It’s been so nice to have Jacob Clifton’s wonderful prose and deep insight into culture and character every week again, but I decided to wait until this first act was done to really review it, because as with any serial, my impressions of Wasted Beauty filled out and changed with each installment. The only constant through all six parts is how much I enjoyed reading them, and how much I wanted the next part immediately.
The L.A. fairytale premise wouldn’t necessarily be my cup of tea, but Clifton’s folklore-grounded world building is both familiar and inventive, and like all other partsof the work absolutely hangs on Estelle. She’s a wonder of a protagonist, frank and layered. I first loved her as a narrator: you get the first person view of a new landscape from the ultimate insider, who trusts you to intuit the rules as naturally as she does.
The style, then, is full-tilt, giving you several layers of information in metaphor and reference to grasp on to and snaps at you to keep up; the plot is bouncy, making good use of the serial section breaks to race ahead or introduce a new element, and mirrors the ever widening AO of Estelle’s war on everything.
Clifton is one of the most intentional authors I’ve read lately, each aspect of the story reflecting each other, so even the bits that seem odd or misshapen are pointing you to focus on “why.” If there are times where information is incomplete or inconsistent, well, great, welcome to Estelle’s world.
And as much as I came to rely on these awesome facets of the narrator, by far my favorite thing about this story is feeling Estelle stop being a lens and start being a person. The same quirks that made diving into Fae courts and fancy parties with her start building to make a character who is as constantly surprised as she is insistent about her completely unflappability.
Estelle’s political skill and insider machinations show their limits to other characters (I love the Waldorfian strategy sessions with Troy: “What’s the best way to manipulate this situation?” “How about by not doing that at all?” “Fine, but I’m still going to act like a Machiavellian Eartha Kitt, that cool?” “Fiiine.”) and the reader at the same time.
As more and more of Estelle’s knowns turn into question marks, the flaws in her reads on key situations make her more real than ever, and fill out Gabriel, Troy and Selena in the process. Being inside the process of Estelle’s friends suddenly becoming more complex than she’d given them credit for is such a cool way to build characters. I can’t wait for more. —Kendall
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