by Franny Billingsley
Opening: “I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged. Now, if you please.”
Briony Larkin is wicked. She knows this. She made her sister Rose what she is. She killed her stepmother–not directly, but killed her nonetheless. And now Rose has the swamp cough and Eldric Clayborne has come to live with the Larkins. And all the time Briony is afraid of what her wickedness might do.
As with The Folk Keeper, Billingsley takes a prickly character, one who comes to the story with all defenses up, and makes them all the more sympathetic for their prickliness. She’s not unique in being able to do this, but it certainly takes a particular talent, and she’s really good at it.
I’ve also read some interviews with Billingsley where she talks about the influence that folk music, particularly English and Scottish ballads, have had on her writing. I can see that, especially in this book. The twin sisters, the stepmother, the handsome stranger–they all feel very traditional. And yet, Billingsley is able to use them so subtly that I hardly even noticed what they were doing until I was done with the book and thinking about it afterwards.
I feel like I’m making this all sound very dry, and I promise it’s not. You can be impatient with Briony for not seeing things that are horribly clear to everyone else, but she has good reason for not seeing them. And her courage and resolution are immediately winning.
The Old Ones were a nice feature of the story–I really felt as if they managed to be not good or bad, but simply Other. This is something a lot of books try for. Some succeed and some don’t. I think this one certainly did. I did feel like some of the real-world references were a tad jarring, but in the end I was able to read past them.
And I loved the relationships, especially the one between Eldric and Briony. It read as an antidote to some of the more unhealthy relationships I’ve seen in books, and it was lovely in its own right.
So basically, everything good you’ve heard about this book is true. Go read it.
Book source: public library
Book information: Dial Books, 2011; YA