Monday, November 10, 2014

Book Review: The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden

I read this book a while back but I just reread it, trying to put a bit of a buffer between spending money on new books.  I love to come back to books over and over again, trying to discover new bits and pieces that I missed the first time around.

The Casquette Girls follows the story of a young girl and her father after they return to a decimated New Orleans after what was called "The Storm of the Century". Adele comes back from France where she had been sent in shelter from the storm to live with her estranged mother and snobbish grandmother. Her beloved city has been ripped apart by the storm and amid the recovery, there have been strange happenings and even stranger murders...

"Time after time, I have seen secrets tear people apart."

Look at that cover. Isn't it creepy? I should have read this over Halloween. A significant amount of this book is spent in attics and I believe that's what this cover depicts. It shows a girl that seems to be trapped, looking out into the world beyond. So much about this book is about being stuck and about witnessing events and being powerless. This cover evokes this feeling with the dark negative space in the front, drawing the eye to the "hope" of the light through the cracks.

The Casquette Girls is a mixture of genres in a way. It has a little bit of historical fiction, a good bit of urban fantasy/paranormal and a healthy dose of modern disaster.  It was filled with wonderful world building and unique compelling characters.

Adele sees the destruction and horrors that have wrapped around her city and is struck by the stillness of it all. She keeps saying that she has never heard it so quiet and how eerie it is. The creepiness factor is in the book from day one and it really set the tone. People are dying, the water lines on the houses are high and there is mold everywhere. You go on a tour of the broken New Orleans with Adele and you can truly feel her despair. The South loves the grotesque, the freaks, and the broken souls and this book celebrates them.

I find it interesting that every book that I read about New Orleans, there is this deep unrelenting feeling of possessiveness from the characters.  It is rarely addressed as a city but rather as their home or their city.  There is so much pride when talking about the resilience of the city and all of its culture.  Rarely do you find a book that doesn't celebrate the good aspects of New Orleans while also acknowledging its deep underlying problems as far as infrastructure, government and humidity go.   There is such romance in the city that ties in with poverty, strength and desolation.

Ok, the characters. Adele is, in many ways, a typical teenager.  She is frustrated with her parents, is très désolé over leaving her romance in Paris and is struggling to deal with going to a new school and making new friends.  She speaks French frequently and it honestly made me want to learn French. (I mean, I speak Spanish fairly well but French is such a pretty language. I wish I had studied it in high school.) Her father, Mac, is a typical dad in that he wants to protect his baby girl but he struggles with his parental duties since he also runs a nightclub and is a metal sculptor. Alcohol and hot metal are great for parenting, right? Isaac is somewhat of an enigma.  He initially shows up as sort of an odd bystander as Adele gets her feet underneath her in the beginning of the book but proves to be a loyal and steadfast friend.  And really attractive. Desiree comes off as the typical high school bitch but grows beyond that role quickly. The handsome Italian brothers, Niccolò and Gabriel, are initially the good guys but also change throughout the book.  Nothing is as it seems in this book.

"Every species has their monsters."

The modern market has been inundated with stories where the vampires and other preternatural beings are no more terrifying than a puppy. They may have a hint of danger and show their teeth but you never really feel threatened. These characters are different. They are vengeful and have lived far too long to not be bitter and disenchanted with human lives. They are manipulative and calculating.  Talk about patient hunters. One character seemed to plan his return for decades, not letting his anger get to him.  The hurricane coming through was just the opportunity they needed to burst free and start terrorizing the villagers, so to speak.

Another part that I really enjoyed was that Adele was never really alone in her fight. There was always someone there, even if she hardly knew them, to help. Her new relationships are strong while the old ones seem to fizzle out. Adele definitely grew as a person in a perceptible way throughout the book. She was not the only one that changed as well. It seemed that everybody grew up as they confronted their wrecked home town and the creepy-crawlies that were out to get them.  This book does not have any stagnant main characters.  All of them grow and make progress as the city recovers around them.  In the climax of the book, New Orleans is having its first big celebration of strength and recovery as the main characters flex their muscles for the first time.

Finally, the part that really hooked me with this book and kept me reading was the historical aspect of it. Written like a diary, it captured so much more than flashbacks or secondhand stories or accounts. I had never heard of the casquette girls of New Orleans but it was a wonderful way to introduce history and flavor into the story. It made it so much more than just a modern fantasy story but took it back in time as well and gave it a past.

5/5 stars. I can't wait for the next one to come out.

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