The Lure of the Dark
Growing up (with the) fey in Melissa Marr’s novels
by Molly Templeton
WICKED LOVELY by Melissa Marr. HarperTeen, 2007; paperback, 2008, $8.99.
INK EXCHANGE by Melissa Marr. HarperTeen, 2008. Hardcover, $16.99.
A tale like this always starts with a beautiful girl — usually in the company of a beautiful male. Or it might be the other way around. One’s mortality is at stake; the other was never anything like mortal, but he has concerns of his own. Melissa Marr’s debut young adult novel Wicked Lovely begins with two beautiful girls: One, in a prologue, doomed to an immortal lifetime of coldness, the other playing pool in a nondescript bar.
Like certain other recent teen novels, Wicked Lovely involves a gorgeous, inhuman guy falling in love with a seemingly ordinary girl. Usually, when this happens — when the ordinary human falls for the strange, pale man (or is tapped by unknown powers for a specific fate) — she doesn’t know what she’s dealing with. Aislinn does. She’s always been able to see faeries: nasty, teasing, frightening creatures, most of them; almost beautiful, always dangerous. She’s tried to avoid them her whole life, but now two of them are following her. What they want, and what it means for Aislinn, her not-quite-boyfriend Seth and the entire court of the faery Summer King, is the focus of Wicked Lovely, an urban fantasy in the same vein as Holly Black’s Tithe. Marr underestimates neither the strength of her young heroine nor the lure of the fey, and she carefully pairs a multipronged romance with gracefully straightforward prose, letting Aislinn’s dilemma provide all the drama and heat necessary. This is a novel for devouring in an afternoon, all the way through its unexpectedly satisfying resolution. There have been enough faery tales and fantasies that end with an aggravatingly either/or choice; Marr, delightfully, finds another way through.
And, with this year’s Ink Exchange, she finds her way back to Aislinn’s hometown, which is faintly reminiscent of Buffy Summers’ Sunnydale in the way that very ordinary dangers — the folk who hassle you on the street, the dangerously good-looking guy in the bar — have a habit of turning out to be something otherworldly. Ink Exchange shifts the focus to Aislinnn’s friend Leslie, whose playful, friendly demeanor hides an unpleasant home life and a painful secret. On the fey side, Ink moves from the Summer Court, with its benevolent rulers, to the Dark Court, tumultuous, violent and troubled. Leslie has been saving the tip money from her waitressing job to get a tattoo, to mark her body as her own in a meaningful way; Irial, the Dark Court’s leader, has been waiting for just the right human to mark with his blood. Leslie’s tattoo, gorgeous and eerie, does just the opposite of what she’d hoped. It makes her Irial’s, not her own, and no matter how Irial feels about Leslie, his effect is deeply harmful to her. Under his thrall, Leslie is as if drugged, half-aware, half drifting in a haze, turning self-destructive as she becomes desperate to escape. It’ll take another troubled, self-destructive, secret-holding person to help Leslie find her way through the fey darkness. Ink Exchange is a darker, bleaker read than Wicked Lovely; it’s not as immediately satisfying, but there’s honesty and grace in the story of these wounded, flawed people finding the will to survive — and to change.
Melissa Marr reads as part of Teen Read Week at 6:30 pm Thursday, Oct. 16, at the Downtown Library.
BOOK NOTES: Corrina Wycoff reads from O Street, 8 pm 10/16, Knight Library, UO. John Daniel, Kathleen Dean Moore and John Bogard read in honor of the night sky and in celebration of Let There Be Light: Testimony on Behalf of the Dark, edited by Bogard, 7 pm 10/18, Corvallis-Benton County Public Library. Poets Tom Crawford and Candice Favilla read, 7 pm 10/21, Downtown Library. Floyd Skloot reads from The Wink of the Zenith: The Shaping of a Writer’s Life and The Snow’s Music, 7 pm 10/21, Knight Library, UO. Lauren Kessler reads from Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer’s: One Daughter’s Hopeful Story, 7 pm 10/21, Springfield Library. Mark Gaffney reads from The 9/11 Mystery Plane and the Vanishing of America, 7 pm 10/22, Tsunami Books. Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres discuss The Miner’s Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power and Transforming Democracy, 7 pm 10/23, 175 Knight Law, UO. Poet Ted Genoways reads, 8 pm 10/23, Knight Library, UO.