A little late for Halloween, but oh well!
In Not Good for Maidens by Tori Bovalino, Lou has grown up in Boston never visiting her family’s home in York, England. In fact, she doesn’t know much about her mother’s and aunts’ lives there before they moved—so when her youngest aunt Neela goes missing in York, Lou wants answers. As it turns out, there is a strange market populated by goblins, who have taken Neela. And eighteen years earlier, Lou’s other aunt May nearly lost her life there. Determined to learn the truth of her family’s history and to save Neela, Lou returns to York to face both the dangers of the market and the dark truths of the past.
I read this at just the right time of year, because this is such a creepy, Halloween-like book!
This book is based on the poem “The Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti, which I haven’t read in its entirety, but I do know the basic plot. It was cool to see the references to the original, and the way the story has been updated to fit this modern setting.
Speaking of the setting, I liked the market itself. It’s dark and grim and quite gruesome at times, but has a really eerie atmosphere that is pretty effective. The goblins are sinister, and the place feels at turns crowded and isolating. That was probably my favorite aspect of the book.
As for the characters, I liked Lou well enough. She’s a bit of a typical teenager sometimes, very impulsive and slightly selfish, but I also understood her feelings. She’s been lied to, or at least had the truth hidden from her, for her entire life. And I also liked her love for her family and how that drove her to be brave and make difficult decisions. However, I didn’t think her character development was paced correctly—her transition from being aware that she knows nothing to confident and self-actualized was far too abrupt to really be believable.
On the other hand, I quite liked some of the other characters, particularly May. I think the flashback scenes from her point of view, set eighteen years earlier, were the best scenes in the book. Watching the goblin market, as well as her interactions with the goblin Eitra, was so enjoyable (albeit creepy at times, too). I also liked Neela and Lou’s mother Laura, though I would have wanted more time to get to know them both.
Overall, I think this book kind of suffers from bad pacing. As I mentioned, Lou’s development doesn’t really work for me, and the speed of the plot progression reflects that as well. There is a lot going on, from the May flashbacks, to Lou’s quest to save Neela, to Lou learning about the witches of York. I don’t feel that there was a great balance, making several of these feel rushed and not detailed enough. The final climactic confrontation was anticlimactic and left me a little disappointed. I think this book might have benefited from a rewrite to fix these issues, and it might have been better if it were longer, so it can dedicate sufficient space to the different plot threads.
In the end, though, I liked Not Good for Maidens well enough. The atmosphere is delightful, and the relationships between the characters are good. May’s storyline was particularly moving. But the pacing issues and underwhelming ending didn’t leave things on a great note. Also, if you’re squeamish, some scenes might not be fun for you, since the goblins are fairly violent towards humans sometimes. However, if you do like spooky stories, this might be one for you.