I discovered Anthea Sharp’s Feyland books in Story Bundle’s young adult bundle. The excerpt from the prologue of Feyland: The Dark Realm piqued my interest in that it avoided a lot of cliches that annoy me. Its futuristic setting didn’t suck significantly more or less than the present. The teenage heroine, Jennet Carter, wasn’t described as a misunderstood outsider. There was no femmephobia to be seen. The narrative didn’t talk about how Jennet wasn’t pretty and then describe her as a conventionally attractive white girl. (It describes her as a conventionally attractive white girl and acknowledges that she’s pretty. Which I have no problem with.) And most of all, Jennet being both a conventionally attractive girl and an awesome gamer was completely taken for granted. I wanted to read more.
Okay, that wasn’t all that made me want to read more. Jennet was portrayed as an awesome gamer without being a perfect gamer. The story opens with Jennet having almost completed an unreleased immersive virtual reality game called Feyland. She’s facing the final boss. And then she loses, which, in a touch of realism, she expected to happen. Because everyone loses to the final boss the first time. Jennet expects the game to load last save and let her fight the boss again.
But no such luck. The final boss, the Dark Queen, isn’t just a video game character. She is the actual fey Queen of the Dark (or Unseelie) Court, and she’s using the game as a portal to the human realm so she can feed off of humans’ “mortal essence”. Humans like Jennet. Who is now doomed to die in the real world unless she can meet the Queen’s demand for a “champion” and face her in battle again.
This leads Jennet to classmate and fellow gamer Tam Linn. If you’re familiar with Scottish ballads (I wasn’t), you know where this is going. Either way, you know Tam is going to be Jennet’s love interest. I like the way Sharp writes their relationship as characters and even more as gamers. In-game, Jennet is a mage and Tam is a knight. There are no straw feminist moments when Tam puts himself between Jennet and whatever is attacking them. Both of these experienced gamers recognize that Tam is just playing a tank, while Jennet’s squishy wizard stays safely out of range and does damage and crowd control from a distance. Tam messes up sometimes. Jennet messes up sometimes. Both of them have each other’s backs. And while their shared love of gaming is a big part of their mutual attraction, at no point is a cute girl who likes fantasy and video games given unicorn status.
In fact, it’s established early on in the book that Jennet is one of several female gamers at her new school, including Tam’s best friend Marny. Marny is another favorite thing about this series. First, she’s tall and plus-sized (the third book implies Samoan ancestry) and is proud of her body. We first meet her when she’s trying to design an avatar and is upset that the game won’t let it be fatter. Second, while she’s initially suspicious about wealthy Jennet’s motives for hanging out with ghetto kids like her and Tam, she isn’t catty or insecure about the difference in their appearance. We never get any indication that Marny resents Jennet’s thinness or blondeness. Third, Marny’s combination of gaming skills and femaleness is taken for granted as much as Jennet’s. And possibly the thing I love most about Marny’s character…she is not romantically interested in Tam. At all. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, a young adult series with no love triangle! A guy and a girl are like brother and sister and neither wants to be anything else! And the girl develops a genuine friendship with her best friend’s girlfriend! This dynamic continues throughout the two sequels, Feyland: The Bright Court and Feyland: The Twilight Kingdom.
I can’t talk much about this aspect of Feyland’s awesomeness without giving too many spoilers: the way the series draws on real British Isles mythology. Tam’s name and a major plot point in the first book come from “The Ballad of Tam Lin,” which Sharp includes in Feyland: The Dark Realm‘s appendices. Feyland itself is divided between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. Archetypical fey folk like Puck, the Wild Hunt, and changelings appear throughout the series in pivotal roles.
The first of a new series in the Feyland universe, Feyguard, is due for release on November 30, 2013. Spark centers on Spark Jaxley, a female professional gamer who’s introduced in Feyland: The Twilight Kingdom. If Anthea Sharp continues her winning combination of great characters, great use of folklore, and great depictions of gaming, I’m sure I’ll love her new series as much as the first.