When Victorian teenager Kate and her younger sister Emily are sent to live at their mysterious ancestral estate, Kate is sure she is being watched. It turns out that she is – and not by the native gypsies, but by the old and hideous goblin King Marek, who (following tradition) plans to kidnap and wed her. Will Kate be able to outmaneuver him before she is trapped underground forever?
After coming so highly recommended I had high hopes for this book, but I was disappointed. It’s really unfortunate because it has a lot of things going for it. Dunkle has created an imaginative underworld of creatures you’ve never before seen or imagined. Kate is an extremely well drawn heroine – brave, feisty, and smart. Emily is the perfect inquisitive, accepting ten-year old providing the needed comic relief. Even pitiless, ugly, but caring Marek becomes likable. And humor! I simply loved the snake charm. I’d almost read the sequels just to read more of its dry-humor commentary. I can just imagine his monotone, robotic voice reciting the statistics. And Kate’s encounters with the dimwitted “door”! Hilarious. These are just some of the things that really make it one of the more creative YA fantasy novels out there.
Unfortunately, the pacing was uneven and odd for me. I just didn’t care what happened to Kate until more than half-way through the book, when the adventure finally starts. And then of course when the book finally grabs me, it’s over too quickly. But these are only minor complaints. It was the whole captive bride tradition – which remains totally unchallenged by the end of this book – that really bothered me and completely ruined this book for me. Why was this just glossed over? Maybe if Dunkle had spent more time convincing us that Kate’s love for Marek was real, I might have been okay with it. And if Marek really loved Kate as much as it seemed, he would’ve wanted her to have the right to choose. Instead, we’re left to assume that their relationship is founded on Stockholm Syndrome. That’s just plain unromantic and gross.