Hush, Hush would be better as a horror novel. It’s the story of Nora, who is sexually harassed in school while her teacher stands by and allows it to...moreHush, Hush would be better as a horror novel. It’s the story of Nora, who is sexually harassed in school while her teacher stands by and allows it to happen. Then she learns that several supernatural beings are trying to kill her. There’s no one she can trust, not even her best friend. Becca Fitzpatrick sets all of this against a gloomy, rainy Maine backdrop. Spooky stuff, right? The problem is, it’s not intended primarily as horror but as paranormal romance — and Nora’s love interest, Patch, is both her harasser and one of the people with designs on her life. But more about Patch in a bit.
The beginning of Hush, Hush is inauspicious. It’s unoriginal, for one; it’s that “assigned to work together in class” beginning that Stephenie Meyer popularized in Twilight and which has become cliché in the wave of novels influenced by Twilight. And the class itself is just bizarre. Nora and Patch are placed together during a sex ed unit in biology class, and Fitzpatrick’s depiction of it seems like some conspiracy theorist’s idea of what goes on in sex ed (namely, a lot of teacher-sanctioned sexual harassment). Certainly when I was in high school there was a lot less innuendo and a lot more dry terminology — Corpus luteum! Vas deferens! Oooh, baby! — and gory descriptions of all the diseases one can catch.
But then sometimes this same teacher just teaches regular old non-creepy biology lessons, interspersed between the “sexy” classes. In fact, most of the characters in Hush, Hush seem inconsistent, and they don’t act like real people do. Nora’s best friend Vee swings back and forth between being a normal friend and being an absolutely terrible friend. In nearly the same breath, Vee tells Nora that Patch is scary and dangerous and that Nora could take some pointers from him on how to live her life. She also encourages Nora to hang out with someone who has physically threatened her. There’s supernatural mind-mojo behind at least some of this, but it doesn’t make it any less baffling while you’re in the middle of it. Another annoying character is the popular cheerleader Marcie Millar, who is assembled entirely from mean-girl stereotypes and actually tells people all about how popular she is (does anyone really do this?).
But by far the biggest problem in Hush, Hush is Patch as the romantic lead. He has dastardly plans for Nora throughout much of the book, and he’s only less creepy than the villains because he changes his mind in midstream. When Nora learns what he had planned, she’s angry at first but takes it in stride far too quickly. I’d have been able to stomach Patch more easily if he’d stayed a villain and Nora had opposed him as she did the others.
All this said, I’m going to rate Hush, Hush higher than some of the other books I’ve read of this type. Fitzpatrick does create a genuinely spooky atmosphere and the plot gave me some real scares, which is something a lot of these YA paranormals have been unable to do. I just wish the love interest wasn't as scary as the antagonist — or that Fitzpatrick had gone all-out horror and actually made him an antagonist.(less)
Meredydd is an orphan, and the only female student at the prestigious school Halig-liath. At Halig-liath, young men — and Meredydd — are trained to be...moreMeredydd is an orphan, and the only female student at the prestigious school Halig-liath. At Halig-liath, young men — and Meredydd — are trained to become Osraed, which are magician-priests something along the lines of Druids. Female magic is feared and distrusted in this world, and when Meredydd is falsely accused of witchcraft, the elders decide to send her on Pilgrimage to meet the Meri, a goddess-like figure who serves as a connection between humans and God. The Meri will be the final judge of whether Meredydd is fit to be an Osraed, and the elders are divided on whether they want her to succeed or fail.
What follows is a quest tale and a spiritual journey in which Meredydd treks toward the Sea to meet the Meri, encountering a series of tests along the way. These are the kinds of tests that aren’t what they appear on the surface; the obvious dilemma in each situation is almost never the part that’s actually the test, and the goal isn’t exactly what Meredydd thinks it is. Interwoven with this is the theme of men’s magic being revered while women’s magic is feared and reviled; it’s hardly a new theme, but it works.
It’s clear from early on that there’s a secret about the nature of the Meri herself, and it’s pretty obvious to the reader exactly what that secret is. In fact, it becomes frustrating that it never even occurs to Meredydd as a possibility, though it’s absolutely vital to the plot that she not realize it. Readers, however, will be trying to shout it through the pages!
The Meri was slightly rough going for me at first, both because of this issue and a few smaller ones. Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff lets her narrative get bogged down in philosophical musings at times, especially at the very beginning. She also occasionally uses a “ye olde” spelling of a common word when it’s not necessary, such as “backstere” for baker, “Cyne” for King, and “cleirach” for cleric. The meaning usually becomes clear shortly thereafter through context, but in the meantime the reader has been momentarily thrown out of the story and is wondering what a “backstere” is, when just using “baker” would have resulted in a smoother read and wouldn’t have detracted any from the medieval feel of the book.
Bohnhoff earned respect from me in the way she wrapped it up at the end, though. She takes Meredydd’s self-doubt, which she had been building up throughout the novel, and rolls it into a compelling “dark night of the soul” as Meredydd finally reaches the Sea and awaits the Meri’s arrival and judgment. Then, when the observant reader’s guess about the Meri’s nature turns out to be true, Bohnhoff doesn’t belabor the revelation with a big infodump. She just briefly confirms it — in a beautiful, touching scene — and then moves on with the story, as if to say, “Yes, I already told you this, if you were paying attention.” And Meredydd faces one final test, one final choice: whether to act in vengeance or in mercy toward someone connected to her parents’ murders.
The Meri is readable but unspectacular overall, and Meredydd is a likable character who deals with a lot of insecurity but is always out to do the right thing. It’s worth a try if you like the “priestess struggles against sexism” type of fantasy novel. Just be prepared for the protagonist to miss the obvious for a long time. The second book in the series is called Taminy and deals with a highly intriguing character mentioned in The Meri, and I think it’s likely that I’ll seek it out, as what we saw of Taminy in this book has my curiosity piqued.(less)