Have you ever picked up a book with low expectations and ending up finding a new favorite? For me, that is exactly what happened with Victor LaValle’s newest novel, The Changeling. I had never read any of LaValle’s writing, and didn’t really know what to expect from this book. I was a bit wary from reading the synopsis (which I think was different than the one below), because I felt like The Changeling could either be really good, or kind of confusing and hard to connect with. Spoiler: it was really good.
This is going to be a relatively short review, because I definitely do not want to spoil this book.
(From Goodreads) Apollo Kagwa has had strange dreams that have haunted him since childhood. An antiquarian book dealer with a business called Improbabilia, he is just beginning to settle into his new life as a committed and involved father, unlike his own father who abandoned him, when his wife Emma begins acting strange. Disconnected and uninterested in their new baby boy, Emma at first seems to be exhibiting all the signs of post-partum depression, but it quickly becomes clear that her troubles go far beyond that. Before Apollo can do anything to help, Emma commits a horrific act—beyond any parent’s comprehension—and vanishes, seemingly into thin air.
Thus begins Apollo’s odyssey through a world he only thought he understood to find a wife and child who are nothing like he’d imagined. His quest begins when he meets a mysterious stranger who claims to have information about Emma’s whereabouts. Apollo then begins a journey that takes him to a forgotten island in the East River of New York City, a graveyard full of secrets, a forest in Queens where immigrant legends still live, and finally back to a place he thought he had lost forever. This dizzying tale is ultimately a story about family and the unfathomable secrets of the people we love.
Like I said, I didn’t have very high expectations for The Changeling. But I was almost immediately impressed by the writing. It felt literary, but not overwritten. And it was simplistic, but still descriptive. This is the type of writing I love. And it’s really what drew me into this book. It was just a great reading experience.
I thought the characters were really great, as well. I loved that there was so much diversity – the main character, Apollo, is biracial, and his wife is African-American. I don’t know that I’ve ever really seen this level of diversity (there is more than just the two main characters) in magical realism, and it really elevated this novel in my eyes. I also liked that the author didn’t make diversity a plot point, he was simply showing the world as it is, which was very refreshing.
While this book turns into something very different from how it began, I did really enjoy each part of the book, and I thought they worked well together. I loved how the magical elements were introduced gradually, and the we learn about them as Apollo does. I love reading straight fantasy, but I also loved finding magic in the real world in this story. I’ve been searching for a great new magical realism novel, and this was it!
I do want to mention that there was a moment in this book that almost made me want to put it down. It was horrific and unexpected, and I had a hard time convincing myself to keep reading. If you are sensitive to violence, you might want to be aware of that before going into this book. However, I will say that everything is not as it seems, and it is entirely worth continuing.
)verall, this was a great book! I found it extremely difficult to put down, and, since I have a digital ARC on my phone, I picked it back up anytime I had a few extra minutes to spare (I finished the last few chapters at my desk at work). It honestly reminded me of what reading should be like, and I loved it.
★★★★★ – Obviously, I loved The Changeling. Which was completely unexpected. It was such an engaging read, I could not stop thinking about it. Magical realism at it’s best.
The Changeling is available in bookstores now! Get your copy on Amazon!
To get the audiobook for free, use this link to sign up for a free trial of Audible and choose The Changeling as one of your two free books (which you get to keep even if you cancel).
This book was provided to me by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.