by Carol Goodman
Published on October 8, 2013
by Viking Juvenile
Source: sent by publisher for review
Summary from Goodreads: At seventeen, Avaline Hall has already buried her mother, survived a horrific factory fire, and escaped from an insane asylum. Now she’s on her way to Blythewood Academy, the elite boarding school in New York’s mist-shrouded Hudson Valley that her mother attended—and was expelled from. Though she’s afraid her high society classmates won’t accept a factory girl in their midst, Ava is desperate to unravel her family’s murky past, discover the identity of the father she’s never known, and perhaps finally understand her mother’s abrupt suicide. She’s also on the hunt for the identity of the mysterious boy who rescued her from the fire. And she suspects the answers she seeks lie at Blythewood. But nothing could have prepared her for the dark secret of what Blythewood is, and what its students are being trained to do. Haunted by dreams of a winged boy and pursued by visions of a sinister man who breathes smoke, Ava isn’t sure if she’s losing her mind or getting closer to the truth. And the more rigorously Ava digs into the past, the more dangerous her present becomes.
by Carol Goodman
Published on December 2, 2014
by Viking Juvenile
Source: Sent by publisher for review
Summary from Goodreads: She’s a student at Blythewood Academy, an elite boarding school that trains young women to defend human society from the shadowy forces that live among us. After the devastating events of her first year at Blythewood, Ava is eager to reunite with her friends—and with Raven, the compelling but elusive winged boy who makes her pulse race. She soon discovers, though, that the sinister Judicus van Drood hasn’t finished wreaking havoc on Blythewood—and wants to use Ava and her classmates to attack a much bigger target. Ava’s the only one with any hope of stopping van Drood. But to scuttle his plans, she must reveal her deepest secret to everyone at Blythewood. What’s she willing to sacrifice to do what’s right—her school? Her love? Or her life?
My take: Since I read these back to back, I'll discuss them together. I'm not sure how I missed Blythewood when it came out last year. It's possible that someone told me it was a Fae/Fairy story, and because I'm not overly fond of those, I decided to skip it. My mistake!
Yes, while these books do have Fae and fantasy elements, there is also a whole lot more to them. Blythewood is, in part, a classic "orphan goes a boarding school" story, like A Little Princess or Harry Potter. As Blythewood begins, Avaline has just survived a terrible fire and the death of her mother, and is whisked off to an exclusive boarding school by a grandmother she's never met.
I should also mention that the fire that Ava survives is the infamous 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and that one of the things I loved about these books is that they're steeped in early twentieth-century American history (and the progressive politics of that time, to some extent.) Events and issues of the day, like the fire, the suffragist movement, immigration, and class issues are skillfully woven into the mix.
These books also have strong fantasy and folklore elements. Ava sees visions and hears bells, and when she enrolls at Blythewood, the school her mother once attended, she's swept into a world inhabited by humans and various supernatural beings: changelings and darklings and all sorts of creatures, both charming and frightning. As someone who isn't a huge fan of high fantasy, I like the fact that these books blend our world with a paranormal one. I can't help but make another Harry Potter comparison, as Ava's school feature eccentric teachers, a mix of personalities among the pupils, and an overall air of secrets and suspense.
The writing in these books is lovely, and the pace is measured and confident. I wasn't a huge fan of the romance -- (highlight for spoiler) I rarely love the paranormal guy romances human girl and I'm (end spoiler) -- but by the second book, there's a bit of a surprise in that regard. For me, the strength of these books is the writing and the mix of elements -- historical, paranormal, and human -- into a fascinating and unique story world. I'd highly recommend these books to fans of the Gemma Doyle series by Libba Bray, the Elemental Trilogy by Sherry Thomas, or Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.
If you're interested in trying these, stop by tomorrow's Freebie Friday, because Penguin is offering up a set of both books for me to give away!