The Story: The Wings series by Aprilynne Pike, which consists of four books (Wings, Spells, Illusions, and Destined), tells the story of Laurel, a seemingly ordinary teenage girl whose life is rather hum-drum until she discovers a lump in the middle of her back that grows faster and larger than your average pimple. When the lump bursts open to reveal majestic flower petals, Laurel realizes she’s more than Human. In fact, she’s not even Human; she’s a faerie who has been orphaned in the Human world in order to protect the gateway to Avalon, the faerie realm. Thus, the series follows Laurel’s struggles to decide where she belongs – the Human world she has always known or Avalon, her birth home.
Other than fairy tales, which often don’t actually feature fairies, I haven’t read that many fairy-based books; so I was eager for this series. Not to mention the covers are gorgeous, especially for the first book, Wings. But like many books that sound good and look good but ultimately turn out to be mediocre, so was the case with this series.
To be fair, Pike presents an interesting interpretation of faerie mythology by linking faerie magic to the four seasons, which also serve as names of the faerie castes. While I trust this isn’t entirely original, I liked the way it was executed and it’s a fun concept to play with. Likewise, faeries in the Wings world are not your typical Tinkerbell-types as they are more akin to plants – they lack internal organs and blood, possess plant cells, sprout flightless blossoms on their backs, and reproduce through pollination. I can honestly say that I’ve never read any story that utilized this concept of tying fairies to nature in this way, and I thought it was one of the series’ brighter moments. Overall, the mythology and world-building were fairly solid though I did want the story to spend a little more time in Avalon, especially in Spells and Illusions, since the caste/magic system is one of the more intriguing aspects of the series.
Character-wise though, the series falters. Laurel is a passable heroine and her potion-making abilities are interesting but they could have been better utilized in conjunction with more of a focus on the faerie realm and its magic. Likewise, aside from her faerie heritage, she is a bit colorless as there was very little in terms of connecting to her on a deeper emotional level, at least for me. I actually felt sorrier for Yuki who ends up being a pawn in the antagonist’s schemes. Yuki inspires dread because she is a Winter faerie, which adds some much-needed tension, but, again, I wanted to see more regarding her use of magic and uncover exactly why a Winter faerie’s magic was so feared.
In fact, that was a big problem for me story-wise with this series – the promise of a magical world minus the focus on magic. For most of the time in these books, we see Laurel and her faerie friends and foes engage in skirmishes and teenage drama, neither of which are nearly as engaging as the world in which they occur. I do bring this up as a fault because if you’re going to have a book about faeries, you have to have magic! And while there is magic, it’s not the focal point, at least it’s not a large enough focal point to my liking, and especially not for a book series touted as having a focus on magical creatures.
Speaking of characters and creatures, the cast here, as a whole, was boring. The fairies were interesting thanks to their mythology, but the trolls were simply sniveling baddies who were too cartoonish to serve as genuine villains. Similarly, the Human characters, such as Laurel’s Human parents, were as flat as warm soda. Laurel’s Human boyfriend, David, is not quite as faceless as he is eventually given a traditional heroic role, which I liked, but all of the obligatory high school drama and crushes failed to hold my attention.
Similarly, the love triangle between Laurel, David, and Tamani was trite with nothing new in the way their “romance” blossoms (pun intended). Laurel loves David, then Laurel learns she and Tamani had feelings for each other before she was taken to live with the Humans. She pledges loyalty to David but finds Tamani so cute and attractive, how can she say no? In Laurel’s eyes, Tamani was so…was beautiful the right word? It seemed like the right word. Whatever he was, she could hardly pull her eyes away from him. (And in case you were wondering, no, I did not put those ellipsis in.)
Seriously, enough with love triangles, especially ones using this tried, true, and terribly trite formula: one plain Jane + one boy-next-door + one hot boy. It’s not that I dislike love triangles as I believe they can be done well, but most of them just seem to follow this formula with really no purpose as to why other than it’s trendy. I suppose it wouldn’t irk me so much but the “romance” touted in most “love” triangles isn’t actually romance but infatuation. There is a big difference. Infatuation is dreamy and sentimental without any deep-seated concern for the other person. Romance, in contrast, is based on caring deeply for the other person and relies upon love and respect, which goes far beyond caring only about how “hot” someone are. The Laurel-David-Tamani triangle follows the former route where characters gush over each other but rarely demonstrate anything beyond a third-grader’s level of understanding when it comes to relationships. The only exception would be David who, at least in the last book, gets a chance to become a true hero. But this development of his character comes a little too late to save him from being just another ingredient in the insta-love love triangle pie.
In terms of writing, this series is passable and won’t challenge your mind but won’t offend your sensibilities either. I caught myself speed reading more times than not because the writing just didn’t capture my eye as it lacks color and variation. Essentially, nothing here causes it to stand out from the rash of similar YA novels. The prose simply works to move the story along and nothing more. For instance, remember those earlier lines I quoted where Laurel describes Tamani? That’s a good example of how descriptions tend to be in these novels as everything is spelled out in rather basic terms. Thus, Tamani is beautiful, Laurel’s blossom as beautiful, Avalon is beautiful…
In the end, the Wings series is just okay. It does have an interesting take on faeries, which provides more than a few bright moments, but ultimately it isn’t very memorable. I suppose fans of faerie-centered novels might enjoy this but, for me, this is just a standard urban fantasy YA read complete with teenage drama, insta-love, and a far-from-compelling antagonist.
Language – Some PG-level profanities occur but these are not pervasive.
Violence – There are scenes of tense action in each book where characters’ lives are in danger but these fall more into the category of fantasy violence as opposed to graphic harm or gore. The trolls are depicted as hideously ugly but not necessarily frightening. In my head, I imagined them to look more like Shrek (yes, I know – he’s an ogre, not a troll) than anything I should honestly be scared of.
Sexual Material – While there is blatant infatuation and sexual tension, there is no actual sex. However, Laurel goes a bit too far than what would be prudent with David and Tamani as far as her affections are concerned. Sex is briefly discussed in a non-graphic manner as Tamani explains how faeries procreate through pollination and that faeries have “real” sex for recreation only. Faeries also don’t marry, which means they can engage in commitment-free, casual sex as long as the man keeps his hands off the woman’s blossom to avoid accidental pollination. (It’s okay if you chuckled or rolled your eyes at that last bit – you’re not alone.)
Overall, the Wings series is like cotton candy for the brain – fun, easy to digest, and relatively harmless. But much like cotton candy, Wings fails to satisfy a good book craving as it’s just empty literary calories. It’s teen fantasy fare that is light and relatively entertaining, but the lack of strong character development, presence of an overly-emotive trite teenage love triangle, and use of a slightly insipid writing style make it just a passable series for chiefly the faerie fanatics among us.