From the BLURB:
Mackie Doyle is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is fighting to survive in the human world.
Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate's baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs.
‘The Replacement’ is Brenna Yovanoff’s debut novel.
Something has been happening in the small town of Gentry. Something nobody talks about, but everyone knows. Children are snatched in the middle of the night. . . replaced by almost look-alikes that aren’t human and don’t belong – changelings.
‘The Replacement’ is the story of one changeling who grew into a teenager. Malcolm ‘Mackie’ Doyle was found in his crib one night, with dark eyes, pale skin and sharp teeth. He replaced the local reverend’s real son, but the family kept Mackie all the same. . . When we meet Mackie he is a young man coping with never fitting in.
In a town like Gentry, where the residents know but never speak of the ‘others’, Mackie just wants to keep his head down and coast along without attracting attention. So he tries to keep quiet about his aversion to iron (not easy in modern society when it’s in cars, people’s blood and the lunch trays in the school cafeteria). He tries not to let show how tired he always is, or the constant hum of pain.
But then the little sister of his classmate, Tate, is mysteriously killed. Everyone in Gentry is resigned to the little girl’s fate. . . but Tate won’t go so gently into that good night. She does what nobody else will – asks for Mackie’s help. Because she knows that Mackie is different, and she knows that her sister is out there, somewhere.
Now Mackie has to decide to be brave enough and admit his difference and put an end to Gentry’s secrecy.
I loved the premise of ‘The Replacement’. Changelings are a real focus in Western European folklore and folk religion – there are fascinating superstitions and wards against the stealing of human children and consequences for believed changelings. So I was really interested in a young adult paranormal book that had a changeling for a protagonist. And really, the concepts behind ‘The Replacement’ are complex and fascinating. Yovanoff has the basis for a great story here. But there was a lag between concept and execution, for me at least.
It’s hard to precisely articulate where the problem lied for me with this book. The ‘trigger’ for the plot is fairly immediate, with Tate’s little sister being declared dead in the opening chapter and Tate turning her (unwanted) attention to Mackie. But the pace remains sluggish for the first half of the book. It’s partly because Mackie is eighteen years old and has been living with his ‘otherness’ for all that time. So when we first meet him Mackie has accepted that he is different, has gotten used to hiding his true nature and is terrified of being found out. When Tate’s little sister goes missing Mackie’s first instinct is to act like the rest of the town – offer condolences but nothing more, don’t act overly interested and hope that the whole thing blows over in a few months.
But a slow pace is still a slow pace, regardless of the storyline’s justification, and it makes this reading a hard slog.
Even when the story does pick up, with Mackie meeting Gentry’s fae population, it still feels like the pace is set in slow motion. It’s mostly due to the fact that character’s reactions and impulses come across as underwhelming and artificial. It’s hard to explain – but little things like Mackie remaining outwardly calm and blasé when he meets the local fae queen didn’t connect with me. Mackie’s best friend talks around Mackie’s phobias and aversions to iron, all the while knowing the reasons behind it but refusing to directly address. All of this I found awkward and unbelievable.
And when Mackie starts meeting the various fae residents and rock stars, he remains aloof and almost uninterested in learning about his true heritage. It’s partly due to the fact that he wants to remain calm and not let them know how scared he is, but all the lack of reaction made reading this book a tad boring.
“Do you really want to know where we come from?” she said. “In every century, in every country, they’ll call us something different. They’ll say we’re ghosts, angels, demons, elemental spirits, and giving us a name doesn’t help anybody. When did a name ever change what someone is?”And that was something I understood. Because it didn’t matter how often my dad called me Malcolm or introduced me as his son. It just made things worse. In fact, saying it once always seemed to make him say it again, like once it was out, he had to keep repeating it, so many times it just lost meaning.
Things do pick up towards the end, for a number of spoiler-related reasons. But throughout the book I was frustrated and disengaged because no characters had relatable reactions to situations or dialogue. I read to feel something, and I didn’t feel anything in this book. There was a big disconnect, a big hollow place where as a reader I never had a moment of connection with any of the characters or their dilemmas.
Yovanoff’s writing is beautiful and precise; the basic concept is interesting and steeped in old world folklore. But overall this book left me cold. I feel like my rating is based a lot on what could have been, because I had such high hopes for a wonderful blurb. Oh well.