Dust Girl – Sarah Zettel

This was very nearly a one-sitting book (from Netgalley, thank you). I wandered off from what I was already reading, dipped into a couple of other stories, and realized with a kind of guilty start that I’d had Dust Girl for quite a while and needed to see if I wanted to commit to it. Three hours later I was 80% of the way through it and had to turn off the light because of my stupid job. Note: As usual, the Kindle galley was a bit funky – erratic indentations and line breaks, and randomly placed pagination and whatnot – but not nearly as bad as some.

I’m thisclose to giving it five stars. I think I was put off as long as I was because of the introduction, featuring incredibly creepy voices and magic-by-angry-piano – which combined with the creepy, creepy face on the cover to give the wrong impression of the book. It’s not a horror novel. There are some absolutely horripilating things in it – the Hoppers were some of the … creepiest (note to self: need new word) characters I’ve read in a while, and as for the Sheriff … yeah. Creepy.

But the primary genre is not horror: it is, in fact, a fairy tale of sorts, in keeping with the name of the projected series: The American Fairy Trilogy. By which I mean not an adaptation of a classic, but something new and different and fresh which fits with a click into the classic mold. It makes use of the classic tropes of faery in much the same way Emma Bull did in [book:War for the Oaks], revealing how the Seelie and Unseelie Courts rub up against and coexist with the mundane world, but this take on the relationship is beautifully unique.

I think part of this was the only real drawback to the book, and that may have been more my own expectations rather than the storytelling: I still don’t know what makes one Court Seelie while the other is Un. Not to spoil anything, but there didn’t seem to be much to choose between them. Still, that might be explored in the rest of the trilogy. And the fae who are encountered in the course of this book are excellent characters – they’re slippery, shifting shape and surroundings and the truth as suits their whim, until nothing – not their words nor their actions nor even their surroundings – can be trusted. Oh, and they can create zombies.

There was one other place that gave me pause, now that I think of it: as the book description says, Callie’s mother goes missing in a dust storm – which, by the way, was one of the scariest things I’ve read in a while. But Callie fetches back up in the house, having rescued a strange and mysterious man who can’t seem to hold a shape, and loses all track of her mother … and hares off on a kind of half-cocked search with no solid reason for her destination. I wouldn’t have wanted to read page after page about her moping or panicking, but she seemed to accept the new bizarreness in her world as well as the disappearance of her mother with more aplomb than I might expect from anyone.

The setting is different – the Dust Bowl, 1930’s Kansas to start out – and well-drawn. I love that this is placed in the 30’s in the Midwest, which seems an under-utilized time and place, and is well-suited to the action. Jack Hollander fits right in as the young man Callie encounters before setting off on her search, with whom she forms the kind of quick bond that does tend to happen when two people help each other survive a horrific experience. That he and Callie do not immediately fall in Teenage Love is both refreshing and believable. That Callie has the intelligence to keep in mind that, like everyone else in her world after her mother disappears, his motives are not transparent and her trust has to be carefully placed – this is even more refreshing and welcome. Callie is not a cuddly protagonist, but she is sharp and self-sufficient and good company for a few hours’ reading.

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