Lilith Grey has spent her entire life living below ground–among the lucky descendants of the humans who escaped there before catching the virus that turned the rest of humanity into monsters from fairy tales. But one day Lilith and her friend Emma get temporary vaccines and go above ground to a tourist theater to view these vampires and shapeshifters in person. When everything goes horribly wrong, Lilith finds herself whisked away from the carnage on the back of a werewolf. Can she ever get back below ground?
I was hesitant to accept a YA book for review, since the genre is not one I tend to enjoy. But I had previously read and thoroughly enjoyed a book by this indie author, so I decided to give it a go. Her other work, Hungry For You, is a collection of zombie themed short stories that manages to put a fresh twist on that genre, so I was hoping for more of that unique glint in her YA work as well. This, her first full-length novel, is more unique than what is currently saturating the market, but I did not feel that it lived up to the expectations I had based on her short story collection.
The basic concept is intriguing. Many post-apocalyptic stories feature humans living in bomb shelters or other similar underground enclosures but not for the reasons put forth in this novel. This unique twist is what I’ve come to expect from Harte’s writing, and it definitely was the part of the story that kept me reading. Seeing how the mutated humans lived above ground versus how the non-mutated lived below ground was intriguing and interesting. I wish more time had been spent building this world and less on the emotions of the main character (not to mention her friend, Emma, and the werewolf, Silver). The scifi explanations for the fantastical creatures was also engaging, but again not enough time was spent on it. Similarly, while the typical werewolves and vampires exist among the infected above ground, there are also the more unique such as the ewtes who mutated to live in the water but can walk on the ground with water tanks. Actually, I could have easily spent an entire book among the ewtes. They were far more interesting than our stereotypical main character Lilith. The world and minor characters are what kept me reading….not the plot or main characters.
The initial plot set-up is painfully stereotypical. Clueless teenage girls wind up in danger. Two men save them. One is an angst-ridden werewolf. The other is a mysterious, handsome intelligent fella. The girls protest they can care for themselves but the reader can see they can’t really. The main teenage girl feels inexplicably pulled to the werewolf angst man. The werewolf angst man feels drawn to the teenage girl and angsts about it. And on we go. The last few pages of plot, thankfully, didn’t take the typical turn, but honestly the pay-off was incredibly minor compared to the rest of the stereotypical YA plot. Even just making it a teenage boy from below ground saved by a female werewolf would have been a change enough to make me more interested. I also was disappointed to see no depth or examination of the human condition here, which I saw in Harte’s previous work. I was excited to see what depth she could bring to YA but she didn’t even bring an empowered female main character to the genre. Quite disappointing.
Ignoring my own quips with the plot and main characters, the book simply does not read like a solid first entry in a series. It gives the reader mere tastes of what we want to know from a first book in a series, like who the DEI are and why everyone is afraid of them, while lingering on things like how the main character craves the werewolf. That is fine if it was a paranormal romance, but it feels more like it is meant to be a post-apocalyptic/dystopian style novel. A clearer world needs to be established and characters more fully fleshed-out if they are to hold up a whole series. There has to be a clear world and a three-dimensional main character set up before the danger if the reader is to feel any connection or caring at all. As it is, I mostly just wanted to wander off and follow the ewtes.
Overall, then, this is definitely a book for YA fans only. It’s the basic plot from YA with a twist set in a unique future world that was fun to visit. YA fans will have to try it out for themselves to determine how much they will enjoy that visit.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy received from author in exchange for my honest review
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In an alternate future as envisioned in the 1930s, Flora Poste loses both her parents and finds herself living on 100 pounds a year. In lieu of getting a job and an apartment in London as suggested by her friend Mrs. Smiling, she decides to live with relatives in order to tidy things up about them. She decides upon her farming cousins the Starkadders who are all under the whims of Great Aunt Ada Doom who saw something nasty in the woodshed when she was a child. Flora may have bit off more than she can chew between crazy Aunt Judith, cousin Seth who has more sultry appeal than he can handle, cousin Elfine who flits about the fields and writes poetry, hell-fire preaching Uncle Amos, and sundry other cousins, not to mention the sad bull in the barn.
Between the general more British style of writing and the accents of some of the relatives, it took me a bit to get into this book. Once I did though, I found myself lost in the delightful world Gibbons created and wishing the etiquette books Flora religiously uses as her references for life actually existed.
Reading of what was a near future for Gibbons, but actually an alternate past sometime in the 1940s or 1950s for modern readers gave the book a deliciously steampunk quality. People talk on videophones but they still must run to town to use a pay phone. Almost everyone seems to have their own airplane that are used for jaunts to London and Paris. On the other hand, the clothes and hairstyle call to mind the roaring 20s as do the social mores. This is an alternate history that saw no conservative backlash and yet one that also maintained marriage, beautiful clothing, and fancy parties as the norm. How could you not want to visit this world?
Each character is well-drawn and easily decipherable from each other, which is a significant achievement given the relatively short length of the book. Pretty much every character has some flaw, but they aren’t demonized for it. They simply learn to deal with their shortcomings either by embracing them and making them work for them or re-routing their energies into more worthwhile pursuits. I can’t recall the last time I saw a bunch of characters with so many short-comings and yet portrayed in such a sympathetic light.
What made me love the book the most though, I must admit, was the main character of Flora Poste. For the first time I loved a main character who is pretty much the exact opposite of my own personality. She is calm, even-minded, focused, and gentle, whereas I, I must admit, am much more like one of the Starkadders who she seeks to help. The Starkadders are the dramatic, emotional type, and Flora, while sympathetic to actual underlying issues, won’t put up with any overdramatizing. She doesn’t expect them to change the essence of who they are; she just expects them to tidy up a bit and be a bit more reasonable about everything. The whole concept of being reasonable about things is such a new idea to the Starkadders that it leads to some truly hilarious scenes.
Of course Flora is not without her own faults, which is good. Otherwise, the book would read as quite judgmental on the poetic types. Flora can be too quick to get herself in over her head and she can be a bit quick to judge people she’s just met, but these are just her own flaws and she does her best and really that’s all any person can ever really do.
Overall, I absolutely loved this book. It’s a world that is a pure delight to get lost in, and I foresee myself returning to it again and again as a comfort read. I highly recommend it to everyone. Between the character building, the steampunky feel, and the humorous slapstick scenes, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
5 out of 5 stars