Stolen Away
by Alyxandra Harvey, fantasy (2012)
Bloomsbury, £6.99, ISBN 978-1-4088-1497-0


Stolen Away seems to be either a standalone story or the first book in a new series. I'm not sure, to be honest, and the author's website doesn't give me anything to work on. But this story works fine in both roles.

Meet two young ladies, Eloise Hart and Josephine "Jo" Blackwell. They go way back, and together with Devin, they form a tight trio. Eloise's mother is the resident tough-broad hippie lady who can cower even the toughest bikers in town, and Eloise doesn't really fit in with most of the kids in high school because her family is viewed as bohemian sorts. Jo's grandparents own an apple farm, and while Jo is the resident flirty type that will try her hardest to snag the cutest boy she can find, she is also a romantic, hoping to live in the farm and write historical fiction when she grows up. Rounding up the gang is Devin, a nerdy type who is big on fantasy stories.

The whole story begins when a pretty boy shows up one day in the car park of the local ice cream parlor and humbly introduces himself as some kind of protector to Eloise. Eloise thinks that he's cute, but his babbling about her in some kind of danger has her convinced that he may not be entirely sane. Unfortunately for Eloise, she soon finds herself captured by strange folks, as Lucas has warned her, and brought to the palace of Lord Strahan, the current ruler of the Unseelie Court. It turns out that there is more to her mother and her aunt than meets the eye, and poor Eloise is now a pawn in some kind of fae power struggle. Jo finds herself working all angles to locate and rescue Eloise, and in the process, she finds herself attracted to a mysterious - but hot, of course - lad. But is he her ally or her foe?

Eloise and Jo share equal narrative duties here, so it's fair to say that this is their story. What I find a refreshing change from the usual formulaic teen paranormal stories is that both ladies can coexist in the same story without indulging in tedious cat fights and jealousy issues. These two come off as genuine friends instead of two girls trying to embody every cliché in the book, and I like that. Speaking of clichés, it's actually adorable how these ladies actually subvert some of the most popular ones. Jo, in other stories, would be the jealous slutty ho for daring to show an active interest in boys, but here, she's actually the romantic one. She's often the more frustratingly naïve one when it comes to bad boys, while Eloise breaks the usual mold of the "unpopular Jane" heroine by being not bookish. In fact, she works at a tattoo parlor and is probably more streetwise than Jo.

Because this story is told from the point of view of these ladies, the guys come off as rather one-dimensional. Jo's boyfriend, in fact, is particularly disappointing because he could have been an interesting bad boy with Mommy issues if he had been given more opportunity to show more of himself. In this story, he comes off as just emo, tad surly, and often too passive for his own good. Lucas is Lucas: he's just a nice guy, almost boringly so.

Still, the guys may not set the world on fire, but this story is really fun. Like the author's other books, this one has plenty of snappy humor, although this one is not as manic as the books in the Drake Chronicles series. The timing of the punchlines works, the pop culture references flow smoothly and credibly, and the author does a good job in capturing that special moment in one's youth when falling in love can be the most stupid and yet most magical moment ever. This book ends with enough loose ends to sustain a book or two more if the author chooses to continue the series, but there are also enough closure to bring the story to a satisfying end if there are to be no more books in this series.

The romance arcs are not absolutely concluded here, of course, but I find that nice, actually. The last thing I want is to read about 17-year old girls pledging forever to some immortal dweeb they hardly know.

The only jarring moment in Stolen Away is the last few chapters when the otherwise amusing and quirky story descend into a whirlwind of gore. Blood spurts everywhere, bones break, nails dig into one's eyes, and someone even gets its head cleaved in. Now, I'm all for gore - no guts, no glory, after all - but the abrupt shift of mood can be disconcerting.

Still, that's not really a deal breaker. Stolen Away is a pleasant and often entertaining romp, and it's just icing on the cake that the story doesn't feel as clichéd as too many teen paranormal romps tend to be these days.

Rating: 84


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