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Khanh the Killjoy

Pacing is too slow, but otherwise good

Mistwalker - Saundra Mitchell
The Grey Man is here, my thoughts sang.

The haze sharpened—it gathered. Like milk swirling into coffee, curves formed. Shades and shapes and angles, they became: black eyes, silver hair. A thin mouth, a sharp chin. A hand reached out to take mine.
“I thought you would never come,” he said.

This was a really strange book. I liked it, but I'm left scratching my head because I'm not sure how to describe it. I wouldn't say it is a story about the paranormal as much as a story about the psychological aftermaths of grief combined with a paranormal subplot. It had some elements of Beauty and the Beast. I wouldn't say that it is a retelling, but it has a few characteristics of it, namely:

1. A mysterious being who has been cursed
2. A magical lighthouse that fulfils its resident's physical needs

The good: Nothing hurt about this book. There are no tropes. The setting and armosphere of a small Northeastern United States fishing town was beautifully depicted. The characters all felt like real people. The emotions and the levels of pain and guilt are so well-written. There is no insta-love. There is no love triangle. It was overall, extremely light on the romance. The paranormal elements were very interesting; I only wished there were more of it.

The not-that-good: The pacing is the primary fault within this book. It was slow as hell and in the beginning, the split narrative made the story tremendously confusing as I struggled to figure out what/who the fuck the "Grey" narrator is and what he was babbling about. I also didn't like the fact that their story was so disjointed. I would have liked more of an interaction between the main characters.

Summary:

It was my fault Levi was dead.
Not in some roundabout, butterflies-in-Africa-starting-hurricanes-in-Maine kind of way.

Willa killed her brother. She didn't exactly pick up a gun and shoot him, but she feels responsible for his death. A man sabotaged her family's lobster traps. Willa isn't the type of girl who would sit still and take it. She wanted revenge, she took her little brother along with her. As a result, her brother is dead---murdered, her parents suffer in silent grief. Willa hardly knows what to do with herself. Her best friend is going away to college, her relationship is faltering. She feels that she has no future.

I didn’t know how to be without them. When I looked up, all I saw was the nothing coming. The future where Seth drove around with other girls and Bailey went off to college and never came home.
That same future with an empty place at the dinner table, and half as many Christmas presents under the tree. The one where I stood on land and watched the tide go out without me.

Willa needs some luck in her life, badly. As a joke, her friend tells her to go ask the Grey Man.

“Ask the Grey Man. It can’t hurt.”
A ghost, or a revenant, maybe a cursed sailor or faery—who, or what, the Grey Man was was up for debate. People couldn’t even agree that it was a man. Some of the old-timers insisted it was a Grey Lady.

The Grey Man is a folk legend. In a fishing town, there's a lot of them. But the locals know that superstitions aren't always true.

But not all of them are false. The Grey Man exists.

An ancient creature, so old he can count the millennias, the Grey Man has been waiting and waiting for his curse to be broken, his torment to end. He has been biding his time. There have been many girls before Willa. There might be many more. The Grey Man watch over the coast and its inhabitants. He is mostly benevolent.

I’ve been a good steward for this town; better than most. I’ve been honorable. They’ve had a hundred years of my generosity, holding back the fog. So many good days for them. So many clear days. I’ve been patient. In all this time, I could have blinded hundreds of fishermen. Led them astray, helped their pretty little boats crash into rocks, hidden coming storms.

But he has the capacity for cruelty.

Those lights on the beach have no idea I’m watching them. Wanting them. Plotting against them. Ignorant, every one of them—they dance; they sway. They’re just far enough away that I can’t enjoy their music or eavesdrop on their conversations.
Right now, I hate them more than anything.

Willa and Grey meet. He wants his curse broken, he has a hidden initiative. Willa, however, is no shrinking violet. She is smart, she is wary of monsters, even those with beautiful faces.

Genies took your wishes the worst kind of literal. Faeries were monsters; I needed a piece of iron. I needed to get myself together.

Grey needs to break the curse. Will Willa be the key to freeing him?

The Setting: SPECTACULAR. I love small town setting, and this one was just so well built. The atmosphere is tremendously well done. It is a smal, Maine fishing town. The kind of town in which families have settled for hundreds of years, where your great-great many times great grandparents lived and worked. People have roots here. It is a dead-end town, there is not much here but fishing and lobstering. Those who have prospects will only have prospects if they uproot themselves and leave.

Broken Tooth didn’t have much. We were all starving a little bit, shrinking every year. Bailey wouldn’t come back. A degree in political science wouldn’t do her any good around here. The bright ones like her, they went off to the world. To New York Cities and LAs and Londons. None of the Baileys came back.

The town have deep superstitions, as most seaward towns have. They are entrenched in tradition, but the present is only too real.

Old rituals we kept to guarantee the impossible: all good weather, no bad days.
But in our bones, we knew it was blizzards and nor’easters and squall lines that sank ships. Draggers and trawlers and people from away stealing our catches and leaving nothing for our pots. Government dopes making us trade float line for sink line, twice as expensive, lost twice as much.

The people of the town stick together. They protect their own. They know when they're being cheated. Small rumors spread like wildfire, they are fiercely protective of one another. It is a small town, but they are a collective.

The Characters: All the characters in this book were well-drawn and realistic.
Willa: A very strong, leading character. She is so believable. Willa is suffering so much from the guilt of her brother's death. She is scared. She is prickly. She is tough and resilient. Willa is not the type of girl who whines and sulks, she sees trouble and faces it head on. Her father is unable to work, she works harder to pay for the mortgage and the bills.

The mortgage was just about due; the utilities, too. We’d never discussed the bills, and definitely not me paying them. There was slack, and I’d picked it up. It’s what we did; it was my house too.

She does the dirty work. She goes out in the morning, raking up bloodworms to sell for 25 cents apiece so she can help with the bills. Willa is such a sympathetic character, and I felt an incredible amount of compassion for her. She is so desolate because of her guilt and her loneliness, but she never wallows in her depression. There is no Bella Swan comatose shittery here.Even the Grey Man recognizes her strength.

She’s no delicate thing in a wispy gown. She wears breeches and boots and doesn’t trail behind me

The Grey Man:

A curse is a curse—the trappings are beautiful. They have to be, to tempt the eye, to sway the heart. The gilt packages, the plates that fill with any delicacy I like, they’re the sugar in the poison. The way I look—the way Susannah looked—ethereal monsters. I’m a devil with an angel’s smile.

A complex, interesting man...creature...thing. He is filled with anger and bitterness for his fate. Let's face it, you would be, too, if you had been cursed to live in a lighthouse for all this time. He sits there in his lighthouse, observing the living, seething with silent fury at his fate. Planning. Always planning.

It’s within my grasp to toy with her. Torment her as she has tormented me. To hold out hope before her, just to snatch it away. I burn to do it; she’d deserve it. Instead, I cradle her face with my hand—I can be tender. I can be gentle.

His narrative is sometimes confusing, but always poetic and beautiful.

The Relationships: The romance in this book is very light, but what stands out in this book are the relationships of all the characters. Everyone in this book is realistic. There is not a single person who is a trope. They feel like real people, real parents who suffer, real friends going through the struggles of a relationship. Just enough elements of other characters in the story is included without feeling like the book was going off track. I liked seeing glimpses of Willa's interactions with her friends, her deliberations about them and their future. It makes the characters feel closer to me, it makes me understand them more.

“I’m not stupid. Three thousand miles apart is too much.”
“That’s a year and a half away, though.”
“It’s an expiration date.”
Uselessly hopeful, I said, “Maybe she won’t get in.”
Bailey paid that about as much attention as it deserved: none. Waving her hand, she said, “I can’t...It’s like saying, okay, I’ll love you for exactly this long, but then it stops.”

There is a lesbian best friend who is portrayed without any stereotype whatsoever. There is a sympathetic boyfriend who makes mistakes, but is not a bad guy. There is a girl who is a jerk, but she is, too, a human being. Not perfect, not a demon in whore heels...just...human.

She looked thoughtful. Or sorry. Something sympathetic, and it dragged a cold touch along the nape of my neck. That wasn’t the face of the girl who’d spat at my feet or gone riding with my boyfriend.

The characters in this book were just wonderfully written.

This is a slow-paced book, and I don't know if it's for everyone. It is light on the paranormal, but the characters are so wonderfully written and psychologically complex. The writing is beautiful, and it is free of any YA tropes. Recommended.