Storytime: I first discovered this book in my senior year of college, when I was engrossed in my thesis on women in Arthurian legend. In retrospect, it didn’t seem like a good idea to go from reading about the rules of chivalric romance to a place where the chivalry of the European Renaissance is in the air every day. In other words, I spent several hours reading about one girl’s unexpected but romantic summer adventure within a Renaissance faire in Laura Wettersten’s My Faire Lady. And that’s “faire” with an “e,” as in the place.
17-year-old Rowena Duncan is a budding artist who really loves her craft, though her parents expect her to attend a prestigious college to study something she may hate (but it doesn’t matter as long as she makes a great living, right?). But she wants desperately to escape seeing her cheating boyfriend, so she signs on for a job as a body art specialist—in other words, a Renaissance faire face painter. She finds herself in a world where everyone is supposed to dress like they are from the Renaissance era, where Ringers (Lord of the Rings fans, as is explained to Ro) come to play, and the knights are just as dashing behind the scenes as during the jousts. But Ro has some things that she has to figure out about herself and her colorful new friends, as she has herself a real-life adventure.
You see, I freaking LOVE Renaissance faires. I have only gone a handful of times since discovering the most famous one in Bristol, Wisconsin, close to where I went to college, but each experience is something totally different and yet very familiar all at once. I think it’s because you never take the same path through the faire twice, and you never know who or what you’ll run into.
That is exactly the kind of experience that Ro has when she joins the faire, and each one of her friends is as unique as their respective positions in the faire. But my favorite one in the group, despite there being so many standouts, is Will, the physics freak who helps people park their “carriages” and has his own whip-cracking show. He is the one who takes Ro under his wing, and provides some of the best humor in the book.
But of course, there is the inevitable plot device of the love triangle, which, in the context of a Renaissance faire, where mystery is part of the job, actually makes for some good intrigue. And despite the bad taste love triangles leave in my mouth, it is enjoyably predictable here. In fact, that is a good way of describing the layout of this book: predictable. It sounds kind of harsh, but I think it’s more about discovering the unique ways in which this particular faire is run. You know from the summary that Ro is going to have to choose between two guys; heck, it might even be totally obvious from the beginning who she is going to choose and for what reasons she will reject the other. But the ways in which this faire runs is so fun to read about that you almost don’t care. You are as much a part of the adventure as Ro is, and it is fun to watch her try to find her place within the faire, as well as within her world.
Something I really liked about Ro is the fact that she is as much at fault in her problems as her parents are. She is not some perfect young girl who must defeat the black-and-white bad guys. She must first admit that she is afraid of the future and that there is more to her parents than she expected. But really? Who in the audience reading this book has not discovered the anxiety of finding your place in the world while also trying to please those you love?
I remember saying that after I graduated from college, I would go on to grad school and study public history: something that would land me a job as a curator, a docent in a museum, or just a professor of history. But after making a few small and large discoveries, I realized that my real calling was where it always has been: creative writing. I put off the news of this decision for a long time, but when I finally told them, my dad, who is the most worried about this economy and job market, told me that it was in my best interest to follow where my heart wants me to go.
But I think that is what I appreciated so much about this story: you have to embrace your eccentricities and do what makes you happy, because you will somehow have people who will support you and join you in the madness. I have found a similar path when it comes to writing, as there are lots of communities where writers can show off their work and talk about what makes a piece particularly great. The point is that it is best to follow your passion, because it is never a passion that you are alone in.
Not to mention that this book fulfilled a want of mine: to finally find a YA book that took place in a Renaissance faire. I know that sounds like a nerdy thing to say, but it is a place that is perfect for the kind of story that you want for a fun weekend reading: romance, intrigue, heartbreak, mystery, and just enough familiar teen angst. And I can only hope that something as fantastic as Ro’s story happens to me—or you, my dear reader—when you find yourself trotting through the gates of your local Renaissance faire.