Summary: Briony is a witch. She knows because only she can see the Old Ones in the swamp around her village, and because her stepmother told her so. Now her stepmother is dead, and Briony believes she is responsible. She atones for the crime by caring for her mentally different twin sister, Rose, while her preacher father pulls away from them both. She knows she must never let anyone know she is a witch, for the penalty is death. But when handsome Eldric arrives in Swampsea, he befriends Briony and is determined to puzzle out the truth about her, while she is desperately trying to find a way to placate the Old One who has brought a plague upon the village for draining his swamp.
Verdict: Franny Billingsley, where have you BEEN? Never leave us again!
Positive: Uh, it's Franny Billingsley. As usual, her writing is beautiful, lush, and just spot-on, and her heroine is both prickly and lovable, cowardly and courageous. I loved the setting and the use of swamp/bog Folk. The twist on the wicked stepmother was nicely executed, and the secondary characters were well-crafted. Most of all, I think the portrayal of romantic love here has a great message, especially contrasted with all the bad boy/helpless girl pairings one sees in teen fiction these days. Briony falls for Eldric because he is trustworthy and respectful of who she is, and because his friendship helps her become stronger, braver, and more at peace with herself. She rejects her other handsome suitor because he's a pushy jerk in the style of the more typical hero.
Negative: The book doesn't really drag, but it meanders a bit as Briony tries to find a way to appease the Boggy Mun who caused the swamp cough without getting herself killed. Multiple sideplots sometimes left me feeling shaken around, as though more plot got crammed into the book than would actually fit. The bulk of the ending was fairly easy to guess, but a couple of surprises popped up nonetheless, and the stellar writing made getting there all the fun, anyway!
Cosmetic: The cover of this book is beautiful, but the languid girl on the front is NOT Briony. The cover makes the book seem much sexier than it is. Briony is pretty darn repressed for most of the story.