I was approached by Jessica Dall and offered an ARC of her new book Raining Embers for an honest review. After sending me a little blurb about it, I decided I was interested in taking a looking. The idea of a disability being the actual sign of awakening powers, as happens to Palmer and Brier, the main characters in this oddly constructed story, reminded me of an idea I had of my own, and so I became curious what someone else did with one overlapping vein of an idea.
As interesting as the concept is for Chaos and Order to be reincarnated into the bodies of the main characters of the story, there is a lot of work that needs to be done to make this the intriguing story it could be. I feel like there were a lot of very integral things missing, and a few that could use some revising.
The events, as best I can attempt to summarize, go as follows: Palmer Tash is an acolyte, Brier Chastain-Bochard lives in the palace and becomes engaged under supposedly suspicious circumstances to Nico Adessi-Guillroy. Both have a strange “disability” that has gone unexplained through their lives. The same night of Brier and Nico’s engagement, Palmer and Brier (who have only just happened to see/meet each other for the first time), are kidnapped by the brothers Goebel and their friend/helper/shape shifter Cerise (whose part is never really explained and essentially unnecessary to the story). After running away from the Goebels because of their involvement with the last reincarnation of Chaos’s death; they flee along with a six year old named Rosette that sinister Reinhald Goebel took from the streets that Brier decides they can’t leave, Brier and Palmer first settle in a small village, and finally decide to return home. When they return to the city, they find they are at war, so of course, they try to escape again, because it seems there is some kind of government/power takeover attempt going on, but run into Reinhald, who then coerces them to join him. First they retreat outside the city to pick up some troops, then return, and Brier’s power is unleashed and demolishes the city. After which, the story is pretty much done, except for Brier’s feeling of “wrongness” about herself (the lead in, I presume, to the next book).
After over 280 pages, I could tell you little more about the characters, plot, setting, culture, or even motives presented in Raining Embers. I get the feeling that Dall may have been trying to do too much without making sure to weave more depth into the story and her characters.
The characters were in desperate need of depth and personalities, traits that were unique to each character. Even the physical descriptions, if given, were not always consistent, or at the very least made imagining the scene uncertain. For instance, in the very beginning of the novel, Brier is described as impossibly tiny, despite the fact that she is, presumably, a young woman, but later, Brier is depicted as carrying a six year old over rough terrain. For a woman described as being not much bigger than a twelve-year old, it’s very hard to imagine her carrying a child, on her hip, for any extended length of time. All around though, I don’t feel like a single character had what I would deem a full personality. I also did not see any dynamic characters. There was no one to root for because I had no idea who I was dealing with and read an entire story without feeling like there actually were main characters, instead I felt like I was following two narrators that happened to be trying to act in the story at the same time.
There is one thing I do know about Brier, but it’s a choice I seriously question the necessity of, and that is Brier’s extreme concern about and obsession for finding alcohol. You could play a drinking game with the mention of alcohol and the need to find more for the first part of the book.
Again, having no idea how old Brier is or what the culture is like, there is no way to know if this is acceptable or as shocking at it feels.( **correction, Brier’s birthday party is when the engagement is announced, however, I had to have this pointed out to me. As a plot point, again this needs to be more attended to and given context in the story). Also, the reason that Brier supposedly desires to be drunk so badly is her “disability”, which is that every summer she suffers through a rotting smell. Nowhere in this book is there an adequate enough description describing this supposedly pungent and putrid odor that is supposedly so overpowering that most of what Brier thinks for at least the first couple of chapters, seems to be alcohol and finding more. Because of this lack of reason, Brier’s drinking felt pointless and completely unnecessary.
Connecting with the characters was made all the more difficult due to, what I feel, are some glaring dialogue issues. When there was a string of dialogue, it was a little hard not to feel like I was watching seventh graders perform a self-written play; over acted, some poor and over reaching word choices, and a dose of bravado. If the characters had been more deeply developed, each voice should resonate with the character speaking, with this this depth missing, the dialogue is flat and doesn’t properly do what dialogue should, which is move the story along and give the reader more information about what is going on, and about the character(s) speaking, or the ones being spoken about.
As to the plot, a lot of things played a big role in where this failed to deliver a spell binding story. For one thing, the setting and the culture were not adequately described by any stretch of the imagination. The last names, for instance, Chastain-Bochard and Adessi-Guillroy versus Tash; there is absolutely no explanation of why last names matter, or how, but there is continued alluding to them denoting rank, title, occupation, station…honestly I had to just roll with it and pretend I knew, but by the end of the book, I no longer cared. It feels like Dall tried to get intricate and devious with some kind of overthrowing power play, but with no explanation of the government, no history to ground it, no emotion to make the reader care, and no antagonist properly defined in any capacity, it doesn’t hold up. I ended up just reading through it and shrugging instead of investing in it because I didn’t feel like there was anything or anyone to invest in. An all-out war is happening at the end of the book, Brier, as the embodiment of Chaos stretching her legs brings down the palace, destroys the piazza, and I couldn’t tell you who was supposed to be fighting, or why.
I also felt the action scenes needed more attention to. The settings, which I never felt were properly presented, became very difficult to picture, especially on the move with a lot of things happening. However, the action didn’t flow, what was happening became confusing and I ended up just going with it and being okay with not understanding what exactly was going on in the moment. For instance, I believe they are in the palace, but there is a sudden stream of gushing water down the hall Brier and Palmer are in, but you have no idea where this water source came from, or what made it suddenly come gushing towards the main characters. Details like this can make or break a story, you don’t have to go into minute detail, but if you’re throwing in things like this, add some context.
One thing I did enjoy, were some of the descriptions of the Nothing that Brier feels. As the embodiment of Chaos she can feel death, control it a little (sort of, but not really?), which I found an interesting concept. Unfortunately, there’s only so many ways you can describe Nothing and have it sound poetic while working in the setting.
I wanted this book to be more than it was but I think a lot could be made stronger on the whole. I honestly don’t even know how there is going to be another book because there just didn’t seem enough to the world, the story, or even the characters. I think, with development, there could be something here, but as it is, I would have a hard time recommending this book to anyone, but to each their own.