Wild Beauty - Anna-Marie McLemore

For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

Lyrical, rich in detail, and full of magic, Wild Beauty is a feast for the senses. McLemore is a talented writer, and one who understands how to quietly and slowly develop characters and connections. Her previous work, When the Moon Was Ours and The Weight of Feathers, is similarly detailed, with gradually building plots and complex relationship dynamics. In this particular case, we are introduced to the Nomeolvides girls, who are always born in groups of five, and whose great loves always disappear. Afraid that their friend Bay, a girl they all love, will disappear due to their combined affections, the girls begin to find their differences leading them in different directions.

Estrella is the focus of the narrative. She accidentally resurrects a young man, or at least that's what she believes, and nobody is entirely sure what to do with him and none are quite sure how long he will be around. When Bay disappears shortly after, leaving her brother in charge of La Pradera (the land upon which they live and thrive.) With the future of their land and existence in danger, the girls and their mothers attempt to find a way forward that will allow them to continue on as they are.

The reasons for their magic and their connection to the land is steadily but slowly revealed throughout the course of the narrative, and the young man's connection to their future and fate becomes increasingly apparent as the plot moves forward. The magical realism is enchanting and keeps readers wondering about where and how they do what they do, growing flowers and connecting to the land in a way that nobody can quite understand. Magical realism can be tricky, but in McLemore's hands the story works wonderfully.

I think this is a book that critical readers will enjoy, that careful readers will savour. The richly developed setting and the deep and unsettling mysteries underlying the main and more urgent plot will enthral those with an eye for detail.


(NOTE: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out Sept. 2017)


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