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I know I already said this book was excellent, but I was only about a hundred pages into it at the time. Now that I've finished the book, I can tell you for sure: this book is excellent.

I stumbled across The Splendor Falls at Barnes & Noble. Usually I just write down the books I want to read later, but when I read the first couple of sentences of this one to see if I might want to read it, I didn't want to put it back on the shelf, so I actually bought it.

Our protagonist is Sylvie Davis, a ballerina who's broken her leg and can't dance anymore. She had an incident caused by mixing Vicodin and champagne at her mother's wedding, which means she doesn't get to stay home in Manhattan while her mom goes off on her honeymoon. Instead she's shipped off to stay with her dad's Cousin Paula in Alabama. This is not Sylvie's preferred way to spend the summer: "I wanted to hate Alabama, and nothing about my arrival disappointed me."

The back of the book says, "More unnerving, though, are the two guys she can't stop thinking about. Shawn Maddox, the resident golden boy, seems perfect in every way. But Rhys, a handsome, mysterious, foreign guest of her cousin's, has a hold on Sylvie that she doesn't quite understand." It's not a fair assessment of the book. She never quite gets taken in by Shawn, and putting that as the main driving point of the book misses the point. The point isn't Shawn and Rhys alone. The point is the supernatural element of the story.

The short version is that the Davis family has a long history, and strong ties to magic, specifically of the earth magic/ley lines/bluestone as a focus variety. It takes Sylvie much longer to figure out the second than the first, although those of us who have read a lot of books figure it out sooner than she does.

Sylvie's dad left the ancestral home as a teenager and died several years before the book starts, both of which help explain why Sylvie doesn't know anything about his family - and the fact that she was a dancer with a career means her not asking questions about it makes more sense than Harry Potter never asking questions about the Potter grandparents. As Sylvie gets to know more about her family's history, she also learns that there is a connection between the Davis and Maddox families. For centuries, they've been marrying each other, and local superstition holds that the marriage of a Davis and a Maddox presages good things for the area.

Cousin Paula is turning Bluestone Hill (said ancestral home) into a bed and breakfast and decides that what Sylvie really needs to do is help out. Instead of the painting Paula suggests, Sylvie finds her father's diagram of the gardens out back and tackles those instead. It is, of course, a garden centered around a large piece of bluestone, and of course her work involves magic, although, again, she doesn't figure that out until much later.

In the meantime, she also starts seeing ghosts and becomes suspicious of the Teen Town Council (headed, of course, by Shawn Maddox), which has far too much power for a bunch of teenagers in a small town. She also has this inexplicable connection with Rhys; the first time she meets him, she gets this feeling as if she already knows him.

You may have already guessed what's going on: the Teen Town Council is using magic to influence local politics in a way that will financially benefit Shawn's family. Rhys has learned the hard way that this is a bad idea - throwing the magic out of whack will bring down all kinds of natural disasters - and Sylvie doesn't understand any of it for much of the book, but not in an annoying way; more in a way that it takes her a while to figure out all of the details. To be fair, the book only takes place over the course of about a week.

There's a scene where she goes to talk to the reverend at her aunt's church (as a way of avoiding actual therapy), and he tells her that there are all kinds of pagan beliefs that the marriage (and here she blushes as she figures out what he actually means by that) of a king and queen will bring prosperity to the region. I thought that was where the book might be going - that such a coupling is necessary but that she would choose Rhys instead of Shawn to be the king - but it's not. One of the interesting things about the book is how distinctly PG it is. There aren't even any swear words in the text. Instead, when it comes down to the final showdown, Rhys stands with her and grounds her while she does the work of forcing the magic back into its correct paths.

The other piece of the supernatural element of the book is that when the magic has been twisted out of place, the impressions of people who used to be there - ghosts - become stronger. Sylvie figures out that she's living in the room that belonged to Hannah, a daughter of Colonel Davis (an extremely malevolent ghost) who she later finds out is presumed to have killed herself. The third ghost whose presence she repeatedly experiences is a baby crying in the woods.

I don't think I'm really doing justice to this book, and you really should just read it. Sylvie is an extremely compelling narrator, and the plot is excellently well done.

The end is interesting in that it's well written enough that it doesn't feel rushed, even though we quickly tie up the story of what really happened to Hannah. I actually would have liked a little more of that, but it worked as is. The other things I almost wanted - but am okay with not having, because life doesn't always tie up the loose ends - were the reason why Sylvie's dad left and who Rainbow Maddox (the Maddox of his generation everyone thought he should be with) grew up to be. I kept expecting her to be important to the plot, but she turned out to be something of a red herring.

There is one more thing I loved about this book: Sylvie is forever taking off her shoes to dig her feet into the grass/dirt/garden. It's one of the things that lets us figure out she has such a strong connection to earth magic. A heavy-handed author would have gone back and made the explicit connection once Sylvie figures out she has that kind of magic. Clement-Moore doesn't do that. She just lets it lie, which I thought was an excellent bit of subtlety.

The last non-spoilery things I'll tell you about are two potential triggers/annoyances. First, Sylvie was a ballerina and Cousin Paula's partner Clara's daughter Addie wants to be a model, so there are some discussions about food and calories that might be triggering. For me, they weren't particularly bothersome, especially since it was much more mild than I expected from a ballerina narrator. Secondly, as a white (at least as far as I can tell) author writing about white characters, Clement-Moore gets to mostly sidestep the race issues inherent in Sylvie's family having owned this estate in the South since before the Civil War. She doesn't avoid them altogether - Clara and Addie are black and live in one of the outer buildings, Clara makes a comment about the parallel of her (implied slave) ancestors having lived outside of the big house, and Sylvie wonders if their family's slave-owning history is part of what made her dad leave - but this is not a book that delves deeply into that aspect of the town's history.

I have promised my mother that she can borrow the book, but if any of you would like to have it after she's done, just let me know.

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Date: 2011-02-13 05:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think I'd like to read it?

Also, I still have those Spin State novels - do you want them back? (My mom borrowed the first one, but then I told her she didn't want to read the second.)


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Ruth Sadelle Alderson


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