Stray (Four Sisters #1) by Elissa Sussman
Rating: 2.75 stars
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "I am grateful for my father, who keeps me good and sweet. I am grateful for my mother, who keeps her own heart guarded and safe. I am grateful for my adviser, who keeps me protected. I am grateful for the Path, which keeps me pure. Ever after.
Princess Aislynn has long dreamed about attending her Introduction Ball, about dancing with the handsome suitors her adviser has chosen for her, about meeting her true love and starting her happily ever after.
When the night of the ball finally arrives and Nerine Academy is awash with roses and royalty, Aislynn wants nothing more than to dance the night away, dutifully following the Path that has been laid out for her. She does not intend to stray.
But try as she might, Aislynn has never quite managed to control the magic that burns within her-magic brought on by wicked, terrible desires that threaten the Path she has vowed to take.
After all, it is wrong to want what you do not need. Isn’t it?"
Review: It's not everyday you read a book from a fairy godmother's point of view. Stray hooked me with its gorgeous cover and the promise of a glimpse into the inner workings of fairy godmothers, though when I actually opened the book, I was not very happy with what I got.
Reading the first half of Stray was like hitting my head against a wall. The way the government in this story is set up is so obviously rife with flaws, I thought every single character should have seen the potential for corruption fifty miles away, and I couldn't believe no one had taken advantage of the imbalance of power before.
The cherry on top was the patriarchy. I get that this is Ms. Sussman's story, and if she wants to write a story set in a world heavily dominated by patriarchy, that is her prerogative. Just like it's my prerogative to hate it. Seriously, it drove me crazy.
Then there's Aislynn. Aislynn is so empty-headed and compliant for most of the novel, I couldn't find it in me to root for her. At one point another character describes her as "brave and clever," and my immediate reaction was, "...her?" She clearly has no control over her life, but what really irked me was that she didn't seem to have even the slightest desire to control her own life. She's the picture of blandness, and I really couldn't find a single characteristic in her that was anywhere near "brave" or "clever." It's not that she had an unlikable personality, it was more that she had no personality at all.
Also, there's not really much of a plot. There are clearly shady things happening, but we don't know many of the reasons behind them, nor are we clued into the stakes at hand. (Other than Aislynn's potential "redirection," which was a pretty weak threat - she might become a teacher instead of a fairy godmother... ooooohhh, I'm quaking with sarcastic fear.)
So imagine my surprise when 50% through the novel, things started to change. Aislynn started growing a (little bit) of a back bone, (finally!) started questioning the wisdom behind the decisions others were making, and made friends with a motely crew with an intriguing secret. If anything, I kept reading because I wanted to follow the side characters' stories, though I was glad that Aislynn was apparently becoming her own person. I also really liked how the tales of the four sisters was suggested to be tampered with, and I wanted to discover the truth behind their power. Mostly, I was really happy with Aislynn's fairy godmother's rebellious streak.
Then, about 75% through the novel, things REALLY started to change. Aislynn gets thrown into a completely different situation, suddenly grasps control of her power, and becomes this fierce and determined and decisive character. Suddenly (and I mean, really suddenly) she is not only influential to the plot, but central to its outcome. The last 25% of the novel was really wonderful to read, as most everything that bothered me before seemed to be changed.
BUT. Wonderful though it was, it was also really jarring. It didn't feel like the same book at all. Aislynn, especially, felt like a completely different character, and it felt like too much growth too quickly to be plausible. So, while I enjoyed reading the end of the novel, I was haunted by a feeling that I was reading a totally different book.
I feel like the first 75% of this novel should have been saved as a prequel novella, while the last 25% should have been the start of this series. It would have been much less frustrating and confusing if it had been divided that way. Though I enjoyed the last quarter of the novel quite a bit, it was too little, too late.
Review in a GIF:
Bottom Line: Stray was a frustrating read most of the time, but it left me with a mostly positive vibe. Fairy tale fans will probably find something to like in this story, though the overwhelming patriarchal vibe of the whole novel may be grating.