While there might have been a fairly impressive eye-roll at the idea of yet another quiet, shy, naďve young heroine who professes not to want to be the center of attention, doesn’t really want an adventure—there are other stereotypes that need love, too! —Eloise redeems herself when we find out that she loves authors such as Victoria Holt. (This reviewer’s teen years were dedicated to the voracious devouring of Holt’s books, in all her incarnations, so that might make for a bit of a soft spot… take it with a grain of salt, perhaps.) Slight annoyance at Eloise’s reticence gave way to a grin of sudden solidarity and renewed interest. What would this Phillipa Gregory and Victoria Holt reluctant heroine do when confronted with a fantastic reality? Alyxandra Harvey’s Stolen Away is a new, if overly quick and simplistic, quest into the Fae.
A little trio of friends introduce the story of a quaint small-town setting: sweating out the late summer heat and drought at the little local ice cream parlor while half-heartedly gossiping and hoping for the right, the hottest, the prettiest to suddenly appear to make the evening more interesting. Outgoing, outspoken, slightly raunchy, long-haired Jo steers the little group with her strong personality. Devin, best boy friend, who lost a game of stuffing ping pong balls in the mouth when they were all ten, is too overheated to really care that he has been ‘friend-zoned’. Completing the group is seventeen-year-old timid, reticent, pale-with-freckles Eloise Hart, who really just wants to be ignored by the world. A stranger, clad very exotically in leather and with a voice “just made for long summer nights and acoustic guitars,” approaches Eloise and shatters her vain hope of being left alone. From that moment, she knows her life will never be quite the same: intense green eyes and a sword do not predict normalcy.
Eloise suddenly finds herself caught up in a war for a Fae crown, the war itself dependent on the Old World holidays of Samhain and Beltane. Eloise’s aunt Antonia is the only one who is known to be able to fight the vicious king, the glimmering golden-haired beautiful Strahan. His own people are hurt, starved, and unkempt—other than his favorite toadies. Jo stumbles upon a tiny Faery girl who (with a rather grouchy demeanor) ends up helping Jo and Devon find Eloise after she’s been snagged by Samhain. When the group is all together again—humans Eloise, Jo and Devon, along with varying degrees of Fae bloods Lucas, Eldric and the tiny Isadora—they plot and plan how to best help without giving themselves up as midnight snacks for Strahan’s court. Or, apparently, be “danced to death.”
Delightfully, Isadora turns out to be one of the more entertaining characters. When they meet her, she is stuck in a fairytale-style limp upside-down tutu outfit. As they prepare for battle, she is given a tiny little pair of combat boots and a little kilt to go with a miniature sword. There is nothing quite like the pompous bluster of a diminutive flower Fae turned warrior.
A small joy that girls all around will understand: the need for emotional armor in the form of a favorite shirt, hair doolie or lipstick—there is a sense of validation in absorbing an idea like that in a mainstream book. And then, almost back to back, is a good though annoyingly valid reason for that speech class we all hated in high school—what if you must present your case to a Fae queen one day? A heavy dose of high school politics crossed with a bit of Wiccan mythology makes a perfect backdrop to suck in girls of any age. While there is a degree of decently choreographed fight scenes, there is much more mooning over “hot” boys, making it somewhat unlikely for most young manly readers to want to pick up this little bit of fantasy-based storytelling. The heat and smooching only go so far, so parents can feel alright handing it off to their young ‘tweens.
The underlying unpreachy themea of trust, respect, and committed loyalty are all solid values and warm fuzzies. No matter how scary things got, Eloise’s friends stand by her, and everything is better taken on by a solid group than solo. Jo and Eldric, who is a vague Hart relation; Eloise and Lucas, Fae in his own right and who seems utterly willing to give up his own life for hers. In both cases, high emotions and extreme sudden passions seem to crop up overnight. Everyone who survived their teen years knows the intensity of relationships that can exist during that era of life, but even considering the extenuating circumstances, their mirrored connections are dramatically overblown. In an almost comical contrast, their male friend, Devon, has no one to obsess over and is disappointingly one-dimensional. He is simply there for, what, balance?
There are the unhappy overused and now too highly expected references to the sparkling Twilight world, both films and books, as seems to be necessary in young adult fantasy these days. What somewhat offers redemption are the other references: music such as the Medieval Baebes, older Victorian tales, Dungeons and Dragons. The girls’ voices take turns in the narrative, every other chapter being Eloise; the others are Jo’s. It is a strange, jarring storytelling method in this case—particularly the strange choice to begin with Eloise’s view, and finish with Jo’s. It feels incomplete.
However, the originality of some usual things being used in unusual ways to push the story along is refreshing. Birch isn’t just birch. Chamomile isn’t just chamomile. The most basic parts of our world take on a sudden gleam of the fantastic, and it is this quality that really makes Alyxandra Harvey’s storytelling fun in spite of the jarring chapter changes. The excessive beauty and luxuriousness of the Fae world is drawn with sweeping, colorful words, describing gorgeous tables heavily laden with delicacies and the exquisite, handmade furniture with deep cushions and plush layered rugs. Even the ceilings offer a view of whimsical artistry. The downright poetic, lyrical visualization is like stepping into a painting that is still a little damp in its richness. It is easy to see the colors as more vibrant, the Fae as utterly gorgeous. Even the air itself is sweeter. The description is by far the gem of this little tome.
“We went up rough steps carved into the earth, the walls and ceiling turning into a complicated weave of tree roots and little yellow flowers.” Such a perfectly crafted visual, even in the heat of battle. And then, her mom’s very mom-like comment is perfect for eliciting a giggle in the middle of a paranormal war:
“I’m murdering that rat bastard Strahan and you’re grounded forever! …did he hurt you?”
Even the climactic battle is very descriptive, morosely colorful, and horrifyingly scary. Blood and feathers flew. Blisters rise in the heated air. Heads roll. Eyes are removed. Flesh fried. Screams echo. Tears roll, unnoticed. Secrets reveal themselves, reluctantly. Death falls, all around.
The story of Eloise’s Fae blood, her loyal friends, and the battle to rule is a story as old as time. While the descriptive writing is soulful, the characters would have absolutely danced with some solid fleshing out, and the tale itself is woefully predictable as well as feeling rushed. It feels rather like watching a movie on double-fast speed—like we miss out on some of the details because we’re trying to fit it into the half-hour block we have to watch it in, rather than the two hours it was meant for. There are real little joys sprinkled here and there, that make the book somewhat worth reading anyway. While it isn’t a first project, it is one of the few stand alones, and the bones of it are enough to spark curiosity about her Drake Chronicles, where perhaps Alyxandra Harvey has a better chance to deepen and enrich both the world and the characters who roam through it? Unfortunately, Stolen Away just doesn’t stand up to the hype.