
Aislinn’s eventual investiture as the Summer Queen is supposed to be a big deal because it will release the rest of Keenan’s power. With it, he can beat back his mother’s Winter and restore the power of the Summer Court. Without it, no more summer, and the world freezes. It’s a neat idea, and I wish Marr had taken it further. It gets mentioned once or twice, but nothing significant really happens to establish it as a real threat. Instead, Marr focuses more on how Aislinn’s accession would affect her personally. Unfortunately, this can make Aislinn seem rather whiny at times. Her own personal comfort appears to take precedence of the survival of the entire world.
Similarly, Marr doesn’t always show us the big picture in as much fidelity as I would like. There are four faery courts: Winter, Summer, High, and Dark. The latter are more aloof from the human world, so they don’t figure very prominently. Beira presides over the Winter Court, and Keenan is the Summer King, albeit less potently, ever since she killed his father. Beira’s motivations are somewhat sketchy—she just seems to be inherently cold and otherworldly, as one might expect a Winter faery. When it comes to portraying faeries, there is a fine line to be walked: on one hand, they are indeed of another world, and their motivations are not like human motivations; on the other hand, if they are central characters to the story, they have to feel like more than plot devices. Perhaps this is why so many other stories keep the faeries at arm’s length as much as possible.
Don’t let my criticism dampen anticipation or enthusiasm for Wicked Lovely, though. It’s still lovely, and a little bit wicked, and considering it’s probably made more for the young adult crowd, it probably works quite well for its audience. I like that Aislinn takes charge of her problem and decides she will find a solution, and that the solution doesn’t involve giving in to some magical faery king just because he’s hot. She’s a good protagonist (even if she is a little bit self-absorbed). While it has its shares of plot snags and character quibbles, Wicked Lovely is what I’d call above average. Marr’s marriage of faery lore with contemporary adolescent issues isn’t seamless, but it’s still pretty interesting.