The rumors are true. I have, at long last, read Halayda. Which means I now have authentic indie-pub credentials, as well as self-respect.
Seriously, I was starting to feel incredibly guilty about being the only person on the planet who had not read this highly-praised book. Kinda like you probably feel if you're the only person on the planet who hasn't read the Beaumont and Beasley series. (Marketing managed. *fist pump*)
It's difficult to know where to begin in describing how truly excellent this novel is. There are so many layers to its brilliance. I was enthralled from beginning to end, and sorry once I'd finished. The sequel can't arrive fast enough for my liking. It's also hard to talk about the story without delving into spoilers, because startling plot twists come into play as early as the first few chapters. I will cautiously summarize the things I loved, but trust me, you should go into this book spoiler free.
Here, then, are a few of the things that make Halayda awesome.
The characters. Not only were all the main players delightful, the relationships between them were refreshingly original. Sylvie (a human alchemist) and Taylan (the King of Faerie), the couple at the center of the story, are unique in that they have a pre-existing relationship when the book begins. They don't meet and then rush into a deep romantic relationship all in the course of one book. As such, the developments between them as the story progresses feel natural and “earned.” Then there's the supporting romantic couple, Zad (a pooka, or horse-shifter) and Diza (a mysterious fae whose backstory I don't want to spoil). These two are–wonder of wonders–married! Take note, fantasy writers, marriage is not an instant romance-killer. Zad and Diza prove this. Zad, by the way, was probably my favorite character–he got so many great one-liners, and the snarky dynamic between him and Taylan was brilliant. Also, the villainous Casimir is a particularly well-written character. His motivations are clearly-explained and believable, and his evil plot raises the stakes in a gripping way.
The world-building. WOW. I was blown away by this element of the book. What we have here is a magical multiverse–and yes, that's just as cool as it sounds. The story alternates between a steampunk human world and the epic-fantasy setting of Faerie, but even more realms are teased besides these. (I'm hoping they will feature in subsequent Star-Fae books.) Faerie, where much of the book takes place, is filled with intricate magic, fascinating species, and breathtaking settings. White does a marvelous job adapting various elements of Celtic, Irish, and Scottish mythology into her world. Also, the magic is perfect. It's complex in a good way, without being overly intricate or presumptuous. Plus, there are some fascinating, atypical elements to it, like reality-warping.
The plot. I'm hoping nobody actually saw me yelling out loud at the pages during some of the more tense, startling moments. There were quite a few of them, though not so many that I felt overwhelmed–the story also had plenty of welcome pauses to allow the reader to enjoy the character interactions and the setting. I've already touched on the subverted tropes in the character relationships. These are used to build toward a surprising, yet very satisfying, conclusion. Some intriguing plot threads are left over for a sequel, but the book doesn't end on a frustrating cliffhanger. It's also worth mentioning that White is very good at writing multiple viewpoints and storylines without allowing the story to become muddled. I never felt lost or confused as I read, even though the book didn't hold my hand by indulging in a lot of tiresome info-dumps.
The only quibble I have with Halayda isn't a bad thing in principle. As I read, I got the feeling that there were all kinds of stories that came before this book–for example, the tales of how some of the characters met for the first time, or various snippets of the world's history. That didn't cause the book to become confusing–everything was clearly explained. The only reason I mention this is because I really want prequels. In particular, I want an entire book about how Zad and Diza got together, because their love story sounds amazing.
If Halayda is still several books down your to-be-read list, like it was on mine for a long time, you should definitely bump it higher. You'll understand exactly what I mean once you've read it. It's a masterfully-written work of fantasy that I'm proud to have on my shelf, and that I plan on recommending to fellow readers at every opportunity.
Be sure to follow Sarah Delena White's blog for updates on the second book in the Star-Fae trilogy, coming soon! Look her up on Facebook and Twitter as well. And if you've read Halayda, share your thoughts in the comments below!