The Casquette Girls

The Casquette Girls - Alys Arden

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

I'm not sure exactly how to rate this novel: I really liked the setting (New Orleans), but some of the characters' features sometimes made me roll my eyes. To be fair, this may be in part due to my own jaded views on similar works: I've probably read one too many YA paranormal romance stories, so the usual love triangle and annoying guy attitudes has become old for me. I regret not liking this book more, at any rate.

The setting was definitely enchanting, in a sort of twisted way—twisted because this New Orleans is one slowly getting back on its feet after one of the most devastating hurricanes it's ever seen (possibly Katrina, or at the least inspired by it). Infrastructures are in shambles, crime's on the rise, there's a curfew the police can barely enforce... And while I have no idea if this is an accurate depiction of a post-hurricane city, whether it would've been thus left to fend for itself by the government, I still liked that NOLA, for its blend of "post-ap" and people trying to go back to, and go on with, their lives there, keep smiling, keep the businesses running, and so on. Somehow, I could understand Adele's desire to stay there, and not be shipped off to Paris or somewhere else, all the more since it'd mean being in a boarding school and not with her family. It was still magic.

I also liked the parts about Adeline: a bit awkward in the way it was introduced, maybe (a journal), but her journey, the people she met, the stifling stay in a ship for weeks, knowing a threat was lurking and nobody could just walk away to escape it, those were interesting.

On the downside, the novel relies on quite a few YA tropes that I couldn't care less about—love triangles, good boy vs. bad boy love interest, female characters being talked about as if they weren't there and generally being a bit... passive, Queen Bee and Mean Girls at school, and so on. Granted, Adele was not passive for the whole story so I won't fault her too much for that, and the school part wasn't the main part; it just felt like the "mandatory YA dynamics being inserted here", when the actual plot itself could've done without that. Mysterious murders, predators waking up, Adeline's story shedding light on what happened and hinting at what to be done: all those would've been fine, no need for a romance subplot (which didn't have anything special going for it), that slowed down the pace to a crawl in places: I could do with the "slower" chapters used to describe the city and its atmosphere, I could do less with lulls caused by romantic scenes.

Some of the descriptions (told in 1st person) were a bit odd, too—on the purple prose side, and not very believable coming from a 16-year-old girl. I found this happened mostly in the beginning (darkness being described as "the obsidian", or "espresso-coloured hair"?), and less afterwards. I'm not sure either about the French words and sentences used here and there; some were alright, others sounded grammatically weird. No idea if this is how people in New Orleans do speak, but as a native French reader, it's strange.

Finally, I felt some subplots and threads were left somehow dangling. For instance, Adele's mother was thrown in here a bit at random, too close to the end. And I would've liked to know a bit more about Cosette and the native girl; did they have offspring or not, and if not, was it to keep the number of characters down? Sometimes it seemed like things happened by coincidence, as plot devices, and not naturally enough to be really believable.

Conclusion: The main plot (monsters and witchcraft, with events originating in the past) was good, even though not the most original ever—it's less about "being original" and more about "what you make of it" anyway. Yet I didn't really care about the main characters, nor about the romance.