A skilled painter must stand up to the ancient power of the faerie courts—even as she falls in love with a faerie prince—in this gorgeous debut novel.
Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes—a weakness that could cost him his life.
Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love—and that love violates the fair folks’ ruthless laws. Now both of their lives are forfeit, unless Isobel can use her skill as an artist to fight the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.
I was recommended this book by one of my closest friends who knows that I have a serious attachment to the fae, and I was not disappointed. I loved how this narrative took attributes I know I and adore from other works I’ve read on this specific supernatural race but also turned it up to 11 to make this forbidden romance exist in the highest of stakes.
We follow Isobel, a girl who is only ever known by this moniker as a way to keep the faeries from ensorcelling her. She is very popular within the faerie community as she is able to do something they are not; Craft. In Isobel’s case, this is painting, but Craft can mean a variety of things: cooking, writing, sewing, etc. If a fair one (as the fae are commonly known to the folk of Whimsy) even attempts to do a Craft, it will surely kill them or drive them mad.
She keeps her name safe from her patrons, and only accepts payment in the form of enchantments that are specifically worded and used to help her and her family: her aunt Emma and her two sisters (who were once goats but enchanted by a fair one to become twin children) March and May. One of her most frequent visitors is a fae from the Spring Court, named Gladfly. He informs her that the prince of Autumn, Rook, will pay her a visit soon for his portrait. This fair one has not been seen for centuries, and so Isobel is on her guard.
Rook turns out to be a gracious guest, and as the two spend more and more time together, Isobel lets her walls fall down. She sees something within Rook that she can’t put her finger on, but it sets him apart from any other fae she has ever encountered. She starts to feel something for him, but once the portrait is finished he takes his leave, and she thinks she’ll never see him again. However, he returns in less than a month incensed, accusing her of putting something in the painting to make him look weak, and any weakness within the fae lands is punished, especially in the royal court.
Isobel quickly realizes that she gave him human emotion, and that was the missing link she sensed but couldn’t name. Rook spirits her away to clear his name, but during their time together, the two find themselves growing closer and closer, and after a grave mistake they are left wondering whether they have doomed themselves to death. There is a law in place set by the Alder King called The Good Law. It states that a human and a fae may not be permitted to fall in love.
There is a place in the Spring Court called the Green Well, which will turn the mortal drinker into a fair one themselves, but Isobel is against a transformation of any kind. With their feelings growing ever stronger and forces beyond their control tearing them apart, it’s a race against time and a battle against tradition as the two try to find a way to stay together or live without each other.
It’s a gorgeously written story with an ending I never expected. I don’t want to ruin it, but I’ll just say that I loved how much strength the author put in being just human. It was so inspiring that although the fae are beautiful and can live forever, they lead very boring lives, and use glamours that cover up not only the less than spectacular forms but also the ratty, moth eaten clothes they wear, the rotten and maggot infested food they eat, and the courts that they inhabit. It was a much different take than I’ve read before, and I really hope that this turns into a series because I am not ready to leave this world!