What if the old faery tales were true?
You know, the best thing about nightmares is that they’re not real. It’s all just in your head, and as soon as you wake up, pop!
It’s all gone. You’re safe.
It’s not like they could crawl out, creeping from your mind with long, slender fingers and milky yellow eyes sunken into heads with pointed horns bursting out.
That’d just be insane.
Daniel Tanner’s life is insane. A mysterious disease came to claim his son, seemingly pulling him into the grave with cold fingers named misery and hopelessness.
Now a stranger has come calling with an even stranger tale of monsters—horrible things that take children in the middle of the night and leave their own, things that crawled out of the faery tales our barbarous ancestors used to tell, things that they tried to warn us about.
We didn’t listen.
Because monsters aren’t real, are they? There’s no reason to fear the dark, no reason at all to believe the old tales about the creatures with a taste for human meat.
That would be insane… wouldn’t it?
There is a lot of folklore regarding changelings, particularly in Western Europe – how fairies would take a human infant and replace it with one of their own. The reasons for these stories are as varied as the countries they took hold in – a healthy child was far more valuable to a family than one who was sickly and drained whatever resources was available. It was easier to believe that fairies took the healthy child and replaced it with one of their dying ones.
Why human children were taken ranged from the unbaptized being easy targets to the fae believing that being raised by humans was a respectable start in life to old fae being cared for as children. According to the folklore, the human child is almost never seen again, presumably living with the fae forever.
In The Wicked Ones, author JZ Foster attempts to re-imagine aspects of changeling folklore into modern times, where a group of wounded people seek out the fae who took their loved ones.
As the novel opens, Daniel Tanner is grieving the death of his son, Sam, who was recently buried. He is also bitter towards his ex-wife, and mystified by her inexplicably callous behavior towards their son. Recruited by Larry Maker, Daniel realizes he is not the only one who has suffered such a loss and is brought into a group of unlikely companions who are united in only one thing – to kill the monsters behind the changelings.
As a student of mythology and folklore, I’m always fascinated how these old stories can be re-invented and brought to newer audiences. With vampires and werewolves enjoying a kind of renaissance in urban fantasy and horror, it’s only natural to expand and widen storytelling to incorporate the fae. Using their myths as inspiration is a valid start, but from there, it is the writer’s responsibility to create a fully- developed and realized world, along with the characters that populate it.
So it was with anticipation that I began reading Foster’s novel.
With the amount of exposition used, I felt shut out and removed from a tale of grief, revenge and the fae that should have been engrossing and heartbreaking. The story itself didn’t seem to really begin until mid-way through Chapter Four (man in the basement), but most definitely with Chapter Five (how the fae and changelings are involved). The characters themselves didn’t seem fully developed – given that the cast is primarily male, it was difficult to differentiate between them. Jenna and Rebekah, two of the primary female characters, fared a little better, but Daniel’s ex-wife, Julia (seen only in flashback) came across as a one-note, cold-hearted woman who watched her son die and is the focal point of Daniel’s anger.
Even the brief phone conversation between Daniel and his mother could have been better utilized – a good place to put active dialogue, showing who they were and what their relationship was now after the death Sam. Instead of a short, active scene driving the story forward, it was two or three lines of exposition and I was left with no information about how Daniel felt about his mother, how she felt about him and what Sam’s death did to their relationship.
Sam’s death may have been the catalyst for Daniel’s pursuit of the changelings and his willingness to join Maker’s group to stop them. But I was never really allowed to feel it or experience it – I was placed in the role of passive viewer.
If stories about the fae and how it impacts mortals (with a twist) tickles your fancy, then this is the story for you. If not, then perhaps one of Foster’s other titles will satisfy.
Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars.