Book/Author and Year Published: Bless Your Heart by Kimbra Swain (2017)
Age/Genre: Urban Fantasy
Preferred Reading Environment: On your porch
Reading Accoutrements: Sipping sweet tea
Content Notes: Classism, Sex Work, Child Neglect
If you read my review of Hypnos, you know that I can be picky about adult urban fantasy books. There are concepts that I have no interest in exploring and there are a lot of plotlines that I consider overdone and don’t really want to read over and over. As a result, I rarely go looking for urban fantasy novels. Instead, I wait to find them in the wild.
When I saw Bless Your Heart, I was excited because the concept was new to me and I liked the play on “Trailer Park Queen” and “Fairy Queen” in the series title: Fairy Tales of a Trailer Park Queen.
Grace Ann Bryant is a Fairy Queen, exiled from the Otherworld by her father (Oberon – King of the Wild Fairies) and the fairy council of the wild fairies hundreds of years ago. She travelled around the world, settling for only brief periods of time, avoiding connections with humans before moving on to the next place. Finally, Grace ended up in Shady Grove, Alabama, a small town full of unique characters and local authority figures who aren’t hostile toward her.
I should clarify: humans do not know that magic or fairies exist. The authority figures I am referring to are the Samhain – the ruling council of magic folk who do not reside in the Otherworld, who tend to be pretty hostile toward the wild fairies (I think…this is what I’ve inferred from the book and a little bit of googling). The Samhain have designated sort of “regional managers” who watch over specific areas and report necessary events to the council. In Alabama, Grace finds a Samhain member who is genuinely nice – and he even gives her permission to help the local police with certain investigations. As a result, Grace is close with the local sheriff, Dylan.
So, when two local children go missing, the sheriff turns to Grace to help find them. Meanwhile, the Samhain who has been so nice to Grace calls in a favor – watch over the half-fairy kid named Levi who got into trouble with a VooDoo witch and accidentally summoned a demon. Grace is handling both of those situations and the excessive heat of an Alabama summer pretty well until she ends up arrested.
Honestly, Grace is a bit of a mess. She believes in love, but doesn’t believe that she is capable of it; some combination of fairy genetics causing lust and her father being a womanizing asshole has left her thinking she’s incapable of commitment. So, she perpetuates her own belief by having only one-night-stands, never giving herself a chance to fall in love. She was banished from the Otherworld for being too self-centered. Being near humans for so many centuries has given her a sense of humanity and now she refuses to return to the Otherworld because she doesn’t want to fall back into her old selfishness. In general, she has these inner contradictions that make her relatable (if a little annoying at times).
That’s the setup. Sounds pretty cute, right? I lived in Arkansas for a while, so I was excited to revisit the South in this fictional book. The people in Shady Grove are friendly – one of the reasons Grace chose to stay in this town was a neighbor who brought her food when she moved in. Southern hospitality is a common refrain in this book, from the hostess at the diner to Grace herself inviting in a stranger in trouble. It seems like a pretty nice town, unless someone were to talk bad about the University of Alabama football team.
Where the representation of the South broke down for me was in the dialogue. The many dialects of the South are varied and unique to different regions. Swain was born and raised in Alabama, so I’m sure she was faithful to the region she imagined as she wrote the book. However, the accents and sayings read so inconsistently that it pulled me out of the story more than it helped me to immerse myself in the setting. It really just came across super cheesy – like she was making fun of people with southern accents, which made me sad.
Speaking of language, if grammar errors bug you, you might want to wait until this book has been edited before you buy it. There were a bunch of missing words and other little errors, nothing that a good editor couldn’t fix quickly.
Anyway, the reader comes into this story several years after Grace has moved to Shady Grove, and she has apparently helped the local sheriff with cases many times in the past – and even had a one-night-stand with him sometime in the last year or two. I had a bit of a hard time understanding some of the character interactions because the reader is just thrown into this world with no context. I think I understand the difference between the governments of the Samhain and Oberon, but I’m not really sure. Swain had the perfect device to explain fairy politics because of Levi, a guy who’s new to being a fairy. Instead, she leaves her readers (and Levi) swinging in the breeze trying to figure it out for themselves.
The concept and plot were good enough to keep me reading all the way to the end, but I probably won’t read the second book in this series…at least, until I hear that they’ve been edited.
Have you ever been disappointed in a book that you were really excited to read?