Publication Date: August 8, 2012
Genre: Young Adult Steampunk Fantasy
Wish. Love. Desire. Live.
Sixteen-year-old Noli Braddock’s hoyden ways land her in an abusive reform school far from home. On mid-summer’s eve she wishes to be anyplace but that dreadful school. A mysterious man from the Realm of Faerie rescues her and brings her to the Otherworld, only to reveal that she must be sacrificed, otherwise, the entire Otherworld civilization will perish.
Faeries and steampunk seemed like such an odd and potentially awesome mixture of genres that when I saw this pop up on Netgalley, I knew I wanted to read it. I’ve been turning this review over and over in my head; there was a lot to like about the book but oddly, one of the things that worked against it was the melding of steampunk and faeries.
In 1901 Los Angeles, women are expected to know their place in society: be ladylike, comport yourself with dignity and above all, don’t make a scene. Noli Braddock may have gotten the memo but it’s likely she wadded it up and used it to mop up oil for the Heston-Dervish Pixy automobile that she’s fixing up. Noli is what society likes to call a hoyden: a girl run amuck, always in trouble, a source of disgrace to her single mother. It doesn’t matter that she’s brilliant, passionate and her adventures are usually the result of a scientific experiment. It’s off to Findlay House in San Francisco for Noli, where the police and her mother hope the school can snuff her overly-hysterical behavior in the bud and turn her into a lady.
Noli is utterly depressed at having to leave home and her “faerie tree” where she met with her dear friend, neighbor and reluctant partner-in-crime V. His family’s social standing is much higher than hers, but he’s always risked his reputation and father’s wrath to spend time with her. Before she leaves, he gives her a gift and makes her promise to always keep it.
Findlay house is a place of horrors that would have been common in the early 1900s to treat “hysterical” girls and women and Draconian punishments are the norm. Noli finds a friend in Charlotte, a bright girl like her. They have something else in common: the Spark, something the Otherworld of the fae needs to survive. Noli thought V was joking, but it’s true. Her faerie tree really is one.
The main thing about Innocent Darkness that bothered me was that there was so much potential drowned out by just a few unnecessary elements. Ever since I read The Iron King by Julie Kagawa, I’ve loved reading stories about modern worlds and the fae separated by gateways. The more fantastical the fae side the better and Lazear did a nice job populating hers with pixies and magic and some fun nods to fairy tales, and the free-spirited Noli fit right in.
Since this is a series, I’d consider Noli a work in progress. She’s cute and stubborn but quite naïve and occasionally a little dense. I liked that she was always willing to break the mold of what was acceptable – except one of them – and that she could be honest about her feelings. She was easily distracted and made some weird decisions that didn’t seem to fit with her character, including spending so much time with the man intent on taking away her life, a huntsman for the Queen. He’s a horrible character, also out of place in the book and one of the strikes against it. Part of the time he’s fine, the rest of it, he’s in the modern 1901, doing things that don’t fit and are pretty awful.V (Steven) is a nice guy, eager to be with Noli but held back because of his overbearing father. V was so good to Noli in the beginning and he turned into some weird sexual stalker which is okay with the fae apparently. It was creepy one moment, sweet the next and confusing all around. It was another of those good/bad things.
The steampunk elements seem more like an afterthought or at the least, something that was woven in awkwardly. Except for when Noli and V were working on the Pixy and one near the end, the references were all distant, of the, “I saw,” or “I thought,” variety. Noli’s brother’s absence was explained using a steampunk reference, so it was disconnected from the story. Noli’s father disappeared during one of San Francisco’s earthquakes, falling into a pool of aether – I really don’t know if that’s a steampunk reference. It just felt tacked on.
If it’s possible to predict a deus ex machina one third of the way into the book, I was able to and even though it didn’t dim my enjoyment of the story per se, it did take any suspense away. The ending was deliciously evil but then there was an epilogue that ended on a dang cliffhanger. It’s a small one but it was enough to make me say a swear word (and delicate flower that I am, I never swear) and look to see when the next book is coming out.
My Summary: Honestly, there were some problems here that in other books would have set me off on a rant. There were things I liked though, things that will get me to come back for the next installment. I liked Lazear’s style, her Otherworld was interesting and I want to know what’s going to happen to Noli and Steven. This was a very close call.