Isola Wilde is a tousled, wayward St Dymphna's student with a set of "brother-princes" and a best friend called Grape. She lives on the border of Vivien's Wood, where it is rumoured that Merlin is trapped in a tree. Her brother-princes, straight from her mother's fairytale book, are ghosts and mermaids and faeries and furies, protectors no-one else can see; her father rages at her about her "imaginary friends".
But they are not so imaginary. Magic, ghosts, and death leak and swirl and bite around Isola and through the wild wood. One day, as Isola walks the woods, she sees a stripe-stockinged dead girl in a bird cage, hanging from a tree. From here the book accelerates into a maelstrom of menace. Isola has to negotiate the world of teenage parties and the tentative manoeuvres of first love, all the while wondering what will threaten her next, which of her protectors she can trust, and whether she can unravel the mysteries of the woods.
The book is described in the blurb as "bubblegum-gothic", but I'd probably extend that to "bubblegum-gothic-thriller-fairytale". It holds plenty of tension, a few surprises, and a fair serving of heebie-jeebies. This is not your Disney magic, and these are not your Disney fairies; cliches are side-stepped at every turn, and even the teen romance, which is sometimes at risk of becoming a mundane, routine part of books like this, rang true and held my interest. I gasped out loud, I laughed out loud - I loved this book, and couldn't put it down. Allyse Near is solidly on my list of authors to watch closely.Content note for suicide imagery.