The Good Neighbors, Book Two: Kith
Written by Holly Black; Illustrated by Ted Naifeh
When I reviewed Book One of The Good Neighbors back in the day, I was struck with the maturity that Black and Naifeh brought to their story. Black’s known for The Spiderwick Chronicles and Naifeh’s known for all sorts of kid-friendly stuff like Courtney Crumrin, Death Jr., and Polly and the Pirates. The Good Neighbors, on the other hand, is about a college girl named Rue whose mother is missing and whose father is a suspect in not only Mom’s disappearance, but also the death of one of Rue’s schoolmates. I was impressed with how dark and serious the story was, but how at the same time Black and Naifeh kept the characters lively enough to prevent it from becoming oppressive. They continue that balance in Book Two.
At the end of the first volume, Rue learned that her mother was a faerie; the daughter of the Faerie King who was won in a bet by Rue’s human father. But one of the conditions of the prize was that Rue’s mom would return to her people if Rue’s father were ever unfaithful, which he was. Which explains Mom’s disappearance. The dead student was a related, but tangential casualty of another faerie-related matter. As it turns out, Rue’s paternal grandfather is planning a takeover of Rue’s town and the local faerie activity is getting out-of-control as a result. The trouble is that no one but Rue – thanks to her mother’s heritage – can see it. In Kith, Grandpa’s plan takes a huge step forward as he demonstrates how far he’s willing to go to achieve it. And those who oppose him demonstrate how far they’re willing to go to stop him.
So, I don’t know how you feel about faeries. They’re rarely near the top of my list of Things That Are Awesome, but I think that’s largely because of what Disney’s done to the concept. Not that I hate Disney, but they’ve turned faeries into Things That Are Quaint. Read the original tales – or, say, Mike Mignola’s take on them in Hellboy – and you remember that these can be malicious, scary creatures. Those are the kinds of faeries in The Good Neighbors. They’re intelligent, scheming, and utterly inhuman in their priorities and motivations. Black gives us the first hint of this in Book One when a flashback reveals the complete inability of Rue’s mother to relate to or comfort her daughter. When Rue comes home in tears because her friends laughed at her at school, her mother’s response is was to smile coldly and say something like, “How nice. You made them laugh.” Maybe it’s the parent in me, but I found that chilling.
Rue’s grandfather Aubrey (short for Auberon, I imagine, though it’s never said) is a fantastic villain. He’s tall, dark, handsome, and menacing. Everything that Bowie was supposed to be in Labyrinth, but fell short of pulling off. In terms of motivation, he’s sort of the Magneto of the faerie world. Tired of hiding from the less-powerful humans who once worshipped his people, Aubrey wants a foothold in their world. He’s picked Rue’s town and is already pulling together his plans to overrun it with ivy and make it disappear from human maps and memory. He’s also willing to trick and hurt Rue’s friends to ensure it all happens. Hell, he’s even willing to trick and hurt his friends.
Rue and her side – including college pals who barely understand or believe what’s going on as well as allies in the faerie community with reasons of their own for opposing Aubrey – are horribly outnumbered, but not outwitted. Rue is as fantastic a hero as Aubrey is a villain. She’s scared and constantly playing catch-up to figure out what Aubrey’s up to, but she’s resourceful and brave too. The problem is that she’s also half-faerie and though she’s humanity’s greatest (only?) hope for stopping Aubrey, there’s a huge part of her that wouldn’t mind so much if the faeries win. It’s a great conflict, not only for Rue, but also for the larger story as she and her grandfather face off.
I don’t know how many books are planned for the series, but I’m feeling a bit conflicted myself. While I wouldn’t want to see this story stretched out indefinitely, I’m all for following Rue’s adventures for a long, long time. I haven’t said much about Naifeh’s art yet, but that’s because it’s pretty much perfect. It’s doubtful that you’ll ever hear me say anything negative about Naifeh’s work, but it’s especially good here, with more realism than his stuff usually has. I especially love how Rue looks exactly like Clea DuVall.
Five out of five wicked faeries.