In “Crossed”, Eliza Crewe pulls off something unusual, an end to a trilogy that is satisfying, surprising and not focused on blowing stuff up.
You know how trilogies go: you’ve built up the power of the big bad and the scenario where you have to save the world and then you have a final battle and, with varying degrees of sacrifice, blow the big bad away.
That doesn’t happen here. But then this trilogy has always been at least as much about how we choose between good and evil in a way that is true to our nature. Consequently, none of the sides in this triangular struggle between demons, crusaders, and Meda and her friends have been either entirely good or entirely evil. Winning had to be about more than one side surviving. It had to be about Meda and her friends finding out what the right thing was and finding the courage and the ingenuity to do it.
I liked the twists not just in the plot but in the circumstances of the main characters. The twists are there to do more than surprise and entertain, although they do both. They are there to build empathy for incompatible points of view. We get to see what Jo is like when she lets herself of the leash, we understand that jovial Chi has a deeper understanding of events than he normally lets show making his bravery an act of faith rather than optimism. We see some of that nightmare that Armand survived. Everything that we learn makes right and wrong less easy to define but makes the bonds of friendship stronger.
One of the challenges of this book is that it’s set in Hell. This is tough in adult books but in YA books you can’t default to graphic sadism and you have to avoid a Disney devil feel. The Hell that Meda and her companions make their way through feels soul-destroying: full of despair and suffering and the pain of pretended pleasure used to humiliate and wound. Most of the really bad things happen off screen but that makes them bite harder. Jo spent four days alone in Hell at the mercy of demons. Not knowing EXACTLY what happened is more chilling than a sensitivity-numbing blow-by-blow account.
Meda’s character continues to be the main thing that makes the trilogy special. We see the world through her eyes but in a way that lets us see inside her, perhaps better than she sees herself. She wraps her comments in wit and sometimes temper but her comments go beyond insight to empathy, showing us what she loves and why. For example, at one point Meda describe giving Chi some news about Jo when he just wants to go to her. She says:
“I might as well try to make a lab puppy sit still in a room full of bouncing tennis balls. He doesn’t even hear me.”
This captures Chi perfectly but the choice of image also shows us who Meda really is.
Physically, Meda is one of the most powerful and potentially destructive creatures on the planet. In a more Jack Bauer, we-have24-hours-to-save-the-world-using-any-means-necessary worldview, Meda would have become more and more violent, wreaking more and more destruction, regardless of the cost to herself and her friends, in order to triumph over evil. Eliza Crewe offers an alternative worldview where Meda triumphs because she refuses to be nothing more than a weapon, because she will not give up on her friends and because, even in the midst of deadly combat, she is capable of feeling sympathy for the devil.
“Cracked”, “Crushed” and “Crossed” have given me a lot of pleasure. Whatever Eliza Crewe writes next, I’ll be reading it.