Review: The Replacement, Brenna Yovanoff

Happy All Saints’ Day! More to the point, happy anniversary, Saints! I will always love you no matter what. I am writing this post in mid-October, but I am predicting that I ended up doing nothing for Halloween. I am not a big fan of Halloween ever since I stopped trick-or-treating. I’m not good at designing costumes. Now Halloween is just one more obstacle between me and Christmas.

Ah changelings. I was griping the other day about the difficulty of creating a fairy world that has enough specificity to satisfy me, and although The Replacement doesn’t completely nail this, it does a pretty good job. More on that in a bit.

Mackie Doyle is a changeling. He is one of a very few children in the town of Gentry who survived to this age — usually when a faerie child (but they don’t call it that) is left in place of a human one, it dies very young. The people of Gentry do not talk much about this, but it defines Mackie’s life. He can’t be near iron, or even blood, without becoming sick; he can’t walk on consecrated ground, though his father is pastor of the town’s church. All his time is spent trying to blend in, a strategy that goes awry when his classmate Tate — herself a relentless truth-teller — loses her baby sister to the faeries (again, they don’t call it that) and demands that Mackie find a way to help her get her sister back.

What I loved about this book was how hard Mackie tries to fit in. This isn’t your usual high school kid feels out of place story. To Mackie it is literally life and death — he knows that the people of Gentry, for all their struggles to ignore what’s right in front of them, will turn on him in a second if he draws attention to how different he is from them. His aversion to blood and sacred ground must be disguised at all costs, as his parents are constantly reminding him. He is so focused on keeping cover that he barely has time for regular human friendships. Only with his oldest friend, Roswell, and his loving sister, Emma, can he begin to be himself. I would have read an entire book just about Mackie trying to navigate this difficult, hostile world without attracting notice to his differentness.

The supernatural plotline wasn’t bad, though. When Mackie eventually encounters the realm that produced him, he finds it strange and unsettling and alien, nothing he recognizes and nothing that feels familiar. I liked how concrete Brenna Yovanoff made this realm. When Mackie first meets the Morrigan — the more benevolent of the two women who rule various parts of the faerie realm (again! not what they call it in the book!) — she is wearing a gauzy party dress and has a mouthful of “small, jagged teeth. Not a nice, respectable thirty-two, but closer to fifty or sixty.” That is a nice little detail, and there are more like this, just small specific things that make the creatures seem unknowable but tangible.

The humans in the book, which is mostly everyone in the first third apart from Mackie, are very strong characters. Mackie’s sister Emma, the one person in the world he absolutely trusts and loves, comes off very sistery. Her concern for Mackie is strong and real and not overblown; it’s the kind of concern a healthy sibling has for a sickly sibling. I got a bit teary toward the end over this. I am a well-known sucker for sibling affection. And generally I liked it that the peripheral characters had lives of their own. Mackie’s father is devoted to his job; his mother has a sad backstory; Emma works on school projects and has friends of her own. Especially good were Mackie’s friends Danny and Drew, twins with a penchant for fixing up old broken things. They ended up being kind of important to the plot in the end, in a way that felt organic even though they hadn’t been a major part of the book up until that point.

The story of a changeling’s life after being switched for a human baby is something I’ve only seen once before — Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s The Moorchild, the details of which I remember only pretty hazily — and it makes for a fascinating and unusual plot. I’d definitely recommend The Replacement. Thanks to the lovely Jodie for the recommendation!

I have an insatiable appetite for changeling/fairy realm stories this fall. Why aren’t there more? Less rhetorically, what do y’all think makes for a really good secondary character? It can’t just be their having lives of their own. What are the traits that make secondary characters pop?

15 thoughts on “Review: The Replacement, Brenna Yovanoff

  1. A secondary character has to have something he’s been doing in the background all along and that he’s invested in and good at, that suddenly becomes important to the A plot. That’s certainly what happened with the twins.
    I love some of the ways you glide over plot points that some (not me, of course) might consider spoilers.

    • Oh gosh, did I? I didn’t mean to! Like what? I thought I only mostly said things that happened in the first third of the book, or else things that didn’t give anything important away.

      (I always worry about this. Since I don’t care about spoilers, it’s hard for me to know where to draw boundaries.)

      • I was not expressing myself well. You glide over plot points so they’re not spoilers at all–Mackie’s mother “has a sad backstory,” indeed!

  2. I’m really happy this was a good book for you. I absolutely think you should be reading her blog too, because it’s got lots of stuff you like. It’s about her highschool years after being homeschooled and it has lots of specific detailing, personality analysis, lots of interesting relationships and eventually, siblings hanging out. Also lots of working out that fiddly thing called love.

    As for secondary characters, I think your specificity is a big part of what makes secondary characters become ones you care about. They can’t just be average blurs(unless they’re blurs for specific reasons), they’ve got to have detail. It doesn’t have to be quirky stuff, but they should be sharply rendered, even if they don’t get as much page time as the main characters. And I also like it when they have things going on which are a little bit obscure to the reader. Like, they have interests and relationships we never get all the detail on but we know exist and are important – the sort of stuff fanfic could be built out of, because it’s left to your imagination.

    • Noted! I will add her blog to my Google Reader.

      I like what you say about their having things going on that the reader doesn’t necessarily know a lot about. That is accurate! I think that ends up being what propels secondary characters to the forefront in sequels, or in later parts of TV shows — the reader/viewer starts getting more-than-intended interested in the secondary characters’ “other stuff’ and demanding more of them.

  3. Really, a character who, when faced with the supernatural, doesn’t go “Ah, right, THIS is what I’ve been missing all my life”? Amazing. That alone makes me want to read this.

    • Hahahaha, seriously! Although I also don’t like it when a character gets some awesome supernatural stuff in his/her life and only spends his/her time moaning about the burden of having to do magic. The part of me that still secretly hopes I’ll get into Narnia or whatever someday resents this. :p

  4. Oh Jenny, you are so, so funny. Saints! I will always love you no matter what, is something I’m going to try to get into everyday conversation. It gives me the giggles every time I think about it!

  5. You say some great stuff about this book, and I thought it sounded familiar and it’s because I put it on my to-reads list, lo! many moons ago. The sibling dynamic especially sounds interesting to me.

    I’m trying to think of what makes great secondary characters great other than they seem to have lives of their own. But all I can think of are variations of that theme: that they don’t comport themselves like they are aware that they are secondary characters. That it is clear that the book only happens to have a viewpoint that makes them secondary, but in another world or book, they would not be the secondary characters. And yet, in a good book, you don’t want the secondary characters to be so much cooler than the protagonist, that you want to wander off with them more than you want to stay with the main story.

  6. Characters having lives of their own is really important, I think. You make this book sound good, and I like faerie stories, and Jodie recommending it now combined with you enjoying it = I think this needs to go on my wishlist.

  7. You ask for faery story recommendations, and I have two! There’s The Perilous Gard, which is a variation on Tam Lin. And Little Big by John Crowley, which does involve a changeling. (And if Proper Jenny were here she’d especially urge you to read Little Big. It’s one of her favorites. I liked it a lot but need to give it a second read to fully appreciate it.)

  8. I have The Replacement and keep picking it up to read, but haven’t actually done so yet… And, now I am going to look up The Perilous Gard that Teresa mentions above me. I love Tam Lin retellings!

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