Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff (@brennayovanoff )

I finished my first Yovanoff novel in a day. This one took me several weeks. On its face, that might seem like a bad thing, but it’s not. This book was just as intriguing and strange and good. It was just so weirdly removed but still within reality that I had to take breaks to let me head wrap around the content. Magical realism always takes me a little longer to absorb than other genres. But Yovanoff’s incredible strength at creating atmosphere got me through. So spooky and strange is this world that I just wanted to know more and more. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Yovanoff is a master craftsman of mood.

Based on the title alone, I had expectations for this book. I kind of expected that our main character would be imbued with titular quality. That she would be evil. Let’s set the stage for Fiendish (as always, I’m going to talk about the content, so spoilers) – as a child, Clementine is bound and hidden in a closet while her home and family burn around her. Ten years later, she’s still sitting in this cupboard, waiting. How can she not be the fiend in the title? How could this happen to a person without them becoming a raging ball of anger. But that’s not Clementine. She knows time has passed, but not how much. She can see, but not really. She has visions she can’t explain. Her time seems verge on comfortable. A boy her own age, Fisher, finally finds and saves her. Both know they were drawn to each other, but they can’t explain what’s causing the pull.

In the YA genre, girl meets jerky boy and instantly falls for him and helps to make him better is a trope that’s been done to death and often done poorly. So, when I realized that this would be a major focus of the book, I took it with a salt shaker’s worth of salt. Yovanoff had done it well in Paper Valentine, but could this book live up to what she’d done there? I’d read some reviews that panned this book for being nothing but a girl saves boy and finds the love of her life story. I gotta say, I do not agree. Yes, there is a relationship in the book, but there’s more to it than simple sexual attraction.

Clementine was kept alive for all those years through magic. Not Potterian magic. No waving of wands or cauldron brewing. This is old, home grown, southern superstition magic. Trick bags and hexes. Witches and power pulled straight from the earth. Fisher’s essence was used to keep Clementine alive. Fisher’s power comes from the dirt. The ability to grow and heal and influence. Without that, Clementine would probably have died. Through her imprisonment, she could sense him, even though she’d never met him. These flashes were her only connection to reality. Fisher strengthens her power when he finds her hidden in the ruins. She can see him even when her eyes are sewn shut. This isn’t a simple love story. It’s a story of salvation – and not Clementine’s.

It starts with Clementine. Her salvation is obvious and straightforward. She is saved from her prison. But the others all need to be saved in their own way (except maybe Rae). Fisher’s grandmother suffocated him his entire life. The town believes that he was abandoned by his mother when he was nine, but no one knows that his abandonment actually happened when he was seven. Isola kept him locked away in an inaccessible room for two years. Hidden away from everyone. Taught from a very early age that he’s wrong and evil and needs to keep everything locked away. He’s spent his entire life trying not to be who he is. Except his entire persona is about who he is. His craft allows him to influence people just by being around them. People like him because of his craft. Fisher’s only escape is into the hollow. A place filled with magic, both good and bad, is the only time he ever feels free. This is part of what draws him to Clementine. She never thinks he’s anything other than what he is because she’s never known any different. She’s drawn to his power because of her own.

Fisher is revered among the townfolk because of his family ties and reviled by the people from the Willows. Shiny (Clem’s cousin) knows he has the craft. She recognizes it because she has it. She and Rae, her best friend, both do. Shiny has always flaunted her abilities just enough to scare people but not enough to bring down the wrath of the town again. Rae has been able to stay in town and keep her powers low. Shiny has no objections to this, but uses the same strategy against Fisher.

Shiny hates Fisher. I do not. I’m drawn to the Fisher character – and not because he’s a jerk and that’s my thing. I’m drawn to his pain and confusion. This inability to find himself when everyone around him is so sure of who he is. He never seems to be able to settle on a decision. He wants Clem. He doesn’t want her. He’s drawn to her. He hides his grandmother from her. Then brings Clementine into his hidden room. He saves her and then discards her. He’s never been allowed to be himself, so given the opportunity, he has no idea what to do.

Clementine is the heart of this group. The pointiest point on their star. Her return sets everything on fire – and not just figuratively. No one around town remembers Clementine. It was part of her binding spell. Not even her aunt. But Shiny does. She knows immediately who Clementine is. She hates Fisher, but she’s so much like him. She was just as messed up by the fires and the reckoning as he was. When the townfolk set their home on fire with her and her mother still inside, Shiny had to absorb the power of the fire in order to save them. To activate her craft far too early. She was too young to know what she was doing, but she was able to put out the fire. This should have been a defining moment in their lives, but instead of saving her daughter, Myloria keeps them there, stuck in the wasted out hull of their home, of their lives. Shiny grows up, barely mothered, surrounded by the physical evidence of the moment her life fell apart. Clementine’s return stokes Shiny’s anger at everything around her. It forces her to confront what she’s been ignoring for ten years.

Clementine’s return triggers the craft in all of them. Strengthens them. Even those that don’t want it. I suspected that Davenport was involved with the other four somehow, but I didn’t know exactly where it would go. I’m so, so pleased that Yovanoff didn’t go with the general, predictable direction and let this screwed up girl find these new friends to make everything better. Instead, Davenport is the character who inhabits our title. She is fiendish by birth. She is doomed from the beginning because of her blood – her human blood, not her magical blood. Tortured by her father her entire life, her new surge of power pushes everything to the brink of destruction. You cannot help but feel for this girl, even when she’s openly stating that she’s going to keep destroying everything. Yovanoff is so skillful at making the reader love her damaged, tortured characters. The book is from Clem’s perspective, but for me, this book is about Fisher and Shiny and Davenport. About trying to save yourself from your life.

I love Yovanoff’s world building abilities. She takes these very ordinary worlds, warps them into something magical and just drops the reader in the middle of them. You figure it out as you go. As you start to love the characters without realizing that you’re starting to understand their world. I can picture the town and the hollow so vividly, I feel like I’ve been there. Even though it took some time to find my way into this world, I fell in love with it. Yovanoff once again created a book I’m excited to go back to time and time again. I can’t wait to buy it for my collection.

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One thought on “Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff (@brennayovanoff )

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday – 2015 So Far | hellphie's fiendish fiction

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