Poison by Chris Wooding. Wooding wrote one of my favorite books of last year, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray.
It's almost impossible to talk about Poison without giving away the ending; part of what makes this book wonderful is the twists and the unexpected.
The Plot: Poison is the name of the main character, a girl raised in the Black Marshes. One bleak night, her baby sister Azalea is stolen by phaeries and Poison resolves to get her sister back, no matter the cost.
The Good: Poison is a lover of stories, including phaerie tales. As she goes out into the world beyond the Black Marshes she discovers that having been a reader helps her out: much that is in those phaerie tales turns out to be true, or, at least, to have enough truth in them that Poison can triumph against the endless hurdles thrown in her way.
But then -- about two-thirds of the way through -- just as you are thinking that this is just another fairy tale retelling, another fantasy that is paying tribute to other fantasy works -- there is an unexpected, brilliant turn. Keep reading. I won't say any more.
This is beautifully written and there are tons of references to fairy tales and fantasy books. One of my favorites is a when a stranger encounters Poison and some of those who have joined her quest and comments, "At least you're not the typical muscle-bound warrior, beautiful sorceress, and amusing thief sidekick. By the waters, did that become stale fast." I love Polgara and Silk as much as the next person, but yes, why so many sidekicks who are both amusing and thieves?
Finally, Poison herself is -- dare I say -- delightful. Delightful because she is contrary, sullen, moody, altogether unexpected. She'd hate being called delightful, but how nice not to have a spunky, hopeful, cheery main character.
It's original, with a page turning adventure, unexpected twists and turns, references to other works, and believable characters. So one of my Best Books for 2005.