Book Review: The Changeling by Victor LaValle
Hey readers! I hope everyone is having a great Wednesday. Below, I’ve got a review for a book I just finished. The Changeling has been on my radar for a while as I really enjoy fairy tale retellings, and it did not disappoint! I had to scramble a bit to finish this book before it was due back at the library, but I’m so glad I did.
Just as Apollo, a used book dealer, has begun to settle into life with his wife, Emma, a librarian, and their new son, Emma begins to act strange. As the signs of postpartum depression begin to grow in Emma, Apollo begins to pull away from his wife. Before Apollo can get her the help she needs, Emma does the unthinkable to their child and vanishes.
As Apollo begins the quest he never saw coming to find his wife, he learns that maybe Emma wasn’t crazy. He’ll venture to an forgotten island in the East River of NYC, a graveyard on Long Island, and a forest in Queens. Along the way, Apollo will learn that some fairy tales are true and that he might be able to get back to the life he thought he lost forever.
Can a person read too many whimsical books? I’ve been on a kick lately that doesn’t seem to be letting up. I just love the blend of real life and fantasy – it makes me feel like the world does have a little magic in it. While this book was whimsical, it was definitely dark and focused on fairy tales for adults, not the kind we tell to children, and I loved that as a change from the more light-hearted whimsical books I’ve been reading. “A bad fairy tale has some simple goddamn moral. A great fairy tale tells the truth.” I think this might have been my favorite line from the book as Apollo spent the whole book looking for the truth, even though it was painful, rather than sticking his head in the sand and pretending things could go back to normal.
This book sets up the story of changelings so well. Subtle hints are mentioned as the story progresses about the fairy tale of human children being replaced by other creatures and raised by those creatures who stole them. But the reader is never hit over the head with it. NYC is a great backdrop for this story, with plenty of well known locations throughout the five boroughs mentioned in the book. I completely geeked out way too much when my specific branch of the New York Public Library was mentioned in the story!
I also loved the smaller details that Lavalle did a good job of connecting throughout the story – you can tell the author paid attention to the small things when he writes and it made the story even more engaging. The story was filled with great descriptions, but wasn’t so poetic that it was annoying to read or slowed down the plot.
As Apollo goes on his quest (they never call it that, but it’s what he’s doing – there’s so many parallels to the classic fairy tales without hitting you over the head with them) he met so many dynamic characters who all ended up being so much more than they had originally appeared to be. I also loved the twist about Apollo’s father. I never saw it coming, and I think it explained a lot of questions I had from the beginning of the book. The ending wasn’t the most surprising part of the plot, but I enjoyed it all the same. I have so many questions about what happens next for the characters, but I’ll have to live with how the author left the story–they “lived happily today”.
Rating 4/ 5 – I loved this darker fairy tale re-telling. If you’re into whimsical, fairy tales, or just want a good read, pick this one up!