Anna and Abel couldn’t be more different. They are both seventeen and in their last year of school, but while Anna lives in a nice old town house and comes from a well-to-do family, Abel, the school drug dealer, lives in a big, prisonlike tower block at the edge of town. Anna is afraid of him until she realizes that he is caring for his six-year-old sister on his own. Fascinated, Anna follows the two and listens as Abel tells little Micha the story of a tiny queen assailed by dark forces. It’s a beautiful fairy tale that Anna comes to see has a basis in reality. Abel is in real danger of losing Micha to their abusive father and to his own inability to make ends meet. Anna gradually falls in love with Abel, but when his “enemies” begin to turn up dead, she fears she has fallen for a murderer. Has she?
Award-winning author Antonia Michaelis moves in a bold new direction with her latest novel: a dark, haunting, contemporary story that is part mystery, part romance, and part melodrama.
My verdict: Lyrical and yet devastating. Highly recommended for older teens and adults.
I loved this book. The writing is just gorgeous and the fairy tale sections really enable her to showcase this aspect of her work. Yet at the same time, the contemporary realism is unflinching and utterly unromanticised.
I have seen reviews criticising this book on moral grounds (as effectively a bad role model) as Anna and Abel's relationship is, in various ways, unhealthy. I can't get into details here without giving spoilers, but I would argue that the book's presentation of these aspects is not glorifying of them. It is also worth noting that stories need conflict, problems and struggles. A straightforward happy life does not make for a good read! I would not recommend this book for under-16s due to some of the 'grittier' content.
Anna's fascination with Abel and Micha, and the way his story weaves a spell that draws her in, is completely convincing, as the same story absolutely captivated me. It also forms a lovely counterpoint to the starkness of Abel's situation, and extends and sustains the tension in the mystery aspect of the novel. Anna's naivety as a comfortable middle-class kid is alternately endearing and frustrating as you can see what she can't and are rooting for her. In some respects, reading this book is like watching a beautifully choreographed car crash in slow motion. I don't think I've ever been so unable to see a way for a book to end happily and simultaneously so unwilling to turn away.
Overall, this is one of the best books I've read this year and I would strongly recommend it for fans of fairy tale themes, contemporary realism and thrillers in the older YA or adult age bracket.