Unseelie by Ivelisse Housman Blog Tour #bookreview #YA #fantasy

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Title: Unseelie

Author: Ivelisse Housman

Publisher: Inkyard Press

Publication Date: January 3, 2023

Page Count:  387

My rating: 4 stars

About the book:

Six of Crows meets the Iron Fey series in this high-energy YA fantasy that follows the adventures of changeling Seelie and her twin sister as they embark upon the heist of a lifetime for a mystery legacy. As they evade capture by both human and fae forces, Seelie discovers more about her own Autistic identity, her magical powers, and love along the way.

Twin sisters, both on the run, but different as day and night. As one searches for a fabled treasure, the other, a changeling, searches for the truth behind her origins, trying to find a place to fit in with the realm of fae who made her and the humans who shun her.

Iselia “Seelie” Graygrove looks just like her twin, Isolde… but as an autistic changeling trying to navigate her unpredictable magic, Seelie finds it more difficult to fit in with the humans around her. When Seelie and Isolde are caught up in a heist gone wrong and make some unexpected allies, they find themselves unraveling a larger mystery that has its roots in the history of humans and fae alike.

Both sisters soon discover that the secrets of the faeries may be more valuable than any pile of gold and jewels. But can Seelie harness her magic in time to protect her sister, and herself?

Find this book online:

Goodreads  /  Amazon  /  Bluebird Bookshop  / BookShop.org / Barnes & Noble / Books-A-Million / IndieBound

Excerpt:

chapter one

On the night the faerie world collides with ours, anything can happen and wishes come true—and right now, I’m wishing I had stayed home.

I struggle to keep up with my twin sister as we push our way through the crowd. Revelnox is summer’s closing act, when day and night balance perfectly on the edge of the world. In the smaller villages, where people lead calm, productive lives in predictable patterns—back home, I think, with an ache in my ribs—this means that children stay up late, bonfires are built in the middle of town, and offerings are left on the edges of the fields to prevent unwanted faerie mischief. There are special cakes, and the liquor flows freely, but all the merriment is a thin muzzle over the sharp teeth of the truth. You don’t go anywhere alone, and you don’t go into the forest.

Not if you want to come back, at least.

But here in the city—Auremore, the shining jewel between the forks of the Harrow River—here, it’s something else entirely.

I have to fight not to lose my sister in the crowd of faces and languages blending into a waterfall of color and sound. Children call to each other in the streets, even though it can’t possibly be safe for them to be out alone on this of all nights. But they’re not really alone: it seems like everyone in the city is out, despite the late hour. The ever-present sound of voices crashing over each other is even louder tonight, volume rising with people’s spirits (and the amount of spirits they’ve consumed). Music threads through it all, sparkling and twanging in the air.

The bonfires are the same here at least, adding their roar to the commotion. Each city district has its own, and here in the center of Market Square, everything is golden and cheerful, surrounded by dancers and the sweet smell of candies for sale. Here, they welcome the Seelie, the faerie realm of good intentions, of order and politeness—or, at the very least, neutrality. Pouches of herbed salt meant to ward off evil swing from the torches that keep the darkness at bay and paint the whole block in brilliant amber.

I seriously doubt that the faeries of the Unseelie Court will be scared off by what is essentially steak seasoning, but it’s a nice thought.

We squeeze past a man wearing an elaborate mask with goat horns curling around the back of his head. That’s the other thing about the Revelnox celebrations here: everyone is masked, and no one dares to utter their own name. For just this one night, faeries walk among us—and the less power they can claim over you, the safer you are.

It’s all fun and games for the faeries, whose visits to the Mortal Realm are usually limited to one human at a time, in remote forest glens or moonlit crossroads. For changelings, the not-quite-human-but-definitely-not-faerie in-betweens, walking among mortals is less of a novelty. We grow up with humans, hated for being almost like them but not enough. Most of us find our way back to the faerie realms by adulthood. I’ve never felt that pull, though. My magic and I have what you could generously call a troubled history, and if Revelnox is the closest I ever get to the faerie realms, it’ll be more than close enough.

Also—and on a potentially unrelated note—it’s my twin’s seventeenth birthday.

I can’t exactly say that my twin and I have the same birthday, since I’m not sure if changelings even have birthdays. I don’t think anyone actually knows where we come from. For all I know, my essence might have been floating around in a cloud of faerie dust for centuries.

Or maybe I formed out of thin air the moment a faerie lifted Isolde from her cradle, stiletto fingernails digging into her soft, honey-colored skin, to exchange her for me.

I don’t know.

What I do know is that ever since our parents adopted me, Isolde and I share a birthday every year. Back before it was just the two of us on the run, we always had a homemade cake and presents, and we would all sit outside in the grass and watch the stars come out. It was usually uncomfortable, near the end of summer when everything turns sickly sweet and starts to crumble, but that didn’t matter.

It was still my favorite day of the year. And often, that day happens to fall on Revelnox.

The man in the goat mask meets my eye, flashing white teeth at me before turning sharply and disappearing into the crowd of disguised faces.

I shiver, clinging tighter to my sister’s hand.

“Too loud?” Isolde murmurs, pressing close to my side. She wears all-black, as usual, from the tips of her scuffed boots to the roots of her glossy black hair.

I shake my head. It is loud, but in a weird way the overwhelming sensations are soothing. My boots feel more solid on the cobblestones, my body more real and alive than ever. Even the heat—of all the bodies, the radiant glow of the fire, the last warm breezes of summer—makes me feel strangely at ease, instead of just sticky and miserable.

No. If I seem on edge, it’s thanks to the buzz of magic in the air, a living hum that I don’t hear so much as feel, like a mosquito hovering at the back of my neck. I don’t think Isolde can sense it.

Magic is technically a part of me, fizzing in my faerie blood, and this is the one night when it isn’t considered dangerous and wrong. One night when it’s safe to be the thing I have to be every day. But maybe that’s exactly why I’m so terrified of it—because I’ve seen firsthand what magic does.

I stop short, jerking Isolde’s arm back, as a woman with a small reddish dragon draped over her shoulders cuts in front of me, obliviously strumming a stringed instrument and belting out a song that would make the most seasoned escort blush.

My sister smashes into me, and we both pause to make sure our masks are still in place. They’re the cheapest we could find, a simple painted covering of the eyes and cheekbones held in place by a fraying ribbon. I’m pretty sure they’re made of rowan wood to protect against faeries, because mine is starting to itch abominably. It’s a familiar itch, and for a second, I’m ten years old again, being held down by a clump of other ten-year-olds while they take turns pressing charms of rowan bark and iron to my skin to watch it blister.

The moment passes, and I somehow maintain the willpower not to rip the mask off my face.

As I slide it back into place, my fingers twitching nervously over the surface, I pull Isolde closer. I lower my voice, even though it’s so loud in the streets that no one could possibly hear me anyway. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

“It’s Revelnox,” Isolde reassures, her easy grin slipping back onto her face. “The manor is empty, and everyone will be too drunk to even notice us. We’ll be long gone by the time they even realize we were there. Trust me, Seelie.”

This is the part where I pause to say I know it’s an unfortunate nickname considering…what I am. I wish that my parents had thought of that before Isolde’s toddler tongue bumbled Iselia so many times that it stuck.

I hesitate, but I’ve never been good at saying no to my sister. The fight goes out of me with a rush of air before I straighten my shoulders and squeeze the soft, worn fabric of my favorite dress in my fist. “Let’s make it quick, then.”

“Quicker than lightning,” Isolde promises.

I glance up nervously at the clear, dark sky as glittering orange sparks drift up from the bonfire, dancing on the breeze.

As we wind our way upriver, the world flashes by in vignettes of chaos.

People push through the crowds in chains with their friends, arms linked, songs in the air colliding with the louder instrumental music. Some wave flags or toss flowers into the air. Yapping excitedly, a small dog chases at the heels of a group of kids who can’t be older than thirteen. The normally drab buildings are draped in garlands of rainbow-hued flowers and tiny pennant flags.

And then there are the faeries.

Even though faeries are an expected part of tonight’s festivities, they slip through the mortals almost unnoticed. But I’m not quite human, either, and I keep finding my eyes wandering to balls of light floating over the crowds, or catching the smell of a meadow in the breeze of someone running past. I accidentally make eye contact with a woman wearing a feathered mask that covers from her cheekbones up to the crown of her head, then realize with a start that it isn’t a mask.

She winks, her blood-red mouth curving into a smile. Then she turns and blows a kiss towards a pair of revelers sitting at a wobbly wooden table in a brewer’s booth. They’re deep in the conversation of close friends, hands wrapped around their cups and separated by exactly the right amount of distance so their knuckles don’t brush. When the faerie’s breath washes over them, the speaker doesn’t seem to notice at first.

The listener, on the other hand, stiffens noticeably, something strange and hungry coming over their expression.

My heart stops. Faerie magic is dangerous, and I don’t know what—

Then the listener, without a heartbeat’s space to think, surges forward, crashing their lips into their friend’s.

I wince. Not deadly magic, at least.

Still dangerous.

The speaker freezes for a second, mouth still open in the shape of whatever word was cut off by their friend’s lips. Then they melt into the kiss, eyes closing blissfully.

I turn away, blushing hot enough that I worry my mask might burst into flames. The pair will probably regret this tomorrow. They don’t need my invasion of their privacy on top of it.

The feather-faced woman is still staring at me with wide, owlish eyes. Then she turns, and her eyes flash red like a cat’s in the night. If I hadn’t been sure that she was a faerie before, I am now. That gleam in the darkness is the one thing faeries can’t change about their glamours.

The one thing that reveals a changeling’s true nature.

A cold breeze rushes over my skin, trailing chills as we let the scene fade behind us.

Isolde releases my hand, adopting an exaggerated drunken swagger. She crashes into someone with gold leaf painted over their cheekbones and lips and stops, slurring apologies and patting the person’s shoulders.

I roll my eyes as she falls back into step with me. “Can’t you at least save it until we get there?” I mutter, barely moving my lips.

Isolde’s hand slips out of her pocket, withdrawing a silver-plated compact mirror that she definitely didn’t have a few seconds ago. “Where’s the fun in that?”

“You’re not here to have fun. You’re here to get into the house, grab as much as you can, and get out, ideally without getting us arrested.” I know my voice is coming out too harsh, but I don’t know how to fix it, so I settle for nudging her in the ribs with my elbow.

Isolde looks at me sideways for a moment, as if she’s just now remembering the seriousness of our situation, before stuffing her loot back into its hiding spot with a chastened sigh.

I am not a pickpocket.

I don’t mean that in any kind of morally superior way—the truth is that even if I wanted to be a pickpocket, I don’t have the talent for it. Not like Isolde.

Isolde steals, grifts, pickpockets, and pawns. I keep us fed. We don’t need to be wealthy. We just need to survive until we can scrape together enough to reunite, to start over in a place where no one knows my face.

The noise of the festival fades as my fingers drift to the vial on a leather cord around my neck.

Our parents—Mami, a midwife, fierce and tough, with her homemade remedies for everything from a cold to stubborn zits; Papa, gentle and strong and always coming home from his studio with clay under his nails. They wouldn’t want this life for us. They’re good people. Honest people.

And they aren’t safe as long as I’m around.

So we left three years ago to run from city to city, to steal and cheat and lie and scratch out a living, telling ourselves it would be justified. It would all be worth it when we had enough to make our family a new home. When I could walk down the street without flinching every time someone looked at me a little too long, worrying they’d seen my face on a wanted poster somewhere.

We’re coming up to the bridge now, boots pounding an uneven rhythm on the cobblestones as the crowd around us thins. The streets are too choked tonight for horses or wagons to force their way through, leaving extra space on the wide bridge. The sour smells of warm human bodies pressed together and beer subtly ebb away with every step.

This side of the bridge is plain, a smooth transition into the arch of stone over the sluggish water. Weeds poke up through the mortar and along the muddy banks. On the other side, garlands of golden paper flowers curl around the gleaming brass streetlamps, and an enchanted ball of light changes color every few seconds.

“Last chance to back out,” I mutter, as a woman dressed in sky-blue silk passing from the opposite direction stares at us for just a second too long.

“You worry too much.” Isolde catches the woman staring and meets her gaze with a brilliant smile.

I move a half step faster, trying to look casual as the dazzling sights of Gilt Row come into view.

Gilt Row is less of a row and more of a blob-shaped tangle of streets draped in more opulence and wealth than anyone knows what to do with. The houses, like the rest of the city, are pressed tight together, tall and narrow, but here they’re all white stone and pastel-painted brick, with gardens out front and just the right amount of emerald ivy crawling up their fronts.

Entire eight-story houses, each for just one family. It’s hard to imagine what the buildings might look like inside—and I pride myself on my colorful imagination. And presiding over it all, flanked by iron gates and a perfectly manicured lawn, Wildline Manor looms three times the size of any of the others. It’s huge, imposing, and—since Leira Wildfall is sponsoring Gilt Row’s Revelnox celebrations—totally empty. They might as well have painted a glowing target on it. 

I haven’t spent much time in this part of the city. Among the perfectly maintained streets populated by well-dressed, respectable families, Isolde’s and my rags stick out like thistles in a bouquet of exotic flowers. Someone who looks like we do can’t just walk around, without someone rich assuming they’re up to no good and signaling the city guard.

To be fair, most of the time we are up to no good…but they have no way of knowing that.

But tonight is different. I can feel it in the air, smell it in the spaces between smoke and sugar and expensive perfume. Tonight, anyone could be a faerie in disguise, and everyone receives equal respect.

Well, besides a few wrinkle-nosed looks from people who think I can’t see them.

Despite that, the crowd we melt into on the other side of the bridge is still almost entirely made up of people dressed in dazzling garments of violet chiffon, tangerine velvet, indigo silk, pure white linen—every color you could imagine and some you couldn’t. Gold gleams on throats and wrists and fingers, in embroidery along skirts and cuffs. Each mask is more impressive than the last, each custom-made and totally unique. Servants, dressed a bit more simply but still wrapped in the decadent midnight-blue velvet of Wildline Manor, mill around serving snacks and drinks.

I couldn’t possibly feel more out of place, with my plain mask, my simple slate-blue dress, my dusty brown boots. For someone like me, there’s no point in throwing away money on a gown that would only be worn for one night—no matter how enchanting it is.

My sister looks even more at odds with our surroundings than I do, but her aura of confidence doesn’t waver, even as tiny beads of sweat trickle under her mask. Isolde is the sweatier twin, but that’s more because she wears layers of all-black every day, no matter the weather, than because of any innate dampness.

Even though we’re identical, I can’t remember a time that we could be mistaken for each other. It seems laughable that the fair folk thought leaving me in her place would be an equal trade. Our olive skin and dark brown eyes are exactly the same, but her wavy hair never falls any longer than her shoulders before she chops it off, and I keep mine in a thick braid tied off neatly at the small of my back. Our identical heavy eyebrows look bold and dashing on her face but almost always seem troubled on mine.

I can feel them bunching into that concerned twist now. “Do you know where you’re going?” My fingers twist in my apron, fidgeting as always. We’ve been planning this for weeks, but we’re not exactly criminal masterminds. Once Isolde sneaks in the servants’ entrance, I don’t think there’s much of a plan beyond grabbing anything that looks shiny.

Relax,” she replies, taking a flower from a girl dressed in petal-pink handing out bunches to everyone who passes. “Just stay on the lookout, and try to enjoy yourself. This isn’t the kind of party you get to see every day, you know.” The flower twirls between her fingers before she drops it, leaving it to get crushed underfoot.

We follow the trickle of people towards the center of the district and their bonfire. It’s getting late now, and most of the children have been sent to bed.

Which means the party is really getting started. 

“Who here’sss try’n’a get…a wisssh granted?” shrieks a faerie, so drunk on Leira Wildfall’s liquor that they don’t even bother hiding the shimmering wings sprouting from their shoulder blades. A shout ripples through the crowd around them. Then there’s a flash of pearly light, and when it fades, the faerie is gone. A stack of gold coins remains where the faerie had been standing, and I don’t know if they intentionally vanished or were banished back home by some Seelie rule about not getting drunk off your ass and offering wishes to mortals.

As people frantically dive for the coins, I lean to speak into my sister’s ear. “Those coins are super cursed, right?”

“Oh, incredibly cursed. For sure.” She squeezes my hand and chuckles. “You know what you’re supposed to do, right?”

I groan. My job, of watching the servants’ entrance and drawing the attention of any guards who might get suspicious, was supposed to be easy. “How can I possibly top that distraction? What goes on around here? There’s something wrong with rich people, Sol. That would have ended the night across town.”

Well, across the bridge. All the way across town, in the Twilight District, I’ve heard rumors that they celebrate the holiday with much more unsavory magic, and a few cursed coins would probably be the least of their problems.

“You’ll figure something out.” Isolde grins, slipping away from me. “See you in an hour.”

Then she turns her drunken saunter back on with all the ease of the highest-quality actor and stumbles into the crowd, ready to dip her hands into their gilded pockets.

Excerpted from Unseelie by Ivelisse Housman, Copyright © 2023 by Ivelisse Housman. Published by Inkyard Press. 

Unseelie by Ivelisse Housman is a young adult fantasy novel featuring a world of the fae. This young adult fantasy does have a slight twist to it in that the main character falls on the autism spectrum bringing this very real subject into the fantasy world.

Iselia “Seelie” Graygrove is a changling that was given to her human mother as an infant. When Seelie’s mother discovered this fact she could not give Seelie back to the fae but yet raised her as her own along with her human twin in their human world but life for Seelie has not always been easy fitting into that world.

Unseelie by Ivelisse Housman does seem to be a standalone fantasy but the author could have easily continued on with these characters and made it into a full series. I loved that the author mirrored the main character after herself and gave a voice to her own feelings over the years in such a creative way of a fantasy novel. The story flowed well and was easy to dive into as I got to know the world and characters. After reading I would be interested in reading more from this author in the future too.

I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

About the author:

Ivelisse Housman is a Puerto Rican-American author and illustrator. At all seven schools she attended throughout her childhood, she was infamously “that kid who gets in trouble for reading during class, but refuses to stop.” She was diagnosed with autism at 15, which made everything make a lot more sense. When she isn’t writing, she can be found making soup or tending to her houseplants. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her high school sweetheart/archnemesis and their two rescue dogs.

Author website / Instagram / Twitter 

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