Member Review

Cover Image: Foul is Fair

Foul is Fair

Pub Date:

Review by

Georgiana D, Reviewer

My Recommendation

This is a loose modern retelling of Macbeth, based around a wealthy Californian high school girl who is drugged and gang raped at a party, then proceeds to murder — or provoke others into murdering — each of the assailants and their accomplices in turn. And yes, it is about as dark and shocking as that summary suggests. It’s definitely not for everyone. I’d stay away if you’re uncomfortable with violence, prefer relatively nice protagonists or are looking for a cheery or light-hearted read. There were one or two points where it started to push up against my pretty high threshold for dark reads and morally gray/villainous protagonists, but on the whole, I really enjoyed this. 

The story is all in first person, and a lot of what makes it a standout read is a combination of Jade, the protagonist’s, characterisation and her voice. Rather unusually, she’s a bit of a mean girl type — or perhaps something worse — even before she faces the rape or goes on her revenge spree. Both she and her group of best friends could easily be the bitchy, bullying antagonists in a more stereotypical YA novel or film, and theirs isn’t a perspective you see all that often. It creates quite a different dynamic and makes you feel a bit more uncomfortable in rooting for her bloody schemes than if she was a generally sweet person who got pushed over the edge. But it also makes her fun to read, even in the novel’s darkest moments. Her narrative is brimming with energy, drama and life and sweeps you along.

 It’s fair to say that a good deal of the plot is a bit far-fetched and not entirely believable. But basically, there’s no point looking for realism or picking out plot holes. You need to suspend your disbelief in much the same way you would with a contemporary fantasy novel and just go with the flow. 

There’s a very diverse main cast in terms of race, gender, and sexuality. Off the top of my head,  the MC is of Indian descent, her absolute best friend is trans, and her other two best friends, one of whom is of Asian heritage, have a will they/won’t they lesbian romance sub-plot. What’s quite nice is that all of these facts are just slotted subtly into the narrative without them being a big deal. No one is coming out or facing bullying over any of these characteristics (other than in a brief flashback to some transphobic bullying back in middle school, which the friends also got revenge over). It’s particularly refreshing to see this diversity in the context of a group of characters who are a part of the popular clique and who are unashamedly allowed to do bad things. And the strength of the four girls’ friendship was oddly heartwarming in the midst of all the darkness.

Conversely, all the characters — protagonists, antagonists, love interests and secondary characters — are, to a greater or lesser extent, very rich and very hot. They’re also all generally pretty unpleasant and not that happy. Beyond the rapist boys and the murderous girls, there’s a general undercurrent of more minor cruelties and unpleasantness —unhappy relationships, backstabbing frenemies, distant parents, broken homes — that made me feel a bit tired at times. And whole swathes of the plot require you to really buy into the idea of school popularity mattering hugely. The equivalent to the original Macbeth’s attempts to become King of Scotland is people trying to become “King of the School.” I can’t say that’s something I found it really easy to identify with, but again, you need to go with it. 

This review probably sounds a bit conflicted, even though I’ve given a 4 star rating. And that’s totally fair. The book took me on a bit of a roller coaster and that there were bits where I was loving it and bits where I was less sure. But I suspect that’s the sort of reaction the author wants to illicit. As I said above, it’s not for everyone, but if this sounds like something you might be interested in and the themes don’t sound too alarming, I’d strongly recommend giving it a go.

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