Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Review - Illyria by Elizabeth Hand (5/5 stars)

I just read another Hand book earlier this month called Generation Loss.  I was intrigued to read Hand's take at a young adult novel.  This book is nothing like Generation Loss (which was an adult thriller, but the writing style does have many similarities).  Like with all of her books Hand weaves a beautiful and dark atmosphere and creates magic that is subtle and memorizing.

Maddy and Rogan are cousins born on the same day.  They see themselves as twins, soulmates, and maybe, eventually, lovers.  They struggle against their families' teasing and with how they are teased by those around them.  Then one day in a secret room in an attic they find a miniature magical stage.  The stage makes them want to create and Maddy and Rogan try out for the school play.  Maddy with her determination and Rogan with his magical presence and angelic voice will definitely turn the heads of their audience.  But, their passion and beauty make those around them uncomfortable and perhaps this star-crossed couple was never meant to be.

I love Hand's writing style.  She makes the surroundings come alive, doesn't spell everything out for you, and fills her story with dark atmospheric magic.  In many ways this book is similar to her others in that it does those same things.  This book is more about magical realism than straight up magic.  The story and magic are a bit ambiguous, but more beautiful because they let the reader make what they will out of some of the scenes.

All of the characters presented are delightfully complicated.  Maddy with her devotion to Rogan, the way she works so hard, yet excels only at being a little better than the norm.  Rogan with his wildness and feyness; the way he cares so much but hides behind a veneer of casualness.  Even Aunt Kate, who wants Maddy and Rogan to become something exceptional, has many layers of secrets and mysteries to her character.  This is a love story of star-crossed couple, but as is always the case with Hand's book, it talks about so much more.

The cover is very apt, in that most of the book seems shrouded in a bit of mysterious fog.  As I mentioned the story is a bit vague at points.  Given what a slender read this is though, Hand sure packed a lot of story in here.  We are subject to Maddy and Rogan's past, the events of their teenage years, the school play, and then finally the results of their lives.

It was a beautiful and bittersweet story.  I would recommend for an older young adult audience.  It touches a lot on sexuality, incest (they are cousins after all), there is some swearing, and there is a lot of casual drug use. 

Overall I loved this story.  It is beautifully and intelligently written.  The reader is whisked off to a place with a magical atmosphere with darkly magical characters.  I found it to be very engaging and just...well...darkly beautiful.

This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
- The Young Adult Reading Challenge
- The 100+ Book Reading Challenge
- Summer Romance Reading Challenge

You can visit Elizabeth Hand's homepage here.


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