I’ve heard of Sarah Rees Brennan, mostly from the acknowledgements in books by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, but it wasn’t until I came across this entire trilogy in the library that I decided to read anything of hers. It’s very rare to find a whole trilogy in the library at once — they’re wonderful at only having a single book from a series, and it’s never the first one. Convinced that if I only borrowed book one, books two and three would vanish entirely as soon as I turned my back, I borrowed them all.
I’ve only read the first one so far, but I really enjoyed it, so I thought I’d give it a quick review before I move on to the second one.
The central character, Nick (through whose eyes we see the story, although it’s written in third person), is a fascinating protagonist, and a refreshing change from the usual protags you get in YA novels. Before I go into detail, you should probably be aware that I’m basically Spock: I’m capable of feeling emotions, but I value logical decisions more highly than those made on a purely emotional basis, and I try not to feel things when feelings are getting in the way. Moreover, I don’t always get emotional when others in the same situation are crying their eyes out.
So when I’m reading a novel and a character is paying so much attention to their heart that they are completely ignoring their head, I get frustrated. I start yelling at them for making stupid decisions. While I love a tragic narrative, I’m bored of tragedy always being born of a romantic attachment to someone who dies.
Nick is not like that. Nick doesn’t really feel anything. Fear, pity, empathy — it’s not there. That’s not who he is. And that made a huge difference to the narrative. As a reader, I found him less predictable than most characters, because he didn’t grow attached to people in the same way, and therefore there were more factors in the decisions he made.
He’s not completely emotionless, though (he’s always angry, for a start), and I’d even hazard that he starts feeling more as the novel goes on, but it’s done so subtly that it never seems out of character.
Nick isn’t the only interesting character. I enjoyed reading about Mae, who is a little like myself in that she’s small, but wishes people perceived her as fierce. She’s a lot braver than me, though, and loyal to her brother. I’m looking forward to reading book two, which looks like it focuses more on her. Jamie, her brother, is more interesting than he originally seems, although of all of them he’s probably the least developed. I’m pretty sure he’s gay, not because I’m shipping him with anyone, but because of comments the other characters make, but it’s portrayed subtly rather than explicitly stated.
And then there’s Alan, Nick’s brother — a strange mix of vulnerability, because he’s disabled, and strength; of lies, mostly where Nick’s concerned, and care-giving. He was the hardest to fathom, because his motivations seemed so unclear. Was he trying to protect Nick? To hurt him? It kept me reading, that’s for sure.
The relationships and dynamics between the characters were equally engaging. I loved the banter between Jamie and Nick, and even didn’t get annoyed at the potential love triangle between Mae, Alan and Nick, because it was done skilfully enough not to seem like a love triangle for the sake of a love triangle. Again, I’m really interested to see how that develops in the next book.
I found the novel a little confusing in the opening chapters, but I quickly adjusted to what was going on. The plot was more complex than it originally seemed, and the original quest on which the characters set out soon turned into something far bigger, a web of lies and double-crossing that meant you’re never entirely sure which characters you can trust.
As for the main ‘plot twist’… Well, I saw it coming, to the extent that I had a vague idea of what form it was going to take, but I hadn’t figured out any of the details or subtleties, meaning that it was still partly new to me.
Moreover, it wasn’t the kind of plot twist that depends on shock value to be at all effective: the important thing about it is what happens next as a result, and not the revelation itself. I don’t think I ruined it for myself by figuring it out. In fact, the sense of satisfaction I felt when my hunch proved to be correct probably made it better.
Looking back now, to find some quotes to share, I’m seeing all of the foreshadowing, mostly from things Alan says that Nick thinks are ridiculous. Mad skills, Brennan. Gotta respect some decent foreshadowing.
At times, the actual writing style bothered me, just because of repeated words or slightly clumsy sentences. It wasn’t enough to put me off, and for the most part it wasn’t noticeable, but there were occasional moments when I stumbled over something while reading and had to figure out what it was about the sentence that bothered me. I’m conscious that this was Brennan’s debut novel, so I expect that won’t be an issue in the later books.
Can I really have written 850 words about this book without mentioning the humour? Because there’s definitely humour. I’m coming to expect the sharp-witted, sassy characters these days, so whenever there aren’t any, I’m disappointed. Fortunately, this book delivered. (Of course it did. She’s buddies with Holly Black and Cassie Clare. They wouldn’t let her get away with having no sarcasm.)
Nick observed the flicker of appreciation in her brown eyes. He wasn’t particularly surprised. She was just the type to like them tall, dark, and carrying a lethal weapon.
He let his lip curl. That kind of behaviour was so stupid, he couldn’t bear it.
Also, holy character development Batman. This is from page eighteen of the book, and Nick’s complete lack of interest in Mae is self-evident. But I loved how he came to respect her strength and bravery despite her ‘unsettling crying habit’. Not only because that showed that you can be strong and independent but also cry.
Nick thought that if a succubus ever got to Alan, he would probably want to take her out to dinner and talk about her feelings before he’d accept any dark demonic delights.
I seriously enjoyed this book. I read the whole thing in an evening and apart from a few clunky sentences and slightly confusing opening chapters, I can’t fault it. Let’s give it four stars! Now I’m off to start book two.