This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.
I hate to end the year on a down note, but while this novel of good and evil, and of the supernatural, had some things to recommend it, after reading more than 400 pages I expected a much bigger reward than ever was delivered. At the end I felt relief that I was finally through it, but also resentment that the author had taken a portion of my life that I would never get back; I felt I'd wasted it reading this when I could have been enjoying something else in my reading list.
The novel was way too long. It needed some serious editing. I usually avoid books this long for precisely this reason: that it's not such a chunk of your valuable time to give up if the novel is short and it's bad, but when it's both bad and long, it's really irritating. It's even worse when it keeps teasing the reader with the promise of better things to come and never delivers. There was a phrase used in the novel which with some irony I think applied to the book as whole: ponderously clanking links! That's how it felt: like a series of short stories loosely connected rather than a coherent novel.
If the book feels like it's awful right from the off, I DNF it without even a pang of conscience because life is too short to waste on bad literature. The problem with this book was that it kept on promising something good was coming, yet in the end, nothing arrived. The ending itself was a horrible disappointment. It simply fizzled, like even the author herself had tired of this story and wanted over with just as much as I did. Some anally-retentive people will doubtlessly try to argue that it’s disingenuous to dump a book as unworthy without giving it a fair chance, but whenever I do give an “iffy” novel a fair chance, as I did here, I’m inevitably disappointed, so yes, I think you can ditch a novel guilt-free if it is not thrilling you. What’s the point of reading it otherwise? I think its a reader’s duty to DNF a bad read.
Some parts of the book were a joy, but as soon as I started to think maybe I would read a little more, it drifted back into tedium, and then I'd start to think about ditching it, but it would offer a promise of improvement. That's how the whole book went! I found myself skimming parts and thinking it was time to ditch the book; then I would find another interesting piece to read and it brought my hopes up again only to find them dashed again as the story dragged on without - quite literally - going anywhere except in circles. It was as bad as that book where you read through it only to find out at the end, that it was all a dream. And if you found the foregoing tedious to read through, then I achieved my aim and made you feel like I felt while I was reading this novel!
The story is of Emma Susanne Addison. She's close to being a shut-in, but not quite. This itself made little sense, because when she wanted to go somewhere, she had no real problem going there even if it was quite a way from her home, yet she was constantly whining about being scared of big open spaces, even as she lived right in the middle of the city.
This pseudo-phobia went back to a tragic incident with an unsavory uncle which took place not in the city, but in the woods by a river in winter. It would have made sense to me if she were afraid of older men, or afraid of the woods, or afraid of the winter, or afraid of the river, or afraid of ice, but she wasn't. She was inexplicably afraid of open spaces. In her case, this phobia made no sense. People's knee-jerk reaction when you say that is that phobias almost by definition don't make sense precisely because they are irrational, but even the most irrational phobia has rational roots. In this case it did not, and so I could never take it seriously.
Emma's life is beset by tragedy, but in the end you cannot help but feel she brings a lot of things on herself. I did not like her as a character. We're told in the blurb that Emma summons the devil one Christmas, but that portion was written so poorly that I missed it. I went on to the next section of the novel and started reading it like it was an entirely new story. I was thinking, “Wait, when did this happen?" and the truth was that it did not happen - not in the way the author thinks she told us it did. I went back and checked! It was like a whole section of the book was missing.
It was written so hazily that what the author thought she was telling us happened didn't actually feel like it happened at all from the reader's perspective; at least not to this reader. But the offshoot from this is that Emma is now somehow in some sort of preliminary bargaining with the devil - not actually a contract but at least a verbal agreement, yet this goes nowhere. And when I say the devil, I mean the big guy himself. We're constantly told that Emma is a special snowflake which is why he comes personally, but nowhere in the rest of the novel is there anything to explain why she is special or even to suggest that she is! She felt more like a spacial snowflake, and the personal attention made no sense.
What made even less sense is that there was another supernatural being involved - and this one was from Chinese mythology. I never did figure out what her purpose was because it was never explained, and this lack of clarity became even further muddied at the end especially when we had characters from other mythologies appear and disappear without rhyme or reason. It was like the author had some great ideas, but could never settle on a good set to include, and worse, tried to include them all, but could never quite figure out how to successfully integrate them.
The offshoot is that Emma develops super powers (yep, and there was a kitchen sink tossed in there, too)! Emma doesn’t go flying around with a cape, but she can choose outcomes and see them appear in the real world. Or can she? Maybe she was dreaming that too! I can’t tell you, because the author never told me! I kept reading on hoping it would l make sense, but it never did. I do not read prologues and epilogues. They’re antiquated affectations. Put the first in chapter one, the last in the last chapter, and be done with it for goodness sake! Quit with the self-importance and pretension. I skipped the prologue here as I always do, and I did not miss it as I never do. Thinking I had missed something at the end of the story I actually did skim the epilogue, but it contributed nothing. Hence my resentment.
There were other oddities such as the public library being open the day after Christmas. This seemed highly unlikely to me. I don't know. I don’t live in same city as Emma did, so maybe it is, but it sounded unlikely to me and it struck me more like the the author wasn’t properly thinking through what she was writing. This feeling was further enhanced when I read, ”Her hair is glorious, so black it’s almost blue….” That phrase has always struck me as utterly nonsensical. I expect it of typically clueless YA authors, but not of one who can actually write. I can see what an author is trying to say when they write an asinine phrase like this, but tripping yourself up in writing bad prose isn’t a good idea. Black with a sheen of blue or a hint of blue or a blue highlight works, but when something is really black? It’s black, period.
So, in short, I was truly disappointed in a book that initially sounded so promising. I wish the author all the best; she can write if she can learn to curb the meandering, and I think she has some great novels inside her, but this was not one of them, and I cannot in good faith recommend it.