Review: Immortal by Gillian Shields

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Promises, promises…

For some reason, I don’t read very many gothic novels, even though when I do read them I love them. Is it that there aren’t many of them written? Are they just not flashy enough to compete with their dystopian brethren? Or do I just not keep them high enough on my radar? This gothic beauty has been languishing on my TBR for a long time, and I’m kicking myself for not getting to it sooner.

Immortal had everything going for it – sweeping romance, eerie moors, haunting ghosts. In the first 100 pages, I was enthralled. Evie arrives at Wyldcliffe, only to be nearly run over by a dark, mysterious, and handsome (naturally) boy on a horse. It was a scene ripped from Jane Eyre, that gothic novel to end all gothic novels. I was anticipating the love story to come and finding the secrets hidden in the passageways of the boarding school.

Tempered expectations…

Around the midpoint of the book I realized that I needed to adjust my expectations. Evie isn’t really haunted so much as she experiences visions. She has odd dreams and keeps seeing a girl who looks like her lurking around the school, but she’s never really frightened by any of it. This means, of course, that I was never scared as a reader, either. It took a lot of the fun out of Evie’s trips down musty passageways and out onto the moor to meet up with Sebastian.

Sebastian, the boy from the horse, runs into her again late one night after Evie has snuck out to get some air. They begin to meet up nightly, and Evie falls in love. I guess. Well, she says she falls in love, but I certainly didn’t get swoony over it. This was one romance that just wasn’t for me.

Throw in some witchcraft…

You see, the book intersperses Evie’s story with excerpts from Lady Agnes Templeton’s diary from 1882 to 1884. Agnes, the daughter of the owners of Wyldcliffe manor, writes about her friend “S.” who introduces her to the Mysticke Way. “S” is kind of a jerk, and as they unlock their mystical powers (witchcraft, though no one in this book wants to call it that), he gets worse.

SPOILER ALERT! (I think, though it seemed pretty obvious to me.) [spoiler]I mean, clearly, “S” is Sebastian, right? So I’m reading all about this douche from the past who treated Lady Agnes like complete garbage…and then I’m supposed to be happy that Evie is falling for him?┬áNope. Not going to happen.[/spoiler]

(Carry on.)

The witchcraft bit doesn’t really come in to play for Evie’s story until late in the book, at which point she has to rush to understand her role in the history of Wyldcliffe much too quickly for my taste.

Hurry! The end is nigh!

Once Evie finally starts to put together the pieces of the large and obvious clues in front of her, there are only a few chapters left. She has so much to learn and do, which gets rushed into a couple of scenes, only to build to a climax that is resolved so quickly and lacks so much (or any) confrontation that it feels too easy.

Instead of wrapping things up with a genuine conflict between Evie and some badass witches in this story, it seems like the author left that for the next in the series. What a letdown! I would have liked to have seen more of Evie developing her own powers and working with her friends. I would have liked to have seen her then use those powers in a manner that actually accomplished something instead of seeming to delay the conflict for a bit.

Still, I’m only really complaining because overall I really enjoyed the book. I liked the mystery of Lady Agnes and “S” and how it all tied in with Evie. I loved the setting (boarding school!) and the isolation of this old manor on the moor. I tore through this book – devoured it – to find out what would happen next. It was thoroughly engaging, even if it didn’t turn out to be quite the book I wanted it to be.

Rating: 3/5 stars

[rating stars=”three-stars”]

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Review: Splintered by A. G. Howard

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Alice in Wonderland is one of those tales that is so pervasive you feel like you’ve read it, even if you haven’t. Though I have never read Lewis Carroll’s classic book, I probably watched my old VHS tape of this ridiculously cheesy 1985 TV miniseries about a hundred times. I’ve seen the Disney version and the Johnny Depp version. And I’ve loved them all.

This modern take on Alice’s story imagines our protagonist, Alyssa, as a descendant of the Alice who lived and inspired Carroll’s stories. Along with a similar name, she is in line to inherit the psychological madness that is passed from female descendant to female descendant. Her mother is locked in an asylum, and Alyssa tries very hard to convince herself that she can’t hear the voices starting to appear in her head. She’s a cool skater girl into art and bugs and other Things That Are Dark And Twisty.

The coolest thing about this book is the brilliant display of imagination on the part of author A. G. Howard. I only wish I could think up stuff this vivid and exciting. When Alyssa goes down the rabbit hole, we get a version of Wonderland that is fresh and new without being unfamiliar. Carroll’s characters pop up, but in different forms than you might expect. I don’t want to spoil the fun of discovery, but I will say that the White Rabbit is not just a rabbit – he’s much creepier than that.

If you’re tired of love triangles, consider yourselves warned. Alyssa is into the boy next door, Jeb, and while in Wonderland starts to fall under the spell of the difficult and dark Morpheus. Morpheus acts as a sort of guide and childhood friend of Alyssa’s on the Wonderland side of things, while Jeb is her friend and protector on the reality side. Morpheus is certainly the more interesting and mysterious of the two, but his sketchy motives later in the story made me not like him as much.

If I had one complaint about this book, it’s that those motives, and the plot, got a little confusing toward the end. I had a hard time following what was happening because the history was so rich and complex. The politics of the Red Queen and White Queen and Morpheus’s place in the middle of all of it overwhelmed me, and I’m still not entirely sure I absorbed it all. I kept having to go back and re-read sections to track who supposedly did what and to what end, and what they really meant when they did them, versus what everyone else thought they were doing.

Did you get that? Yeah. Me either.

Fuzzy plot or not, this was a really enjoyable story. I loved seeing such a cool concept from a debut author, too! I picked this one up at the library because I couldn’t find it at the store, and the cover is absolutely stunning. The text is a beautiful dusty purple color. Normally I’m not a fan of colored print in books, but for some reason this really worked for me. If you’re in the market for a beautiful book for your shelf and want to support a debut author with a fantastic story, I recommend this one.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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