As I Descended
by Robin Talley
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
Length: 384 pages
Obtained Via: I received an electronic advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is no way influenced my final opinion of the work.
View at the Traffic light:
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.
From acclaimed author Robin Talley comes a Shakespeare-inspired story of revenge and redemption, where fair is foul, and foul is fair.
Time for a confession: I have never read MacBeth. That seems even more unlikely when you learn that I have an English degree, but somehow MacBeth never ended up on a reading list as the Shakespeare pick. I’ve had to read Hamlet more times than I can count. I’ve read Romeo & Juliet, Julius Caesar, Richard II. . . but never MacBeth, so I was going into As I Descended without really knowing what to expect, and wow was I in for a shock. As I Descended is a tale full of twists, turns, ghosts, and betrayal.
In an effort to secure the honored Kingsley Prize, Maria and Lily come up with a plan to expose golden girl Delilah’s oxy habit. Of course, things go worse than plan and set of a chain of cover-ups and hushed talk that drives Maria to the brink of doing anything to keep her secrets close. As I Descended played on ghost tropes and horror story tropes more than I was expecting, but they were executed near-flawlessly. In fact, this book joins a list I can count on one hand of books that have a scene that legitimately frightened me and made me nervous about turning off the lights.
On the surface, As I Descended is a straight-up ghost tale, but there’s a lot of social commentary hidden below the surface. For the most part, the boarding school students are white, privileged, and upper-middle class. The location of the school has a history of racism and violence, which is often illuminated in the ghost stories that the students tell each other. Maria and Lily keep their relationship secret. Lily is also disabled due to a horrific traffic accident, and in her POV we often see her thoughts of how the other students view because because of that. The four main characters — Maria, Lily, Maria’s best friend Brandon, and Brandon’s boyfriend Mateo — aren’t straight, and there’s discussion of what that means for them in their school in each of their POVs. Having not read MacBeth, I didn’t know where the story was heading, so I have a lot of thoughts I’m still sorting out about the ending, which I’ll discuss under the spoiler tag. View Spoiler »MacBeth is a tragedy. You don’t have to have read the play to know that, so I knew some main characters were going to die. And. . . I’m conflicted on how most of the non-straight characters die in this book. There’s been a lot of talk about the Bury Your Gays trope. For the most part, I don’t think As I Descended plays into that. The deaths of most of these characters have nothing to do with their sexuality, and their character arcs and place in the story make sense. The one death I’m conflicted about is Lily’s. In her case, it really did seem like SHE died based on her relationship with Maria. And killing off the disabled character in the manner of her death is. . . hmm. I don’t have the experience to speak about it, but something about HER particular death didn’t quite sit right with me. « Hide Spoiler
I’m still sorting out how I feel about one particular plot point(the one under the spoiler tag), but for the most part I flew through and really enjoyed As I Descended. I think it would make an excellent book to actually read alongside MacBeth. 4/5 cupcakes.