Book Review: Daughters of the Air by Anca Szilágyi

I received this book as an advance reading copy from netgalley.com

To be honest, I’m still at odds with whether I loved or hated this book. I have a hard time with books that appear to be real-life type fiction and then suddenly branch off into the surreal (I recently read Under a Blood Red Sky by Kate Furnivall and the ‘magic’ elements of it really screwed up the story for me. If you want to write fantasy, write fantasy. If you want to write contemporary fiction, write contemporary fiction. Don’t suddenly whack wings or gypsy magic in there because you feel you can! I have issues, I know…) Anyway, I know it’s meant to be metaphorical or allegorical or whatever, but in this case I felt the sudden sprouting of physical wings detracted from the story.

The story otherwise is good. Pluta is a runaway teen who has escaped her Brooklyn boarding school and ventures into the night. Escaping the memory of her father (‘detained’ in Argentina as an anti-government offender) and the strangeness of her mother, Pluta slots herself into the seedy underbelly of New York. There are some graphic renderings of her misadventures, which I liked – Szilagyi doesn’t shy away from showing what it would take for a 14 year old to survive and feed herself in this situation. Transposed is the before story, the family’s comfortable life in Argentina, her father’s disappearance and their flight to an estranged aunt’s home and Pluta’s arrival at the boarding school; her mother Isabel’s musings on what is necessary to survive makes an outstanding counterpoint to Pluta’s own efforts to survive.

And then she literally grows wings, and it’s all a little weird from there.

Reading this novel is like falling into a gritty, surreal whirlpool where you’re not sure what is actually happening, what could be happening and what is just thought about. The characters have a darkness to them, even the aunt surrounded by her dead husband’s wealth must have her secrets, and that darkness is reflected in the events and places of the book. It’s about the making and breaking of family and definitely pushes the boundaries in a way that leaves the reader uncomfortable and confused, but still wanting more.

3/5*

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