Haffling is one of those oddities that is brilliant but obscure. The series is weird, surprising and full of the strangest stuff you’ve ever read. That is what makes it so brilliant. It takes familiar themes and creatures – fairies, fae, vampire, drug addiction, insanity, mental health – and turns them completely on their head.
Book One: Haffling
All sixteen-year-old Alex Nevus wants is to be two years older and become his sister Alice’s legal guardian. That, and he’d like his first kiss, preferably with Jerod Haynes, the straight boy with the beautiful girlfriend and the perfect life. Sadly, wanting something and getting it are very different. Strapped with a mentally ill mother, Alex fears for his own sanity. Having a fairy on his shoulder only he can see doesn’t help, and his mom’s schizophrenia places him and Alice in constant jeopardy of being carted back into foster care.
When Alex’s mother goes missing, everything falls apart. Frantic, he tracks her to a remote corner of Manhattan and is transported to another dimension—the land of the Unsee, the realm of the Fey. There he finds his mother held captive by the power-mad Queen May and learns he is half-human and half-fey—a Haffling.
As Alex’s human world is being destroyed, the Unsee is being devoured by a ravenous mist. Fey is vanishing, and May needs to cross into the human world. She needs something only Alex can provide, and she will stop at nothing to possess it… to possess him.
Caleb James is an author, member of the Yale volunteer faculty, practicing psychiatrist, and clinical trainer. He writes both fiction and nonfiction and has published books in multiple genres and under different names. Writing as Charles Atkins, he has been a Lambda Literary finalist. He lives in Connecticut with his partner and four cats.
Book One: Haffling
Haffling is like nothing you have ever read before. It’s fantasy, contemporary, romance and weird all rolled into one. And it’s fantastic!
At first, the book starts with quite a lot of information, but trust me when I say that it’s needed. There is so much we need to know before throwing ourselves headfirst into the story. We meet our MC Alex through his 1st person POV, which I normally don’t really like, but this story was written so well that I barely noticed. The usual problems with 1st person – not being aware of gender, age, appearance or having an overload of explanation about all three in the first page – were absent here. The way that we were introduced to Alex felt natural, gave us the information we needed up front and allowed us to feel placed into the story without feeling like we’d entered in the middle of something we couldn’t understand.
When it comes to characters, I loved how diverse and interesting they all were. Alex and Alice were the first two we got to know – showing us their small, hectic world that whittles down to having nothing but a roof over their head, welfare and charity to survive, because their mother is schizophrenic and can’t take care of them. Their lives are so lacking in wealth, love and even safety that I immediately felt concerned for their futures and what they’d been through before we entered the story. Then we slowly learn about their past and all the struggles they’ve survived until now, as well as their current dilemma of having to deal with their mother going AWOL so often.
Their mother, Marilyn, is actually much more interesting than you’d think, because she doesn’t get a lot of page time. She’s got an interesting psyche and a very huge part to play in the story, despite the fact that she’s not in it a lot. And I can’t explain why, but I promise you that it’s important and very intriguing.
Next up, we meet Jerod. He is the super cute crush that Alex has been harbouring in secret, until suddenly Jerod meets him outside Alice’s school, where his own little brother Clay (also a very interesting addition!) goes to school. Jerod is the stereotypical hot, flirty, charming and popular kid. Except…there’s nothing stereotypical about him. He is, in fact, so much more than what he first appears. Especially in terms of his slightly homophobic girlfriend, Ashley. (cough *beard* cough)
Things really picked up when Alex discovered the world of Fey, which kind of proved his mother wasn’t schizophrenic, but in fact able to see a world that no one else knew existed. The incredible attention to detail and imaginative world building really soared here, leading us into a world that was still somewhat familiar but also incredibly new and exciting.
Here, we discovered more about Alex’s fairy Nimby, who shouldn’t exist where she is. And, although we don’t get an obvious answer to this, Alex does figure it out in his thoughts, until it makes a whole lot of sense. There’s also May, who is the biggest troublemaker in existence, who speaks in riddles and lays vocal traps for everyone she talks to. Through her, we learn about Katye, May’s sister, who has a really good part in the last half of the story that impacts everything! Also in the Fey world are Liam – hottie and interestingly jealous of Alex and and Jerod – as well as the mysterious Cedric.
The entire story, while having so many characters important to the story, never feels over-stuffed or complicated. It’s a whirlwind of an adventure, right from page one to the very end, and keeps that momentum to a tolerable level without leaving us readers feeling the tailspin of too much action and no time to breathe in between.
On top of all of the genius writing and characterisation, James covers some seriously heavy topics – poverty, mental health, schizophrenia, coming out, coming-of-age and the prospect of having nothing but family to begin with and risking the loss of that family. But what makes this story so incredible is that there is a whole lot of believeability, in amongst the humans scenes, plenty of fantasy in the Fey scenes and still, it manages to cover these topics frankly, with with compassion and care. There is no judgment between the characters or an imagined prejudice or judgment from the author. There is only depth, trust and truth as the worlds – both human and Fey – are explored with intricacy.
Most of all, I have to say that the very best thing about the story was the romance. Alex and Jerod together were truly something fantastic and beautiful. Their chemistry was palpable and so strong that it was amazing to see the ways that it really transcended all the struggles, craziness and chaos that they went through from beginning to end.
The ending was fantastic, though I hesitate to mention anything about the last 30% because it’s a huge spoiler. But I can guarantee that it’s incredible and answers all of my questions, while leaving me excited to read book 2.
“Today on Sadly, Alex is still gay, has never been kissed, has a crush on a straight boy, is going to get pulled into foster care, is probably going to lose limbs to a crazy fairy, and just leaned that he might not be human.”