Series: Tales of Beauty and Madness #1
NOTE: I would like to apologize for reviewing this so far ahead of the release date, both to readers because they cannot read it yet, and to the author, for building buzz at a perhaps unhelpful time. However, it is the only fairytale retelling I currently have to read for the read-along. To make up for this, I will schedule a post on April 4, reminding everyone how awesome I think Nameless is!
Goodreads Summary: A dark and eerie retelling of Snow White from Lili St. Crow,
New York Times bestselling author of the Strange Angels
Sixteen-year-old Camille doesn’t remember her life before she was adopted by the powerful Vultusino family—the missing childhood years that left her scarred and silent. Now she lives a life
of luxury, protected by the supernatural Mafia Vultusinos, specially Nico, her adopted brother.
But Cami knows that she is not really Family. She is a mortal with a past that lies buried in trauma. And it’s not until a mysterious boy approaches her and reveals scars of his own that Cami begins
to uncover the secrets of her past . . . to find out where she comes from and what danger she now finds herself in.
Review: Nameless is the most gripping and original take on “Snow White” that I have read. The Disney version, with its silly dwarves and cute woodland critters, makes it tempting to approach the tale with something whimsical and light-hearted in mind, even in spite of the more gruesome aspects of the plot. Or, unless you are Tolkien, the presence of dwarves alone can become problematic. Serious, solemn dwarves have not been done better, though other authors such as C. S. Lewis have of course written them well.
Lili St. Crow laughs in the face of any complications. First, she takes the story of “Snow White” and chooses to be inspired by it, rather than simply modernizing it or fleshing it out. Thus, the family that takes Cami in is not a group of dwarves, silly or serious, or even a fraternity or whatever crazy sort of half-knit group one might suspect to see in a retelling. Rather, Cami is adopted by the Family—a literal family of beings that are part mafia, part vampiric, and part truly decent people. Things get serious, and creative, fast in Nameless.
As one might expect from all the hints about Family, there is some great original world-building happening in Nameless. In the beginning things are a bit hazy, with a plethora of unexplained references to jacks, minotaurs, Family, the Twist, mere-humans, et cetera. Eventually something of a solid picture begins to form. And eventually one realizes Nameless is set in an alternative future of our world, which came from an alternative past. It sounds as if things were the same until sometime around the Industrial Revolution, when something happened that leaked a bit of magic into the world. Then things went crazy. It is all laid out for readers interested in connecting our history with the history of the characters.
The one aspect that might be characterized as a weakness is Cami herself. She is on the whole a fantastic character, well-written and quite admirable in many respects. She gets into trouble she could easily have avoided, but unlike a number of YA protagonists, this is not simply because she is foolish or thinks she knows better than all her friends and ignores her advice. Cami chooses with open eyes to walk into danger because she truly thinks it will help. That conclusion may have come from some poor reasoning, but it still sets Cami apart as a strong young woman.
Before this climactic scene, however, Cami likes to dwell in self-doubt. She is not really Family. She does not really belong. No one really loves her. I grant this thought-process could have been much worse; there is certainly a line of “annoying self-hating character who blindly believes everyone hates her in spite of constant indisputable evidence” that St. Crow does not cross—but only barely. Cami also comes across as a little too dependent and even young at times, but, again, St. Crow stopped just short of making this a truly annoying issue. On the whole, Cami is awesome.
As is the book. The world has magic, but this is not high fantasy. Perhaps in some ways it is like magical realism. Magic is permeating our world, but it is slightly subtle and somewhat normal. People are magic, but the plot is not. There is certainly no cheesy enchanted food here; things are much more real. The effect is a slightly creepy, deliciously mystery atmosphere that fits St. Crow’s story perfectly. And I want more!
(Interestingly, Cami’s best friends have elements of Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood about them that are fun to catch. Will the next books be about them?)
CONTENT NOTE: There is cursing, but not more than one might hear in an average public high school hallway. Cami also whips off her shirt at one point, but in context the scene is actually less scandalous than it sounds here.
Publication Date: April 4, 2013 (Penguin—Razorbill)