I received this book for free from Publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Stray by Elissa Sussman
Series: Four Sisters #1
Published by Greenwillow Books on October 7th, 2014
Genres: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss
“I am grateful for my father, who keeps me good and sweet. I am grateful for my mother, who keeps her own heart guarded and safe. I am grateful for my adviser, who keeps me protected. I am grateful for the Path, which keeps me pure. Ever after.”
Princess Aislynn has long dreamed about attending her Introduction Ball, about dancing with the handsome suitors her adviser has chosen for her, about meeting her true love and starting her happily ever after.
When the night of the ball finally arrives and Nerine Academy is awash with roses and royalty, Aislynn wants nothing more than to dance the night away, dutifully following the Path that has been laid out for her. She does not intend to stray.
But try as she might, Aislynn has never quite managed to control the magic that burns within her-magic brought on by wicked, terrible desires that threaten the Path she has vowed to take.
After all, it is wrong to want what you do not need. Isn’t it?
STRAY is the first in a collection of intertwined stories, all set in a world where magic is a curse that only women bear and society is dictated by a strict doctrine called The Path.
*sigh* Stray is yet another example of a first book in a series that barely scratches the surface and is way underdeveloped in hopes of getting people on the hook for the next installments. When I wasn’t confused about the messy plot and world building, I was mostly just… bored.
Stray follows the story of Aislynn, a princess growing up in a world where she is pressured, above all else, to be pure. Women are born with magic (and seen as almost instinctively evil), but are forbidden to use it because it would cause them to “stray” from their Path – basically their goal in life. A princess or lady is expected to learn the arts of music, flirting, horseback riding, and other completely pointless things in order to procure a husband. If they do not succeed or are tempted by their evil magic, they are Redirected to become fairy godmothers (who are basically servants). Basically, if the patriarchy angers you, you may want to stay away from this book. You have been warned. The book isn’t advocating for the patriarchy in any sense, but it is its foundation, and the society they live in is swamped with these traditional, outdated values. I would suppose that the series will eventually work towards tearing that down – but it definitely didn’t do so in this first installment.
Aislynn, sadly, bored me to tears. The book is told in third person – which I usually prefer – but in this case, it really made the main character an emotionless paper doll. Fine, she did show some emotions in the latter half of the book, but the first? I didn’t get ANYTHING from her, even as she was stripped of her status as princess and sent off to become a fairy godmother. A fairy godmother traditionally has their “loving heart” removed, which I thought might explain the lack of emotional response she had to everything that happened to her, but even BEFORE the heart was removed, she was bland and boring and I can’t find a single fuck to give. If my whole life was being changed in an instant from princess to servant, I’m pretty sure I’d feel (a) panic, (b) confusion, (c) rage, (d) fear. Aislynn chose for (e) none of the above. *headdesk* It doesn’t help that the hammering about purity and following your preordained Path in life are all elements I would ascribe to a Mary Sue. And later she has visions that seemingly tell her where to go/what to do, and everyone just instantly believes in her without her explaining that these are probably important foretelling dreams. *sigh* Mary Sueeeeeeeeeeee.
There’s also a romance that I just completely shrug my shoulders at. It’s not a major part of the plot, and it’s not completely instalove either, but after just one conversation, the two are seen as a done deal. I didn’t feel the chemistry between them at all, and I hardly found that that one short conversation was reason enough for them to think about each other so much, have their bouts of mild jealousy, and later kiss almost completely out of the blue. It was just underdeveloped and did not make me swoon at all.
The plot was weird and messy. It felt like at any time, storylines could be picked up out of nowhere or dropped into an abyss. Aislynn is a princess, then she’s not, then she is again, then she’s not. This character disappears, but that’s probably not important. Here’s this super important item – but we’re barely going to tell you what it’s for or why it’s so important. These characters are evil, but we won’t even begin to tell you why or how that was built up. And there’s this Evil Queen, but she might or might not actually be evil, though she’s kind of raising and army, but also kind of not. I just. What. It was so hard for me to follow. I just didn’t see the point of any of it. It felt like there were ten thousand loose threads and they were all squished up and knotted into a huge ball, but I can’t tell how any of it fits together, and I’m pretty sure there are a million plot holes. But with such a boring main character, I can’t bring myself to put in the effort to try to work it out.
The world building barely scratched the surface. In essence, I can see the appeal, because it really has a traditional fairy tale vibe. Princesses prided on purity, helped by fairy godmothers, living in castles, waiting to meet their princes. But the ideas behind these Paths that they’re following were not explained at all. I have a hard time accepting the foundation of a society based on principles of “just ‘cuz”. There’s magic, which could be cool, and Aislynn has trouble controlling it, but since they’re not allowed to use it, we barely see it. I don’t get why it’s forbidden anyway – and considering they have “custody charms” which limit magic for servants, if it really was so important for princesses to not have magic, couldn’t they just have used those on them too? And the whole Evil Queen and her dark empire – what the hell is up with that? They keep referring to it as if it’s such a threat, but there’s never any mention of wars being fought or the Evil Queen actually trying to actively conquer the rest of the world. These are all things that I’m sure will come in future books in the series but you can’t give me so little to go off of in a first book and expect me to be actively anticipating the next one. Nope. I’m bored.