Whenever a book from my past drops back into my lap, I have the typical debate about whether I was meant to learn something new from it after so much time has passed. In the case of Wondrous Strange, the first book in a trilogy, it has been ten years since I consumed its heaps of faerie lore, romance, and Shakespeare allusions. I read its first sequel way back when as well, but somehow did not complete the trilogy. Why ever might that be? I’ll explain below.
Teenage actress Kelley Winslow has come to Manhattan to make a name for herself. But one day, she finds that a horse has somehow made its home in her bathtub, and then, she makes the acquaintance of handsome changeling guard Sonny Flannery, who tells Kelley two life-changing secrets. First, the horse in her bathtub is a dangerous kelpie from Faerie, and second, Kelley is a Faerie princess, heir to a vast cache of faerie power. Naturally, there are those who want to seize it from Kelley and kill her in the process. Will Kelley survive, and find love along the way?
Now I want to get something off my chest—something I’ve wondered about from my first reading of this book—before anything else: what kind of name is Sonny for a changeling guard? I know he is human first, and a guard second, but that doesn’t mean he has to be distinguished by such a childish sounding name as that. I hear the name Sonny and I think of the cuckoo Cocoa-Puffs bird, or that late-90’s Milton-Bradley seal toy, not an honorable and badass guard of a faerie gate. It might be the basis for some cute nicknames, but the overall connotation is not right for this character. Anyway.
There aren’t really any surprises in this book. Well, all right, the ones you can see coming pretty easily don’t have much bearing on the resolution, so I can forgive that. You’ll remember I asked whether Kelley was going to fall in love—I’ll give you three guesses with whom, and for what noble reasons.
There were only two things I remembered about this book from my previous reading: that Sonny was a human stolen from our world and raised among faeries, and that Kelley’s roommate turns out to be (spoilers) a handmaiden to Queen Titania. I remember reading it almost on autopilot, enjoying the dark, seductive atmosphere of the faerie realm more than the characters or story. I even read the sequel like that, and despite reading that one closer in time than this one, I don’t remember a thing about it; I can’t even remember the title.
So then, if this book is unsatisfying and predictable, then why did I willingly return to it?
I read this book long before I ever picked up Wicked Lovely or the Iron Fey series, so the concept of faeries being these beautiful, alluring, but altogether dangerous creatures drew me in. It plays around with how the human and faerie worlds steal children from each other, which would make for some interesting psychological drama.
Except Sonny already knows about his human blood, and so the drama of him finding out Kelley is not only a princess but a faerie princess should have many interesting repercussions. Except, what would have been a compelling exploration of why this inter-class-inter-species relationship would not work doesn’t come, so there is no weight to Sonny worrying about it. There is also the twist of who Sonny’s human mother is, which, rather than showing us how they find each other again, skips right to the part where they laugh like old friends. I want to know whether they were hesitant to go to each other, or if they recognized each other right away and fell into a long-awaited embrace; it might have added a much-needed layer of complexity to an otherwise by-the-numbers story.
I often wonder why there aren’t more stories about changelings, because they would make an awesome metaphor for how growing up can reveal layers of your life you don’t want to face. Sure, finding out you’re a faerie princess can be both wish-fulfillment and a metaphor, but there aren’t nearly enough stories about people who learn they’re from another ordinary time and place, then fall in love with someone of a different class and species altogether.
Plainly put, the characters that invite more psychological insight don’t get it, and we focus mostly on the cliché plot of the main character learning they are a magical princess in another world. Kelley is a capable and compelling main character, but there are many, many books about her plight and how Sonny’s world got turned upside-down would have made a far more interesting story.