It is probably a little unfair to Melissa Marr that I think of her work often whenever someone mentions Twilight. This is partially because her first book, Wicked Lovely, was published during the post-Twilight teen paranormal romance deluge. I didn’t jump on the Twilight bandwagon early, and I think I read Twilight, Eclipse, and Wicked Lovely in short succession.
But out of the many teen paranormal romances that I’ve sampled, I think her Wicked Lovely series is one of the best. There are also some interesting parallels in the behavior of the male characters, but where Twilight is filled with unintentional howlers, Wicked Lovely is a nice example of a teen urban fantasy that you might want to hand to the Twihard in your life if you wish to gently reprogram them.
Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
There aren’t many new creatures to write about in paranormal romance. Typically you have vampires (Twilight, Vampire Diaries, too many others to mention), werewolves (Need, Shiver), even zombies (The Forest of Hands and Teeth). Wicked Lovely deals with the very popular urban fantasy device of fairies, except they are portrayed as mostly creepy instead of being regarded as eternally lovely magical beings.
Aislinn has the ability to see fairies. Everywhere she goes, she sees invisible creatures engaged in malicious acts, either torturing each other or playing tricks on the humans who walk through the world absolutely blind. Her grandmother has trained her since childhood not to react to any fairies that cross her path. Unfortunately Aislinn has captured the attention of the worst fairy possible for her, Keenan, who is king of the Summer Fey. Keenan is locked into a centuries-old quest to find his queen among mortal women, leaving behind a trail of ruined lives from girls who were forced to join his brainless harem of Summer Girls or had their lives altered in an entirely different way by becoming the eternally frosty Winter Girl.
Keenan begins to woo Aislinn, and she is terrified. He’s utterly beautiful and possesses the fairy mojo to force anyone to be attracted to him. Where Twilight romanticizes stalking and controlling behavior in the form of Edward the perfect vampire, Aislinn just wants Keenan to leave her alone. He shows up at her hang-outs. He enrolls in her school using a glamor to appear human. All of Aislinn’s friends are mystified as to why she’s so hostile to the new transfer student. Where Twilight’s Bella is mostly passive, Aislinn tries to take control of her situation through research and negotiation. She’s aided by her almost-boyfriend Seth, who is perhaps one of the most awesome punk rock boyfriends ever to appear in the pages of a YA novel. He’s entirely supportive of whatever decision Aislinn makes, goes to the library to research fairy history for her, lives in a converted train, and sports an amazing variety of piercings. It makes sense that Seth would be presented as practically perfect in every way since he’s shown to the reader as Aislinn sees him. Even though it is heavily idealized, seeing a relationship where two people were genuinely supportive of each other while facing a threat was a refreshing change of pace from the usual angst one finds in teen fiction.
I appreciated the way Marr developed Keenan’s character. While the reader can have sympathy for his motivations, he’s presented as a hamstrung monarch who is utterly befuddled when someone defies him. He’s convinced that Aislinn is his destined queen but he is so used to human women throwing themselves at his feet if he deigns to smile at them, he’s utterly at a loss when Aislinn rejects his advances. Wicked Lovely has an ending which is a nice twist on the “girl becomes fairy princess” conclusion that you might expect from reading a story about a girl pursued by a fairy King.
Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr
The second book in the Wicked Lovely series is structured in a way that I wish was more common in YA series. It isn’t a straight sequel. Instead of continuing the adventures of Aislinn, Keenan, and Seth, Ink Exchange focuses on Aislinn’s friend Leslie. There must be something in the water at Bishop O’Connell High School, because it certainly seems to produce teenage girls that fairies are inexplicably attracted to. Leslie comes from a broken and abusive home, but she’s hiding her family life from her friends and any authority figure. She’s fixated on the idea of getting a tattoo as a tangible reminder of the way she wants to change her life. Unfortunately the tattoo shop she selects is connected to the fairy Dark Court, and the tattoo of her dreams will cause her to be bound to the king of the fairy Dark Court.
One of the things I like about the Wicked Lovely series is that it explores dark themes, and there’s actually tension built up for the reader as they wonder about Leslie’s ultimate fate. She spirals down, trapped in the addictive power of the dark fairies and has to fight her way back in order to find herself again. Leslie is aided by one of Keenan’s advisers, a defector from the Dark Court named Niall. Aislinn appears briefly in a few scenes, but this book is entirely Leslie’s story. As a character, she’s initially more broken than Aislinn, and the Dark Court is far more malicious towards fairies and humans than the Summer Court introduced in the previous book.
One of the things that annoyed me about the Twilight series was that for a bunch of books about vampires it was unfortunately toothless. Action scenes happened offstage. There’s never any real narrative tension or reason to worry about what will ultimately happen to the characters. The Wicked Lovely books do a much better job of maintaining a consistent thematic atmosphere. The fairies don’t measure their actions against human morality and sometimes mortals are broken or used up. These books aren’t great literature, but they do serve their purpose as well-written teen paranormal romance. In a world filled with substandard Twilight knock-offs, that isn’t something to take for granted.