First review of the year! Shortly before Christmas I finished reading Paranormalcy, by Kiersten White.
What we've got here is a gem of a book. From the start, Kiersten White challenges the usual expectations of urban fantasy. She gives us Evie, a sheltered girl working for the International Paranormal Containment Agency. Her unique gift to see through the magical disguises of supernatural creatures makes her an invaluable tool to the IPCA, despite her young age. As such she has grown up facing down vampires and fairies, yet learns everything she knows about teenage life from television shows, desperate to go to a real school, ahev a proper boyfriend, and her very own locker.
While strong and brave in the face of the kind of threats she has lived with all her life, Evie is still quite girly. She's a great contradiction; neither the helpless damsel nor the alpha female heroine so often seen in urban fantasy.
The story has some of the most truly scary threats and villains I've seen in a long time. Reth, the fairy who is obsessed with Evie, honestly creeps me out. I dreaded turning the page whenever he showed up and cheered whenever he was thwarted. That said, White does an excellent job of showing us that fairies are completely alien to us. They're neither good nor evil, and that makes them all the more uncertain and untrustworthy, because you just know they'll take any chance they can to get what they want.
For a genre often steeped in violence and sex, it's interesting that White's book contains little of both. The romantic tension between Evie and Lend, the shapeshifter whose true form only Evie can see, is intoxicating but completely sweet and innocent. The action scenes are tense and heartpounding, but the book contains no graphic violence. Yet, while this is a book I'd happily let any small child read, it never once felt like the story or themes were dumbed-down or immature.
What I loved most about Paranormalcy was a strong sense that White is showing the reader that magic and fairies are all well and good, but completely pale in comparison to real human feelings and desires. I admit to feeling a bit inundated at times by urban fantasy books where humans are the beaten-down runts of the writer's narrative, where the pleasures and heights of the supernatural far outweigh anything any mere mortal could experience on their own. In Paranormalcy, Evie's greatest desires and most profund moments of desire and happiness come from normal things. Holding a boy's hand. Talking to a friend. Feeling loved. It's honestly refreshing to know there's at least one series out there that lets the beauty of human love shine over the temptations of the supernatural.