The Invisible Order #1: Rise of the Darklings

By Paul Crilley [LibraryThingGoodreads]

Emily Snow’s life has been vastly disrupted ever since her parents disappeared, but even she’s not prepared to see tiny people battling in the streets of Old London Town. It seems that faeries are real, and they’re at war – with each other, and with a secret society of humans called the Invisible Order. Emily wants no part of it, but when her brother is kidnapped, she’ll need to team up with a piskie named Corrigan and her street thief friend Jack in order to end the war and get her brother back – if she can decide who to trust.

There’s a lot to like about this book. Emily is a smart and take-charge kind of heroine, who doesn’t let herself be pushed around by anyone from the slightly-older Jack to the Queen of the Faeries. The world-building, while not particularly groundbreaking, is solid, weaving together several strands of fairy lore, plus time travel and a secret society involving Merlin, legendary architect Christopher Wren, and shades of The DaVinci Code (without Dan Brown’s shlockiness and issues with women, thankfully). The monsters are scary, the double-crosses are multiple and delicious, and tricky little concepts are seeded neatly through the book to come back and bite our heroes in the butt at the worst possible times. I also really enjoyed that the bad guys are on both sides of the faeries vs. humans war – it’s warmongering, dishonesty, and fanaticism that makes a villain, not race.

And yet…for me, the book was missing…something. A feeling. Any kind of feeling. It’s set in Victorian London, yet Emily thinks and speaks like a modern girl. There’s no Victorian vibe at all, in fact; everyone has a modern accent and aside from occasional mentions of how much things cost or rare slang like “bobbies,” this book could very well take place now. (Well, also the UK equivalent of Child Protective Services would probably have something to say about a 12-year-old girl raising her 9-year-old brother today.) The prose, while totally fine, lacks any kind of voice; it’s just there, on the page.

The characters, too, lack substance. While Emily is smart and feisty and brave, she doesn’t feel rounded or real; she’s just going through the motions of a protagonist. I can see what Crilley was going for with Corrigan and Jack, who are supposed to be a long-suffering, sarcastic adult and cocky street kid respectively, but only because I know how archetypes work. Neither has any kind of distinctive voice or strong, consistent personality, and without dialogue tags any of their lines could comfortably come out of each other’s or Emily’s mouths. Most egregious, for me, was Emily’s brother William. His safety is her primary motivation, but he’s shown only briefly and is whiny and bratty when he appears. Of course Emily cares about him because he’s her brother, but the reader isn’t given a reason to – he’s not particularly vulnerable or charming and their bond isn’t particularly strong. Though this is a very different book than The Hunger Games, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Katniss and Prim’s relationship, where we feel keenly why it’s so important that Katniss take care of Prim. That feeling is absent here, because none of the characters feel rich enough to evoke that sort of emotion.

I don’t mean to pick on the book, which was a fun enough read; I’m just trying to explain why it felt somewhat hollow to me. As a kid, especially one less into Victoriana than Adult Me, I’m sure it wouldn’t have bothered me in the slightest, and I suspect this book would play well with any fantasy-loving middle grade-aged reader you handed it to. It’s just that I liked the bones of the book so much that I wanted them to come to life more than they did.

All that said, I did like the underlying story, and I am intrigued by the cliffhanger-y ending. I’ll probably check out the next volume. And since I’m aware that my particular issues with the book may very well be a case of my mileage varying, I’m giving it the respectable grade of three and a half cupcakes.

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