I love almost everything about this book. A lot of the reviews on Goodreads take issue with the fact that it's not what it was sold as: I don't care much about that.
It's a three-volume novel in one volume. The first of those three volumes is a story about a magical women's college-cum-finishing school named Greenlaw, which owes more to girls' boarding school adventure stories (an excellent genre of book) than to anything else. It's very good at what it is, but the real fun begins when Faris leaves the college behind.
The college section is absorbing when you're in it; as soon as you leave Greenlaw, it becomes a kind of idyll that you're shut out from forever, always gazing back. It feels very real - to a certain kind of college experience.
Volume two is a travel adventure with intrigue and magic in Paris, a bomb turned into a very nice hat, and... a journey on the orient express.
Volume three is... I don't even know how to sum it up. A masquerade ball, political machinations, more magic. My heart broken into pieces.
The magic in this book is mysterious, and it has something of the numinous, something of... I don’t know, the mystery of the sublime about it. There is no magic system that can be easily grasped, which is all the better for me. It’s about feeling, and patterns, and loops of thought, and inner strength, and responsibility and sacrifice. And really, this is a book which seems to be about devotion in a lot of different forms. One of the ways in which it is about devotion is in the magic.
But why do i love this book so much? Why is it so fiercely dear to me?
I love all of the characters. This is the truth of it. I wanted more time with all of them. How does she do this? She writes everyone with such care. Almost everyone we meet is not who they seem; by which I mean, they are much more than they seem, at first. These are characters with an endless capacity for surprise, because the writing is so generous and subtle. I re-read one scene maybe ten times because I wanted to understand precisely what a character was saying about love in it, because there was allusion and sarcasm and something genuine beneath all of that. All there on the page - it just needs teasing out.
Tyrian, i love you. And i love Jane, and Reed, and Faris, and i even love Faris’s horrible uncle. And yet what really gets at me somehow even more than the characters themselves is the dynamics between the characters. Their relationships are so true and real and deeply felt. The tiny details, the unexpected moments. Oh, I love all of it.
Which is to say: the friendship in this book is wonderful, and is the root of so much else. But the romance destroyed me. In both the good way and also in a way that isn’t necessarily bad, but. The final twist hurts. I've seen it described as bittersweet: this can’t even begin to sum up the mix of emotions for me! Hi! It has hurt my feelings a lot!
This book broke my heart, in a way I expected (i looked up spoilers for one of the threads of this book before I went in) and in another way that I totally didn't see coming. Don't be fooled by the early 20th century boarding school adventure story feel, or by the sly joke Stevermer is playing when she makes this into one of the three-volume novels that Faris and Jane (and Tyrian?) love: this is not a pastiche, it's too clever and it hurts too much for that.
(find this review on goodreads here)