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Book Review #1: Betwixt by Tara Bray Smith
I picked up a copy of Betwixt, by Tara Bray Smith at a local thrift store for $1.00. For a 500 page book, it seemed like a steal and I was drawn to the pretty cover, featuring a moth-like face set against an unobtrusive yellow background. The synopsis on the book struck my interest as well, it was vague enough to be mysterious but also compelling enough to want to be read.
This book took me two days to read in full, but I did finish it against my better judgement and here's what I have to say about it.
This book is about three unique teenagers, Ondine, Nix, and Morgan, who come from very different walks of life but all have one thing in common - they're "different". Ondine has an affinity for art and dreaming of that art coming to life. Nix is a homeless kid from Alaska who sees bright auras around people who are about to die and feels he is the cause. And Morgan is a vain and beautiful girl living in a trailer park with a dark heart and a cruel set of social rules.
These kids are brought together by Moth, a mysterious guy who peddles a drug known only as "Dust" and seems to know a lot more about these three than he should. It is through Moth that Ondine, Nix, and Morgan find themselves at a rave/concert in the mountains of Oregon where they learn the truth about their nature and spend the latter half of the book coming to terms with what they are and what they must do about it.
As it turns out, Ondine, Nix, and Morgan are actually changelings, Fay inhabiting human bodies, and only have a short time on earth before they must leave their human forms behind and ascend into the Fay realm known as Novala. But these aren't changelings and Fay as mythology knows them - in Smith's book, the Fay are actually energy creatures and inhabit a realm that is comprised of electromagnetic energy. A changeling was once human until Fay energy was forced into them as small children in order for them to develop consciousness.
But not all Fay are good and noble, some of them are destructive and want to stay on Earth as humans. They are called Cutters and a group of changelings can't ascend until all the cutters have been eliminated. One such Cutter is Bleek, Moth's rival drug dealer, and the primary antagonist for the book. As a changeling himself, Moth can't ascend until Bleek is killed, and so he uses the three central protagonists to help him do it.
In a variety of legends and myths about the Fay (Fae, faeries, etc.) a changeling was the ugly offspring of a faery left behind in place of a healthy human child that was stolen from it's crib. Faeries was notorious for being unable to procreate well and would often spirit away human children to raise as their own because they were healthy and beautiful and had a higher chance of survival.
The human families of the stolen child would find the switched infant to be hideous, unpleasant and cruel. They often didn't live very long and the parents would wonder what had become of their child that they would change so much overnight. SIDS (Sudden infant death syndrome) and a variety of infant illnesses may have inspired the idea of changelings, but there's little historical record on the origin of the changeling.
In Smith's tale, she treats Fay beings and energy as almost alien, a separate consciousness implanted in a human host in early childhood. This changeling grows up feeling different and separated from the people around them, often because they have unique abilities. For Ondine, Nix, and Morgan, all three have never been injured, seen their own blood, or been able to cry.
In order to enter into the Fay world called Novala, a group of changelings, known as a ring must go through a trial called the Ring of Fire, which is called their "exidis" - where they will leave their human hosts behind and become energy beings.
The drug called "Dust"
One of the heavily featured substances in this book is a non-habit forming and relatively safe drug called Dust. It is ingested and causes symptoms similar to that of a painkiller. Nix is a user of Dust in order to tone down the bright auras he sees around dying people and to feel less guilty about not being able to save them. Originally, he buys his stash from Bleek, but it is Moth who comes to the rescue and eventually weans him off it.
According the Smith, Dust was actually created by the Fay in order to help changelings transition into the knowledge of their being with less shock and fear. At the rave in the mountains, all three teenage protagonists are discreetly given Dust to loosen up their inhibitions, but it doesn't have the desired effect on everyone.
Overall, the existence of this drug in the book was a cheap plot device and probably used by Smith to seem edgy and appeal to the teenage scene, much in the same way she uses outdated slang and other references to sex and drugs.
Have you read this book?
Overall, I think this book was much longer than it needed to be, because Smith spends an incredible amount of time rehashing the same character thoughts and problems multiple times throughout the story. There is little to no real character development and much of the dialogue seems outdated or simply unnatural, no matter what age or background, every character speaks the same way. Neither Ondine, Nix, or Morgan really come to terms with what it means to be a changeling and in the end the reader is left more confused than anything about their futures. It's possible Smith was setting up for a sequel.
The action sequence near the end was convoluted and hard to follow, in the end you have no idea what actually happened to anyone and thus the ending of this story is very unsatisfying. Unless you want to spend two solid days of being confused and dragging through an incredible slow-paced story, don't waste your time with this one, because there's no pay off at the end.