Hardcover, 432 pages
Published September 24th 2013 by Greenwillow Books
Pikey Thomas dreamed of plums and caramel apples the night the faery-with-the-peeling-face stole his left eye.
I read the first novel in this duology a while ago–I say duology but the books can be read as standalones. The events of the first book do, to some extent, affect the events in the second book but the reader need only know that the sister of the protagonist of the first book is one of the major characters in The Whatnot.
So let’s return to Pikey for a bit. He lives a dreadful life, hunkering down among the vermin and trash in the alleyway beside a merchant’s house in London. For little bits of information he gathers from the market, the merchant suffers his presence near his house. The London Pikey inhabits is recovering from a great war between the humans and the fae that the humans won. It was Pyrrhic victory though and hostilities continue to this day.
Meanwhile in Faerie, Hettie finds herself trapped first in a little house in the middle of the woods and then again when she is picked up by a peer from the faery court who claims that all she wants in Hettie is a friend. She keeps Hettie in a house of horrors from which escape is a dream. Hettie is sure her big brother will find a way to bring her home but as days pass she begins to lose hope.
Pikey finds himself in a bit of a pickle (I couldn’t resist) when the eyepatch he used to cover the eye left in place of his eye that was stolen by the faery is snatched from his face. Obviously relations with the fae are less than warm at the moment and the fae-eye merely serves to convince the authorities that Pikey has been consorting with the enemies. He is thrown into goal until a series of events has him meeting with Hettie’s brother. Pikey reveals that he is able to see Hettie from his faery eye and the two strike up an acquaintance of sorts. Hettie’s brother will help Pikey escape from the prison while Pikey helps Hettie’s brother rescue Hettie from faeryland.
There are many things going on in this book. The fae though magical, wondrous, and awful are also, in a very interesting way, human. By this I mean that despite being beings of power and considerable magic, they are ultimately ruled by a despot and subject to his whims whether they desire to do as he wishes or not. Bachmann does not shy away from presenting both sides of a coin and I appreciated this very much as it would have been so easy to build the fae as inhuman and unsympathetic.
The cruelty of humans and their lack of logic in the face of fear is sobering. The fae plan to conquer the human world and one would argue that the humans are just moving to defend their world but the price is their humanity. In Hettie and Bartholomew, we find children who straddle both worlds being born of a fae father and a human mother. Their ability to function as doors from one world to another makes them both precious and reviled. Hettie, especially, is targeted by unsavoury types who would use her as a tool and exploit her power for their own means.
The book presents a fantastic tale but focuses more intensely on class divisions and the politics of power than one would think considering its target audience. This is perhaps one of the few times I have read a book that showcases fae as both magical and mundane. Bachmann doesn’t humanize them but does in a subtle rather delightful manner give them various points of relatability. I enjoyed this middle-grade venture into fairyland a lot more than I had thought I would and am pleased to be able to recommend to younger readers in search of the fae and the fantastic.