Primary Category: Published 2016
Other categories: LGBTQIA
“Something wicked this way comes.”
Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them.
Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey.
Golden child Delilah is a legend at the exclusive Acheron Academy, and the presumptive winner of the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She runs the school, and if she chose, she could blow up Maria and Lily’s whole world with a pointed look, or a carefully placed word.
But what Delilah doesn’t know is that Lily and Maria are willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to make their dreams come true. And the first step is unseating Delilah for the Kingsley Prize. The full scholarship, awarded to Maria, will lock in her attendance at Stanford―and four more years in a shared dorm room with Lily.
Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school.
But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.
This is one of those books that I really don’t know where to start when it comes to reviewing. So I guess we’ll start with some basics and I’ll eventually feel my way into coherence. I’ve edited this review a bit since originally posting it as my views changed on it.
I wasn’t sure how much I’d like this book early on, but I did end up quite enjoying it at the time. I’m not as big a fan of it now, though.
As I Descended is told in multiple points of view, allowing glimpses into the minds of several different characters–primarily Maria, Lily, their friend Brandon, his boyfriend Mateo, and occasionally Delilah. All of them except Delilah are are clearly LGBTQ, Lily is disabled and lives with chronic pain from a car accident, and Brandon experiences panic attacks. Mateo and Maria are both Latinx and much of the story relies on Hispanic folklore of La Llorona.
Being the protagonist, the Macbeth of the story, Maria takes up the lion’s share, but there are times when she isn’t the best person to be telling the story, so the perspective shifts to someone else, sometimes in the midst of a scene. Some people would probably find this degree of head-hopping frustrating, but I found it easy enough to follow and, at times, a welcome break.
This is interesting to me because each of these characters is supremely different in how they interpret events and the other characters they interact with. Delilah, for instance, is supremely self-absorbed, if not necessarily as malevolent as Maria and Lily think she is, and as such she doesn’t really pay much heed to the reality of the events happening around her. This has serious consequences for her.
Maria’s the only character with most of the pieces to put together what’s going on, but even she doesn’t have the full picture when it comes to the spirits, though she comes closer than most given that she’s grown up with a sensitivity to the spirits around her. Lily is her Lady Macbeth–while not always privy to the exact goings-on especially regarding the spirit world, she is the one who presses Maria onward into doing despicable things all in the name of a full ride scholarship so they can go to college together. Of course, once successfully prodded, Maria no longer needs much encouragement from her. Their unease with what they have done causes them to avoid each other, which means neither of them have the full picture of what’s going on with the other. Bad idea.
As the story progresses and the bodies start to drop, Mateo becomes the most sympathetic character to me, along with Brandon, and his perspective was one of the few times I felt any degree of sympathy for Lily, who was a pretty brutal person from day one. I did, strangely, hang onto rooting for Maria for more than half the book even though she was doing horrifying things. I guess she was just that compelling a character.
There was a touch of biphobia in the way Delilah was discussed at times, though her actual sexuality was never clarified. If I ever hear the phrase “not gay enough” again, it’ll be too soon. At least the actual word “bisexual” was used in reference to Maria, who is confirmed as such, which is something other fictional works will avoid. So I’ll give some points back for that. However, I’m bloody well gonna take some away again for engaging in that good old-fashioned practice of writing a character who is likely bisexual who breaks the poor lesbian’s heart. Delilah was the first girl Lily ever kissed, and then Delilah blew her off right afterwards because she was just a “fun experiment.”
Also, the claim that Delilah was sleeping with teachers for grades was really gross, given: 1. the teachers are in positions of power over her and 2. I don’t trust the characters saying this because they’re looking for excuses to hate her in the first place. It wasn’t necessary. Girls can be academic rivals without one of them supposedly sleeping around for grades. In fact, wouldn’t it make the rivalry more compelling if she wasn’t? If either of these issues had been deconstructed in the text, they wouldn’t have bothered me as much.
And there’s a plot point about a queer person being outed without their permission by another queer person with the aim to hurt them. Just a heads up.
When I originally wrote this review, I still liked the book a fair bit, as is probably clear from some of the above text. However, sitting with it for a while and listening to what other bisexuals have to say has led me to harden my view on it. This book isn’t the worst rep I’ve ever read, but I’m really really tired of seeing biphobia in the books I read. It was a decent book for the most part, but this shit has to stop.