There are some books that are just filled with cotton candy joy, and despite the often dark content, The Fascinators is that book. Maybe it’s the mood set by the whimsical cover or the heavy theme of friendship. Whatever the cause, despite its many faults, Eliopulos’ new YA fantasy is the easy, fun read we need to get through these bleak times.
The plot of The Fascinators starts slow as the main narrative revolves around the relationships between the characters, while a more sinister plotline develops in the background until the two meet later in an (admittedly lackluster) climax.
Sam, whose perspective takes up the majority of the novel, is loyal and tries to do right by the people he loves. I found him to be earnest and real in his worries, hopes, and struggles. I wish he’d taken more agency in his life, as it seemed most of what he did depended on those around him, but when it really mattered he acted, so I suppose that’s all that can be asked.
James is one of Sam’s best friends and his longtime crush. I would have loved to see him on the page more when he and Sam weren’t at odds, or when Denver wasn’t in the picture, because we only really got that in memories. My impression of James was that he’s a normal person dealing with a lot of crap, and like many of the side characters, has some mystical element to him.
Delia is Sam’s other best friend. She’s determined, intelligent, and easily my favorite character in the novel. I can’t say much about why without major spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that. Denver, the other love interest, didn’t add much to the story as a character. He didn’t have a clear purpose or goal except to join the club and maybe get a date with Sam. He read more like a plot device, which dragged down the romance aspect of the novel. While his character was necessary to the aspect of the plot relating to Sam’s and James’ relationship, his lack of depth is disappointing.
The characters aren’t especially memorable, but upon reflection, I’m not sure that they’re meant to be. They’re just typical teenagers, dealing with not-so-typical problems. Their blandness (to put it harshly) is an asset in drawing the reader into their world, which is itself one that’s easy to imagine and supplant oneself into. After all, the magick club is treated like the math team at any school might be, and magick itself seems normal if taboo in a town comprised of an abundance of religious zealots.
That relatively complete assimilation of magick into an otherwise very mundane world is the main reason I appreciated The Fascinators so much, along with the magick itself, which is theoretical and difficult to perform. The world has a very unique quality to it that I’ve yet to find, even in other urban fantasy books, likely because there’s less focus on the magick and magickal community.
The Fascinators is most notable in its potential, but can still make for an enjoyable read for a person who enjoys character-driven MG or YA fantasy.