The Splendor Falls, by Rosemary Clement-Moore

One of my least favorite romantic clichés is the Relentlessly Average Heroine. Teen literature is full of these girls: boring, hapless “heroines” whose appeal is limited to some passive attribute*. These characters are never outstandingly smart or funny or beautiful, but they attract inexplicable amounts of male attention practically in spite of themselves.

This is why I'm such a huge fan of YA author Rosemary Clement-Moore. Her heroines may not be perfect (far from it), but their charms are not passive. The protagonist of her novel The Splendor Falls is Sylvie Davis, a seventeen-year-old former ballerina whose career came to an abrupt end when she broke her leg during her debut performance as a principal dancer for a major ballet company. When her mother remarries, Sylvie is shipped off to spend the honeymoon with her paternal aunt in Alabama. Sylvie soon finds herself an object of interest to two very different young men, but she's more concerned about the hallucinations that have plagued her since her mother's wedding: glimpses of a Depression-Era shantytown in Central Park, a girl in 19th century clothing on the grounds of her aunt's antebellum mansion, an inexplicable chill at the site of a former Civil War prison.

Sylvie is irritable and defensive, frustrated as a hell by the way she has regressed from an adult lifestyle (a career, travel, independence) to a teenage one, and understandably worried about her mental health. She is also smart, attractive, and blessed with an iron will. It's easy to see why she was a successful dancer, and it's equally easy to see why she fascinates Shawn Maddox, the local golden boy, and Rhys Griffith, a visiting geology student from Wales, both of whom have secrets of their own. It's not that Sylvie is always a likeable heroine, but she's always an interesting one—and “consistently interesting” is a rarer attribute than you might think, particularly in the Twilight-rip-off-filled world of YA publishing.

In addition to Sylvie's prickly charms, The Splendor Falls boasts a solid ghost story and a strong sense of place—a necessary attribute, particularly when 99% of the story's ambient creepiness relies on the decaying elegance of its Deep South setting. (I was reminded of Kat Richardson's excellent Greywalker series, which uses the ickier aspects of Seattle's past to create a ghost-friendly environment in much the same way.) Some of the subplots are tied up a little too quickly and the novel's climax felt a trifle rushed, but this book was still a totally engrossing paranormal romance. I'd love to see a sequel, but—failing that—I'll be equally excited to read Ms. Clement-Moore's future books. I have no idea what she'll write about, but chances are excellent I'll enjoy getting to know her next heroine, too.

*The most famous probably being Twilight's Bella Swan, who attracts her vampire lover because of the way her blood smells. I wish I was kidding about this, but, sadly, I am not.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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