Dreamdark series - Laini Taylor
I have to confess to a slight wariness regarding faeries. Since their saccharine flower-fairy Victorian incarnation morphed into Tolkien's proud and stately elves, there's been quite a revival of the original mediaeval conception, where the small folk are amoral and potentially nasty tricksters, but there's still too often a hint of Disneyfication hanging around the species like a bad smell. Given that Taylor's series started life as a complement to her range of faerie ornaments, I was very worried that the tweeness would be too much to bear, especially after meeting the Speshul Heroine with a Great Destiny, but I was soon surprised to find just how much I enjoyed the books; they are very much better than first impressions might suggest.
Magpie Windwitch is our heroine, a scruffy and rather foul-mouthed young faerie who has taken up demon-fighting. The Absent Parents (that staple of kids' literature) are faerie archaeologists happy to let Mags do her thing while they unearth ancient faerie lore, so she is also well versed in the world's legends and history - which is particularly important when an ancient menace resurfaces, threatening the faeries' very existence. In the company of an avuncular bunch of crows, Magpie must find some way to re-awaken the Djinn King and defeat this Blackbringer before it consumes any more of her friends... OK, OK, the plot sounds a little clichéd, but the background mythology is really well done, and the character interaction fairly sparkles. For all that their faux-rural slang sounds like that pederast turtle bus driver from Animal Crossing, the crows are an entertaining lot, and the flightless prince Talon makes a good foil for the uncouth and independent Magpie. After the minor worry caused by yet another slightly problematic Tomboy Heroine, I can't tell you how pleased I was to find that Talon had a magic gift for knitting!
Taylor really hits her stride with book 2, Silksinger, which has a layered plot worthy of its characters. The search for the missing Djinn has been stepped up from the first book, which brings us into the orbits of two new characters, Whisper and Hirik, who have strengths and powers quite different from Magpie and Talon's. Of course, there are plenty of the original characters in this book too, but it was very nice to see these newcomers get centre stage in the struggle against a plausible new bad guy. The events of Blackbringer have set new things in motion, and it's not just the heroes who are now seeking the Djinn; Whisper and Hirik, scions of clans long thought extinct, have to protect the Azazel from a hidden enemy in a deceptively complex story. Aside from one unfortunately predictable twist, I could hardly find a thing to fault this book for (OK, that and the fact that my ARC didn't yet have the full complement of illustrations - dammit!).
The Dreamdark series is, in short, excellent, regardless of your personal views on faeries (and let's face it, faeries with facial tattoos are always going to be better than ones with pink sparkly wings). The ever-so-slight cosiness of the first book may be enough to deter some older readers, but for anyone in the 10-15 age group, particularly of the mini-goth variety, this is sure to be a hit.