written by Jane Yolen
illustrated by Mike Cavallaro
Aliera Carstairs’ life is a series of routines: school and fencing practice during the week, fencing practice and gaming with her cousin Caroline on the weekends. She doesn’t expect or, rather, doesn’t dare hope for more than that. Until Avery Castle shows up at school—“Prince Charming all the way.” She tries not to fall for him, but can’t seem to help herself, and when he asks her on a date, it seems too good to be true. It’s on their date, in Grand Central Station, that Aliera puts on her fencing mask and suddenly the world is a very different place, a world where Aliera just might be…important.
Just as Mike Carey, Marc Hempel, and Sonny Liew did with their terrific Re-Gifters (Minx), Yolen and Cavallaro take a girl who plays a tough sport and tell the story of a cute boy who throws her off her game. In both books, though, the girl finds the inner strength to be more than just boy-crazed. She focuses her energies just as she’s been taught in her sport and emerges from her experience a champion. The difference is that Foiled is written by Jane Yolen, one of the grande dames of fantasy. So Aliera’s experience isn’t something that can be completely contained by the world we know. This is not immediately evident, though. The strong part of Foiled is that Yolen takes her time to set up who Aliera is. She’s the narrator, so we are given a clear look inside her head. By the time things go sideways, we’re as baffled and intrigued as she is. It takes a strong, feisty main character to engage an audience like that and Aliera is both, though it takes some convincing before she realizes it.
The secondary characters are mostly relegated to the sidelines in this tale, which seems to be the first of a potential series. But two of them stand out in their own way. One is Avery, the handsome young man. Like Aliera, we aren’t sure whether or not to trust him or believe him. By turns creepy and gorgeous, he is a young man of contradictions. It isn’t until Aliera begins to find her feet on her own that Avery begins to show his true colors. Caroline is the other interesting character. She’s confined to a wheelchair with rheumatoid arthritis, but her upbeat personality is part of what Aliera respects about her. The two play role-playing games together, an element that seems likely to crop up in any later stories about Aliera.
At first glance, the art seems dull and uninspired. The simple grayish teal color selection is so bland that readers might wonder at first why Cavallaro didn’t choose a brighter or more dramatic palette. But there is a reason and once it is revealed the whole package of the book clicks together perfectly. Cavallaro knows just how to draw ordinary teenage girls and good-looking teenage boys and he’s obviously done a lot of research in order to get the fencing moves correct. First Second has done a beautiful production job on this book, a fitting finish for a fine work. Give this one to the quiet teen girl voraciously reading urban fantasy.-- Snow Wildsmith