The Importance of YA Novels
The last time I walked through the Young Adult section of a bookstore, my heart fell into my stomach. Not to judge all books by their covers but it was just row after row of [trashy] romance novels disguised behind vampires, witches and various supernatural beings. OR, there's the hidden confessions of terrible people ala Gossip Girl. And not to categorically dismiss these, but surely at such a formative time in a young person's life, we should be looking for heroes to guide them through adolescence and help shape a positive view about themselves and the world. There are some fantastic heroines in young adult novels, but you do seem to have to dig a bit to find them.
The Seventh Bride is basically a new take on the classic Bluebeard tale. For those who've never heard an iteration of the story, it revolves around an incredibly wealthy man who continues to marry young women in the neighboring village after which they mysteriously disappear. We come to learn, he has them locked in his manor house in various forms of existence, depending on the version of the story you are reading. In this case, the wealthy man is also a sorcerer. He has taken 6 wives previously, all of whom are - in one way or another - trapped at his magical mansion. Rhea has been recruited as the seventh bride, but she will not go quietly.
What did I love about this book? Gumption. Rhea is a young woman who agrees to the betrothal to save her family from certain ruin. She is hesitant and terrified, but understands there are larger forces at play and strives to hold her head high and do her part. But when she arrives at the door to her destiny and realizes that all is far more terrible than it first seems, she does not buckle under the pressure. She faces adversity head on and while constantly battling fear and doubt, she determinedly perseveres through challenge upon challenge.
What else did I love about this book? ***SPOILER ALERT*** She does not fall in love with her captor. The most famous variation on the Bluebeard tale is Beauty and the Beast, and while I champion Disney's version as perhaps my favorite animated movie of all time, in my adulthood I've come to understand the complex psychological implications of that story. And Beast is a MILD, CARING and SYMPATHETIC Bluebeard. But it's a tale as old as time that female hostages become sympathetic to their captor's strife, comfort them, and ultimately learn to love them. Otherwise known as Stockholm syndrome.
So here's what I didn't love about this book: the writing is just ok. I have a hard time critically reviewing YA novels because, for obvious reasons, the writing is at a level that is more appropriate for adolescents. I don't remember when I made the transition from YA to Adult novels personally, but I think it was earlier rather than later...partly because YA didn't really exist as a genre at the time. But there are some great YA books that don't read as such (see Code Name Verity) and this is just not one of them. Rhea is very young and so is the writing. But for my part, story trumps writing when we're talking about influences on young people, and I would recommend this book despite it not being up to the standards of the great Charles Dickens.
Final thoughts: it can get dark at times. We're talking evil sorcerer who has trapped unwilling young wives in his magical fortress. There's an army of animal gollums protecting the grounds. And some strong metaphors about how he has taken something from each of his wives, including in one instance a life. Not necessarily for the faint of heart.
Overall, I think this is an exciting young adult fiction novel with a strong female taking the lead. There's a twist of magic and a lot of lady comradery. It's an excellent, feminist-forward new take on a very old tale.