Someone has kidnapped the sons of the Duchess Dianda Lorden, regent of the Undersea Duchy of Saltmist. To prevent a war between land and sea, Toby must not only find the missing boys, but also prove that the Queen of the Mists was not behind their abduction. She’ll need all her tricks and the help of her allies if she wants to make it through this in one piece.
I’ll keep this review short and sweet, because if you’ve made it to book 5 in this series, you already know if the writing style works for you or not. So specifically, how did this particular plot work out?
This is the Toby Daye book I’ve liked least so far in the series. Part of that is probably for personal reasons, but part of it is for repetitive plot reasons. Toby just….seems to have to save children an awful lot. Now, I’m not saying that an urban fantasy that basically involves someone solving crimes in a world where there’s a huge taboo on murder of immortals won’t repeat some crimes. I am saying that I think doing abducted children again right after a book that did that theme so incredibly well (Blind Michael is the ultimate in creepy) is just too repetitive. There are actually some sly nods to the reader that the author knows abducted children plots are happening a lot. Toby comments something along the lines of gee she’s sure sick of saving children. If your main character is sick of saving kids, maybe the readers are tired of reading it. Just saying. Beyond that, there were two other things that made me meh about this plot.
First, we’re clearly supposed to sympathize with Toby in the whole “whyyy does everyone think I’m a terrible mother” plot, but honestly I don’t sympathize with her, and I do think she’s a terrible mother. So. There’s that. But I fully admit to having some of my own mom issues, so it might be harder for me to see this with a neutral viewpoint. Other readers may have a different experience. But be prepared to possibly like Toby less.
Second, you know how most romances have various love interests and you’re on a certain team? Well, I am 100% #TeamTybalt, and I was not pleased by all the Connor scenes. I just find him dull and drab and I am massively creeped out by the webs between his fingers that never go away. Plus…male selkies….eh. This book could easily be called the #TeamConnor book so readers who like him….enjoy. For the rest of us, you might find yourself rolling your eyes a bit.
I know that sounds like a lot of negatives but it is the book I’ve liked least in the series so far, in spite of really enjoying the series, so it seemed apt to discuss at length why it didn’t work so well for me. All of that said, I read it quickly, and I fairly soon picked up the next book in the series, so I certainly didn’t hate it. A lot about the series works really well for me, there are just certain aspects of this book and plot that I think might make it less enjoyable for certain readers compared to the rest of the series.
Annie O’Sullivan extremely forcefully declares in her first therapy session that she doesn’t want her therapist to talk back to her; she just wants her to listen. And so, through multiple sessions, she slowly finds a safe space to recount her horrible abduction from an open house she was running as an up-and-rising realtor, her year spent as the prisoner of her abductor, and of her struggles both to deal with her PTSD now that she’s free again and to deal with the investigation into her abduction.
I was intrigued by the concept of this book. Yes, it’s another abduction story, but wrapping it in the therapy sessions after she escapes was an idea I had not seen before. So when I saw this on sale for the kindle, I snatched it up. I’m glad I did, because this is a surprisingly edge-of-your-seat thriller.
Stevens deals with the potential issue of back-and-forth with the therapist by having Annie say in her first session that in order to feel safe talking about what happened to her, she needs the therapist to say very little back to her. It is acknowledged that the therapist says some things to Annie, but it appears that she waits to talk until the end of the session when Annie is done talking. What the therapist says isn’t recorded but Annie does sometimes respond to what she suggested in later sessions. This set-up has the potential to be clunky, but Stevens handled it quite eloquently. It always reads smoothly.
The plot itself starts out as a basic abducted/escaped one, with most of the thriller aspects of the first half of the book coming from slowly finding out everything that happened to Annie when she was abducted. The second half is where the plot really blew me away, though. The investigation into her kidnapping turns extremely exciting and terrifying. I don’t want to give too much away. Suffice to say that I wasn’t expecting most of the thrills to come from the investigation after the kidnapping and yet they did.
Annie is well-developed. Her PTSD is written with a deep understanding of it. For instance, she both needs human connection and is (understandably) terrified of it, so she pushes people away. Stevens shows Annie’s PTSD in every way, from how she talks to her therapist to how she behaves now to subtle comparisons to how she used to be before she was traumatized.
Other characters are well-rounded enough to seem like real people, including her abductor, yet it also never seems like Annie is describing them with more information than she would logically have.
I do want to take just a moment to let potential readers know that there are graphic, realistic descriptions of rape. Similarly, the end of the book may be triggering for some. I cannot say why without revealing what happens but suffice to say that if triggers are an issue for you in your recovery from trauma, you may want to wait until you are further along in your recovery and feel strong enough to handle potentially upsetting realistic descriptions of trauma.
Overall, this is a strong thriller with a creative story-telling structure. Those who enjoy abduction themed thrillers will find this one unique enough to keep them on the edge of their seat. Those with an interest in PTSD depicted in literature will find this one quite realistic and appreciate the inclusion of therapy sessions in the presentation.
5 out of 5 stars
A newly formed company’s owners decide that what the small group of employees need is a bonding camping trip. Bear isn’t a fan of camping, but he agrees to go along anyway. When the site is more rural than he was anticipating, he starts to question his decision. When they wake up the first morning and find one member of the party missing, he’s sure he made a mistake coming camping. On each successive morning, another camper is gone. Who is taking them and why?
I picked this up, along with seven other books, during Smashwords’ 2012 Summer/Winter Sale. I’ve always enjoyed the classic horror trope of we-all-go-to-the-woods-and-shit-gets-real, so I was intrigued to see what Alaspa did with it. There’s enough different in the plot to keep you reading, in spite of some awkward sentence-level writing.
People disappearing from their tents and leaving their clothes behind, one per night, is a nice subtle change to what one generally sees in the everyone in the woods story. Usually people get eaten by zombies or axe murdered or something obvious. A simple disappearance was different enough that I was genuinely curious as to what was causing these odd disappearances. Added into this are the methods used by whoever is doing the abducting to keep the campers in their campsite. They try to paddle away but the currents mysteriously change. They try to walk away through the woods but the trees attack them, etc… These methods worked within the context of the supernatural seeming disappearances. I also liked that their supernatural experimenters make it impossible for them to get hurt, so they are forced to wait their turn. It all felt a bit like a subtly done allegory for animals in a slaughterhouse, and it kept me reading and engaged.
The only element of the plot that didn’t work for me is that the first person to disappear from the group is also the only person of color in the group. Having the Latino guy be the first one to disappear is so stereotypical and B-movie that I actually cringed. Let poor Carlos be at least the second one to disappear. Or, heck, make him be one of the last ones standing. Getting to play with the regular tropes of whatever genre you write in is one of the benefits of indie writing, so use that to your advantage.
Unfortunately, some of the writing style on the sentence level isn’t up to the same level as the intricate plot. There is quite a bit of telling instead of showing. Not enough trusting the reader to get it. There are some awkward and puzzling sentences in the book as well:
The ground was wet and my hands were damp when I put my hands on it. (loc 616)
The hand turned into fingers and slammed the lids of my eyes closed. (loc 2809)
Additionally, I started counting the number of errors that were clearly not typos, and I got over 30. I fully expect some errors to get through, they tend to even in traditionally published works, but I find anything over 5 to 10 to be excessive and feel more like a first draft than a fully done, ready to publish work.
On the other hand, there are portions of the sentence-level writing that are eloquent and beautiful to read. Particularly, any instance where characters are having sex is quite well-written, and I would be interested to read work from Alaspa focused more on romance or erotica.
When she touched the part of me that was hard and eager I nearly exploded. (loc 1828)
Overall, this book contains a strong horror/thriller plot that will keep the reader engaged in spite of some awkward sentence-level writing and a few too many textual errors. I recommend it to horror readers who are intrigued by the plot and don’t mind these short-comings.
3 out of 5 stars