Laini Taylor, Faeries of Dreamdark -- Blackbringere (Putnam, 2007)

Magpie Windwitch, a scruffy gypsy lass of a faerie accompanied by a family of brotherly crows, has a mission in life. Instead of living with the dandified faerie folk in Never Nigh, the capital of Dreamdark, she tours the world collecting and preserving magics, all the while recapturing wayward demons. Millennia ago, the faerie heroine Bellatrix helped capture all the world's demons in bottles, but lately humans have been finding and opening them, unthinkingly releasing evil into the world. However, Magpie finds an opened bottle with the broken seal of one of the seven Djinn who helped create the world, and discovers that an even greater malevolent force has been loosed.

Magpie's investigations inform her of her people's magical decline, the unfortunate influence of humans on the magical world (with the requisite "humans-are-unmagical-dirt-eaters" cattiness) and clue her in to what just might be the fabric of the world itself, and its undoing. Along the way she runs into some old friends, a flightless faerie lad with some unusual skills of his own, and a faerie legend whose death doesn't mean she can't lend a ghostly hand to meddle in other people's affairs.

The Old Evil Returns to Wreak New Mischief Plot is as old as the hills for the fantasy genre, but Laini Taylor's humorous writing style and truly imaginative worldbuilding offer a unique take on an oft-recycled story. The cutesy sparkle-and-glitter whimsy that frequently hampers young-adult faerie novels is thankfully restrained by Taylor's witty dialogue, earthy and relatable characters, and graceful language. Much is made of Magpie's ragged, tomboyish nature -- and her contrast with faeriefolk elite, who actually are sparkle-and-glitter, but whose cliched preciousness masks a marked degeneration in culture and relevance.

As well, Laini Taylor's well-structured and creative setting is astonishing in both its detail, and the canny way it is woven into the narrative to offer a well-rounded portrait of Dreamdark with all its histories, legends, and deities, without resorting to clumps of awkward exposition. The first novels in lesser series tend to suffer from an overabundance of setting and character information partnered with flimsy endings that leave much to be mended by later episodes. Laini Taylor's mastery over narrative leads to a fully-realized story with a recognizable conclusion, but also leaves enough leeway for future books.

With Faeries of Dreamdark -- Blackbringer, her first novel, Laini Taylor easily establishes herself as one of the better voices of young adult fantasy. Her style, wit, and skill render Faeries an unexpected treasure, and I eagerly look forward to her forthcoming works.

[Elizabeth Vail]