Don’t let the difficult, ornate font on the cover of this book deceive you—it’s actually a pretty easy read. This is Part I of the first novel in an ongoing series centered on Frotwoot, an amnesiac teenager from a magical realm who mysteriously falls from the sky in the American Midwest. He reconnects with a faerie girl who remembers him from their childhood and soon he’s off on a wild adventure in a place very far from and very different from his home.
The Concept: B+
A lovable teenager of strange origins meets a remarkable girl who can help him discover the secrets of his past…it’s not the most original concept, but it’s dressed up with enough extra stuff to make it a lot more fun than meets the eye. There’s magic that seems to be fueled by amber. Frotwoot’s forgotten backstory seems to involve being held captive with a young faerie princess. There’s the wizard/demi-god in the form of an ancient tree. And while on his adventures in this bizarre, magical kingdom, Frotwoot also stumbles across a plot for a political assassination. The Unseelie Court is pretty busy and packed full of quirkiness, but it manages not to be prohibitively confusing.
The Execution: C+
I almost gave up reading after the first few pages. After the opening scene in which young Frotwoot falls from the sky and is immediately struck by a car, there’s paragraph after paragraph of summary. An attention-grabbing opening scene is followed by a discussion of ten years of Frotwoot’s life in about as many pages, and it wasn’t until the next chapter that I realized it was all essentially a prologue to where the real story begins.
I’m not really a fan of prologues, but I think renaming the first chapter as “Prologue” would have done wonders to adequately shape my expectations for the story. Chapter Two begins in the present day and follows a linear, non-summarized plot through to the end of the book. The information in the first chapter is pretty important, but perhaps there could have been a better way to share that with the reader than a kind of outline of Frotwoot’s personal history among the humans.
Other than that, I have few complaints about the execution. Frotwoot is pulled into a world of magic with a genuine sense of reluctance and disbelief. The places he visits are interestingly rendered. The characters he meets are drawn with a skillful humanity (despite many of them not actually being human), a vivid imagination, and a healthy dose of comedy (and this book is funny).
But that first chapter though…I mean, I’m really glad I kept reading, but I almost didn’t.
The Writer’s Voice: A
This may sound weird and perhaps egocentric, but Ward’s style reminds me a lot of my own. So, obviously, I kind of like his approach. There’s just this pervasive tongue-in-cheek quality to the whole thing—coupled with some syntactically-unusual humor and a heavy reliance on italics—that make me feel like I’m reading the work of some kind of twin separated at birth or something. Lines like these, in particular, remind me of myself (and remind me of things I later pat myself on the back for coming up with):
And with that, the Dryad said a word to him that wasn’t made of sound or letters, but of emotions, and elements, and…power. Combined together, they made something that sounded like a word when you said it, as Frotwoot was saying it now, but you got the sense that it was just doing that so you wouldn’t go crazy.
Even Ward’s weaknesses feel similar to my own—every now and then, there’s a line that makes too much of an attempt at wittiness for its own good. I’d have to go back a reread it a few times, emphasizing different parts, until I figured out how it made sense. I know I’m guilty of this.
The X-Factor: B
The wonder is the X-Factor. It’s not as thrilling as the first time we learned about The Force or entered the gates of Hogwarts, but as we follow Frotwoot into a new world where magic is so real that it’s basically one of the sciences, it’s a wondrous experience. The different species and the different cultures, the government that seems to be some kind of blend of democracy and enlightened feudalism, the backstory of the realm, and the protagonist’s own murky past kept making me murmur, “Hmm…iiiiinteresting” to myself every couple of pages.
The Ruling on The Unseelie Court: B
The Unseelie Court (Part 1) is a quirky, refreshing take on magic and magical mythology. Once you get past the first chapter, you’ll be reading straight through to the end, which delivers a twist that’s sure to keep you reading into Part 2.