In a misogynistic world where women’s natural magic has branded them dangerous, stupid, and in need of controlling constant guidance, Aislynn is living the dream: she’s a princess in a fairytale world complete with fairy godmothers, handsome princes, and happily ever afters. Except that when Aislynn accidentally uses her natural magic to defend herself, she’s Redirected onto the fairy godmother Path, sent to a new Academy, and must serve another princess.
Stray is an interesting book. It’s been branded as ‘a new fairytale’, except that is brings in lots of elements of other faiytales such the aforementioned fairy godmothers, magic, the Glass Slipper, spinning needles, and wolves, without really building much of its own tale. In Stray, the horrible misogynistic world built leaves all young girls in the most horrifying and vulnerable of positions: they are not allowed to use their natural magic. Advisors and fairy godmothers keep girls under constant scrutiny until they are handed over to their husbands, who keep a record of their magic use. And when they cross a line (which is undefined, as some girls are Redirected for much lesser crimes than other) and are Redirected, they are expected to be experts at all sort of domestic magic. Aislynn is yelled at constantly because she can’t heat tea or alter dresses using her magic. It’s an awful position to be put in, and I couldn’t help but think of the pressure put on virgin girls in the real world to suddenly become porn stars the instant they lose their virginity.
Contrary to just about every book ever written, Stray suffers from one mighty setback: it shows us too much without telling us anything at all. There are so many mysteries left unsolved at the end of the book I have to wonder if it was done on purpose or if the author is simply incompetent. A wolf that Aislynn has been dreaming about suddenly appears literally out of nowhere and no one asks any questions, Aislynn included. Aislynn’s own fairy godmother leaves cryptic clues that only serve to deliver more questions, and doesn’t answer anything. Aislynn spends a lot of her time being a failure of a fairy godmother and baking, except that at one point she’s Redirected (again) to become a princess (again), which begs the question that why on earth did we have the fairy godmother sections except to show that Aislynn isn’t very good at magic, except those random moments when she’s exceptionally good at it? It may have been to show the developing relationship between the gardener and the other servant, except that those relationships (however realistically portrayed) go nowhere as well.
Two-thirds into the book the plot takes a drastic change. This is with the introduction of the wolf. Aislynn’s back to being a princess. No one has any real idea of what’s going on, and as the reader I was just as lost. There was no clear goal in the novel and no real hurdles to overcome. It felt more like a ‘slice of life’, a series of montages showing how Aislynn couldn’t do anything right, how she was punished, and how she wasn’t quite bright enough to figure out someone was keeping tabs on her. She didn’t even have a goal of escaping the horrible society she was trapped in. The whole thing felt kind of aimless, even though the first two thirds seemed like a dystopian novel, which made it more difficult to read because as I said, no one had any goals and the villain that was being built up to be the villain turned out not to be a threat after all. Despite the dystopian feel to the fairytale world, there seemed to be no central conflict. Just ‘Aislynn can’t do anything right, except when she does.’
On top of that the characters in one location are replicated almost exactly in another location (the creepy pedo old man, the dour old woman who needs her heart back), and they hate Aislynn for no reason. AND THEN the contradictions started kicking in. The party Aislynn finds herself in think she’s being targeted for attack (no reason for them to believe this) when someone else was shot first, and then one characters says another character, who’s been as dour as the old woman mentioned previously, actually likes Aislynn.
Overall it kind of felt like the author wrote two-thirds of the book and realised the story couldn’t continue with Aislynn as a fairy godmother, so the story went off in another direction in an attempt to inject some danger and/or goals, much the same way Twilight was simply a romance until James was introduced to include a Big Bad and a direct threat to Bella.
Will I read the next book in the series? Honestly, probably not. I’m too disappointed by this jumble of half-plots and messing around doing nothing constructive. I feel that the novel could have been so much more, but then I re-read the blurb and saw how little it actually promised. I was just way too excited about the idea of a princess with magical powers. That’ll teach me.
Bonus points for hinting at possible lesbianism between two supporting characters.
Thanks to Greenwillow and Edelweiss for providing a free review copy for an honest review.