The queen smiled and Jenny caught a glimpse of her eyes, darkly shadowed and ancient. No longer beautiful. Something else lurked behind the stunning exterior. Something dark and hungry. Something not human.
But then, nothing here was human, was it? Jenny looked back at Jack, at his leaves and his wildwood eyes, at the stone blade strapped to his hip, at the odd cast to his features. He met her stare impassively. Nothing was human here but her. And anything to the contrary was a lie.
Author: Ruth Frances Long
Synopsis: Years ago, Jenny saw the forest respond to her brother’s flute playing by catching hold of him and dragging him away. Now, after the grief and the trouble with her parents, after the psychiatrists and the unbearable terror around trees, Jenny returns to the forest once—just once, just to say goodbye to Tom. But upon getting hints that Tom is still alive, she sets out to save him from getting tithed to hell, a task which demands she both defy and depend upon the unpredictable yet appealing Jack o' the Forest.
Notes: This 363-page YA standalone packs quite a blenderful of myths and literary legends, all in one tolerably cohesive puree. The heroine, apparently called after a Charles Dickens character—or perhaps the Paul McCartney song—loses her brother in an adaptation of something on the Tam Lin/Thomas the Rhymer continuum, is offered the role of May Queen, and winds up in a struggle against Oberon and a Queen Mab-possessed Titania, aided by Puck and a boy of mismatched eyes whose mythology traces from the Green Man through the Jack-in-the-box. And that's just for starters.
The mix contains some religious symbolism, too, and to be honest, I couldn't tell what the author meant by her use of Christianish baptismal imagery and self-sacrifice. At some points it seemed downright sincere, and at others, word choices hinted at subversion. I suspect its presence arises mainly from her college-level study of History of Religions and the fact that she's "a lifelong fan of fantasy, romance, and ancient mysteries", but I could be wrong.
The romance, now that I've mentioned that, was unusually sweet for a paranormal. In a genre nowadays flooded with mouthy, worldly heroines, Jenny came as a pleasant surprise: innocent, devoted, and courageous out of goodness of heart instead of mere physical bravery. Jack departed from the Unbelievable Hotness trope and was physically imperfect, conflicted, protective, and likable. Better yet, he had a quality character arc of his own.
For a modern YA novel, the story is reasonably well written, and the depiction of fairyland is visual enough to be enjoyable. The narrative begins roughly, dark and weird and a little too obvious about the title concept—the more so since the latter seemed to bear less weight on the story later on. Sure, the pretty stuff can betray you—but heck, this is fairyland; everything is a little treacherous, including the goat-legged Puck and the antlered Oberon.
While a few of the details are predictable, the plot turns are angular and unexpected and solid. One could debate that it ends over-perfectly, but I wouldn't. I frankly thought the last bit wonderful.
I did wish Tom had played more of a role in the story; the beginning signs of hardness in him, pre-abduction, were never explained as I recall. That's a small critique, though. There's a lot in this short, ostensibly light work, and to weave all the above in and leave only one plot thread noticeably loose is success indeed.