Arie has a close relationship with her mother. Their world is perfect: they lie among butterflies in the meadow that is their front yard, meditate until approached by friendly purple-eyed foxes, have bedrooms inspired by fairy tales, own an independent bookshop named after even more butterflies (the book really loves butterflies). Then, on Arie's sixteenth birthday, her mother passes away. On the same day Arie has just shared her first kiss with her best friend under a cloud of butterflies in the meadow. In the aftermath of her mother's death she lives alone in an empty house, too emotionally unstable to open her mother's bedroom door, and is mostly looked after by best friend and sometime-boyfriend River's family. She runs the bookshop but lives in a depressive, grieving, guilty haze. She feels horrible about herself, mainly because of River, who loves her deeply but she feels too far into grieving to return his feelings.
The book picks up on her eighteenth birthday (after a slightly confusing flashback to her seventh) and the two-year anniversary of her mother’s death. On this particular day River is being his usual loyal self and inviting her to a concert for her birthday and she feels guilty because she can't be as happy as she wants to be. The guilt intensifies when she forgets about the concert and shows up late. When she does show up she doesn't look for or contact River. Instead she lets go of her grieving and lets the song take over, dancing ike a crazy person and catching the eye of a tall, dark and handsome stranger. Then things start getting weird. She falls for said stranger, Ashe, who appears only sometimes and seems like her soul-mate even though she feels as though she owes it to River to love him. She has panic attacks, is haunted by a faceless shadow and an achingly familiar voice. She then feels sure that she saw the same shadow the day her mother died and decides her mother was murdered.
About halfway through the book she meets a little girl, Amary, whose mother also died and Ashe transports them both to a world that can only be described as a fairyland. Flowers are bright, butterflies are many, valleys and meadows are in abundance. Nature spirits, souls, light and dark, love triangles, meditation, forbidden love, resurrection. This book is insane. The plot of this novel was enjoyable and original but felt, to me, a bit too unrealistic for an urban fantasy. There was no shadow here. There was good and bad, light and dark. The whole thing felt a touch too perfect. I prefer my urban fantasy with a little bit more reality and Reality lacked that.
Arie is a little bit whiny, a little bit woe-is-me, as anyone would be in a first-person novel narrated by a grieving daughter and other than that there is not much I can say about her. I love that reading is her escape and that she owns a bookstore, but unlike characters in my favorite books, I don't want to meet her, I don't want to be her best friend.
Both her love interests (River and Ashe) are stereotypical. They are textbook examples of the YA love triangle: the tall, dark, magical, stranger with whom there is an undeniable attraction and the always-been-there best friend who the protagonist just can't hurt but also can't deny attraction to paranormal interest. This being said River was really sweet if a bit too sweet.
By far the best character in this book is Starling, Arie's best female friend. Why is it that best friends in YA novels are always so perfect? They are funny, sassy, and kind. Like Zuzana in Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Starling is just one of those character whose scenes you can't wait to read.
Overall this novel is good: magical and utopian but just a touch too perfect. It was too light, too happy. It niggled at me, seeming fake, contrived. Fantasy, even urban fantasy is not supposed to be realistic but it is not supposed to be fake either.
A good book, but a bit too perfect to be great,