intriguing YA fantasy

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UNSEELIE is an engaging fantasy adventure with a heist, faerie mischief, and a strong sisterhood. Isolde (Sol) and Iselia (Seelie) are twins of a sort - Seelie was actually a changeling given to their mother at one month old. Their mother then journeyed into the land of the fae to reclaim her child and raise both the child and the changeling. Though their parents loved them both equally, the townspeople feared Seelie and rejected her, leading to their running away at 14. Now, a few years later, they have their own lives crafted with theft, their enchanted caravan called the Destiny, and the brownie who often appears as a cat that calls their caravan home.

Seelie dreams of returning to their parents with wealth, enough money so that people will overlook the fact that she is changeling. They may be getting close when they decide to rob from the wealthy Leira Wildfall, a powerful shapeshifter. When they break into a mysterious room, they find another set of thieves, Raze and Olani, also trying to steal the item in there. There's a fight over who will take the magical compass that may lead to riches. As dragons and the magical guard of Wildfall close in, Seelie just wants to put it back and get out of there. However, when Seelie touches it, it activates and sets them on a mythic treasure hunt with unlikely thieving companions.

What I loved: While the plot is about a heist leading to a treasure hunt, much of the story is character driven. The reader follows Seelie in the first person perspective, and she is someone conflicted. As a changeling, society has forced her on the outskirts, and it has made her cautious and unsure of herself. Her magic has been the focus of her negative feelings about herself, and she has spent so long suppressing it, assuming that if she has control over it and never lets it show that she will somehow gain a place in society. While her sister accepts her as she is and for who she is, Seelie herself struggles with this acceptance.

Additionally, Seelie is on the autism spectrum, not defined as such in this fantasy world but through the author's note and experiences. This kind of representation is so important for individuals who are neurodivergent to see themselves or parts of themselves represented in books but also for better understanding for people who may be neurotypical as well. Seelie does not always understand social cues the way others do, and she has struggled to connect with others. Through her eyes, readers can better understand her experiences and how this manifests.

Other characters were also compelling, particularly her sister, Isolde. Isolde loves her sister dearly, and this love has shaped her life and decisions. As they begin to come to a crossroads of considering their futures, Isolde is beginning to think beyond to what she might do, and her character is also developing through her own self-reflections. Her bond with Seelie is strong, and their love makes this a great story of sisterhood and family bonds, however family is crafted (in this case with adoption). Olani and Raze also become strong characters who have overcome their pasts and defined their own lives, leading them to the heist for aligned but different interests. Their stories were also powerful as they are revealed during the journey.

Themes around power, revenge, self-acceptance/understanding, history, and family and relationships added to this character-driven read. Magic is a source of power and how this manifests and is controlled is an evolving discussion throughout. The history of this world is not one that everyone knows, and questions about the value of learning/understanding the history and its consequences is a theme that will likely grow as the story continues.

Final verdict: UNSEELIE is an engaging fantasy adventure that takes the reader on a journey of self-discovery, family bonds, and all the ties that bind us. Recommend for fans of THE DROWNED WOODS, THE LUMINARIES, and ALL THE STARS AND TEETH.

Please note that I received an ARC. All opinions are my own.