Author: Jenna Black
Length: 294 pages
My star rating: ★ ★ ⅔
At the beginning of Glimmerglass, sixteen-year-old Dana Hathaway has finally had enough of her alcoholic mother and decides to get in contact with her Fae-lord father. When he offers her a plane ticket to visit him in Avalon, she eagerly accepts. However, Dana soon discovers that her dreams of finding parental support and a peaceful, ordinary life are more distant than she initially hoped, and that Avalon holds more secrets than she could ever have imagined…
I loved the concept of this novel, but the execution could have been better. A lot better. In fact, the execution almost dragged the concept down completely.
The concept was good enough. Something about it made me want to keep reading, even when it frustrated me. I can’t put my finger on what I enjoyed enough to continue flipping pages, but the novel had a glimmer (pun intended) of something quite good. I liked—though didn’t entirely understand—the idea of the titular “Glimmerglass” and being able to see through it into Faerie…honestly, mostly just the idea of Faerie itself.
I was particularly taken with the description of magic as an “elemental force, native to Faerie.”
“When you cast a spell, you draw the magic into your body … Then you release the magic you’ve drawn in, and…it does what you want it to… [but] drawing and directing magic is exhausting.”
The idea that magic is a powerful force—one which requires a great deal of energy to use—resonated with me. It’s a bit more sophisticated than the usual YA/Harry Potter magic we often read about, and I liked that a lot.
The most glaring problem with the novel was, well, Dana herself. I don’t know why I’m still surprised when I come across this type of Mary Sue character n YA, since they’re everywhere these days. But alas, here she was again: a whiny, self-absorbed, hypocritical girl whose first-person narration set my teeth on edge. Her voice was bland and her “teenager-ness” came off as so forced it was often painful to read. (I spent most of this book wincing.) Honestly, maybe just stop writing in first person, YA authors?
For instance, Dana says she spent one night “surfing the Net,” which I’m pretty sure no teenager this side of 2005 would ever say. Ms. Black is clearly just trying too hard.
Add to that the fact that Dana is “special” and has power to which she has been oblivious for her entire sixteen years of life up until now, and you end up with a truly awful, flat character. If you replaced Dana with a talking block of wood, you would lose almost nothing.
Dana’s descent into Mary Suedom felt like an especial betrayal to me, because at first, I was certain that I would be able to relate to her. Dana’s mother, like mine, is an alcoholic—possibly the first time I’ve seen that in YA. Sometimes, Dana does make astute observations about the difficulties of living with an alcoholic parent. Unfortunately, she is mostly unaffected (just annoyed) by her mother’s condition, and her mother is nothing but a bumbling, incompetent idiot, an embarrassment to her daughter, but nothing more serious than that. In short, she is a drunk version of Renee from Twilight. Dana claims that they barely scrape by financially, and that she’s the “adult” in their house, but even when she’s thrust into her father’s mansion, her behavior never reflects that of an perpetually impoverished girl (she even has a laptop!)—and she certainly never acts like anything but an immature and naïve child.
Worst of all, halfway through the novel, Dana blames herself—her very existence—for her mother’s drinking problem. That made me so angry that I almost gave the book up then and there. If you are the child of an addict, please understand that your parent’s problem is never your fault.
Here are a few examples of Dana’s annoying voice and her hypocrisy:
Despite having no idea how Faerie works (she, in fact, admits to being “woefully ignorant of the workings of Avalon and Faerie”), she immediately denounces her father as a bigot after this conversation:
“You must understand that although Avalon has officially seceded from Faerie, the Fae are still Fae. … The Sidhe—what you think of when you think of Fae—are the aristocracy of Faerie. Lachlan is not Sidhe. I am.”
“So what you’re saying is that because you’re Sidhe, you’re better than him?”
“Yes. … Lachlan is a troll…[that] wears a human glamour…”
I felt sick to my stomach. Dad wasn’t just a snob—he was a bigot.
Or maybe he just knows more about how this fantasy world works than you do, girlie! Key word being fantasy. But hey, obviously every Orc and troll in The Lord of the Rings was the equal of the Elves!
Dana is the one who ran away from home in the first place, yet when her mom calls her later than she expected, she berates her, saying, “You scared me half to death!”
Sure, you’re one to talk.
Dana also explicitly states that “a drunk lies,” yet believes her mother’s story about being half-Fae, of all things, for her entire life. However, when her father, who “had never lied to” her before then, tells her something important, though, she doubts that she can trust him for…some reason. Is this girl from Bizarro world or what? (Later on that same page, she says she had “forgotten how brutally honest [Dad] could be.” Jesus, Dana, which is it?!)
Aside from Dana, there is not one but two cases of insta-love—and yep, you guessed it, the fixings of a future love triangle. Apparently all Fae men are stunningly handsome, because…why wouldn’t they be? (On the plus side, Dana seems to experience, and to detect, more lust than genuine affection, so maybe she isn’t a total moron.)
Fortunately, aside from the clichéd love interests—Ethan, the arrogant, athletic player and the other one (whose name I’ve already forgotten), the “bad boy”/“wicked Fae Goth boy”—most of the supporting cast, with one glaring exception, are a bit more interesting, though Dana certainly tries to reduce all of her acquaintances to one personality trait.
Most interesting of all of them is Finn, Dana’s “bodyguard.” As awful as Dana is in this book, I thought that Jenna Black could make a rather compelling story out of their developing relationship—he would have, at least, been a worthwhile love interest (think Dimitri Belikov)—and indeed, there were some hints that she might be taking the novel in that direction…but alas, he remains a background character.
On top of that, there are some massive plot holes—as Dana says about one of her own half-cocked stories, you “could drive a truck” through them. The Fae rarely have children (Dana’s father, Seamus, angrily reminds her mother how “rare and precious” children are to them). Most Fae are, therefore, relatively old, as you’d expect in a society of immortal beings in which having children is relatively uncommon. But conveniently, there are at least three Fae in between the ages sixteen and eighteen for Dana to befriend and/or fall in love with.
I also sort of liked the idea of an autonomous, Vatican City-style Avalonian “state,” but at the same time…what? Black could have fleshed that concept out a little more. Does everyone in the human world know about the Fae, their state, and Faerie itself? How does Black’s mountain of Avalon connect to the mythical Celtic/Arthurian Isle of Avalon? She references other Celtic lore in her world-building, such as the Seelie and Unseelie courts, Queen Mab, and the various subsets of the sidhe, so leaving out that context struck me as a little strange (On that note, does Faerie only have queens in this universe? Titania exists, so what about Oberon? Do these queens really not feel the need to at least have a consort for the purposes of producing an heir?) Why can the Fae enter Avalon, but not the human world, and vice-versa? How does that work? Cut-and-dry explanations weren’t necessary, but some sign of reasoning might have been nice.
(Since my friend Richard III seems to follow me everywhere these days, Black also makes a rather absurd connection between the Wars of the Roses and the Seelie/Unseelie dichotomy of Faerie. She includes an explanation for the fate of the fabled Princes in the Tower that’s both laughable and still a little compelling—though of course, not realistic—given that their fate will probably always be a mystery.)
That reminds me of another reason I hated Dana!
“Let’s just say [history isn’t] my favorite subject in school,”I answered, because let’s face it, history classes are boring, boring, boring.
“Have you heard of Richard III?”
“I said it wasn’t my favorite subject, not that I’m completely ignorant.”
Could’ve fooled me. The thing is, most U.S. teenagers probably haven’t heard of Richard III. Also, fuck you, Dana! And way to go, Jenna Black, perpetuating the “history is boring” myth!
Anyway, another major and painful flaw was the ridiculous Saturday morning cartoon villain. Instead of doing something exciting at the climax of the book, said villain just had several absurd monologues to explain their reasoning. That sort of thing is neither exciting nor rewarding to read 300 pages in, sadly, and it cheapens the rest of the story as well.
But before I wax too long, though (if I haven’t already)—overall, I think Glimmerglass was both more enjoyable and more original than the uber-popular Iron Fey series, though its heroine is equally unbearable for many of the same reasons. For all its faults, though, it sucked me in some of the time. I will be picking up the sequel, if only because I liked the world quite a bit.
I can only hope that there, Jenna Black has developed Dana into a somewhat interesting and three-dimensional character and refined her annoying, unsophisticated voice into something a bit more readable.
[Also on Goodreads.]