This is a confusing book because I'm not sure exactly what it was supposed to be and I'm not sure that Mayer knew, either. It definitely falls into the "paranormal" category (I categorize paranormal as fantasy that takes place in the "normal" world, and it may or may not be urban--this is not) but beyond that, it's kind of a mess. The plot follows Lark (short for Larkspur) a bastard princess of the Earth Elementals who...apparently live in the redwoods in California during the 1970s/1980s. I'm not exactly sure why the time period was so significant; Mayer makes a point of telling us the period, but it doesn't play into the plot at all. Anyway, Lark's a bastard and, when she's ten, sees her mother and her baby brother murdered by her father's wife, Queen Cassava. (Side bar: All of the elementals have weird names that I guess are supposed to correspond to their element. Why an elemental queen who lives and has apparently always lived in California would be named after a tuber native to South America, I am not sure.) Lark's memories are then wiped and her significant earth powers bound, leaving her as a weakling for the rest of her life up until the story.
Obviously, the plot follows Lark as she struggles to regain her powers and her memories (the memories happens quickly; the powers does not) and stop Cassava from wreaking further havoc. Along the way we get to meet Coal, Lark's on-again, off-again boyfriend; Granite, the head of the Enders, which are kind of like the bodyguards/black ops of the elemental world; Ash, an Ender specifically in the employ of Cassava; and Griffin, a weird shapeshifter/something that lives on the edge of Elemental territory. There's also a prophecy involved. Of course.
Okay, so here are the confusing bits. The humans of the world and the elementals don't seem to have much to do with each other, but do work together? This isn't really ever explained, just mentioned in passing. So do humans actually know about the elementals or not? And the elementals seem like they're just humans with super powers? Are they or aren't they? The difference is never explained. Lark and the other elementals talk like they're modern-day teenagers, which they're not. The entire plot of the book is pretty much laid out in the first few pages with the flashback, so what's the point of all the mystery later on, all the to-ing and fro-ing? What, exactly, is Ash's role? Originally it seems like he might develop into a love interest (because Coal clearly isn't a long-term love interest for the series) especially a little later into the book, but that never happens. How does Griffin fit in to everything? He's an outcast, not an elemental, but he can shapeshift--which is something that only the strongest elementals can do. Lark can only access her powers in life-or-death situations, except when she can access parts of them all the time, and can't access them at all in life-or-death situations.
The story jumps from one point to another without much in-between, and it really feels like Mayer didn't think out her plot beforehand--she just went with it, and never went back to see if it needed adjustments in plot or pacing, which it does. As soon as something happens, it's completely discarded, never to come back and affect the rest of the plot. It's full of contradictions and things that could have easily been better fleshed out, but weren't. The time period and setting appear to be deliberately chosen but have absolutely no impact on the plot other than to confuse things further. I think this had a strong core to it, but it's way too much of a hot mess to be a great work over all.
2.5 stars; a good premise, because what's not to like about a princess fighting for her place and becoming a total badass in the process, but it needed way more work than it got before being published.