Never-Contented Things is probably Sarah Porter’s darkest book to date.
The novel follows two foster siblings: Josh and Ksenia. Their relationship is more complicated than just sibling affection. Having both come from broken homes and having spent time in the foster system they cling to each other as the only stable unchanging thing in their lives. Though the two of them believe they are in love, I would hesitate to call it that.
When Josh makes a deal with Prince and his gang, he and his foster sister are whisked away to faerie. Josh believes that he’s finally found a place where the two of them can be who they really are. The two of them can finally be together and no one will ever try to separate them. Or so he thinks.
Because Josh’s deal has a high cost. One that both he and Ksenia have to pay in more ways than they could ever think.
The center of this book is the relationship between the two siblings. You get both Josh and Ksenia as perspective characters in the story and that offers an insight into both of their mindsets. Josh and Ksenia bring out the best and worst of one another. Through their relationship Porter shows that sometimes it’s not the people who are toxic in the relationship, it’s the relationship itself. And for a book that deals with low-key incest it’s not toxic in the way you expect.
Out of the two of them, I loved and related to Ksenia the most. You learn pretty quickly that her past is a lot more complicated than Josh’s and she’s not handling it well. Over the course of the novel Ksenia has to learn to love herself and begin the process of truly healing. Unlike Ksenia, we don’t get to know Josh until after their encounter with the faeries and their influence on him has already taken hold. Porter still shows the decline of his personality as their world influences him and it’s very well done. I just wish we could have seen him before and not have to just go on Ksenia’s flawed perception of him.
I love Porter’s take on faerie. It’s completely original and unlike anything else I have ever come across. Porter breathes life into her other world by mashing up old school fairy tale rules with the american suburbs. There is still the nature horror that one comes to expect (think The Hazel Wood or Poison) but this time it takes place in an unnatural setting. The suburbs are an artificial place, completely controlled by those who inhabit them. The sense of dread Porter’s faerie-inspired suburbs evokes reminded me of films like Edward Scissorhands or The Stepford Wives.
Prince and his courtiers offer the siblings a perfect recreation of their hometown which they can run wild in. Except this new world is a ghost town which slowly begins to unnerve Ksenia. The setting works on multiple levels. By brings Ksenia here, Josh traps her in the one place she wants to escape, a world that reminds her of the place that would never accept her for who she is.
There are so many levels working in this book. Porter explores identity and how it’s effected by internalized trauma. That how we see ourselves can be conflict with the idealized version of ourselves that our loved ones have and that it can be heartbreaking. How relationships and love can define us, but how they can be used to control us. And how sometimes when you fix yourself you can put yourself back together wrong.
The further you get into this novel you start to see how Never-Contented connects to Porter’s two other stand alone novels. Never-Contented Things is full of complicated relationships, fractured personalities, the horror of the mundane and unfair magic systems. This is also the second novel of Porter’s that I have read that has dealt with a type of incest. It’s not technically incest in the traditional meaning of the word, but to quote a picture I saw online…
But what I think makes me love this novel so much is that there are no easy answers. All of the characters have to make choices and either way there will be consequences. This adds to the tension of the book that had me uncomfortable but unable to put the book down.
If you’re a fan of Porter’s previous novels (especially When I Cast Your Shadow) then I suggest you give this one a try. Never-Contented Things is perfect for fans of The Hazel Wood or anyone who loves their fairy tales dark and twisted.