Review: Stray (Untitled #1) by Elissa Sussman

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Hardcover, 384 pages
Expected publication: October 7th, 2014 by Greenwillow
Source: Edelweiss

Stray brings to life a world in which royal daughters are stripped off all rights and groomed to be the perfect wives to men who will hold the true power in their relationships. All women are struck with a “curse” which allows them do magic where their male counterparts are unable to access the power. The protagonist of the novel, Aislynn, is stuck in an academy, as a princess but also as an outcast. Her ostracizing occurs for two reasons: one, she cannot control her magic and once made a vile rival hiccup frogs and two, her family is from the western kingdom where a rogue queen went against the Path and holds all the power instead of, as is appropriate according to the teachings of the Path, her husband.

The Path is this incredibly narrow collection of rules that state how a woman should exist at home and in society. The power that women innately have is considered evil and all attempts are made to control it and the women afflicted with it. What women wear, eat, say and perhaps even how they breathe are all dictated by this Path and let’s just say the Path is very constrictive and I would be homicidal if I lived in that world.

Aislynn is a very sympathetic character and I enjoyed reading through her eyes immensely. She’s remarkably contained even when she diverges from the Path and ends up becoming a Fairy Godmother instead of achieving true bliss (a husband, snerk). Fairy Godmothers, in Stray’s world, are those noble women who cannot keep their magic in control and have to be “redirected”. Their “loving hearts” are taken from them and they end up as little more than side characters who are forever looking in to happy families without being allowed to form one of their own. In other words, they are glorified slaves.

Stray is full of adventure, danger and daring feats of bravery from all the characters involved in the rebellion. Female friendship is present in the novel – not the whole shallow, you’re my best friend and I’m going to use you until a hot boy comes along – but actual friendship that grows as the characters grow. The romance itself is not the focal point of the novel but a welcome subplot that adds some spice to the story.

Elisa Sussman has created a chilling world in which authority figures take and keep hostage true power by whatever means necessary. She has created a heroine who, though not particularly brave, fights against the conditioning she has received from childhood to rebel against the only kind of life she has known. I recommend this title to everyone.