Why wasn’t this book on the top of the New York Times YA bestseller list? And how quickly can I start the second one? That’s what I wanted to scream when finished the first book in Carol Goodman’s Blythewood Tales trilogy, in a mere three days.
First, a quick recap:
Seventeen-year-old Avaline (Ava) Hall is a regular factory girl in 1911 New York until the day of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which claims the lives of 145 workers. But Ava survives, thanks to the help of a mysterious winged boy who begins to visit her in her dreams after the fire. After months in an insane asylum, thanks to someone who wasn’t happy she survived, Ava begins a new life as a student of Blythewood, which is anything but the all-girls finishing school the normal world sees. The initiated know it for what it is: the training ground in a centuries-old fight against evil – a world of strange creatures who eat mortal souls, creatures not unlike her winged savior. As Ava begins to uncover the mysteries of Blythewood, she also reveals mysteries about herself and her family – conspiracies of wild magic, charmed bells, mysterious smoke and cursed bloodlines that affect not only her world, but the events that shape modern history.
Think Harry Potter in an all-girls boarding school in the Hudson Valley, with echoes of Robin Lefevers’ His Fair Assassin series. But yet, this book is anything but a rip-off. Goodman’s intricate mythology is the number one reason to read Blythewood. While her school is much like any other single-sex institution, the ancient bent of its traditions and study give it a fresh purpose. Run of the mill courses like Latin, history and literature take on deeper meaning when they are used for magic. Archery isn’t just another form of physical education; it’s a matter of life and death. You see, in this world, what we perceive with our human eyes is only part of the story. The creatures from our children’s books and our worst nightmares live right under our noses, some fighting to protect us, others plotting our demise. Part fairy tale, part female hero’s journey, Blythewood is unlike anything else you’ve ever read.
I am a huge fan of Goodman’s adult work, particularly Arcadia Falls and The Sonnet Lover, but even after having read several of her books, she continues to impress me with her skill at creating atmosphere and painting a world which you never want to leave. I was thinking about it at work. I wore my class ring because I went to an all-girls high school (but not a boarding school) and that gave me a small connection to Blythewood. I found myself wondering what my special powers would be, if I had any, and which of the main characters/roles at the school I would be. I even debated which side of the love triangle I’m on (don’t groan; it’s an interesting one that I don’t think will resolve as simply as many other YAs have).
The only thing that itched at me the whole time I was reading was the fact that the book takes place in the early 20th century instead of the modern era, which I kept forgetting. Then I read the last 20 or so pages. Without giving anything away, I will say that Goodman connected her story to a major event in history in a way I never would have suspected. I was so excited actually cheered when I read it.
This is a book you don’t want to miss. Trust me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to reading the next book, which I can’t devour fast enough.
PS – If you like this one and want something similar in the adult realm, check out The Demon Lover, also written by Goodman, under the pen name of Juliet Dark.
Have you read Blythewood or any of Carol Goodman/Juliet Dark’s books? If so, what did you think? If not, what interests you about this book?