This felt a little like Charles de Lint in its exploration of extreme misery and child abuse overlaid with magical assistance. One thing I will say for de Lint, though, is that at least he never rubbed my face in a toddler's point-of-view scene of child rape. Thank you for that. I'm not marking that as a spoiler, because a) it was almost inevitable and b) everyone should know about that going in. I wish I had. I probably wouldn't have read it if I'd known. There unfortunately is no such actual thing as brain bleach.
In the end, the book adopts an appropriately fairy tale pretty-darn-near-happily-ever-after stance... but that, in truth, makes it a terribly sad ending. Very few of the problems are fixed - the child who was molested, for one, will never be what she might have been, and neither will her brother, and that could have and should have been prevented; the Cinderella stand-in is worse off than she was in the beginning, and the plotline did her horse no favors at all. And, on a larger scale, the dismal plot devices of poverty and violence and drugs and abuse and murder are all too real - they are present in every city (or any other gathering of human beings). There are no fairy godmothers - or if they do exist they have rigorously avoided me all my life. And while most bureaucracies are not - I don't think - quite as bad as the one depicted here as far as ill intent, they're anything but perfect, and always overwhelmed. And there isn't anyone to swan in on a cloud of rainbows and glitter to try, even ineptly, to make it any better. The final pages in particular are larded with the sort of humor heard in morgues and police stations, and ... sorry, I'm not a cop or a coroner, and not so dulled to the horrors that the humor seems in any way appropriate. A child was raped; another was almost murdered three times; another was homeless and fighting for his life. Don't expect me to giggle a few pages later over a pissed-off toad.
It's one of those books that I read willingly while it was in my hand, but did not pick up eagerly; I thought about tracking down the sequels, but it's also one of those books that do not improve with being looked back on: the more thought I give it the more it irritates me and the less I want to continue in this world. So ... while the writing was technically good, and the idea was ... interesting, I can't say this was a successful book. It's urban fantasy, certainly, and fits best under that description, but while the representation of urban Washington State/Puget Sound area was vivid, I've seen many better urban fantasies. Despite many of the trappings, it can't qualify as escapist fantasy; there is no escape to be found here. But it's also hard to swallow as a message book (in part due to that damn cat). I'm not sure what, in the end, the point of the book was, if there was one; the moral of the story is, I suppose, to be kind to each other and not wait for magic to step in.
Problem is, no one is really listening.