Book Review: The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Frances Long

When Jenny was little, her brother sacrificed himself to creatures of the forest so that she could get away, and was never found again. Now, the summer before she goes off to college, Jenny returns to the forest to say one final goodbye. But then, she hears the unmistakable sound of her brother’s prodigious flute playing, and she dashes into the forest to find him. What follows is an adventure that begins as a quest to save her brother from becoming a fairy sacrifice, but turns into a mission to save all of fairy land from its evil rulers — with the help of the enigmatic young man she finds herself falling for.

I have to start by saying that I loved the mix of fairy tales and folklore that comprised this book. It’s based on the Scottish fairy tale “The Ballad of Tam Lin,” but it also has some elements of “Snow White” and is filled with Celtic and Germanic nature lore. It has some elements from other cultures as well, but the main focus is the idea of the Oak and Holly kings vying for the hand of the May Queen (no, this story does not contain a love triangle), old mythology that was used to explain the changing of the seasons. There is even some Shakespeare in the story. Such a fascinating blend.

I just wish that there was a bit more showing and less 3rd-person-limited-narrator telling when it came to emotions, and that the relationships had been developed more. I didn’t entirely believe in the strength of Jack and Jenny’s romance or even the strength of Jenny’s relationship with her brother. As readers, we know so little of it, and of course we just accept that Jenny risks life and limb for him because he’s family. But we always feel more invested in relationships when we see how they came to be so special.

Also, the plot could have been a bit tighter and I would have loved even more world-building and folklore, but I’m a nut for that stuff. Still, though, I have to give the author points for gorgeous prose.

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