The Last Changeling
by Chelsea Pitcher
Published on 2014-11-08
Genres: Adolescence, Fantasy, Social Issues, Young Adult
Also by this author: The S-word
Elora needs a sacrifice. What she gets is love.
Elora, the young princess of the Dark Faeries, plans to overthrow her tyrannical mother, the Dark Queen, and bring equality to faeriekind. All she has to do is convince her mother's loathed enemy, the Bright Queen, to join her cause. But the Bright Queen demands an offering first: a human boy who is a "young leader of men."
Enter seventeen-year-old Taylor, an exile in his own home. Unable to forgive himself for the accident that took his little brother's life, he has spent the past year living above his parents' garage to distance himself from his deteriorating family.
When Taylor meets Elora, who he believes to be a runaway, he senses a kindred spirit and lets her crash in his room. Elora is overjoyed that she may have found her sacrifice so quickly . . . until she finds herself falling in love with Taylor.
I loved the synopsis of The Last Changeling as soon as I read it. The dark and complex world of Faerie more than lives up to expectations – it’s just a pity that the rest of the novel doesn’t.
Seventeen-year-old high schooler Taylor is just trying to survive. He’s haunted by his past and struggling to find his place in a world that doesn’t seem to want him. Until he meets Elora. Enigmatic, mysterious and just a little bit wild, he’s irresistibly drawn to her – and in the process becomes embroiled in a battle for a world he never even knew existed.
Taylor is a good guy at heart, but his characterisation is inconsistent. He’s presented as ‘real’ and ‘relatable’ but so much of his narrative struck me s completely unrealistic, particularly – and most horrifyingly – the insta-love. This is a character who thinks things like “I felt increasingly cornered, like I’d been given too little time to transform into the man I wanted to be” and “I wondered, with a new wave of shame, how I was supposed to use theoretical morality to resist the most beautiful creature I’d ever met” within pages of seeing Elora for the first time. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like ‘real’ or ‘relatable’ characterisation to me. There are even Twilight references. “She makes me feel like I have a soul” is not something you say about a person you’ve known for a week.
But wait, it gets worse. The insta-love – from both characters – is pretty creepy. These quotes are all taken from the ARC, but “I made a biting sound and she laughed. I wished I could take her finger between my teeth, I’d never wanted to taste someone so badly” is probably one of the most ridiculous descriptions I’ve ever read in a book. CANNIBALISM IS NOT ROMANTIC, TAYLOR, AND IT NEVER WILL BE!
Elora is an even more difficult character to describe. She has so much potential to begin with. Born into a web of lies and corruption, Elora is determined to free her people from her mother’s cruel reign – even if that means committing treason in the hopes of starting a revolution. If she can gain the allegiance of the Seelie Queen, her mother’s arch enemy, she and her rebels may stand a chance of bringing down the Dark Court and bringing peace back to Faerie.
Unfortunately, the promise of a kick-ass female lead fades the instant you start reading the book. I liked Elora at times, but she just didn’t live up to expectations. If this was contemporary YA, she’d fall immediately into the Manic Pixie Dream Girl category – the only problem is, she’s literally a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, if you swap Pixie for Faerie and unusual quirkiness for actually coming from a different world. A Manic Pixie Dream Girl, by the way, is “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and infinite mysteries and adventures”. Think Zooey Deschanel or Cassidy in Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything; they’re just weird enough to stand out and just beautiful enough to get away with not being ostracized. This also happens to be a perfect description of Chelsea Pitcher’s Elora, but this is magic and mysticism we’re talking about, so we’re just supposed to accept it as if the stereotype doesn’t matter, when of course it does. Worse still, Elora falls into the insta-love trap, too, and there was little to redeem her for me after that.
Most of the plot comes from Elora’s side, as she must do whatever it takes to decipher a riddle left for her and steal a mortal to save Faerie before it destroys itself. Infiltrating Taylor’s high school is surprisingly easy, but students are being bullied and attacked for being different, and soon Elora can’t resist becoming involved in an uprising there, too. Just like she did in Faerie, she begins gathering up the outcasts, encouraging them to take back the school. If this is sounding more action-packed and enticing than the rest of Elora’s story, then you’re right, it is – if only it wasn’t so melodramatic and difficult to believe. Most of the secondary characters are antagonists, which doesn’t help either – though Kylie and friends were very cool and I’d warmed to most of them by the end. The writing style may be clunky, but the action sequences are enthralling. I was surprised to discover that this isn’t a standalone but the start of a series, and I have to say, I probably will read the sequel, if only to find answers to some of the unasnwered questions left by The Last Changeling’s finale.
The only other aspect of the book that really surprised me was the introduction of LGBT issues. And they’re not just mentioned in passing; they help to form an entire subplot which later feeds into the exciting and thrilling showdown toward the book’s end. I’m not entirely sure the way Pitcher portrays LGBT teens – and the way they’re treated at school – shows how most modern teenagers feel (that is, much more open and forward-thinking than you’d expect) but she’s clearly heard the call for diverse representation in YA of all genres and responds by putting this theme at the very heart of the novel. Misogyny is explored more briefly, but it’s there as a theme nonetheless, especially when some of the characters – adults and teenagers alike – make absolutely hideously misogynistic remarks. It’s made clear that (privately at least) Taylor and Elora don’t support these remarks, but they don’t often openly call people out on it, which sends a very mixed message to readers. If Taylor and Elora are so moved by their convictions, why can’t they be consistent in their attitudes and responses?
In short: I have so many thoughts on The Last Changeling – and so many of them are conflicting. I loved the initial premise but was let down by the actual execution. I understood what the author was trying to do by bringing social issues into the story but felt they were often handled badly. I liked the magic and the potential of the book’s world but was repulsed by the insta-love that litters the book right from the start. Overall I was disappointed by the book, but I know I’ll want to read the sequel and see where the tale goes from here.
I received a free advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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