Review of FAERIE WINTER by JANNI LEE SIMNER
(sequel to BONES OF FAERIE, review based on an advance reading copy)
The strength of this story comes from the choices the characters face. No one, even our protagonist Liza, is simply good or bad. Simner takes legends of faerie magic and mines the potential ethical and moral dilemmas, especially those that might appear straight-forward at first glance…but not so much when you look closer. Also, like the best fantasy, the magic serves as a metaphor for choices and tragedies we must face in real life.
I’ll backtrack just a little here to suggest that you read FAERIE WINTER soon after reading BONES OF FAERIE. Or, if you’ve already read the first book, as I did, take the time to re-read it, because I did have a little trouble slipping back into the story when it had been so long since I read BONES OF FAERIE.
But once I slipped back in, I was invested! It’s worth reiterating how Simner gives all her characters such depth. Liza makes some choices that aren’t entirely good, but neither are they condemnable; I could always understand her motivation even as I grasped how her decision hurt another.
For those who need a quick refresher, Liza lives in a post-apocalyptic world left devastated after a terrible war between humans and faeries. Even after the war, faeries have left their mark on humans. (Connection to real-life, humans-versus-humans wars, anyone?) Some people now have magic, which unfortunately makes them seem a lot like the enemy. Liza’s magic in particular is brutal in its power. She possesses the ability to control others with her voice. When she gives a command laced with magic, free will exits the equation and people have no choice but to obey. The plot returns to a key question again and again: Is it okay to take away someone’s free will if you did so to help them?
As well as layered characters, Simner crafts complex relationship webs. One particular scene near the end comes to mind when numerous characters clash and everyone fights for their own ideals. Final showdowns aren’t unique in novels, especially not in fantasy, but in most of these climatic scenes there’s a clear line drawn between sides and more often than not we know which side we’re expected to support. In FAERIE WINTER, you can’t draw any clear line down the middle. Each person has loyalties and enemies and values they will die to protect, but I dare you to try to divide all the characters into two simple camps. No matter how you split them up, someone will have a loyalty on the other side or an enemy on their side. That’s what makes this particular scene both so fun and so affecting as each individual tries to protect those they love, destroy those they despise, and drill home why their outlook on the world is the right one.