“In a world of magical visions and pyrokinesis, Mara just wants to have a normal life. But is that possible?”
Well, I´d have to give that a firm no.
This was my first read from Amanda Hocking but I did see a fair amount of people shelving it on Goodreads as soon as the full cover and blurb was out, so I went in with fairly high expectations of a paranormal or fantasy-like YA. While it definitely contains the paranormal, some parts didn´t quite meet my expectations.
So, let´s look at this from a few different perspectives.
First, the characters:
The characters in this book were actually quite good I think and I have to say Hocking did a great job with including diversity (sexual orientations and racially) and I really liked that she described the skin color of both POCs and caucasian people, something most authors writing from a caucasian perspective wouldn´t do (for better or worse).
Mara, our main character and who´s point of view this is written from is a nineteen-year-old girl who lives and travels with a carnival consisting of what outside people would call freaks. Almost everyone but her has some kind of power like pyrokinesis, necromancy or ultra-fast healing. Meanwhile, all she wants is to try to have a normal life.
Enter Gabe, the love interest and town-boy she meets on her first day at their new carnival location and who´s bedroom she ends up in on that very night – but more on that in a bit. Gabe was an okay character to me, he didn´t feel quite as complex as Mara and a lot of his traits felt a little typical and predictable, like him being more muscular and more handsome than other guys for example. Of course one could argue Hocking has chosen to write him as more handsome since this is how Mara would see him.
The only problem I had with the characters was that I couldn´t quite connect to them (and that Mara doggy-ears books…). Not even the main characters like Mara, Gabe, Mara´s mom or her best friend Roxy. All the characters in the carnival and the ones in the town this is set in are perfectly fine characters with different personalities and quirks, but they just never got me to engage myself in them. I, as the reader, still felt very much distant from them rather than involved which I usually would when reading a really good book.
Secondly, there´s the plot.
We start off when the carnival is arriving in the small town Caudry to set up there for about a week after being tipped off by an old friend, knowing the chances of a good payday would be high. While the premise is good, some things about it just made it feel less interesting and predictable. Mainly it was the two main components of it and their development. The plot basically consists of Mara´s interest in Gabe and that there is a strange energy in Caudry that starts threatening them as a creature wanders around their campsite at night.
The love story between Mara and Gabe feels very insta-love as Mara barely hesitates to follow him to his bedroom and make out the whole of maybe 30 minutes after they´ve met for the first time. Now, you might think: well is that so strange for a nineteen-year-old who randomly rolled into a party?
-Not really, but it´s the way it continues that bugs me.
Mara obviously finds Gabe incredibly attractive and so they end up meeting each other every day for a week straight, they keep going on dates, they hang out and they fall in love – still only after maybe 3 days – and Gabe sticks with her even as the campsite is being attacked by what they think is a wild animal. As Mara knows the day she has to leave is approaching, she tries to distance herself from him but Gabe doesn´t want to let go and declares his love. For me, this made Gabe feel very clingy – although there is a (not so great) explanation for this and he even questions Mara at one point cause he feels he doesn´t know enough about her and he thinks she is keeping something from him.
” I know you don´t have to tell me every little thing about your life, but I just feel like you are keeping so much from me, and I don´t know why.” (-Gabe, ch. 34)
Many things about their relationship just feel rushed and forced because of the time-limit set for the carnival and I feel like this let the ARC of their relationship as well as the characters down.
When it comes to the second point of the plot, the opposite happens and it almost feels as if things are too slow. This mystic energy in Caudry that is giving Mara a strange icy feeling in her chest (once again, a good premise) just kind of lies there in the background and we never really get to know what it is, even if it´s repeated many times.
“That’s when I realized the chill wasn’t coming from outside—it was coming from within me.” (-Mara, ch. 1)
The strange, supposed wild animal that is attacking them is handled as if it´s much harder for the reader to figure it out then it actually is. While I could quickly see that it was probably some kind of demon attacking them, the characters need the whole of about 75% of the book to do this – and these characters live with things that are supernatural!
But, of course, if the town sheriff says it´s a coyote then they should probably keep considering this for what feels like ages.
Once the plot finally gets to the part of the intrigue and build-up to the finale it feels like it could have happened much earlier on and the final fight with this creature ends in a way that feels way too easy and it just didn´t excite me that much. It just falls flat.
Finally, there´s also technique.
When it comes to the technique of Hocking´s writing, I feel like it´s fine – but it lacks refinement. It lacks that little bit extra that just makes me feel taken away and that makes me want to highlight a bunch of passages because of the beautiful language. There are parts where the text doesn´t flow quite as easily as I perhaps would have loved and I didn´t quite understand sometimes why she broke some things into different chapters when the chapters were already so short. It also annoyed me when the text in a couple of places repeats facts rather than things like descriptions or traits which can actually help highlight or underline something important.
Now, keeping from only bringing out the bad, I want to point out that Amanda Hocking has managed to include some points of foreshadowing that I really liked and that were very well done in my opinion. Parts of the reveals in the end were built up using smaller facts from the beginning of the book and made me go “a-ha!” in the end which I really liked. Spoiler: the way she plants the german gun with silver bullets and how she drops hints about Blossom, for example, were my personal favorites.
So, all in all; it was fine. There were a good idea and a good story, but it didn´t have quite the refinement I believe there could have been to really catch my interest and excitement or have me longing for another book like it. I might check out Hocking´s work again, but this didn´t exactly make me want to go out and see what else she´s got just to get more.
*a copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher via the Goodreads group ‘A Book Nirvana’ in exchange for an honest review.*