A lyrical, sensual and fascinating story let down by a disjointed plot and vague world building. Your mileage may vary.
There’s something seductive about the way Marianne de Pierres writes, and although I hesitated to pick this book up—not another young adult dark fantasy novel!—once I did I couldn’t put it down…until I got to the middle.
Retra escapes her closed community to search for her brother, who ran away to Ixion two years ago. It’s a mysterious place, where everyone lives for pleasure and newcomers are urged to ‘burn bright’. It’s a place where Retra, conditioned to be silent, calm and obedient, finds herself caught up in the politics and jealousies between the Ripers who promise to guard the young revellers, the various gangs in the city, the dreaded Night Creatures, and rebel factions who know that Ixion is not, after all, just about pleasure.
De Pierres sets the story up beautifully, taking the reader on the same journey as the bewildered Retra, for whom Ixion requires a complete reassessment of everything she knows (or has been taught) thus far. But as the story progresses, De Pierres falls into the common trap of keeping details thin in order to maintain various mysteries of the world she’s creating. This becomes frustrating in the second half of the book, particularly when the various factions are revealed. Retra’s naiveté also becomes irritating after a while, and it’s difficult to believe that she could survive for so long with so little knowledge.
What keeps the story interesting are the relationships that Retra develops. Her immediate circle is gradually filled with a mix of characters whose motivations are not always clear. De Pierres plays them against each other to good effect. There’s a bit of a complicated not-quite-a-romance between Retra and Markes, a boy she meets on her journey to Ixion but who is jealously guarded by another girl. (I rarely barrack for the other woman, but Retra is often so passive that I couldn’t help cheer for her rival.) My favourites, however, are Charlonge, who becomes Retra’s gentle guide to Ixion culture, and Suki, another reveller who comes from a very matriarchal society and who provides a stronger role model for Retra.
When Retra is severely injured, the only way to save her is to undergo a process that will change her position in the Ixion hierarchy. It apparently includes some kind of oral sex. At least, that’s how it sounded like to me, although it’s not a hundred percent clear. This is one of those times where De Pierres is vague on the details. It might just be blood sucking, but I’m fairly sure it resulted in an orgasmic experience.
And this is where the plot starts falling apart. Is this book about vampires? The narration is very coy on this, but the young revellers are called ‘baby bats’ and the Night Creatures sound like feral bats, and the guardians seem to like blood. If it sucks like a vampire…well, just freaking tell us it’s a vampire!
There’s also something a little uncomfortable about the heightened sexuality that dominates much of the backdrop for this book. At the beginning of the story it emphasises Retra’s fear and isolation, but as the story progresses, the sexual imagery begins to feel almost forced. It’s also a tease because none of the scenes ever really become graphic—including Retra’s ‘bonding’. It’s all a bit of an anticlimax. (Heh.) So I’m categorising this as young adult fiction, but I get the feeling, from the language and the avoidance of anything too explicit, that it’s aimed at a younger audience.
Yay or nay?
Although the story can be lyrical, sensual and fascinating, the plot is disjointed and the world building vague. I still don’t get what Ixion and its inhabitants are all about, even though that’s the mystery set up at the start of the story. It’s clearly the first book of a series, and I’m not a big fan of sequel bait. That said…I’m tempted to read the next book, just to see how everyone turns out. Fairies will be killed.
A review copy of this book was generously provided by Random House Australia.