Melissa Marr's 4th book in the Wicked Lovely series, Radiant Shadows, and can I just say: OMG!!!
I'll try to tread carefully here, because as much as I want to tell you how wonderful the book is, I really don't want to spoil anything, especially when you'll have to wait three months to read it (haha, suckers!). I'm hesitant to even tell you about the existence of one of the characters, because, after all, if the High Queen doesn't know about her, should you?
Part of Melissa Marr's genius is the way she's structured her series. She takes tiny pieces of information and marginal characters from one book and turns them into the central focus of the next book.
Now, when I met Ani in Ink Exchange, and I met Devlin in Fragile Eternity, I highly disliked both of them. I just remember picturing Ani licking Irial's blood with a guilty look on her face and thinking, "Who is this chick?" And how could I not be turned off by the cold calculating assassin in FE?
I still didn't immediately fall in love with them as I started reading Radiant Shadows. Ani is consumed by need. She needs touch, she needs emotion, and she's denied both, so what she really needs is a place to belong. At first, it was hard to stomach a character who acts purely in response to her hungers, with little thought of anything else.
Devlin is calculating as he balances both the order and the chaos he's made of. He simply shrugs as Bananach stabs a mortal next to him. He's killed plenty of faeries and mortals and accepts that death is sometimes necessary to keep order.
Ani and Devlin are probably the least human of Marr's characters. But as Ani discovers her strength and Devlin lets himself be weak, it's really hard not to root for them.
At times, Radiant Shadows is bloody and violent, but it's by far Marr's most romantic book yet. And by the end, Ani is definitely Marr's strongest heroine. In a lot of ways, this read like a classic fairytale. There's a prince, a horse, a fairy-godmother, a prophecy, an orphan, a wicked witch, revenge, and a to-die-for love.
But of course, Melissa Marr takes the classic fairytale and turns it on its head. She's great at creating a world with impenetrable boundaries, impossible obstacles, and nonnegotiable rules. Then Marr creates characters strong enough to knock them all down.
It's a story about finding one's place in the world, about fate, about destiny. In a world where loyalty is everything, this story is about the characters with split identities. Ani is half-mortal and half-fey, which makes her dangerous to both worlds. Devlin was created by Order and Chaos, but has nowhere to call home. Rae is neither mortal nor fey and has secrets she cannot tell. Seth is sometimes mortal, sometimes fey, and has allegiances everywhere. The stakes are high as these characters struggle to find where they fit in and decide what they're willing to sacrifice for love.
Seth's small presence in the book is exhilarating. I gasped out loud while reading when I remembered something from the end of Fragile Eternity that seemed trivial then, but proved pivotal in Radiant Shadows. Marr has woven threads throughout all four books that have left me hankering for the final installment.
I've been repeating the last line of Radiant Shadows's Epilogue in my head over and over again since I finished reading. And Ms. Marr, if you're out there, please, PLEASE let him take his advice.