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The Replacement

October 8, 2012

I’ve been in the mood for fairy stories lately, re-reading Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories after referring to it in a comment on Jenny’s review of Some Kind of Fairy Tale and finally picking up Brenna Yovanoff’s The Replacement after repeated recommendations from Jodie of Bookgazing (who recently mentioned it somewhere and I think it might have been at Things Mean a Lot but I can’t really remember because I’ve been living in a fog and it hasn’t all been due to drugs although I did write a haiku about the way morphine makes me feel on the “notes” feature on my phone, which I’d never used before so it made me half-believe I’d gone through the looking glass to a world where I am proficient with technology).

The Replacement is told from the point of view of a changeling. He has all the traditional weaknesses, including the probability of not lasting very long but he has lived to adolescence because his mother was rescued from Fairyland as a young girl and knows what she has to do to keep him alive. Despite his mother’s knowledge, his minister father’s understanding, and his sister’s unshakeable love, the changeling, named Malcolm (Mackie for short; I had an uncle Mackie who had a mysterious past so that adds to the feel of this story for me) is failing physically at the start of the story. Despite his parents’ warnings that he must try to blend in, the other kids at school have begun to single him out, writing “Freak” in blood on his locker. He can’t go to church when his father preaches or to a friend’s funeral because “consecrated ground wasn’t like stainless steel or blood iron. It wasn’t something I could just deal with. If I went two feet inside the churchyard, my skin blistered the way other people get a bad sunburn.”

The other inhabitants of Mackie’s small town, Gentry, believe they get the traditional good luck from allowing the occasional changeling in their midst, but when Mackie goes underground to protect his sister, he meets the Morrigan and then her sister, and his perspective begins to change. He sees more of the fairy side of things, including the other side of taking human babies and replacing them with changelings: “it means giving up our own precious babes to replace theirs.” He tries playing music with the fairies (this tale’s little excursion into Urban Fantasy in the style of Holly Black or Cassandra Clare) at a Halloween party, helping to get the tribute and admiration the fairies need, but also noticing the benefit to the human audience: “no one was dressed like themselves, but they were all suddenly illuminated, lit with something real, their own private versions of the song. It had gotten inside them. I stood above the packed floor, looking down at all of them, shining like lanterns with their love stories and their tragedies.”

Mackie’s own attempts at teenage romance are complicated by his between-worlds status. His best friend Roswell takes him home when he gets sick after his first kiss:
“I knew I should be careful, keep the secret, but I was too far gone to talk around it. My chest was working in huge spasms and I could barely breathe. ‘I kissed her.’
‘And then you went into anaphylactic shock?’
I closed my eyes and let the rain patter against my face through the open window. ‘She has her tongue pierced.’”

In the end, what I like about this fairy story is that everyone does what they can and there are no big heroics, but you still get the joy that Tolkien describes as necessary to fairy stories. At the climactic moment, Mackie remembers the advice he’s been given, but thinks for himself:
“I remembered what my mother had said when the Morrigan had found me, asked for my service and I’d agreed because I didn’t want anything to happen to Emma. Everything involves choice.
I knew what she’d been trying to say—that you have to think about your options, weigh the consequences before you make decisions, but the advice was so worthless when it came to the things that mattered.”

Rather than a conquering hero or a passive sacrifice, Mackie becomes a real boy:
“I remembered Emma’s story about going into the cave to be eaten. How if you went willingly, then death wasn’t death, but transformation.
There are all kinds of things that can scare you every day. What if someone you know gets cancer? What if something happens to your sister or your friends or your parents? And what if you get hit by a car crossing the street or the kids at school find out what an unnatural freak you are and what if you go too far out in the lake and the water is over your head and what if there’s a fire or a war?
And you can lie awake at night and worry about these things because it’s scary and unpredictable, but it’s real. It’s possible.”

I like the way Mackie’s actions wake everybody up to the fact that they’ve been living in a fog. I like the way he wakes himself up.

What kinds of books do you like to read when you’re in a fog?

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. lemming permalink
    October 8, 2012 7:50 am

    Dave Barry. I’m not sure what this says.

  2. October 8, 2012 8:58 am

    Georgette Heyer and D. E. Stevenson. And I totally know what that says about me, but I don’t care. Also, how thick is this fog? Because when I was pregnant, which destroys my brain cells like a brain war, all I could read was comic books for big people, like People magazine.

    • October 9, 2012 7:21 am

      The fog is getting less thick. For a while I couldn’t read much; my eyes weren’t focusing well and I couldn’t find a place to hold a book. Now I at least have an attention span again, but I think romance novels would be too emotionally volatile for me right now.

  3. October 8, 2012 11:21 am

    I prefer what I consider “comfort food reading” – mysteries, preferably something I’ve read before like Dick Francis, P.D. James or Dorothy Sayers.

    • October 9, 2012 7:22 am

      I do like mysteries for comfort sometimes; I like the way things get solved. This is a different kind of comfort, though. A less analytical kind, I guess.

  4. October 9, 2012 4:02 pm

    Somehow I missed the first of these, so I’ve got two to look forward to!

    All your commenters have great suggestions. For me in a fog: opinionated Victorian nonfiction, especially with engravings. It’s so definite and optimistic. Edward Morse’s Japanese Homes and their Surroundings has been been my go-to for the past year. And I’ve been wanting to try Edith Wharton’s nonfiction.

    • October 9, 2012 4:05 pm

      Whoops, I thought this was the comment section for Necromancing the stone. Back to Morse for me, I really *am* in a fog.

      • October 9, 2012 4:21 pm

        Heh, your fog makes mine feel better.
        Opinionated Victorian nonfiction is an immensely interesting suggestion. I think that might comfort Ron sometime. I will keep it in mind.

  5. October 9, 2012 7:22 pm

    When I’m in a fog Eva Ibbotson is good, Sharon Creech is good, anything cheerfulish I read as a kid. I think this would be good fog reading too though! I just finished it on the subway this evening and really enjoyed it — it’s a changeling story in the subgenre of, like, The Moorchild, which I haven’t encountered very often. I liked the twins! I wanted more of the twins.

    • October 10, 2012 2:57 am

      Yay I’m glad you liked it 😀 Sometimes my recs do good. I liked Emma a lot and Roswell and the twins, but I loved Mackie. I just thought this was such a well written look at being inside the head of a teen AND a changeling trying to stay alive. I’m a huge Yovanoff fan (her blog is so lovely and full of stories made out of her time at school after being home schooled) and have her second book, but sadly that is not about fairies but about Hell *wicked smile*.

      • October 10, 2012 7:22 am

        I just looked at her second book and discovered that she has a new one coming out in January, too!

    • October 10, 2012 7:20 am

      Jenny (I didn’t properly get this as a reply to your comment, and now it looks like Jodie replied to you and me to her) you know–from the blog title–how I feel about revenants.

  6. Jenny permalink
    October 12, 2012 3:42 pm

    I am a complete sucker for books about changelings. I’m on this!

  7. October 12, 2012 3:51 pm

    Jenny, you definitely don’t want to miss how Mackie tells his own story.

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