The Faerie Ring by Kiki Hamilton
September 27, 2011; Tor Teen / Macmillan
Debut novelist Kiki Hamilton takes readers from the gritty slums and glittering ballrooms of Victorian London to the beguiling but menacing Otherworld of the Fey in this spellbinding tale of romance, suspense, and danger.
The year is 1871, and Tiki has been making a home for herself and her family of orphans in a deserted hideaway adjoining Charing Cross Station in central London. Their only means of survival is by picking pockets. One December night, Tiki steals a ring, and sets off a chain of events that could lead to all-out war with the Fey. For the ring belongs to Queen Victoria, and it binds the rulers of England and the realm of Faerie to peace. With the ring missing, a rebel group of faeries hopes to break the treaty with dark magic and blood--Tiki's blood.
Unbeknownst to Tiki, she is being watched--and protected--by Rieker, a fellow thief who suspects she is involved in the disappearance of the ring. Rieker has secrets of his own, and Tiki is not all that she appears to be. Her very existence haunts Prince Leopold, the Queen's son, who is driven to know more about the mysterious mark that encircles her wrist.
Prince, pauper, and thief--all must work together to secure the treaty... (courtesy of Goodreads)
The Faerie Ring is one of the more difficult books to review that I've read lately. On one hand, I absolutely adored the book. On the other hand, from an objective standard, I can see numerous problems with the novel.
The good side first...The Faerie Ring carried me away. It is the perfect combination of historical fiction and fantasy. The book is set in Victorian England. You get to see the extremes of wealth and poverty in this novel since Tiki, the main character, lives on the streets while Leo, another main character is the son of Queen Victoria and lives in Buckingham Palace. I like how the book doesn't glorify the poor while demonizing the spoiled rich. Tiki is obviously our hero, but the wealthy characters in the story, while a bit careless, were good people. It's really fey versus humans. Ms. Hamilton did a wonderful job capturing the feeling of the poverty of Victorian London. We see dirty streets, little ramshackle hovels, flower sellers, and pick pockets. Yet we also see equally good descriptions of wealthy London - grand balls, palaces, and fashion.
Tiki is a fabulous character. She's a professional pick-pocket living on the streets. Such a difficult life could harden a person, but Tiki has remained kind. She puts up a good front, but at heart she's a teenage girl with insecurities and fears. I loved her "family" as well, the group of waifs she lives with, particularly the littlest girl. I had some difficulty telling the older characters apart.
The main guy in the book is Rieker who is handsome and most of all mysterious. Also a professional pick-pocket, he appears to protect Tiki...or is he trying to harm her? He figures out quickly that Tiki is involved in stealing the Queen's ring and knows an unusual amount about its faerie origin. What I loved most about Ms. Hamilton's portrayal of Rieker was the mystery. For much of the book, Tiki instinctively distrusts him. My reaction was the opposite - I assumed he was trustworthy. But there were enough oddities in his actions and personality that neither Tiki nor I could be sure about Rieker for most of the book. I liked discovering Rieker alongside Tiki.
My favorite part about The Faerie Ring bleeds into my least favorite part. When I was reading this book, I was transported across a continent and back 150 years. I was transfixed by Tiki, Rieker, and the other characters. I marveled at Tiki's ingenuity and was awed by her gorgeous outfit at the Queen's ball (what would a good YA book be without some fashion?). I was terrified by every close call and the increasing danger of the fey. It is unfortunately rare for a book to make the world disappear around me.
So that's good...but once I finished the book, all these doubts crept in. The world-building is considerably lacking. We don't discover much about the fey legends until the end of the book and even that is incomplete. And the book is full of inconsistencies and big coincidences. Obviously you have to suspend some belief for a book centering on a ring that symbolizes peace between the fey and humans, but so many things worked out "just in time" for Tiki. And the theme of a poor girl really being a lady and blossoming once you put a pretty dress on her is overplayed. In retrospect, I don't like the ending. It is both too perfect and incomplete, for different reasons.
In some ways I loved The Faerie Ring and in some ways it was lacking. I give it high marks for carrying me away as I read it, but lower marks for not holding up well after I finished it.