Friday, 21 October 2016

'As I Descended', by Robin Talley

Title: As I Descended
Author(s): Robin Talley
Release Date: 6th September 2016
Publisher: Mira INK
Genre: YA, Supernatural
Source: Publisher

Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them.

Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey.

Golden child Delilah is a legend at the exclusive Acheron Academy, and the presumptive winner of the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She runs the school, and if she chose, she could blow up Maria and Lily’s whole world with a pointed look, or a carefully placed word.

But what Delilah doesn’t know is that Lily and Maria are willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to make their dreams come true. And the first step is unseating Delilah for the Kingsley Prize. The full scholarship, awarded to Maria, will lock in her attendance at Stanford―and four more years in a shared dorm room with Lily.

Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school.

But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.

From acclaimed author Robin Talley comes a Shakespeare-inspired story of revenge and redemption, where fair is foul, and foul is fair.


'Maria knew exactly what she wanted. How much of her was real and how much was her playing at what she thought these people expected from her?'

I will be the first to admit that I am not the biggest Shakespeare fan.

I find him incredibly hard to read, as English is not my first language, but having studying him and his work in the course of my degree did do the trick to at least increase my consideration for him. I've always done better with adaptations of his plays than the source material, and that's why I absolutely needed to read this book.

'As I Descended' is a retelling of one of Shakespeare's most popular tragedies, Macbeth. I was curious to see how the original story transposed into a YA novel, as I find it to be one of the most intricate and layered of the bard's plays, and certainly one that is open to several interpretations.

What I wasn't expecting was to end up finding a new appreciation for Shakespeare through this book!

From the very beginning it is possible to see its deviation from the original, as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are replaced by two women, Maria and Lily, respectively. Theirs is the loving but volatile relationship that centers this book, and other than for the fact that this was a retelling the fact that it had LGBT representation helped with the sale of this book to me.

In fact, there is not a single straight couple in this book.

Ah, the freshness.

Early on I realized that regardless of the gender swaps, all the characters seemed to keep the first letter of their names in both incarnations, and on top of being a nice touch (along with the play quotes as chapter titles), it was incredibly helpful to keep track of who is meant to be who. I mean, with all the spirits roaming around and haunting the students of Maria's school, it was one less thing my mind had to worry about!

Maria seems like she has everything she's ever wanted: a loving relationship, a spotless school record, and she's on track to wining the Kingsley Prize, which would guarantee she would be able to spend the next four years with Lily at their dream college.

Only one person stands in her way: Delilah.

From what I remember of the original play (it's been a while), Robin really managed to encapsulate the heart of it in her retelling. I was mesmerized by the moral balance going back and forth as Lily pushes Maria to embark on something they cannot take back, and how it very slowly descends (get it?) and blurs the lines of what is reality and what is from beyond this world.

I am not a big reader of supernatural books involving spirits and ghosts (because I value my sleep), but it was the perfect setting for this story. Macbeth's 'madness' and quest for what he (thinks he) needs finds a home in the heart of a high school senior who lets herself believe in childhood tales and spooky rituals to make her other half happy. In fact, 'As I Descended' managed to achieve something that 'Macbeth' didn't: it made me feel as if I was completely enveloped in the story and inside the turbulent minds of its characters. Historically, moving it to the American south also makes perfect sense, as you can easily draw the parallels between the references to slavery and the Civil War and the tense relationship between Scotland and England and the uprisings from the original setting.

As you can tell, I have relied heavily on the Macbeth origin while talking about this book, and that comes down to the fact that I think if anyone that hasn't read the play picks up 'As I Descended', they will still have a good read, but will probably miss out on a lot of the meaning, layers, and even consider a lot of its plot developments as unjustifiable. For example, the entire book relies on the idea that Maria sorely needs the Kingsley Prize to be able to go to the college she wants, which in turn justifies everything she does to make sure she gets it. But, as you read, you can see that she is from a wealthy family, has a great academic record, and would probably be accepted anyway if she just applied. I went back and forth with this a lot as I was reading until I remember dear old Macbeth, who was pretty much in the line of succession, was best pals with the ruling King, but decided to kill him to take his place quicker because some witches told him to. I'm holding back from going on a full on essay about this, but the idea is that reading the original or having at least some basic knowledge of it seems to be almost essential to understand this story fully, which retellings of other works tend to do away with.

I read this book in one sitting, and with the further I went I could not help but feel like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. It is fantastically written, atmospheric like no other, presents plenty of LGBT representation, and will be like a dream come true to any English nerd.

Just... Don't read it before bed, yeah?

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