YA fantasy is such a rapidly expanding genre, that it can be difficult to create a story that stands out amid the usual themes of growing up, emotions, relationships and new responsibilities, even though fantasy gives an author enormous potential to create a really original context for exploring these ideas. For Her Unwelcome Inheritance, the first volume in the Fayborn series, Wootton has borrowed some very old, well-known foundations for his fantasy world in the characters many of us know from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and re-imagined them for us, immortal and brought bang up to date.
Petra Goodfellow is a descendant of a former advisor to Oberon, the Fairy King, but she is now at the heart of a power struggle as Oberon seeks to restore power to his kingdom. Petra’s mother has done her best to protect her daughter from the impact of her bloodline, but the past is catching up with Petra now, as James Oberon seeks to track her down by any means possible. But Petra wants to get on with her life, she doesn’t want to take on the responsibilities of her past and her ancestors. She just wants to enjoy her first year at college and make new friends, and no matter often she sees glimpses of the fairy world, she is determined that they just don’t exist. As a YA character, she is going to be unruly and refuse to make the journey the genre demands of her.
Wootton has spared no expense imaginatively in constructing and peopling his fairy world, and both the environment and the characters are richly and engagingly drawn. Petra herself is a strong and sparky character, a typical teenager with an un-self-conscious voice which Wootton writes well. Sometimes a third person narrator can seem too knowing for a YA character, but Petra’s internal thoughts are believable and unforced. That narrator is kept busy too, leaping about between the different factions of the fairies in exile: Oberon and his loyal supporters and family, including the utterly devious Wormsworth, the fast fading Fairy Queen and her devoted Cat, Petra, her godfather Tod, and also an unusual character, a Professor Jack Wootton, an expert in all matters fairy. Like the fourth wall in cinema, it takes a certain amount of authorial nerve to blur the boundaries the writer establishes between fact and fiction, narrator and characters, reader and writer, and – without giving anything away – Professor Wootton’s part in the story is not a Hitchockian cliché or a moment of vanity.
For this reviewer, the book’s authentic and beautifully researched world is perhaps the source of its weakness: there are so many characters, so much fairy lore, that it can be hard for the casual reader or one who reads in short bursts to keep up with what is going on. A glossary and a family tree would not go amiss in the appendix, just to help the easily confused, though for those who like a complex genealogy and lore, the book will be a comfortable and enjoyable place to lose a few hours. It also suffers slightly from ‘first in the series’ syndrome: there is a huge amount of exposition, and there are lots of storylines and narrative threads to be set in motion, and so in action terms the book is pretty slow to get going and results in quite a cliffhanger, which some readers may find frustrating. Fortunately for them, Wootton is just about to release the second in the series, The Eighth Square.