As previously stated, I did a happy dance around my living room (probably for longer than socially acceptable) when this arrived in the mail. I started reading a mere 45 minutes later, when the dancing finally ceased (I'm totally joking). But really, I was excited! Last night, when I closed the book, I felt pending doom for this review.
Basic plot summary: Helen Cartwright's parents are killed when her childhood home is set ablaze by curious strangers. Helen's mother saves her life by shoving her into a hidden underground pathway leading away from the house. Within pages, Helen discovers that since early childhood, she has been prepared for a destiny she was unaware existed. Now orphaned and clearly being hunted, Helen follows her mothers directions to the home of two brothers. The three mark the sole survivors of a special breed of "Lesser Angels" and must work together to discover who is hunting them -- and why?
Though I think Michelle Zink has one of the most interesting plot lines I have read in ages, and characters who become very alive by the end, I could not overlook three certain obstacles that stood in the way of me really liking the book.
1. I could not get passed the narration. I truly think I would have been able to brush off the two following points if the narration of the book would have been in first person rather than third. One of the most commonly used sentences (which made me cringe after the fifth time reading it) was "Then, Helen understood." I'm happy Helen understands things but being told her exact thought process going from clueless to blindingly obvious could have been eliminated if we would have been in her head instead. I felt like I was always three steps ahead of Helen and would have rather experienced things WITH her than waiting a few pages for her to "get" something I have known for an entire chapter. Not to mention that for the first few chapters of the book, I assumed Helen was a little girl. When I discovered she was indeed already sixteen, I knew I needed her to narrate. I doubt this mistake would have happened if I would have been in her head with her.
2. I enjoy complex plot lines -- when they are well executed. As the story progressed, Zink throws in little details about the world Helen, Darius and Griffin live in. As if to say, "oh, by the way, he was a demon. Demon's exist.. they come from here and do this" then, "oh ya! She was part of the lesser angels, which are ...". I wanted to be told this stuff before, so I could understand when it all happens -- NOT as it happens. I felt like the story almost Wikipedia'd everything for me as soon as I didn't understand. Just as "who are The Alliance?" crossed my mind, the story would jump into a complex description about who they were. I wanted to know this world before it was thrown at me piece by piece.
3. Archetypes. High school English classes have made me a bit of a prude when it comes to archetypal characters. Having pursued an education in writing, I know how difficult it can be to step away from commonly developed characters and create something completely unique -- but an attempt is wholly necessary. Though Griffin and Darius both had some fantastic qualities, they were characters that only seemed to exist on the surface. Their parents were murdered and yet we hear nothing about what life was like when they were alive. Darius is a hard-ass and we never know WHY. Griffin has a strong jealous tendency towards someone he has just met. All of these things could be brought deeper -- to make them more sympathetic and real. I just couldn't get passed the idea that the only qualities that were talked about were ones that helped the plot line, and failed to make the characters feel alive for me.
I hate to say that I did not really enjoy this book, but here are a few things I do know:
- Michelle Zink has an amazing imagination and if the narration of this book were different, I would have definitely overlooked other small nit-picky things. She is immensely creative and this, I truly enjoyed. She is also extremely talented with setting. I loved the underground passages, old homes and even the image Zink created of Helen's home in ashes.
- There is a lot hanging in the air for the next book. This one concludes well -- with an ending that is both satisfying enough to not have you BEGGING for more, but with enough hints towards future events that you will anyways.
- Helen is definitely going to grow up a bit in the second book. My assumption that she was a child came from attitude and action at the beginning of the book. This all changed by the end.