I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. (Thanks, Lia!)
“He was prophesied for you. Some of us should be so lucky.”
This girl will be loved by a man with eyes like her own. Eyes like a blue winter sky.
I’m no fool. When Lia Habel puts words like these into her books, she’s planning something—and it’s going to be big.
I was thrilled when I heard that Habel had come out with another book. After the half-personal, half-professional snafus that ended (albeit temporarily) the reign of the Gone with the Respiration series, I was worried that it would be quite some time until we heard from our Neo-Victorian authoress again. (Though Bram and Nora are absolutely worth waiting for, and I will jump on their return, no matter when that is.) But when Habel made the announcement that she was looking for early readers for Familiar Things, I jumped on it. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read of hers, and I was looking forward to seeing her branch out into something different.
And something different I absolutely got.
Everrose Morgantwill (God, I love these names) is a 16 year old girl living in the magical community of All Hollows County, where magic is normal and expected, and the year is 1958. Everrose and her best friend Summerlene Hayes are just trying to make their way through the trials and tribulations of being 16 year old magical girls, the most pressing portion of this is the Connexion—a magical bond between witch or warlock and their familiar. Most witches and warlocks make the Connexion by the time they’re 16 or so, and while Summerlene has found hers, Everrose has not.
When Everrose’s steady boyfriend Vincent Olwen comes back from the present-day (usually referred to as “the Layside”) as part of the coming-of-age process as a completely different person, Everrose has more than just a lack of a familiar to worry about.
…Until she doesn’t.
The story follows Everrose, Summerlene and sister Maple as they encounter a great beast known as a trothenbeast, search for Everrose’s familiar, and try to figure out what exactly is wrong with Vincent and why he came back from the Layside such a different person. And maybe, just maybe, Everrose will figure out why no one seems to remember to tell her anything.
I hesitate to say too much about what actually happens in the book, partially because it feels like spoilers, and partly because this is 100% a book that you need to experience to truly appreciate. This is mystery wrapped up in magical realism with a dash of anachronism on top of it, and with Habel’s way with words, what could have sounded hokey or contrived just sounds beautiful. Everrose is a remarkable young woman with more resilience than she will ever give herself credit for. Summerlene and Maple are perfectly balanced between supporting cast and unique individuals with their own agendas. The Olwen family is the personification of the dark family with the potentially shady background but the hidden hearts of gold. (They even remind me a touch of some of my own characters, which means I know what I have to live up to when I work on them!)
What strikes me the most is the trothenbeast and his plot line. Without giving anything away, Habel makes the animal so much more than just a quadruped beast, and does it without takingaway from his animal nature, something many writers fall short of. It was fascinating to watch the way the character—and truly, he was a character—grew and manifested as a major plot point.
It’s a much lighter tale than Habel’s other work, but I think it is exactly what the author and the audience needed at this point. It shows us another side of what Habel can write, and it gives us a breath of fresh air from the war in the Gone with the Respiration series. That is, of course, not to say that Familiar Things doesn’t have dark moments, because it certainly does. And it is that balance that truly makes the book.
If you liked Habel’s earlier work, be sure to give this a look. Without a doubt, this solidifies Lia Habel as a name to watch for.