Eve is a girl without a past. All she knows is what she’s been told by the people in charge of keeping her safe. She’s from somewhere else. She’s had multiple surgeries to give her the appearance of a normal teenage girl. She possesses some sort of magic. Every time she uses her powers, she blacks out and is assaulted by horrifying, ominous dreams of a mysterious carnival, a malevolent Magician, and the equally unsettling Storyteller. Every time she blacks out, she loses more of her memory. And someone is after her because she knows something, but she can’t remember what it is. If she follows the rules of witness protection, she’ll be safe...
In an attempt to find some sort of normality and stability while her memory problems resolve, Eve takes a job with the local library, where she slowly makes friends with the other pages, including the garrulous, comfortably friendly Zach. But Eve can’t escape the supernatural world; her handlers are impatient for her knowledge to come back to her, constantly pushing and subtly manipulating her. They introduce her to a group of other teens, each one possessing odd powers and sinister agendas. Torn between those who would use her and those who would protect her, Eve desperately tries to unravel the secrets of her origin. Torn between the human Zach and the handsome teleporter Aidan, Eve must likewise listen to her heart. Her decisions will set powerful events in motion.
Eve and Zach learn that when they kiss, Zach can wield Eve’s magic safely, with no memory loss or blackouts on her end. Somehow, they’re breaking the rules, and they don’t care. It’s a chance for them to answer questions, solve mysteries, get to the heart of the matter. Who—what—is Eve? Who is the Magician? What does she know, and what happens when she finally remembers? How many more will die before it’s too late? And whose side is Aidan really on, anyway?
In Conjured, Sarah Beth Durst delivers a brilliant, gorgeously-written, intricately-plotted tale of magic and mystery. Romance and intrigue intertwine, laced together with elegant words and memorable characters. As I read this book, I kept trying to figure out where Durst was going. To my pleasant surprise, I wasn’t even close to guessing at the truth—it’s as lovely a piece of creepy imagery and unsettling beauty as I’ve seen in a long time.
A huge part of the story is the mystery surrounding Eve. It permeates her every aspect, dictates her actions and responses, and defines her as a character. But far from being a cipher, she’s like Swiss cheese, full of holes that add to the flavor. The slow but steady series of revelations give the plot a constant simmering, like the stew on the stove you just know is going to be delicious when it’s done cooking. As she struggles to be a real girl, to appreciate mundane things and understand everyday concepts, her complexity grows. Her chemistry with the trivia-spouting, happy-go-lucky Zach all but flows off the page, clearly evident with every interaction. (I like Zach, he’s kind of goofy—he reminds me of me.) Their kisses are literally breathtaking. (When they kiss, they can fly!) And despite her faulty memory and other issues, Eve is no pushover, but a heroine determined to take control of her own story.
And just when you think you have it all figured out, Durst yanks the rug out from under your feet with one of the weirdest, coolest, creepiest plot twists I’ve seen in YA in a long time. The sort where I stopped, stared, and went “You’ll never believe this!” to my wife. (My poor wife. Another hazard of Durst’s writing is that parts of it are so eminently quotable that I kept reading choice bits out loud, sharing some of the funny and clever things I discovered. She was understandably tired of me interrupting her own reading, but even she agreed that this was…unexpected.)
In some ways, it’s hard to explain what’s good about Conjured, simply because it’s all good, in one of those ways where you just want to absorb the words and experience them, rather than dissect them. It’s a paranormal romance and a murder mystery, a magical adventure and the story of a girl trying to find her missing pieces. It’s sweet and weird and edged with darkness, and yet there’s this underlying optimism. It reads like a grown-up fairy tale, one that’s remained hidden for all these years, or perhaps been newly birthed just for us.
The best part is that Durst has introduced a setting ripe for further exploration. She’s usually not one to repeat herself—each book is markedly different from the last—but this is a perfect opportunity to expand on the world she’s created, or tie it in to previous offerings.
If you’re looking for an offbeat urban fantasy tale that plays with some wonderfully strange elements, where romance and humor go hand-in-hand with mystery and myth, Conjured is the one for you. I absolutely loved it, and I’m already looking forward to what Sarah Beth Durst does next.
Conjured is available now from Walker and Company.
Michael M. Jones is a writer, editor, and book reviewer. He lives in Southwest VA, with a pride of cats, way too many books, and a wife who translates Geek-to-Mundane for him. He is the self-proclaimed High Pornomancer of the Golden Horde, and the editor of Scheherazade’s Façade. For more information, visit him and an ever-growing archive of reviews at Schrodinger’s Bookshelf.