Callie LeRoux lives in Slow Run, Kansas, helping her mother run their small hotel and trying not to think about the father she’s never met. Lately all of her energy is spent battling the constant storms plaguing the Dust Bowl and their effects on her health. Callie is left alone when her mother goes missing in a dust storm. Her only hope comes from a mysterious man offering a few clues about her destiny and the path she must take to find her parents in “the golden hills of the west”: California. Along the way she meets Jack, a young hobo boy who is happy to keep her company — there are dangerous, desperate people at every turn. And there’s also an otherworldly threat to Callie. Warring fae factions, attached to the creative communities of American society, are very much aware of the role this half-mortal, half-fae teenage girl plays in their fate.
Yay, a fairy book! I needed a little paranormal palate cleanser after my lukewarm feelings for both recent mermaid novels. Since I am the resident Lover of All Things Fae here at Nose in a Book, there wasn’t really any way I was going to pass this one up. The Dust Bowl period of American history is really interesting and also tragic, and Zettel manages to paint a really vivid picture of the pervasiveness of the dust. I thought, and other reviewers on GoodReads will disagree, that the story moved on really well. We weren’t sitting around waiting for six chapters for Callie’s mom to disappear, or for Callie to meet Jack. I wasn’t ever bored while reading this one, not at all.
I was a little leery of the race element in this book. I think the Seelie court is white, while the Unseelie court is black. Since this is the 1930s, there are a lot of potentially problematic elements that could have been used in this one. Callie, our protag, is half black herself, something she must keep a secret. I’ll have more to say on that later in the review. I liked how Zettel shook up the fairy mythology, with the Seelie court being the more evil when traditionally it’s vice versa. I liked the introduction of Shimmy and Shake, two Unseelie Fae who claim to be related to Callie. I ended up kind of enjoying the racial elements by about the halfway point. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, and I liked how Zettel handled it.
This story is very much taken up by the journey, and we don’t get many questions answered. Since this is a trilogy, that’s something to be expected. I liked the story of the journey, how Callie and Jack both confronted their personal demons while on the road, and how they dealt with each other. I wasn’t bored at all. I enjoyed reading about the Kansas City of the thirties, too. This first novel is very much a personal journey for Callie, learning who she is, who to trust, how to do magic. It’s very character-driven in this first one, rather than focused on the larger plot. That was okay with me too.
Meeting the Unseelie court was a lot of fun. I’m used to the Seelies being the lesser of the two evils, but I liked a relatable Unseelie court. Fairies, even in this backwards world, are never as they seem. Just because they’re the “good” fairies doesn’t mean they’re actually good. That’s what I like about fairies, really: their morality is not at all like ours. They do things for their own interests, and can therefore never be truly on the side of humans. These fairies are no different, including Shimmy, despite turning out to be a friend to Callie and Jack. (There is a twist, of course, involving the Unseelies.) They don’t reach California in this one, but I think I laid out all the reasons that doesn’t matter. If you like fairies plus a little historical fiction, check this one out!