Guys, I believe that I'm actually legally obliged to say this: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. (How exciting is that? No one's ever given me something to review before!)
Now that that's out of the way, let's begin. Foul is Fair is a book about a high school student with ADHD (or some variant) who quickly turns out to be a faerie princess and needs to rescue her father the Unseelie King before the seasons change on Halloween. If she doesn't, everything is going to go very, very wrong in Faerie and on Earth. And so Megan (our heroine) sets off with her friend Lani (who is a half-faerie, just like Megan is; both have faerie fathers and human mothers), the pixie Ashling, and the crow Count to rescue her father and save two worlds.
Now, let me get one thing straight right away: Megan's family are not "bad guys." The description of the book says that "if Megan's getting the terminology straight, it sounds like her family aren't even supposed to be the good guys." Whether Megan's family is actually bad is never really a serious question to be considered, because as soon as it comes up, it's easily put to rest. Megan's family is not bad. Faeries are not bad in general, just different. That one kind of rubbed me the wrong way, a little, because faeries traditionally come in two varieties, and those are evil and more evil. Well "evil" might be the wrong word. "Chaotic" might be more on point, and that faeries love chaos is brought up here (and the definitions do eventually get a little more complicated). But when it's hinted that the heroine might be more of an antiheroine...well, that's what I expect. Megan's not an antiheroine. She's much too "sweetness and light" for that. It didn't make me dislike her, or lower her in my esteem, but it did leave me feeling rather lackluster towards her. There's a reason for this, and that reason is one word: Tithe. Tithe is a book by Holly Black about a girl who turns out to be a changeling faerie and quickly becomes entangled in faerie politics. That heroine, Kaye, is much more ambiguous in her morals and actions and I think that makes her a more compelling character than Megan. There are a lot of similarities between Tithe and Foul is Fair, and the main thing that came to my mind, again and again, while reading FiF was that it's Tithe, but meant for a younger audience. You see, Tithe is marketed at young adults, but I think it really reads more as a new adult fantasy, or maybe even a light adult one. Foul is Fair shares many of the same central plot points but has younger, lighter main characters and adds in a quest for good measure--and lacks the romantic subplot, too. Again, this isn't a bad thing, but it means that if you've read other books in the genre, Foul is Fair is going to come off as very, very similar. I think that's just a problem with the genre, not necessarily with the writing. If you're going to write faeries, you're (generally) going to have to stick to certain tropes, or people will cry foul that you're "not doing it right." (Hahaha. Cry foul. Like the title. Get it? I'm so funny.) It also has this weird humor element that was also present in Eternal Vows, which made it sometimes feel like a parody more than a serious story.
One thing I did really like about this was that the authors (Are they both authors? I'm not actually sure. Books with more than one name on the cover confuse me.) include supernatural mythologies that aren't necessarily British or Irish. Lani, for example, is a half-menehune, which I gather is a type of Hawaiian supernatural being that really likes to build things. Mythologies like gods and titans are also tied in, though they aren't present; they're explained as being "sealed away," though how faeries bested gods I'm not really sure. That was a bit unclear. But it does work to explain why some "supernatural" things are present and others aren't: in this world, they're all real, they're just not all there. And of course, trying to include everything would have probably just resulted in a hot mess.
I'm also probably a weird person, because my favorite character in this wasn't even a main character and was definitely a bad character--as bad you can get in this one, at least. Peadar. Peadar is a redcap. He, at one point, tries to kill Megan. He'd probably like to kill Megan (and company) at other points, too. I loved him. Not because I wanted him to kill Megan, but because he came off as the most faerie-like faerie in the whole book to me. H'es not evil, per say, but what he's built to do is not what we humans would define as good. He's willing to work with others, for the right price, but there's a general menace about him that I absolutely loved. I wish he'd had more page time or that other characters had the same lurking menace about them. That's what I look for when humans (or even partial humans, or faeries who didn't know they were faeries) get involved with faeries, because those intruders are so terribly, terribly out of their league. With Megan and company, everything just seemed very...easy. I mean, objectively it's not easy to get an enchanted sword from a bunch of iron golems, but it still seemed easy. They got a little beat up, sure. Someone dislocated an arm at one point. Another person got slashed by a golem and another got burned by iron. But it still had the feeling of it being easier than it should have been. Again, maybe this is just because of the age group the book is aimed at. Maybe I'm too old for these types of stories now. But everyone they encountered seemed to want to help in one way or another, at some point in time. Some of these people had ulterior motives, but none of them were really that menacing, and we never really had to fear that things wouldn't turn out right.
So, what did I think overall? I liked it. It was a light read, a fast one (it only clocked about three hours total, though I split that up over several sessions due to other stuff going on) and it was well-written, without a lot of glaring mistakes or plot holes. But it did lack the dark edge that I absolutely crave in faerie stories, and everything came across as just a little bit too easy to me. I will reiterate: this may be because I'm not in the target audience. This comes across as a book aimed at the younger end of the young adult spectrum, and I don't quite fit there anymore. So yes, it was good. Terribly memorable to me? Not really. If I was going to pick up something like this again, I'd probably reach for Tithe before this one. But it certainly wasn't bad.
A solid 3 stars--with a note that Cook also authors a steampunk series, which might be more up my alley. I have the first book of that, and am looking forward to it.