Mar 6 2009 10:11am

The Apocalypso that we Deserve: Janni Lee Simner’s Bones of Faerie

Bones of Faerie is a post-apocalyptic near-future fantasy novel. It’s the oddest mix of The Chrysalids and Thomas the Rhymer. So, there was a war between humanity and Faerie, and everybody lost. Faerie has been nuked, and on Earth plants have become malicious, dandelions have thorns, trees have a taste for blood, and children are being born with magic. And, exactly like Wyndham’s mutants, we have some adolescents who have magic, and are under sentence of death if the wrong people find out about it. We have a community that hates and fears magic, and a community that welcomes and embraces it.

But the apocalypse was a war with Faerie, and what destroyed civilization was the revenge of the trees. Maybe every age gets the apocalypse they deserve. Wells’s colonising Victorians got colonising Martians. Wyndham’s Cold War contemporaries got bathed in mutating radiation. Now the Green generation gets a Green apocalypse, where neglected nature comes back and bites—literally. (There are also the Cosy Catastrophes, where something terribly silly destroys civilization and leaves nice people to carry on. This isn’t that. This is Bordertown or The Last Hot Time gone terribly wrong.)

What lifts it above all this is that Janni Lee Simner is a terrific writer. She’s excellent at voice and atmosphere. The woods here are convincingly terrifying. But what really makes it is Liza’s first person voice and matter-of-fact acceptance of the world she lives in. She’s heard her parents talk about “Before,” but in the world she lives in you expose babies that look as if they might have magic and you flinch away from trees and you learn to hunt plants and animals because you do, that’s all, because you have to be strong. Liza’s voice holds the book together. You accept it because she accepts it, and because she’s so real it all has to be real, too.

Janni’s a friend, and I’d been reading about this book on her livejournal and wanting to read it. I mention this because I definitely wouldn’t have picked this book up if not for that. It has a very striking black cover with a silver leaf on it, and it’s generally marketed as a “dark YA.” The marketing of books is there to help them find their friends, but the marketing of this one might as well have pasted “Not for Jo” on the cover. Popular as “dark fantasies” have become, they’re really not my thing. But Bones of Faerie is “dark” like “fantasy,” not “dark” like “horror” or “paranormal romance/urban fantasy.” It also has a tone, because of the post-apocalyptic nature of the world, and because of the level of worldbuilding generally, that’s a lot more like SF than it is like fantasy. I was expecting that, because I’d read the excerpt.  I was more surprised to find that it wasn’t really what I think of as YA either. YA tends to have a certain shape, a certain relationship focus. This is something I like much more, a juvenile. Farah Mendlesohn defines the difference as:

The passage from juvenile science fiction to YA was not seamless: YA was not simply a fashionable new category, it described a different ideology of teenagehood and the teenage reader. In the new YA novels, adulthood as defined by the world of work was replaced by adulthood defined by the world of relationships.

This is a story about growing up and taking responsibility. It isn’t a story with a romance, or a story where the emotional arc is the real plot, or a story with a Problem. It’s a story which has a lot of darkness, but where healing is real and everything may yet come out all right in the end.

1. dwndrgn
I enjoyed it too. Like you I felt that the story was very well told and in such a way as to create the real world in my mind.

As far as the marketing goes, I rarely choose a book based on 'YA' or 'dark fantasy', in fact I usually don't even find that stuff out. If I don't know the author or anything about the book I look at the cover and a synopsis. This cover is striking enough for me to check out the summary. Having done those two I definitely would have picked this one up (though this time I didn't have to as I won a copy from those friendly folks at
2. nutmeag
Oh yay, now I'm even more excited about reading this. I'd read the "In 60 seconds" piece on this a few weeks ago, then checked out the short story set in the Bones of Faerie world--both intrigued me. Now I definitely have to pick this one up. Thanks!
Nina Lourie
3. supertailz
This book made me remarkably happy; it felt exactly like what I want/think YA books to be/should be. I will admit to being biased towards any book that has strong young female characters, but I loved so many of these characters and the world was dark and unsettling and not that different from ours, which I think made it more brilliant for it's familiarity.

I went to Janni's NYC B&N reading of this and not only was the excerpt (and consequent book lovely) but so was she! She was funny, smart, a good reader, interesting and incredibly gracious. I'd been trying to decide whether to go to her reading or NYRSF that evening and I'm very happy I went.

Plus, her livejournal has pictures of arctic foxes! What's not to love?
Carl Rigney
4. cdr
I hadn't realized the distinction between Juvenile and YA, that's very useful. Thanks!

I loved this book from its first chapter, and have been enthusiastically pushing it on friends. It's very pleasing to discover a new author to enjoy, and I've tracked down her children's books to see how those are.
Clifton Royston
5. CliftonR
*adds yet another of Jo's picks to his Amazon wish list*
eric orchard
6. orchard
I just finished this book the other day and really enjoyed it. It had some beautiful, haunting imagery; like the submerged flames. I found it even darker then I had expected to be, YA dark is always more shocking then grown up dark. My only complaint was that I felt the character of the father was a bit flat.But overall, I really loved this book.
7. tausendzeichen
Seeing this cover - I wouldn't had give the book a second look either.

So - thanks for outlining the story and giving another worthy recommendation. Also, the setting reminds me of Nausicaa of the valley of the wind (by Miyazaki, who recently has won his fifth million / billionth (?) - soryy, I am no native speaker or counter of numbers of the inglese ...)

The fighting against mysterious / slightly hostile environment is as wonderfully screened as it is changed during the movie by Nausicaa itself.
Clifton Royston
8. CliftonR
I'm so weak. I just picked this up at B & N this afternoon instead of waiting. I look forward to an enjoyable afternoon when next I get some reading time in.
Jo Walton
9. bluejo
Clifton: Let us know whether you like it when you read it.

Since I wrote this review, my son's girlfriend has read it and she really loved it. She'd never seen anything like it and was absolutely bowled over by it.
Marisa Repin
10. marineko
It was the cover that first attracted me to it, actually. I wasn't thinking "this is dark fantasy" when I looked at the cover, and to tell the truth if I did think that I probably wouldn't have picked it up. I liked that it was simple, and the leaf made me think of skeletons. Not quite in a "horror" way but in an eerie, alone-in-a-dead-place kind of way. I didn't know it was supposed to be a post-apocalyptic novel at the time, but it surprised me in a good way. I really loved it!

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