Every young adult fantasy reader has a favorite: vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc. My personal favorite? Fairies. Seelie, unseelie, tricksters, changelings, forbidden love, blood contracts—fairy lore has it all! Young adult fantasy hardly ever shies from fairy lore’s darker elements, but I like it when there’s a symbiotic relationship between humans and fairies. In the case of An Enchantment of Ravens, it’s when fairies thrive on the creativity of humans.
In the faraway town of Whimsy, 17-year-old Isobel has honed her Craft of portrait painting. She is so good at her Craft that much of her clientele are fairies—mainly fairy royals. One day, she receives a commission from Rook, the fairy prince of autumn. But when she paints a human emotion—something fairies are forbidden to possess, under pain of death—into Rook’s portrait, she is swept away to the fairy world: a place where no mortal has come out as a human.
Where most young adult books focus on the brooding, nightmarish elements of fairy lore, there is a refreshing symbiosis between fairies and mortals here. Fairies cannot feel, nor can they create, so they are fascinated by mortals’ abilities to cook, paint, write, and otherwise inspire beauty. The fairies still play tricks now and then, but in a way, they need mortal creativity to carve meaning into their eternal lives. Their vulnerability is kind of charming.
Naturally, the crux of this story involves Isobel and Rook forming a strong bond that is forbidden between mortals and humans. Any emotion or weakness on Rook’s part especially could get them both killed in the fairy realm. This does make for some interesting tension, but it does bring up one point of contention I have.
The creation of Isobel and Rook’s bond feels like a footnote.
Rook comes to get his portrait painted over several days, and once it’s completed, Isobel has formed a crush on him—all of which is detailed in a chapter or two. I think it would have been more interesting if Isobel and Rook’s feelings caught them off guard while they were in the fairy realms, as opposed to figuring them out before the halfway point. Therefore, I don’t quite buy it when they declare their love for each other.
That said, I do like Isobel. I like any main character with a hobby they’re passionate about. Isobel’s knowledge and love for painting give her a little more dimension than the usual YA protagonist. Plus, it is her skill of painting that pushes much of the story forward.
While I don’t quite buy Isobel and Rook’s love, they do have some legitimately funny exchanges. The way they first discover their mutual feelings is less swoony and romantic, and more a “You loved me all along? Huh. I guess I did too. Who’d have thunk?” It’s quite cute, and I wish there had been more of that.
I’m not in love with An Enchantment of Ravens, but I did like the original twists it took with the fairy-mortal relationship, as well as the characters. There’s room open for a sequel, and it looks like there’s another book from Whimsy coming along, so…I won’t mind terribly going back there soon.