Summary from Goodreads:
When Clementine was a child, dangerous and inexplicable things started happening in New South Bend. The townsfolk blamed the fiendish people out in the Willows and burned their homes to the ground. But magic kept Clementine alive, walled up in the cellar for ten years, until a boy named Fisher sets her free. Back in the world, Clementine sets out to discover what happened all those years ago. But the truth gets muddled in her dangerous attraction to Fisher, the politics of New South Bend, and the Hollow, a fickle and terrifying place that seems increasingly temperamental ever since Clementine reemerged.
Brenna Yovanoff has consistently offered good paranormal standalones, a rarity in a genre filled with trilogies or endless-ologies. I was looking forward to her latest, Fiendish, expecting that it would be just as unique and well-written as everything from the author so far. But, sadly, expectations were not met with this book. Fiendish had a promising, intriguing start, but failed to build, and then ended in something akin to disaster. I’m quite disappointed.
I think the biggest problem with Fiendish is that not enough is explained; the author leaves the reader in the dark on purpose, as there is a large component of mystery present, but then because of the mystery, things were left out that should have been filled in to complete the reader’s comprehension of the story. World-building, for instance. Clementine’s town seems to be set in the modern-day, only a modern-day where magic exists also. But that magic wasn’t really explained. There’s all this talk of “the craft” and “fiends”, who are supposedly evil but never really do anything evil. There’s also some mentions of a Coalition of Purity that went on a witch hunt, but it’s not explained much beyond some passing mentions.
And because nothing seemed to get explained, it was hard to follow along with the story itself. A lot of the plot itself circles around Clem and her magic and how it’s affecting the magic of the town. Which would be super interesting, if only I understood the magic in the first place! So I was honestly pretty lost for a lot of the book, which was a shame, since I loved Yovanoff’s turn of phrase and imagery quite a lot.
Clementine’s character was also lacking a bit for me. She’s spent the last ten years magically imprisoned in a cellar, but when she emerges, there’s no lasting trauma or disorientation. She brushes herself off, then goes about her business in a very easy, untroubled manner, and jumps straight into wanting to kiss Fisher. There is some emotion on Clem’s part, but not really of the breadth and depth you’d expect of someone who’d undergone the kind of experiences she did.
This is a book I really feel I could have liked, had the author fleshed things out a lot more and really given things depth. The idea and prose are there, but the foundation isn’t, and that makes a huge difference in how I feel this is, quality-wise. I honestly wish I’d been able to enjoy this more, but as things stand, Fiendish needs a lot more work. I’m not an easily confused reader, but this book was just…baffling. World-building is important, and Brenna Yovanoff didn’t do that here.