Simon Pulse 2010
I've always been fascinated by stories of changelings. Since childhood, I've pored over fairy tales based around nasty Fae stealing into family homes in the depths of night and stealing an innocent child away. Of course, they don't just steal the child they also replace it with a changeling – a Fae creature who is invariably grumpy, spiteful and hideous. I assume that these stories grew from the deep seated fear that all parents have of something taking their child from them and their inability to do anything about it. In The Replacement, Brenna Yovanoff has skillfully woven a modern tale round these ancient tales and fears and it is more than a little successful.
Protagonist Mackie is a changeling child. Left in the crib of Malcolm Doyle, he has grown up completely aware that he is different to his friends and family – in fact, his sister has such strong memories of the night he was left that she has been able to relate the tale to him since childhood. As well as feeling like the odd one out, Mackie is becoming increasingly ill. Iron, blood and consecrated ground make him more and more sick. He's starting to lose the will to live when a small child dies in his hometown of Gentry – something that's not all that unusual, in fact he could probably just let it go, except that this child's sister won't drop it. Slowly, Mackie finds himself drawn back towards his original heritage and into a dark and dangerous world.
Mackie makes an interesting lead. In this paranormal story, it's the paranormal who narrates it and that, combined with the fact that he's male (as opposed to the mainly female protagonists out there) make him refreshingly different. At first he's pretty depressed. He loves his family and friends but he's excruciatingly aware that he isn't like them. Also, he's really pretty sick and spends a lot of his time trying to hide his odd allergies and basically maintain as low a profile as possible – as advised by his dad. As the story progresses he finds his feet a little, slowly becoming aware that he perhaps could have a life in the human world as well as finding out more about his less human compatriots. He's likable, layered and sympathetic.
Mackie's small group of friends fit none of the usual stereotypes with the inventive twins and stoically loyal Roswell all being a pleasure to read. Roswell is actually quite fascinating – their friendship is beautifully drawn and I would have liked to have seen more of it. It's nice to see a friendship between two boys written so nicely and with such subtlety. Mackie's family is also multi-layered with his parents struggling to love and bring up a child that they know is not theirs while his older sister tries definitely to make up the deficit of affection. As love interest/part time antagonist Tate is also well written. She clearly takes no nonsense from anyone and I like that in a female character. However, she's also heartbreakingly vulnerable and the growing relationship between her and Mackie is well balanced and believable.
The plot itself is nothing less than dark and deliciously wicked. The world of the slag heaps, populated by toothy children and living dead girls is at times very frightening. The characters that Mackie encounters there embody the world that he is from-yet-not-from perfectly. The Morrigan and The Lady are each terrifying in their convictions yet oddly delightful in their simplicity of thought, opposing in principles but matched in child-like petulance and desire to see their kind survive. These are a race of ancient creatures, with ancient morals and rituals – most importantly they are completely devoid of humanity or human aspects, unlike many of the fey creations that pop up in YA. What makes The Replacement truly chilling, though, is the town of Gentry itself. I can't say much about it without taking away from the reading experience but Yovanoff skillfully weaves into her plot themes of ignorance, denial and greed. As with all the best horrors (and The Replacement certainly edges into that genre) it is the human rather than the inhuman that sends the shivers down your spine.
As a debut novel The Replacement is accomplished. The writing is often haunting and the characters have real depth. In particular the author's imaginative powers when it comes to the non-human world are exceptional – the world of the slag heaps is so fantastically described that the visions they engendered in my head will stay with me for a long time to come. Most importantly, Brenna Yovanoff has stayed true to the horribly sinister nature of the original changeling tales and written a story that is rooted firmly in nameless fears and ancient horrors. Readers should not class this with the many urban Fae stories that have recently appeared on the YA shelves – The Replacement is altogether different, altogether darker and altogether worth a read.