Review: Stray

Stray by Elissa Sussman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Princess Aislynn has long dreamed about attending her Introduction Ball, about dancing with the handsome suitors her adviser has chosen for her, about meeting her true love and starting her happily ever after. When the night of the ball finally arrives and Nerine Academy is awash with roses and royalty, Aislynn wants nothing more than to dance the night away, dutifully following the Path that has been laid out for her. She does not intend to stray. But try as she might, Aislynn has never quite managed to control the magic that burns within her-magic brought on by wicked, terrible desires that threaten the Path she has vowed to take. After all, it is wrong to want what you do not need. Isn’t it?

This story is like a dark version of all those princess-y tales we were brought up on, where the princess was good, pure, virtuous and like a precious flower. The world of the Four Sisters brings up all the royal and noble women by holding them to the ideal of the perfect maiden, a cage in which all the girls are confined and brainwashed to accept. For the first half of the book, I was so furious at the way the powerless men manipulated the women (who all had magic) to be subservient to them, simply by making them believe that by trusting magic, they were being wicked. Aislynn is one such girl, who is determined to stick to the Path, carry out her duties and be like the sheep she was brought up to be. But her magic calls out to her, and bursts out of her whenever she is upset, until finally she is Redirected to a life of a fairy godmother.

Unlike fairytales, the fairy godmothers in this story are entirely human, just ‘failed’ maidens who couldn’t resist the call of their magic. They are little more than slaves, with their hearts taken from them, and their life confined to a dull gray of emotions. Aislynn, however, escapes that chill, with the kindness of her new friends, Brigid and Thackery. Thackery, for his part, is quite a good and progressive lead, considering the other males in this story. Brigid also has her story to tell, and I am interested in how that plays out in the future. Aislinn, while caring and protecting for her charge Linnea, realizes the mold that they all have been forced to be into, see the lies for what they are and admits her ignorance.

The storyline was pretty good, and I was thinking of the Gemma Doyle series a bit while reading. There is no direct comparison, but the stories of young girls being molded into compliance brought out a sense of deja vu. While I did enjoy the plot, I wish they was a little more exposition and world-building. We are only told Aislynn is ignorant and been lied to but the true story has not been revealed either. Also, it does strain credulity how an entire kingdom of magical women were forced into this system, and only one rebellious queen came out of it. So that means I have some expectations from the next, starting with what the heck those white stones are. In short, I would say it is an interesting twist to standard fairytale, and a delightful retelling, however loosely based on original stories. It is certainly nice to see authors challenge the original sexist stories.

Trigger warning: Self-harm

Received a free galley from Greenwillow Books via Edelweiss; this does not influence my opinions or the review.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Stray

  1. Pingback: ARC Review: Burn | YA on my Mind

  2. Pingback: #BoutOfBooks wrap-up | YA on my Mind

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