In related news, my time turner seems to have been delayed in shipping. Again.
On to the review! I figured I'd get back into the swing of things with a book by my favorite author, Lilith Saintcrow (aka Lili St. Crow).
Kin, by Lili St. Crow
Full moon. Glowing eyes. And such sharp, white teeth. . .Kin is the third and final novel in Lili St. Crow's Tales of Beauty and Madness series. (I didn't actually do a review for the first novel, Nameless, but there is one in the archives for Wayfarer, if you're interested.) And what a spectacular finale it was.
Ruby deVarre is Rootkin, and the granddaughter of the most revered clanmother in all of New Haven.
In the kin world, girls Ruby's age are expected to settle down and start a family. But settling down is the farthest thing from wild-child Ruby's mind--all she wants to do is drive fast with her friends and run free through the woods.
Then Conrad, a handsome boy from a clan across the Waste, comes to New Haven to stay with Ruby, and the sparks fly immediately. Conrad is smart, charming, and downright gorgeous. Ruby gets to know him more, she begins to realize something's. . . off. Like most kin boys, Conrad's temper can be a bit. . . short. But does he have to be so rough with Ruby--to the point of leaving bruises? On top of all that, Conrad seems to be isolating Ruby, until he all but forbids her from seeing her best friends Cami and Ellie.
And then the murders start. Someone is terrorizing Ruby's small woodland community, and now she is more alone than ever. Just when she starts to suspect her Prince Charming is anything but, she becomes his next target. Ruby's about to find out that Conrad's secrets run deeper than she could have ever imagined. . .
First, a warning: St. Crow's Tales of Beauty and Madness are dark. The kind of dark that reminds you that fairy tales were originally warnings, not animated musicals. The dangers that can befall the young, particularly at the hands of the older and more vicious creatures of the world, are a continuing theme in the series. The girls in this series aren't protected the way they should be. Their caregivers are conniving, indifferent, cruel, distant, abusive, and/or just plain evil. They are used and abused, both mentally and physically, and these stories are about them struggling blindly in very bad situations. They are not easy to read.
Just, you know, so you can be prepared.
Kin was not the story I expected going in, mainly because Ruby is not the character I'd grown accustomed to from reading the other two novels. We quickly discover that she wears masks for the world, hiding her true nature under the faces she thinks everyone wants to see, even her family and closest friends. Living that way seems like the best option to her--she has her reasons, which I won't get bogged down with here--but that kind of constant playacting takes a toll. It leaves her feeling trapped and alone, even while she's running free and surrounded by people who love her.
It also sets her up as a perfect target for abuse. It's easy to isolate and dominate someone who lives that way. They've already taken care of all the heavy lifting on their own.
Enter Conrad, the mysterious stranger from another clan, sent to play Prince Charming. He looks at Ruby and sees all that anxiety and self-doubt she's drowning in, and he immediately steps up and saves her from herself, making her see how perfect and special she is all on her own.
Seriously, were you not paying attention when I said these stories were dark warnings of abuse and cruelty?
Of course Conrad doesn't ride in on a white horse and save the day. He finds all of Ruby's hidden vulnerabilities and he exploits the hell out of them. He manipulates her, stalks her, hurts her, and does pretty much everything he can to destroy her spirit and independence. It's downright terrifying to read.
St. Crow writes them both masterfully. They are very real, very strongly developed characters who burrow deep into your brain. Ruby in particular has so much life I'm surprised the pages didn't bleed with it. Which just makes it that much more terrible when Conrad starts taking all that away.
And speaking of Conrad, oh he's just so shudder-inducingly creepy. His abuse is so dangerously subtle at times. He twists and maneuvers and works Ruby into a place that's totally off balance, so when his darkness really starts showing through, it's nearly impossible for her to do anything but fall.
The world of these stories is also brilliant. So rich with little subtle details that work perfectly together to bring the whole thing to life. We got to see it through a somewhat narrowed lens in this book, as most of the story takes place within the clan's small semi-isolated society, and that was fascinating. I feel like St. Crow could write a dozen more books about this world and there would still be things to learn about it.
The plot in this one reminded me of heating up a tea kettle. At first it seems like nothing is happening and you're just standing there trying not to stare at it, because some part of the back of your brain still thinks that watching a pot makes it refuse to boil. Then one or two lines of steam drift out. A little humming sound starts to build. And then all of the sudden it's a roiling mass of bubbling chaos screaming fit to wake the dead.
It's possible I have a more adversarial relationship with tea than the average person.
There were a few points in the story that bumped funny along the way for me. And I would have liked a few more details about things that were going on off the page, particularly those things Ruby learned about after the fact. But that's not St. Crow's style. I've learned that there will always be a few questions in her novels that I just won't get the answers to. Her worlds are annoyingly true-to-life that way.
My overall thoughts: a very well-drawn main character, a creeptastic bad guy, a trilling story, and a brilliant world. All in all, this was a fantastic novel capping off a fantastic series.