Review: ‘Fairytales for Wilde Girls’ by Allyse Near

Fairytales for Wilde Girls

‘He’s gone the same way as those little birds that bothered me with their awful songs! And you will too, you and your horrible heart-music, because you won’t stay out of my woods!’

There’s a dead girl in a birdcage in the woods. That’s not unusual. Isola Wilde sees a lot of things other people don’t. But when the girl appears at Isola’s window, her every word a threat, Isola needs help.

Her real-life friends – Grape, James and new boy Edgar – make her forget for a while. And her brother-princes – the mermaids, faeries and magical creatures seemingly lifted from the pages of the French fairytales Isola idolises – will protect her with all the fierce love they possess.

It may not be enough.

Isola needs to uncover the truth behind the dead girl’s demise and appease her enraged spirit, before the ghost steals Isola’s last breath.

Fairytales for Wilde Girls is a strange and wonderful little début from Melbourne author Allyse Near. The genre could be described as contemporary fairytale, a bit like the Splintered series by A. G. Howard. But Fairytales also falls squarely into  the gothic fiction category — with those traditional elements — and has some quirky screenplay influences (when, for example, the characters are introduced as though you’re reading a script). There are also gorgeous pictures throughout the book of Isola’s six princes.

I don’t know why the blurb describes the book as “bubblegum gothic”, though. I didn’t get a bubblegum feel from Fairytales at all.

Ruslana, one of the six princes. Yes, she's a woman.

Ruslana, one of the six princes. Yes, she’s a woman. I noticed that too.

The book is masterfully executed. Allyse Near’s writing is some of the most luscious and rich I’ve read; her prose is magical, her metaphors often both beautiful and disturbing. The story is seeded with references to Edgar Allan Poe, the Grimm Brothers, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Alice in Wonderland (plus probably others I missed). But the tales with the heaviest influence on Isola and the story is the fictional book The Pardieu Fables and Fairytales by Lileo Pardieu — the author whose name Isola has as her own middle name. We get to read excerpts of The Pardieu Fables scattered throughout the story, and they are even more beautiful and strange than the rest of the novel.

There are ghosts, a mermaid, a fury, fairies and a hilariously grumpy gargoyle — a menagerie that appealed to my urban fantasy-loving heart. There’s a wonderful best friend; a talented, quirky guy; and a bad boy I wanted to snot (that’s my usual reaction to bad boy characters, by the way)…

There’s also a plot twist that I didn’t see coming till maybe a chapter beforehand, but that made total sense and begs for a re-read, just so you can admire the way it was foreshadowed.

The one thing that disappointed me at the outset was that I half-expected the book to be set in Australia. It’s actually set in England, in a little town called Avalon, near the magical Vivien’s Wood (where Vivien supposedly entrapped Merlin in a tree). Given the circumstances, I forgave Near for not setting it here. 😉

Grab yourself a copy of Fairytales for Wilde Girls. You won’t regret it.

Four stars

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