Nameless a tale of beauty and madness is a Snow White narrative set in New Haven after a magic revolution (The Reeve) unleashed all manner of supernatural creatures on the world. There are fausts, minotaurs, charmers, witches, griffs and a host of half-human-half-animal “jacks” – human babies that have been mutated by Potential (magic). Although there are some “mere-humans” still around, everyone possesses some Potential and can use it to perform certain tasks. Some of the most powerful supernatural beings refer to themselves as Family, and are essentially vampires.
The novel begins with the rescue of a six-year-old human girl who is found cut and bleeding in the snow by the head of the Vultusino Family. He decides to adopt this child and names her Camille, raising her alongside his son and heir, Nico.
The novel then skips to Cami’s high school years as she struggles to fit in with the children of the wealthiest and most powerful members of society. Her best friends Ellie and Ruby have both demonstrated a high level of Potential, but Cami’s power has never manifested. She is also crippled by social anxiety and a pronounced stutter. The only person she truly feels comfortable talking to is Nico; it becomes clear early in the novel that Cami is in love with him. Cami constantly reflects on her position as an outsider –“not Family” – however Nico and Papa Vultusino try to make her feel like she belongs.
After Papa transitions to the Unbreathing (becoming truly undead) Nico is left in charge of the family business, which involves being in control of the local police and all the lesser magical beings.
One particular concern is dealing with people whose Potential makes them Twist, leaving them cruel and sadistic madmen. Another immediate concern is the string of disappearances in New Haven recently, including some of the girls from Cami’s school.
Cami’s life is safe and privileged however she never feels right. Then she meets a poor orphan, named Tor, who shares the same scars she has. Employed by the Vultusino Family to tend their gardens, Tor instantly takes a liking to Cami and starts to invite her out on dates and steal her gifts.
Cami knows this makes Nico jealous and she fears he will become violent with her someday due to his anger management issues. She continues to see Tor because she thinks he knows something about her true origins.
Tor tells her a story about the White Queen, a beautiful woman who has a cult of followers, including her “huntsmen” who will do anything for her. He notes that every few years the White Queen chooses one male from among her loyal followers to become her husband and they conceive a child. This child is kept imprisoned until it reaches a certain age and then the Great Renewal sacrifice occurs, where the White Queen eats the heart of her daughter and becomes young again. As she hears this story, Cami starts having flashbacks to the night she was found in the snow and believes she may have come from the Underground, where the White Queen and her servants dwell. She runs away from home to investigate with Tor, who she does not realize is under the Queen’s thrall.
When Cami goes to the Underground she learns she is the Nameless, the daughter of the White Queen. However, ten years ago on the night she was meant to be sacrificed, she rebelled and ran away. Her father substituted his own heart and the Queen ate this, not realizing whose it was. After some time the Queen started to age and her husband started to turn into wood and she realized what he had done. She then began sending huntsmen to search for her daughter Above, while also bringing her back other people to eat. When Tor escaped from the Underground the Queen manipulated him to get to Cami and eventually bring her back so the Great Renewal could go ahead.
One of the most disturbing things about this text is the quasi-incest. Right from the beginning Cami is in love with her adoptive brother, Nico. She also spends a sizeable chunk of the novel infatuated with Tor, who it turns out is her biological half-brother, also being a child of the White Queen. However, the most disturbing thing is that despite the fact Cami acknowledges that she fears violence from Nico, she remains in a relationship with him (and we are left to assume they get married after the book ends). There is no satisfactory resolution of this issue.
This book is recommended for young adult and adult readers, particularly those who like fairy tale retellings or paranormal romance. It is a bit confusing in parts and takes a little time to get going but is mostly good. The chapters are well-spaced, the font easy to read, and the cover art on the book is beautiful.