Once Collins gets the plot rolling in her YA fantasy debut, it’s almost nonstop peril for her young heroine.
Even though she’s relatable, it takes a while to get to know teenage Syney Andrews, a changeling from the Altera Realm who was dropped into modern-day America as an infant. Forced to run for her life, she has to pause to catch her breath; when she stumbles back into Altera and discovers she’s meant to unseat the ruling queen, she has the courage, but not the know-how, to take her rightful place. Syney has to be guided by other characters who are just as inherently flawed as she is. Just like real-world teens and the adults around them, they try hard—except when they blow off their responsibilities. Allies in Altera manage to steer Syney closer to the queenship, but she makes a tangled, near-hopeless mess of her own romantic liaisons along the way, nearly ruining a few friendships while she’s at it. Collins’ basic ingredients—werewolves, vampires, feuding houses—will be familiar to seasoned readers, but she’s so willing to endanger her main characters that the plot never feels stale or recycled. She’s also not above an occasional wink and nod, as with Syney’s initial reaction to finding out vampires exist: “Do they sparkle?” Though Collins glosses over an exploration of Syney’s grief at the loss of her family, the story approaches a rabbit hole of depression: “She looked like nothing was wrong, all clean and refreshed, but underneath the surface she was still broken.” Magic creates some miraculous fixes, but Syney and her confidantes can never fully escape the consequences of their choices. The only speed bump to readers losing themselves in these characters is the narrative’s tendency to occasionally leave out words or substitute near-homophones, like flare for flair and depraved for deprived. Nevertheless, Collins’ writing is smooth enough to paint a vibrant picture as it draws readers into Altera and Syney’s complicated new life.
Tensions are high and it’s anybody’s guess whether Syney will live long enough to unseat the scheming queen.