This is an unusual book, simply because I don’t often find myself telling an author that the action starts too soon. Because most books that start off wrong never manage to fix it. Let me explain.
When you are writing a book in the “hero’s journey” format, there are certain conventions that work. The first one is that the hero has to choose to be in the situation. The second one is that the hero has to know the gravity of the choice, and decide to go anyway. The hero must be someone who acts, not someone who is acted on.
In this book, the hero does not really get a choice. The action starts so quickly that she is swept up in it before she realizes the stakes. The other weakness that compounds the problem is that the reason for her decision is questionable.
This is how the plot starts: very early in the story we find that the heroine’s brother, Gwydion, saved her years ago from being raped by a drug-crazed, abusive uncle by shooting him. This sends him on a lifetime downward spiral, leading to drug use, etcetera. The problem seems to be that as far as he is concerned, everyone, including his sister whom he saved considers him a murderer. We reach the point in the story where he articulates this, and she, for some reason, can’t tell him he’s a hero.
I don’t buy it. Yes, people do crazy things for crazy reasons, but in order to enjoy the story I have to believe the premise, and it seems weak to me. So when the sister is dragged off into some hellish version of the underworld to save him, I’m not carried along, and when the attacks by witches and zombies and ethereal fog come piled one on top of the other, I feel like I’m in a video game, just working through from level to level.
It’s that sort of, “Don’t go into the dark basement, you silly girl. You know the monster’s down there,” feeling we get in a teen slasher movie, when you know the actor wants to turn to the camera and say, “Look, you know and I know that the monster’s down there, but the writer says I have to go, so I’m going.” It comes from a feeling that the author is manipulating the plot and us.
However, all is not lost. It wouldn’t be polite to say things like this if the author hadn’t reprieved himself in the second half of the book. Once Kendra gets into the underworld and starts to figure out what is going on, her character starts to blossom, and soon we see her making decisions with the full knowledge of how serious the consequences of failure might be. At that point we begin to believe in her, and from then on the story takes off. Due to our empathy, the tension rises as we begin to feel the horror of her situation.
This novel is the first of a series, but the ending wraps up the tensions nicely before hitting us with a kicker in the final page to launch us into the second book.
Recommended for YA horror fans.(4 / 5)