This book, Elizabeth Gracen’s debut offering to Young Adult literature, is nothing short of a masterpiece of fiction. Weaving together themes from Scheherazade (of 1001 Arabian Nights), and the brilliant imagery of Cat Valente’s Fairyland novels, SHALILLY offers new life to a genre which has otherwise grown stale with tired tropes and recycled plots. Her voice is fresh and new, and one which will be welcomed for many years to come. One suspects that there is more brilliance waiting, in the wings, for this woman’s measurable skills to translate.
SHALILLY is, at its heart (and like all successful YA literature) a romance. However, even in this respect Gracen deviates in wonderful, unexpected ways. Typically, one expects a romantic plot-line to begin with boy-meets-girl. Then the duo fall in love, face the obstacles to their feelings, and optionally face-off against some sort of overwhelming foe.Here, ‘they-fall-in-love’ comes first–and it makes perfect sense. Is it so strange, then, that the other elements, while present and comprehensible, follow in a likewise staggered manner? Open the covers of this ook without expectation, because your expectations will be dashed in the most wonderful ways.
In SHALILLY, Fippa is a novitiate Oracle-in Waiting at Delphi, or so she would have her peers believe. In actuality, she is a student of the ‘Wise One’, and heir to the wisdom of the ancients. She is proud, willful, obstinate, and filled with self-doubt. She is also the ‘Solitary’, the last chance for love to survive on earth. Her opposite, Ision, is a brash young warrior, the image of bravery and strength. Together, they are forced to confront a darkness which has crept into the world in a climactic battle. Yes, this sounds old-hat and done-to-death, but the treatment and delivery make it fresh and new.
Using the ‘universal song’ and her own innate intuitive abilities, Fippa (strongly ensconced as the main character) navigates time, distance, and multiple reatlities in her fight to save not only the man she loves, but also the world. Multiple worlds. Let me explain, please.
The action in this book takes place on two worlds–Earth, where Fippa and Ision were born, and Paradigm, where the conflict must take place. Ision is cast between worlds against his will, and Fippa must follow to save him. In the process she is changed into a Shalilly, a nectar-drinking faerie which can influence emotions through song and speak to all living creatures. She is almost immediately captured and enslaved as a pet, and… well, you will have to read the book to learn more. No skipping to the last page!
Like all good fantasy, however, there is more here than just magic and plot. Running beneath the text is commentary on organized religion, our place in the world, and the nature of sacrifice. The reader is invited to navigate this incredibly well-built socio-econonimic construct as a diverse mixture of races attempt to regain balance with each other.
In many ways this is a time-travel piece, as well as a portal fantasy. Except that it isn’t a portal fantasy. But it is. My head hurts. And it’s a boy-meets-girl romance, but they fall in love before they meet. And it’s a hero’s journey where the hero must remain captive in a cage. Oh, stop trying to pigeon-hole it. It’s a numbingly good book. Read it.
If, along the way, you question the essence of who we are as individuals, our place in time, the nature of time itself, and essence of freedom, good on you. If not, you still will have enjoyed a rollicking adventure-romance-fantasy that stands strongly beside the likes of Mary Stewart.