Miss Ada Quicksilver, a student of London’s Lovelace Academy for Promising Young Women, is spending her holiday in Ireland to pursue her anthropological study of fairies. She visits Dublin’s absinthe bars to investigate a supposed association between the bittersweet spirit and fairy sightings.
One night a handsome Irishman approaches her, introducing himself as Edward Donoghue. Edward takes absinthe to relieve his sleepwalking, and she is eager to hear whether he has experience with fairies. Instead, she discovers that he’s the earl of Meath, and that he will soon visit a mysterious ruin at Newgrange on the orders of his cousin, the beautiful, half-mad Queen Isolde. On learning about Ada’s area of study, he invites her to accompany him.
Ada is torn between a sensible fear of becoming entangled with the clearly troubled gentleman and her compelling desire to ease his suffering. Finally she accepts his invitation, and they arrive in time for the winter solstice. That night, the secret of Edward’s affliction is revealed: he is, in fact, a lord in two worlds and can no longer suppress his shadow self.
Little does either of them realize that their blossoming friendship and slowly kindling passion will lead to discoveries that wrench open a door sealed for centuries, throwing them into a war that will change Ireland forever.
This is a book that I had high hopes for, especially as fantasy combined with romance is kind of my thing, but fell short for me a bit and that’s far more disappointing than I thought it’d be. Of course I also read this when I was in a crap mood so this may very well be a case of ‘it’s not you, book, it’s me’.
I’m always first and foremost a character reader–that is I gravitate to the characters wanting to connect with them, they’re my way into the story that’s being told. If I can’t connect to the characters then I have a hard time enjoying the book and sadly that’s what happened here. Ada is an interesting young woman, she’s bucking tradition in a lot of ways by taking on scholarship at a time when that was frowned upon for someone of her gender. She also decides to take a trip to another country all on her own, without a chaperone, in order to study some of the folklore she’s been learning about (and a bit obsessed with) in person. We’re told how very scholarly she is but honestly not much about her character made her feel that way except for a few incidents here and there. I honestly felt like her character was a pretty weak portrayal of the ‘not like other girls’ trope and that was a shame.
Then there is the earl of Meath whom Ada meets shortly after the start of the book. After an extremely short acquaintance she agrees to travel with him to view some ancient sites she knows about from her studies. Maybe not the smartest of things but hey it all works out so I guess it’s all good. The earl, Edward, is supposed to be intriguing and mysterious as he seems to be afflicted by the fey, but I wound up feeling kind of sorry for him and maybe a bit repulsed at the same time since he immediately seems to be attracted to Ada and wants her body. Lol. Anyway, he refrains from his baser instincts but we have to keep hearing about them as we spend some time in his thoughts. I make this sound a lot worse than it is, but I think I was just like ‘really dude?’ the whole time and since I wasn’t in a good mood while reading I didn’t give this a pass like I normally would have.
The thing is. Well. I don’t want to go into spoiler territory but there seems to be a very good reason for Ada to have abandoned all caution to travel with a virtual stranger and for Edward’s lusty thoughts. The explanation is a good one and it negates my irritation with all said above. That being said it’s also one of my most hated tropes of all time that just makes me roll my eyes in disgust every time I encounter it. Sorry book, it’s not you, it’s definitely me. It’s…done a little differently here at least. But it makes things very complicated for our characters as they become entangled in a story that they have little control over. Is it fate? Is it just supernatural beings fucking with them? Why not both? I feel like there was such a lack of agency on both character’s parts due to this…thing…that it made it hard for me to like either of them much. Of course, they question that themselves several times and because it’s lampshaded I suppose we should give it a pass, but it just didn’t work for me. Your mileage may vary!
Despite that hated trope which is pretty integral to the world here, I did enjoy the world-building. There’s a very clever thing the author has done here which, once again is a spoiler, so I won’t mention it but I thought ‘oh, that was unexpected, how neat’ while reading it. I love stories revolving around the fair folk so this should have been right up my alley for that reason as well but things felt slightly off-kilter for some reason and not in a good way. I don’t have to like the fae, they’re not very likable after all, but I feel like they needed more…something. I don’t know, and I know that’s not very helpful. Sigh. Mostly things just felt very mediocre and predictable, with the exception of a couple of things. Usually those are not detractors because in a story like this I’d be alllll invested in the romance and look past a lot of other stuff. But I wasn’t feeling the romance here either, mostly because of the hated trope and the complications it introduced into the relationship between the two characters.
Overall though, I didn’t hate this book–I liked the concept and thought the world was interesting and I’d like to see more in it (hopefully without any more occurrences of the dreaded trope). I’d also like to give this one another try when I’m in a better mood and see if that changes my perception of it at all–as it stands now it felt pretty mediocre. But others have enjoyed this one a lot and you might as well so I think it’s still worth giving it a shot if it sounds like your thing. 3/5 stars.