Lily, Dark Fantasy by Michael Thomas Ford
My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Yet another book where I cannot easily come down on one side cleanly. Did I like it? Did I dislike it? I could say yes to both of those questions and not be lying.
If there’s one thing this book does crushingly well, it’s atmosphere. The illustrations are amazing, haunting even, but even without them, the whole thing feels like a starkly black and white inked drawing. The world is dark and painful to inhabit. Comparisons to fairy tales are obviously intended, and earned as well. Each character is well crafted, but no further defined than any one of them needs to be. Things other books would have to spread out over arcs, such as romance, are simplified down to their most necessary ingredients.
However, beyond the artistry of it all, there’s not really anything new on offer here. Lily is cursed to see the deaths of anyone she touches, which sends her and her mother out into a world that is foreign to Lily. She winds up as a rebranded circus act for a sinister and predictably evil faith healer who uses both of them. What is new about portraying an innocent being taken in by a con man who uses a twisted brand of religion as a weapon? What is new about women and young girls being brutalised by men with only a sainted (and dead) father figure to temper the message that all men are evil and all women are victims? Nothing.
I’ll be honest, I am not a fan of stories that build their foundation in the supposed shock of human evils. I don’t blind myself to them or hide in sunshine and fairy cakes, but I also do not feel a need to examine ugliness as if it will enlighten me somehow. As far as I’m concerned, it’s like watching a slasher movie. If it’s to your entertainment tastes, then consume it and gladly, but I don’t see any justification in lauding the gore as artistic. None of the villainy in Lily is shocking. Of course all of the men are rapey assaulters who reach lustily for anything with breasts regardless of age or consent. Of course they’re all ex-cons who are using this farcical carnival to hide in. It’s almost boring in its attempts to shock and horrify. I just felt annoyed that it took Lily as long as it did to see past the lies and prove victorious.
There are two major saving graces to be had, though. The first and best is the character of Baba Yaga. Although her chapters are short, they’re always fascinating and the only unspoiled fun to be had. Her disaffected otherworldliness and attempts to understand this god that everyone keeps talking about are wonderfully nonhuman even as a bit of human softness creeps into her. Then there is the ending, which is better than I hoped, while also delivering an expectation set. up early in the narrative. I particularly loved the riddles, which made for a lovely bookend after being mentioned in the beginning. There isn’t a lot of “everything” to wrap up, but it’s still satisfying that everything is indeed wrapped up quite nicely.
I can only think of a small handful of people I’d recommend this to, aside from possibly a blanket statement that it’s in a class with Tender Morsels. Anyone who read that would find kinship here, I think.