Series: GALLOW AND RAGGED TRILOGY
Plot Type: Dark Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—2; Humor—1
Publisher and Titles: Orbit
Trailer Park Fae (novel 1—6/2015)
Roadside Magic (novel 2—1/2016)
NOVEL 3: Wasteland King
This is the conclusion to Saintcrow's dark fantasy series where the faery world inhabits diners, dive bars, and trailer parks.
The plague has broken loose, the Wild Hunt is riding, and the balance of power in the sidhe realms is still shifting. The Unseelie King has a grudge against Jeremiah Gallow, but it will have to wait. For he needs Gallow's services for a very delicate mission—and the prize for success is survival itself.
In order to save both Robin Ragged and himself, Gallow will have to do the unspeakable.
> Summer: "The hard black boil on her pale, flawless wrist had spread, vein-branches gripping ageless skin. The delicate traceries of black exhaled a fetid breath no matter how she scrubbed with rose-attar or fresh mugwort with pixie-sprinkled dew."
> Unwinter: "Hard, evil-looking black pinpricks marched across Unwinter's skin, each radiating hair-thin cracks. the center of each prickle was a raised bump, a needle tip of leprous green."As the disease-ravaged rulers attempt to deal with the sickness that is destroying their people and their lands, Robin Ragged, Jeremiah Gallow, and Alastair Crenn spend much of their time on the run from one pursuer or another, sometimes alone and sometimes in pairs:
> Gallow wakes up in Unwinter's captivity, with no trace of the deadly infection he received from Unwinter's knife in the previous book. The Unseelie King soon promises to keep Robin under his protection if Gallow will complete a task of revenge that results in Gallow's being pursued by the Sluagh—the ravening horde of the unforgiven dead. Unwinter "told Gallow, softly and calmly, what he wished the Half to do. Gallow couldn't help himself. He began to laugh." But he'll soon find that Unwinter's task is no laughing matter.
> Robin is doing her best to keep ahead of Knights from both fae realms. She is always accompanied by her huge dog, Pepperbuckle, and at times by her betrayer and wanna-be lover, Crenn. Eventually, she hides out in Unwinter's realm, where he gives her a task that the King promises will help Gallow while it wreaks vengeance against Summer. As Robin works to complete the task, she is perplexed by the sudden appearance of flocks of pixies that follow her around and help her escape from her enemies. "The pixies circled her, almost like a cloud of fireflies...Robin brushed them away and they followed the sweep of her hand, one darting down to land on her knuckles for a moment. It blew her a pert little kiss and tumbled off, giggling...'Why are you following me?' Robin asked, very softly."
> Crenn spends his time running and fighting alongside first Robin and then Gallow. He pines for Robin's affections but knows that her heart lies with Gallow, and that she hates him for his betrayal of her in the previous book. Crenn continues to maintain a frenemy relationship with Gallow that has its roots in events that took place much earlier in their lives when they escaped together from the orphanage. Crenn is jealous of Gallow's effortless heroism and his ability to win Robin's affections. Finally, he comes to a decision: "He could keep after her, begging for scraps, or he could do something...better Something worthy of her."As the trio runs and fights and runs again, each struggles with angst-filled memories and deals with deep emotional issues:
Robin fears that she damaged her magical voice when she screamed her way from the high tower into the Dreaming Sea, and she continues to wonder whether Gallow truly loves her—or if he is drawn to her because of her resemblance to her sister Daisy, Gallow's dead wife. At this point in her life, Robin feels that everyone she loves, she loses. "That was the trouble. Caring for anything caused it to wither. Perhaps Puck's daughter had her own poisonous cloud...Sean..., Mama and Daisy, everything gone. Stupid Robin allowed a dog into her heart, too. She should drive him off just to save him from her."
Gallow is sick and tired of running from his problems—both physical and emotional. He seeks the courage to believe in something or someone enough to stand and fight. At a crucial moment, he muses about his life: "He wasn't kind, or particularly faithful, or even brave. He just did what he had to, moaning to himself about how hard it was." Moments later, he takes a decisive, unexpected action: "Even a Half could get tired of loathing himself, and decide to do something else. Something better."
Crenn just wants Robin to love him. "He could all but see Robin, her coppery hair dark with rain, her summerdusk eyes wide and mistrustful, softening only when she glanced at Jeremiah Gallow. For Alastair Crenn, who drugged her with shusweed and delivered her to whatever vengeance the queen had waiting, there would be no softness. Robin, head held high, had actually spat at the ruler of Seelie and plunged into the darkness of her own accord. With a woman like that at his back, what couldn't a man do?"
After Gallow and Robin begin to complete the tasks given to them by Unwinter, the action amps up to warp speed until all of the series' main characters collide in a huge showdown scene that changes the Seelie and Unseelie worlds forever and sets Gallow, Robin, and Crenn on entirely new paths. The finale is satisfying in that we learn the deepest, most vile secret of the villainous Seelie Queen and witness her horrific punishment, but it is unsatisfying in another way because it doesn't have a neat and tidy HEA—not for any of the characters. Although initially I was somewhat disappointed with the ending, on reflection I'm O.K. with it because it leaves me the opportunity to wander down "what if" thought-lanes and come up with a number of interesting possibilities for the future lives of Robin, Crenn, and Ragged. Imagination is a wonderful thing.
As she did in the previous books, Saintcrow includes frequent chapters chronicling the effects of the fae on the mortal world as her characters zip back and forth through the Veil. I found myself looking forward to those scenes—which are really tiny, intimate portraits of everyday people who just happen to be there when the fae come blasting through. If they do the fae a favor, this interaction leads to future good fortune, but if they don't, their lives end quickly and violently.
I do have one minor nitpick, and that concerns Saintcrow's frequent use of descriptive hyphenated adjectives, some of which she repeats several times. Here are some examples of repetition: "knife-sharp cliffs," "knife-sharp mountains" (more than once), "knife-sharp shadows," and "knife-edged chill." Saintcrow also repeatedly uses the same adjectives to describe Unwinter's Steward ("bone-frilled") and Robin's hair ("chopped-close curls"). Some of the descriptive words are quite striking, particularly those related to physical characteristics: for example, "child-round cheeks," "crimson-grimed teeth," "flour-pale…hand," "scarlet-draped wrist," and "myrrh-laden breath." Even though many of the descriptors present memorable mental images, the use of these hyphenated adjectives on nearly every page soon gets distracting.
This series has been an enjoyable reading experience, particularly the fully realized characters, the compelling story arc, and the creative world-building. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Wasteland King on the novel's Amazon.com page by clicking either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.
One characteristic of these sidhe is that they need dairy products to stay alive. Cream or whole milk is best, but butter or cheese will also provide them with energy.
As the series begins, the always-fatal blackboil plague is sweeping across the sidhe realms, hitting the fullborn-fae on both sides the hardest because sidhe with mixed blood are mostly immune. No one admits to knowing how the plague started, but Summer (the Seelie Queen) and Unwinter (the Unseelie King) are blaming each other. The first novel introduces the main players and its plot revolves around efforts to find a cure for the plague in the midst of thick political intrigue.
The primary characters in the series are as follows:
> Jeremiah Gallow (aka Queensglass, Gallowglass): The series hero, a halfblood sidhe who lives in a trailer park in the mortal world. He was Summer's Armormaster until he ran away from the Seelie realm and went to live with his beloved mortal wife, Daisy, who died five years ago in a car accident (or was it an accident?). He is covered with magical tattoos (see the cover art) that give him speed and strength and can transform into a bloodthirsty, almost sentient, lance.
> Robin Ragged: The series heroine, also a halfblood She is Summer's "go-to" girl and is frequently sent into the mortal world to run errands and handle delicate matters. Robin has two major talents: her voice—which can instantly cause a sidhe or a mortal to die or to become so mutated (aka twisted) that the sidhe is unable to use his own magic—and her dealmaking, a rare talent that allows her to create chantments (aka spells) that last much longer than those of other sidhe.
> Summer: Former spouse, but now hated enemy, of Unwinter. The beautiful, vicious, and vindictive Queen of the light realm has power over Robin because she holds in her custody a young human boy with whom Robin has built a protective attachment. Summer has the power to addict men to her just by touching them, after which they crave her attentions forever until they eventually wither away and die. Summer's lands are green and verdant, filled with flowers and birdsong.
> Unwinter (aka Haahrhne the Hunter): Former spouse, but now hated enemy, of Summer. The half-mad, wrath-filled King of the dark realm commands armies of scary sidhe monsters as well as heading up the terrifying Wild Hunt. His blackened lands are barren and desolate, with no plant or animal life at all. His evil minions have been hardest hit by the plague.
> Puck (aka the Fatherless; aka Goodfellow): In this mythology, he is a cruel, self-centered trickster who hides his wiles behind a wide, sharp-toothed grin. He is the deceiver who is at the center of every conflict, playing one side against the other as he collects dark secrets about everyone and uses them to his own advantage. No one is exempt from his malevolent schemes. Puck is the leader of the free sidhe who live in the mortal realm, although they don't trust him either.
New York Times bestselling author Lilith Saintcrow returns to dark fantasy with a new series where the faery world inhabits diners, dive bars and trailer parks.
The hero and heroine have fully developed back-stories, so we know exactly how and why they have developed into the people they are now. Both had rough childhoods and came to the Seelie Court at a later age than most. Both hate Summer, fear Unwinter, and distrust Puck. Their relationship begins when Gallow saves Robin from certain death at the hands of a plague-ridden, full-born Unseelie Lord, thus making himself a target after having hidden in the mortal world for years. He is still grieving over the death of his mortal wife and is shocked when he sees Robin for the first time because she looks just like Daisy. Of course, this resemblance is an important part of the plot. The issue of Robin's paternal heritage simmers in the background, but you'll probably be able to figure it out long before it is revealed on the page.
Puck spends his time spinning out a complicated scheme that he hopes will end with him as the leader of all the sidhe in the world—all realms, both Seelie and Unseelie. He capers from Summer to Unwinter to Gallow to Robin, always leaking ambiguous rumors and false information to fuel his plans. Although no one trusts Puck, they all rely on his information, arrogantly believing that they can figure out what is true and what is not. (As you might guess, they are almost always wrong about that.)
Saintcrow writes in the high-fantasy language of the sidhe, which ranges from eloquent descriptions to flowery narrative to dialogue that is difficult and time-consuming to translate into meaningful information. Just to give you a taste, here are the first two paragraphs of the book:
"Summer, soft green hills and shaded dells, lay breathless under a pall of smoky apply-blossom dusk. The other Summer, her white hands rising from indigo velvet to gleam in the gloaming, waved the rest of her handmaidens away. They fled, giggling in bell-clear voices and trailing their sigh-draperies, a slim golden-haired mortal boy among them fleet as a deer—Actaeon among the leaping hounds, perhaps.
Saintcrow can also be repetitious. For example, she uses the same words and phrases to describe Puck's hourglass-shaped pupils, green-yellow eyes, and extra-jointed brown fingers over and over again. Not to mention her frequent descriptions of Robin's russet hair—all nearly the same in their wording.
On the other hand, Saintcrow is adept in the show-not-tell department. In the following passage, we understand exactly how Robin feels about her Queen as she muses about Summer's beauty: "If the blackboil plague breached the Court, that white skin might be raddled in days, and that golden hair a snarl of dishwater. Her graceful slenderness would become a jenny-hag's bony withering. Eventually, Summer might choke out a gout of black brackish fluid, and expire, her eaten body collapsing into foul wet dust. A comforting thought, and one Robin kept despite the danger." So...definitely not best buds. Here is another example, which illustrates just how much lethal power Summer holds: "Her teeth flashed, and she bit [into a berry]…She sucked at it, a slight flush rising up her cheeks as it withered, and each tree in the orchard stirred uneasily…The rind crumbled, turning black and paper-thin. Her suckling did not cease until the fruit was no more than a smear of ash, flakes lifting from her white hand as she flicked the remains away."
I won't deny that I was a bit discouraged by the slow pace caused by the heavy use of cryptic Fae-speak, particularly in the first few chapters, but once Robin and Gallow got involved in their slowly blossoming alliance, their quest for the plague cure, and their attempts to hide from Unwinter and his minions, I was hooked. Neither one trusts the other—or anyone else, for that matter—so they are always saying things and taking actions that are completely misunderstood by the other, sometimes with horrific results. I confess that I skipped over many of the paragraphs that overflowed with the baroque Fae language.
But in the end, I really did enjoy this book. Once I got past the language issue and into the heart of the suspense-filled plot, I was pulled in by its tension, danger, and heartbreak. Saintcrow does an excellent job developing her characters, particularly the lead couple and the royal couple. Puck is in a category all his own—a treacherous sociopath whose narrative is completely unreliable. His scenes are uncomfortable to read because you know that behind his cruel smile is a horrific plan that promises ruination and even death to both heroes and villains. I am looking forward to the next book, which will (I hope) resolve some elements of the cliff-hanger ending of Trailer Park Fae.
Saintcrow is eloquent in her use of language, particularly in her lovely descriptions of the Seelie and Unseelie realms and of the magic-infused interactions among the sidhe characters. Although the plot centers on characters chasing down other characters, the pace is actually quite slow (contrary to the impression given by the cover art). I liked this book much better than I did the first one, and by the end, I couldn't wait to see what would happen next. The story ends with cliff-hangers for both of the lead characters, so I'll be impatiently waiting to read the final book to see what happens to them. The publisher includes the first three chapters from Wasteland King at the end of this book. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Roadside Magic on the book's Amazon.com page by clicking either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.