Review: Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff
Source: ARC, courtesy of Goodreads First Reads and Penguin Canada. Thank you!
Clementine DeVore spent ten years trapped in a cellar, pinned down by willow roots, silenced and forgotten. Now she’s out and determined to uncover who put her in that cellar and why.
When Clementine was a child, dangerous and inexplicable things started happening in New South Bend. The townsfolk blamed the fiendish people out in the Willows and burned their homes to the ground. But magic kept Clementine alive, walled up in the cellar for ten years, until a boy named Fisher sets her free. Back in the world, Clementine sets out to discover what happened all those years ago. But the truth gets muddled in her dangerous attraction to Fisher, the politics of New South Bend, and the Hollow, a fickle and terrifying place that seems increasingly temperamental ever since Clementine reemerged.
Fiendish, as with other YA novels by Yovanoff, promises a deliciously sinister and spine-tingling story. The novel starts with quite a bang, drawing the reader into the narration of seventeen year old Clementine DeVore. Clementine has been trapped- left for dead with her eyes sewn shut- in her family’s cellar for ten years, until now…when she is miraculously unearthed by a handsome young man named Eric Fisher and a few of his friends. Somehow, remarkably, Clementine did not die…was it someone’s or some thing’s dark craft that kept her imprisoned yet alive? And why?
I think the ideas behind Fiendish are fascinating and ripe for a story, and Yovanoff’s writing is fluid, lyrical and haunting. However, I am sad to say that I’m not sure the carry out of the story was quite there. A major issue for me was the story’s focus on Clementine’s immediate fixation with and love of Fisher. Where perhaps more time could have been spent establishing time/place and detailing the strange history of New South Bend, the ghostly fiendish creatures, the DeVore family, or on explaining the strange supernatural happenings, the Fisher-Clementine relationship takes top billing. This focus on teen romance was problematic to me in this novel because it felt as though so much of what was promised in the book’s set-up- e.g. about the magic/witchery of the Hollow and the coalition to rid the town of perceived ‘evil’ and craft- fell by the wayside. Even by the end of the novel and after the climactic final scenes I was left with unanswered questions about characters and story lines.
There were also a few plot progressions that seemed slightly jarring in the context of the promised story. For example, Clementine is brought back to the surface of the world after ten years gone- yet mere hours later, she and her cousin Shiny walk to town to get a bra. Then, minutes after picking up said item, Clementine leaves her cousin and a former childhood friend to hop into a car with Fisher and do a potentially deadly task. Clementine has been gone for ten years under hideously unimaginable circumstances! Why is she going bra shopping? How is she out and about and not petrified or more confused or…? The shopping journey, in particular, did not feel like a natural development in the course of the story whatsoever, but rather like it had been forced in there to give some ‘teenage’ relatability to the characters.
Now, lest you think my reading experience was all negative- it was not! I really was hooked on the strange story from the get go, and Yovanoff does keep the story moving at a good pace. Over the course of the book, I was able to put aside some issues I had with the story direction and the quick-to-development romance because I couldn’t help but want to know how the story would evolve and end. Yovanoff also excels at the eerie- her turns of phrases and descriptive abilities with the supernatural and strange are fantastic.
Overall, Fiendish was entertainingly spooky quick read, but unfortunately, fell a bit flat. Yovanoff’s writing is, as ever, beautiful; she can create and bring to life the unsettling and sinister so well- her previous YA novels Paper Valentine and The Space Between are terrific and chilling. In the end, I just wanted more from this story: I feel as though it had all this great potential, but never quite reached its peak.