Book Reviews, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

The Changeling – Helen Falconer Review

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Rating:★

I was so looking forward to this book! A fantasy about teenagers caught up in the world of Irish folklore sounded right up my street as I’m obsessed with Ireland, but this book just fell flat for me. The writing and the story felt clunky and rushed, and before I was even halfway through, I was rushing to get to the end.

Aoife is an ordinary teenager growing up in the Irish countryside, but one day, she spots an infant girl running through the fields alone. Concerned for her, Aoife runs after the girl to help her, but loses track of her, instead running to a bog. She dives in, convinced that the girl is drowning, but the girl is nowhere to be found. Aoife returns home, and everything seems to be normal. Except that it’s not. Suddenly, strange things are happening around Aoife. For one, she has superhuman speed, and on top of that, the ghostly girl appears to her in the middle of the night, and her parents seem afraid of her. When she confronts them, they finally tell her the truth. She isn’t their daughter, but rather, she is a changeling brought to them by the fairies, who stole away their real baby daughter. Aoife is swept away into the world of the fairies, and she must decide whether to find her way back, or stay.

I was very intrigued to learn more about Irish folklore as it has always interested me. One thing that I did like about this book was the mixing of these ancient stories with a modern setting. However, the story itself felt forced rather than subtle. Things just happened without any warning, as though the characters were being hit by divine inspiration. For example, Aoife’s parents tell her the whole story about the changelings for no reason other than that she found some baby photos that they said had been lost. Similarly, later on, Aoife, out of nowhere, wonders if she can fly, and goes ahead to just do it. There was no sense of mystery or tension in the plot, no sense of the characters having to stumble through difficulties or feel lost. Any mystery or challenge didn’t last for long, because either Aoife or the other characters would just have a gut feeling about what they had to do, which I felt was a bit of a cop-out.

This issue with the plot made everything else about the novel fall flat for me. I couldn’t get into it at all because everything felt too orchestrated by the author, rather than feeling like an authentic story. I couldn’t appreciate the characters fully because I felt like I never really saw them struggling with anything, even though they showed potential at the beginning. Aoife seems like a good friend and a clever girl, but she always knew what to do. I was intrigued by the other changelings who weren’t aware at the way time was passing in the ‘real’ world, but we never saw them realise this, so they didn’t experience any big changes. The descriptive passages were good, but I wish that Falconer had been able to create atmosphere in the way she did here, in other sections. Yes, she could describe beautiful landscapes well and showed her creativity, but I would have also loved to have read scenes with suspense and fear, rather than only being able to appreciate the passages that were just describing landscapes. I love descriptions, but I would rather have no description and interesting plot and characters.

Overall, this book was very disappointing for me. I expected there to be a magical sense of wonder, fear, and mystery, but I didn’t get it at all. This was very nearly a book that I  didn’t finish, but I had been looking forward so much to reading about Irish folklore that I was determined to finish it.

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