Monday, June 27, 2011

Review of Merrie DeStefano's Feast

I received this book for review from the publisher through NetGalley, and I have to admit that I’ve been putting off writing the review, because I have mixed feelings about the novel. In fact, I forced myself to read the book a second time, because I wasn’t sure I could do a fair review based solely on my first reading. I’m glad I read it a second time, because it definitely improved with a second reading. This book totally creeped me out (in a good way), and I think that’s one of the reasons it’s been so hard to write this review.
Feast is a fantasy novel with some romance elements, and it takes place in the small town of Ticonderoga Falls. The town clearly has secrets, and there is a sense of foreboding and menace as Halloween approaches. Madeline “Maddie” MacFadden is a graphic novelist known as Mad Mac, and after a nasty divorce, she’s returned to Ticonderoga Falls with her son Tucker to spend a few nights in the cabin she visited with her parents when she was a child. Since her divorce, she’s had a bad case of writer’s block, and she hopes that the change of scenery will inspire her to start writing again. Artists are frequently drawn to the town, but the reasons for the creative draw are less than innocent. The town’s protected (or is it cursed?) by a being named Ash, a Darkling. The Darklings feed off human dreams, and Halloween is the time of the Darklings’ harvest. To protect the humans, the Darklings’ laws prohibit them from gorging themselves on the humans’ dreams, which kills them and leaves their bodies as dried-up husks. With Halloween drawing near, members of Ash’s Darkling family arrive to feast during the Harvest, but after a century of protecting Ticonderoga Falls, Ash’s control of the town is beginning to be called into question by some very dangerous adversaries.
Ms. DeStefano does an amazing job of creating an ominous and sinister feel to the novel. In fact, I completely blame the novel’s creepiness for my difficulties reading it the first time, since I had to keep putting the book down because of the threatening atmosphere. I love how she juxtaposed Maddie’s innocent hikes through the sunlit forest with the shadows that hide the Darklings stalking her, because what should have been a relaxing vacation suddenly takes on menacing overtones. It’s clear from the start that Maddie is special, and her creative abilities attract the creatures that feed on dreams and fascinating Ash. There’s also the constant question of whether or not Ash is the town’s savior or demon. Has his 100 year stay in Ticonderoga Falls been a curse or has it provided protection for the town’s inhabitants? As the novel progresses, we learn more about the Darklings and their powers, providing much of the uncertainty over whether or not Ash is a hero. Also, Ash’s cousins Thane and River arrive for the Harvest, and it becomes clear that they do not intend to abide by the rules, pursuing and taunting their victims in the woods.  As the Harvest draws near, the tension between the Darklings and Maddie’s confusion about what is happening in the woods creates suspense that will keep you on the edge of your seat, especially since the town’s children will be out trick-or-treating during the Darklings’ feast.
The fictional world created by Merrie DeStefano is a fascinating one, and she does a stellar job of drawing out the tension by gradually revealing information about Ash’s past and the Darklings’ nature through the eyes of different characters. The novel is narrated mainly from Maddie, Ash, and Thane’s points of view, with glimpses from other secondary characters. Unfortunately, this is not always successful. At times, I felt the information gained from the secondary characters was unnecessary. Eli Driscoll, the grandson of the man whose actions drew Ash’s curse, is an important character, but his point of view seems unnecessary, as do those of Joe Wimbledon (the Legend Keeper) and Sheriff Kyle. All three characters play roles in how the action develops, but instead of presenting their points of view, the author could have limited them to interaction with the main characters. The multiplicity of voices was a distraction, and I believe the space devoted to these secondary characters could have been used to develop Ash and Maddie’s characters and incipient romance. The one secondary character whose point of view I did enjoy was that of Elspeth, Ash’s half Darkling/half human teenage daughter. Her voice was my favorite among all the characters, because I felt it was strong and gave a great sense of Elspeth’s vulnerability, more so even than Maddie. At times Ash and Maddie seem a little two dimensional, and their romance seems a bit contrived. While the finale proves that Maddie is a strong creative force, able to interact with the Darklings in ways the other humans cannot, for most of the novel Ash’s attraction to Maddie seemed to be directly related to her creative energy, rather than, say, her personality or character. 
Ms. DeStefano is a gifted writer, able to create superbly creepy worlds rivaling that of any horror writer. If you are a fan of fantasy fiction, this would be a great addition to your library. However, if you are more interested in romance or character driven works, this might not be for you. Either way, I’m interested in seeing future novels from Ms. DeStefano. I’ll just make sure I read them with ALL the lights on.

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