This is from Holly Black's series called "modern faerie tales." There are three in the series so far, and from what I can tell by reading Valiant, which is apparently the second, each can stand on its own.  I appreciate that. 

In fact, I'd like more authors to write each novel in a series as a stand-alone story--like a sitcom.  You can watch an episode and still get it.  I'm getting annoyed by cliffhanger serial endings, especially when the new one's not coming out for a year.  I guess that's what the screaming teenagers felt about the next Beatles album.

But I digress...

  • Grunge.  It's set in the squatter world, and it works.  I spent a whole summer with San Francisco squatters, and I can attest to the verisimilitude of some of Black's imagery.  Bug-ridden clothes.  Washing out underwear in bathroom sinks.  Drug addiction.  Violence.  Fear.  At times, I cringed at the smells, textures, attitudes.  A wonderful change from the flawless jerk/silent girl story.
  • Female protag who isn't a princess waiting to be rescued.  It was so refreshing to read about a girl who is hurt, goes Brittney Spears crazy, places herself in danger (with no one to tell her not to), has "whatever, why not?" sex, struggles with drug addiction, learns to fight, and loves a scary creature with teeth that rip his lips apart.  It's actually much more realistic than any of the other stories I've read.  Period.
  • Faerie stuff.  I know...it's the focus of the story.  But I just didn't get into it.  First of all, there wasn't any reason to the variance of faerie types.  Why did some have bird faces while others had antlers jutting out of their eyebrows?  What are their origins?  What are their jobs?  Are they evil, or what?
  • Reality/fantasy transition.  For the first 1/3 of the novel, we're down and dirty in the subway tunnels, watching the protag get addicted to some sort of faerie dust.  There are hints of faerie here and there, but nothing crazy.  Then ALAKAZAM!  Suddenly we're in a world where everyone has a bizarre name, horns, black lips, hooves, etc.  People get turned into dogs and then shot.  A mermaid is found murdered.  It isn't a smooth transition, and I found myself wishing I were back in the non-faerie world.  Maybe that's just my old, non-parapseudo preferences creeping back in...
  • Sympathetic characters.  Although I liked the variance of characters, I really didn't care what happened to them.  I liked the love interest enough, but I didn't really feel any chemistry there.  The dynamics between the characters is flat because the characters are static.  I'm ready for a story that has characters who move me!
  • Faerie tale?  I finished the novel and wondered about the point of what I'd just read.  It boldly claims to be a "faerie tale," yet it doesn't have the earmarks of the genre (outside telling us that there are faeries running around in a glamour costume).  Granted, in some ways it's the anti-faerie tale--somewhat like "Beauty and the Beast," where the damsel rescues the prince.  Still, I was looking forward to a thoughtful retelling of a story within one of the oldest genres in oral tradition.  I don't think it delivered.
I'll read the others in Holly Black's series when I need a break from the yearning helpless girl battling her love for the handsome asshole.  Black's stories are gritty, filled with F-bombs, and they don't play around with innocence.  I felt more of a connection with this protag than most of the others I've encountered because her pain is real--and even though these stories are set in fantasy, I still need humanity to provide an anchor.

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