How to Love Someone You Can’t Trust: Fairie Winter by Janni Lee Simner

Throughout the draft process for Faerie Winter Janni Lee Simner, (@innaj on Twitter) would occasionally tell me she had yet to kill a small creature in Faerie Winter. (Spoilers! In Bones of Faerie, Liza’s cat died and in Thief Eyes, Freki did). Other than the cat dying—but dying well—my main, lasting, impressions from Bones of Faerie were of a gorgeous, scary world in which science and magic had been brilliantly mixed to create a nuclear holocaust in a Faerie world and plants that kill in a devastated human one. At the end of Bones I had more questions than answers. I longed for more in this eerie and compelling world with the girl who could bring people back from the dead, find her mother lost in the frozen Faerie lands, stand up to her abusive father and love a boy who turns into a wolf.

So, with excitement, I turned to this new installment, Faerie Winter, to see the aftermath of Liza’s actions and the consequences of mixing faerie and humans in new and delightful (to the reader) ways.

Liza, having brought magic into the open in the human world, now has to deal with the ramifications of living among people who fear her, while fighting for all of their survival as a strange winter blankets her home and seems unending.

Simner’s writing has the solemnity and power of poetry, with the clear directness of the simplest prose. Her dialogue feels very fresh and modern and she has a remarkable ability to sketch intense relationships in very few words. Particularly, the way she deals with unconventional relationships—the romantic ones in Thief Eyes or the familial ones in the Faerie Trilogy—are startling and powerful partially because of how normal and unaffected she makes them.

From the very beginning of Faerie Winter we see the results of all the magical shifts in the last book, in that winter has come with a vengeance and seems to be staying so long that our heroine starts to wonder if spring will ever come.

Liza, our heroine, is beginning to deal with the complexities of her relationship with her mother. In the previous book, Liza found her mother, Tara, in the Faerie lands and brought her back. She very clearly loves her mother, but struggles with feelings of betrayal, bitterness, guilt and resentment—particularly as her mother continues to keep her in the dark about how the war started and the role she played. Even as Liza learns the potentially shattering truth, this theme is played out in almost every relationship throughout the book. No one is safe, or trustworthy, particularly when the Faerie glamour has a hold on them and eventually Liza has to learn not only to bear the responsibilities for her own actions, but not to judge others too harshly for theirs.

Towards the middle of the book the Liza is forced—mostly through magic—to submit to other, adult, peoples’ wills and indeed be unconscious for periods of time as a result. It gave the section a dreamlike, distorted quality, but troubled me. It was partially an emotional reaction because I was sufficiently invested in Liza to be upset by the events happening to her, but partially an intellectual reaction to the point of view character losing agency. It’s the one part of the book that felt less visceral to me; we still had to see everything through her eyes, and the world and story-telling remained sufficiently complex that I had a harder time believing that Liza had been reduced to a relatively brainless individual. It was a slightly jarring combination. It is something, perhaps, of a backhanded compliment to say that the prose is so good that I didn’t believe it could be thought by someone under such a heavy glamour that they were reduced to adoring-dog status. To balance that out, Simner’s characterisations were spot on and endearing—particularly that of her three parallel mother-daughter couples, and that of the two brothers who took care of each other in the face of a much worse mother. Her lovely depiction of the small Kyle was a bright spot in a sometimes icy landscape, it was charming and true without ever being precious.

The swift and shattering end came on quickly and tensely with the stakes abruptly and hugely raised. Liza had to question whether her previous actions had caused the unending winter and possible death of every one she knew – and even the whole world – while trying to understand how much of what she was being told was true. Was the world dying as the Lady said? Are the adult humans right when they said that spring would always come? The division into sections—Autumn, Winter and Spring—created a structure that supported the emotional changes the reader went through and Liza’s own emotional journey. Of course, in Simner’s world, spring can never be an unalloyed time of hope; Liza almost sacrificed herself, for plants that immediately tried to kill her.

Simner set up the ending in such a way that book three is going to have to deal with major consequences from both previous books now. I’m fascinated to see what awful thing Simner throws at Liza at the end of the trilogy, since, while reading the previous two books, I’ve definitely thought “this is the worst. It can’t actually be any worse than this.” When the heroine has gone through two different kinds of apocalypse (apocalypsi? apocalypses?), fought the threat of the entire world dying, spring never returning and the Queen of the Faeries, as well as personal and familial hell and then Simner sends her into death itself, it raises the bar for anything else the author could possibly do her. Whatever it is, I’m looking forward to finding out. Never, however, in the exciting and action-filled conclusion, does Simner forget the importance of the quiet, heart-breaking theme she continues to build of how to love someone when you can’t trust them—or how not to love them, when you can’t help yourself—and how to live with yourself when you’ve done awful things. She leaves Liza physically and emotionally battered, but having triumphed once again through an incredible—and incredibly draining and raw—journey that kept me hooked and rushing onwards with Liza, Karin and Kyle as they fought against time to save everything.

Simner has talked about what changes the books go through from first draft to final edit—so drastic and significant that the story can change location, viewpoint and certainly plot elements—so when she recently posted on Twitter a couple lines from the first draft of book three, I tried to take them with a grain of salt. That said, I’m excited to try to puzzle out who said them and what they pertain to, and I’m even more excited to try and treasure-hunt for them—or their distant cousins—to see if they make it into the final draft:

@innaj: “There was death before” “But its shadows did not walk the worlds-not even your world where death has ever been a near companion.”

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from a friend who knows I’m a fan of Janni’s. I have fangirled—and consequently corresponded—with Janni since the release of Bones of Faerie.

Nina Lourie has been haunted by strange music and people she can only see out of the corner of her eyes, on the subways and in the markets, since finishing Faerie Winter.


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