Review Corner: Assimilation by James Stryker

Months ago, I was approached by James Stryker about possibly reading and reviewing his debut novel Assimilation. After being given a brief synopsis:

ASSIMILATION, a dystopian thriller with LGBTQ elements, follows the struggle of a man who is reanimated in a woman’s body following a cryogenic error. The story’s main character, Andrew, must fight to assert his own identity against the husband who paid to have his wife returned.

I was intrigued and more than ready to dive in.

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It was a slow start for me, though admittedly, it was a very difficult place to take up the story since the reader is not familiar with it or the characters at all yet. It opens with the emerging consciousness of recently remade/reanimated Natalie, except that it’s Andrew….as I said, it’s a difficult place to dive in, but once I was in a chapter or so, past the foggy uncertainty, and into the ability to learn about and connect with the characters and the story, I was hooked.

In fact, I still blame Stryker for essentially missing a few days of writing progress because I was either reading the book, or distracted by thinking about it…

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The novel is told in three perspectives; we start with that of Andrew/Natalie. There are a couple of chapters with Natlie’s husband, Robert’s, perspective to illustrate his inner thoughts concerning the changes he sees in his wife, and what he thinks about doing to make things the way he wants them. Lastly, we have a few chapters from Oz’s perspective (we’ll talk more about him in a bit).

I was a bit jarred at the first switch in perspective because I was not expecting it. In particular I was not expecting Oz’s perspective, but it didn’t take long to get into the swing of it and not be as jolted by the shifts.

It was soon evident that the author has a gift for evoking an emotional response from the reader, swiftly pulling you into the strange situation at hand; Robert wants his submissive, ‘perfect’, wife and caretaker, mother of his remaining son, returned to him just as she was before the car accident that killed her; Andrew wants to find who is, be who he is, despite his outward appearance being that of Natalie.

While Andrew, attempting to play the role of Natalie, continues to get better and grow stronger while recovering in the hospital, he must face the looming and terrifying circumstances he is in; being “restored” and reanimated by Cryolife comes with a lot of signed paperwork, but also the fact that “Natalie” is under conservatorship for a six month period, where the conservator then decides whether or not to grant full benefits and entitlements to “her” ……just simmer on that one for a moment…

Robert, Natalie’s husband, is the conservator. It is up to him to decide if his wife is “acting appropriately” for the six month period that she will be under observation…packaged as for the sake of safety. Andrew is faced with the task of conforming to Robert’s ideal version of Natalie in order to keep from being returned to CryoLife and “helped” by being put through a process that would essentially kill Andrew and result in any number of possible issues with the newly “restored” Natalie.

Even once deemed well enough to return home, “Natalie” must continue taking antibiotics and other medications, as well as return regularly for sessions with Dr. Zuniga, head of the psychiatric board for Cryolife, and one of the Brigman team that controls the medicines and therapy that Natalie receives, all shaped by Robert’s desires.

It is while picking up the refill of one of these prescriptions that Andrew (in Natalie’s body of course), meets Oz, the pharmacist, and that’s where things start to take a turn for Andrew.

After a most shocking in depth introduction to Oz, “Natalie” begins sneaking out to spend time with him, where Andrew also meets a ragtag collection of fellow reanimated CryoLife subjects, all “returned” more than a little different; one hears an unending loop of the same music in his head, sometimes growing louder to the point of madness, and another with an affinity for things no longer living. For the first time since coming to being, Andrew finds comfort and a sense of belonging, but it’s not with the family that Natalie had made and elected to go through the CryoLife procedure for.

“Natalie’s” odd behavior does not go unnoticed by the demanding, controlling Robert. Behavior such as a complete disconnect from their son, Simon; before, Natalie had been doting, quintessential mom and housewife, but after, she was nearly negligent if not blatantly abusive (secretly drugging Simon with cough medicine to make him sleep instead of clinging to “Natalie”), not cleaning up to Robert’s usual standards (dust on the electric socket…not even joking….), etc. Stryker does an excellent job at portraying a character as a narcissist, one that believes that they are infallible and acts accordingly, including forcing their own desires on other people the way Robert does with Natalie.

Things eventually devolve when Robert finds out that “Natalie” has not being visiting with her best friend, Shelly all the times she’s gone out, but is instead visiting Oz. Again, Stryker knows how to paint a horrifying picture of abuse and abduction, to the point that, as a survivor of abuse myself, I wish I’d had a little more warning, but that’s a personal thing. There’s nothing too terribly graphic, but the inferences and some of the actions and conversations are enough to horrify a reader.

One thing I had a problem with while reading were some confusing uses of pronouns. There were many occurrences where “him/he” were often used without being sure of who was actually talking or being referred to. This seemed to be a particular problem when Andrew is telling the story, especially since Andrew is sometimes referred to as Andrew (he/him), while other times as Natalie (her/she). Using names a little more often would have been helpful in these situations.

Another thing I noticed was an occasional issue with story tense and marking the passage of time. When a character recalls something from the past, there isn’t always a clear marker or segue, or even consistent past and present tenses, to move the reader back and forth between them. Also, things seem to sometimes happen on top of each other; an unexpected and unstated amount of time can pass from one paragraph to the next without it being marked and left to the reader to divine whether it’s been minutes, hours, days, or weeks. This is probably heightened by the switching perspectives without a firm grounding of time.

One other big thing that was difficult for me to go along with is some of Andrew’s reactions; they can be incredibly aggressive, sometimes over the top, often without provocation other than Andrew mistaking something someone said, did, or is thinking instead of asking for clarification (except the pizza throwing, I understand the reason, but the action still felt unnecessary, and there are other reactions that would have been more plausible to me). That aspect was a bit frustrating for me, unless Andrew is supposed to be acting like someone that could have borderline personality disorder. I’m not sure if this is intended to speak to the various drugs “Natalie” is being given by CryoLife doctors, a comment on Andrew’s personality, the damage CryoLife did, or just an attempt to illustrate more conflict, but it didn’t work for me very well.

One of my favorite things about Assimilation, though, is the love and connection forged between Oz and Andrew. Despite the bizarre way they came together, there’s something beautiful about how they are able to connect. At one point, Oz was a mathematician, it was his art, an art lost to him after being reanimated, and Andrew is able to appreciate and see it for that. That really got me, I have to admit, and my description of is it atrocious in comparison to the picture described by Stryker.

I have a few other comments that are or could be possible spoilers so, if you don’t know the drill and you don’t want to see any spoilers, just scroll down until you see the kitten in flannel.

Spoiler-Alert-Discussion

At one point in the novel, after a relationship between Andrew and Oz has been established, it comes to light the Dr. Brigaman, the same man responsible for CryoLife, is Oz’s father. When this is revealed to Andrew, he makes no real comment about it and has essentially no reaction to it, which I find incredibly hard to believe.

As the reader switching into Oz’s head on occasion, it was no surprise that Brigman was his father, but to Andrew, I can’t imagine that’s expected news.

I’m also curious as to what kind of place Robert takes the abducted “Natalie” to that has doors that lock from the outside, or if Robert changed the locks. I don’t remember seeing any mention of that, or signs that it had occurred. I feel it needs to be explained in some way or else it feels like an added detail just to keep Andrew trapped without having a real basis for it.

The only other issue I have is why Santino, one of the group that has been reanimated by CryoLife and is friends with Oz and Andrew, leaves Oz at all in the Savanah General Hospital after he is hurt; it’s connected to CryoLife, which they all know. I just found it a little hard to believe given the parameters of knowing that Brigman is too close, and that the unconscious are vulnerable.

Other than that, I found the ending incredibly sad, but understandable, especially given the way it ends; since Tinks is the one that hears the music and routinely wants to end things in order to make it stop, it’s a difficult ending, a crushing one, but worthy of the characters in it. I really wish Oz and Andrew could have been together in life and happy; it was a poignant ending, but it worked in a strangely love soaked (and thus beautiful) way.

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Okay, it’s safe to come out and read from here if you wanted to skip possible spoilers.

I know I’ve mentioned a lot of things that may not have worked for me, but I need to make clear how strongly invested I was in this novel once I get into the characters. There are always things that could make a novel stronger in hindsight, but the core story-telling, and the characters, were well written.

If you don’t like sad endings, you may want to skip this one, it’s a heart breaker.

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But if you are willing to brave through it, it’s worth the read, my friends.

Those looking for LGBT+ related books might find it of interest, given the involuntary/voluntary switch from Natalie to Andrew. Also, fans of dystopian sci-fi, but really, anyone that wants to walk away with a story and characters you won’t forget, then Assimilation is worth your time.

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James Stryker has a new book coming out called Boy: A Journey, which I’m also personally looking forward to emerging myself in, if you’ll excuse me….

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Review Corner: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

I was fortunate to receive an ARC copy of Nevernight by Jay Kristoff in exchange for an honest review after both the description (and the cover) caught my eye.

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In a land under three suns that almost never set (Nevernight, get it? But it does get dark every 2 ½ years), Mia Corvere witnesses the execution of her father as a traitor after a failed rebellion, the arrest of her mother and baby brother, and barely escapes with her life, all at the age of ten.

As Mia makes her way through the world over the next six years with assistance of a retired killer named Mercurio, and the shadows that are drawn to her and drink her fear, she’s left with her mother’s words, “Never flinch. Never fear. Never forget.” This is the anthem she lives by and repeats to herself as she prepares to enter the Red Church to become an acolyte in a school of assassins wishing to pledge themselves to and to be accepted by the Lady of Blessed Murder; all to get back at those responsible for annihilating her family (Scaeva, Remus, and Duomo).

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I was intrigued.

The first thing to note is that this book is violent, there’s plenty of blood, swearing, death, and even some sex, so it’s not for everyone. The interesting thing is how the prologue warns of you this from the start, including:

“And if the unpleasant realities of bloodshed turn your insides to water, be advised now that the pages in your hands speak of a girl who was to murder as maestros are to music. Who did to happy ever afters what a sawblade does to skin.”

Heavy prose and metaphor may not be more your thing, and if any part of the above lines irks you, I suggest you pass on reading Nevernight. However, if any part reels you in, it’s worth the read. I admit that I was swept up in the way it was written and for the most part, increasingly interested in learning more of the story.

Mia, with the help of Mister Kindly, the “not cat” made of shadows that becomes Mia’s companion, navigates the world around her on the way to the Red Church; though not always helpful, his banter with Mia as he drinks her fear entertains the reader as it allows Mia to act without flinching, moving fearlessly.

On her way to the Red Church (which involves collecting the tithe of some teeth or bone of someone you’ve killed), Mia meets a half Dweymeri boy named Tric (which we learn is not a proper Dweymeri name, nor are his facial tattoos the proper artist style, nor his brown skin dark enough, nor tall enough; we learn why this matters in relation to his reasons in joining the Red Church later). Together, Mia and Tric travel across the unforgiving desert, outrun a sand kraken, fight with and then save a woman named Naev, all on their way to deliver their tithes and become acolytes.

Tric, Mia, and a group of other young hopefuls pledge themselves to the Red Church in hopes of taking one of the four open spots for assassins. The rest (that live) are to become Hands (helpers, servants, etc, which is what Naev is), and stay on to assist the Church and inhabitants in anyway necessary.

Along the way, Mia meets other students, a couple that she is friendly with such as Ashlinn (called Ash) or Carlotta (called Lottie), and one in particular that is not so friendly and has in fact sworn to kill Mia,  named Jessamine. Jessamine’s father was executed beside Mia’s father as a traitor due to the failed rebellion. Such hostility is tolerated in church of thieves and assassins, as long as no one openly defies any rules set by the Shahiid’s (teachers/Masters), or the heads of the church, including Lord Cassius (rarely seen), and Mother Drusilla.

Classes include instruction in thievery, poisons and potions, seduction and extraction of secrets, as well as fighting techniques and sparring practice (which often turns violent and bloody); each of the Masters issues a challenge in their field, winning one or more of the challenges garners the favor of the Master and a near guarantee of being one of the chosen four to become pledged.

There is plenty of intrigue and animosity (and hormones) at play to keep the novel moving. More mystery is added when it’s learned that enigmatic Lord Cassius happens to also be darkin, or those that converse with the shadows and the dark, and it’s not just anyone that can call the shadows to them; in fact, most people are petrified of the darkin. This stokes Mia’s desire to learn more about what it means to be darkin, which prompts her to visit the worm infested library of dead and forgotten books in search of the right one to assist her (the keeper of the books tells her he’ll keep an eye out for one).

One thing she learns the hard way about being darkin is the vulnerability to the sign of the Trinity, three suns to represent the god Aa; she becomes violently ill and tries to hide from it, attempting to retreat into the shadows. The Trinity also prompts Mister Kindly to leave Mia for the first time ever since he first came to her in attempt to flee the symbol of the blessed suns.

I took a special liking to Mister Kindly. Something about the darkness and Mister Kindly in general kept me coming back to drink up more of the story (though I did occasionally need to put it down and step away because some of the characters’ decisions or thoughts were irksome). Perhaps it’s the visual aspect that draws me in. I foresee many a piece of fan art to be made from this book. It speaks to a lot of my own inspirations and reminds me of some of my own ideas; something about the shadows and Mister Kindly makes me want to create things.

All around I have to say that I enjoyed reading Nevernight and am curious what happens in the next couple of novels and leads to Mia’s death, which the narrator tells us of at the very beginning. Which leads me to the first of a couple of things I was disenchanted with, downright disliked, or seriously question.

Our narrator is never named, but tells us early on, not only of Mia’s death, but that the narrator loves her. Sometimes the realization that our narrator knows all that they do about Mia makes it a little creepy, or at the very least poses some questions on the part of the narrator. By the end of the novel, there’s no way to know if we’ve met the narrator yet, or even if the narrator can be completely trusted, which again poses some interesting queries.

Perhaps it’s because of the narrator (whoever they may be) is telling the story, but there are a lot of footnotes. Some of the footnotes are useful and helpful to the reader, such as the ones that give more context or information to something typical in the book, such as copper and iron coins being called “beggars” and “priests” respectively as slang, and gold ones just called gold. However, I found some of them unnecessary tangents that could be distracting by sometimes taking up half the page, and often continuing from one page to the next, all without actually adding to the story; I wonder if all of them will be included in the final version.

One thing that kept bothering me while I was reading involved that of a woman named Marielle, who lives in the depths of the Red Church with her beloved brother. Marielle is visibly deformed, described as sadistic and grotesque; the visual malformation is the price of the gift Marielle wields, which allows her to change features, alter flesh (Marielle is the one that doles out punishment by ripping up the offender’s back with her gift).

So here is my issue: only four acolytes are chosen to stay in the Red Church as assassins, and there are roughly thirty to start. Even though the numbers are paired down, I question why Marielle is bothered to transform the features of all living acolytes that have not yet been chosen and accepted into the Church in a capacity that would necessarily need their features changed…maybe that’s just me though.

Besides a stray couple of continuity issues, including Mia throwing her “last throwing-knife” more than once in the same fight a few pages apart and a duplicate description of a character chapters apart, the only other issue within the novel that I have concerns the number of soldiers/legionnaires involved in the big fight near the end. It reads like a never ending parade of faceless soldiers that are only there to impress the reader with their numbers to drive the drama. It falls flat to me and just reminds me of bad fight scenes in movies. Admittedly there’s a lot going on in the midst of battle and fights, but it felt like every few paragraphs there were yet another 20-100 soldiers at any given time, none of which adds up if you tried to do the supposed math. So, not my favorite aspect.

Lastly, I raise the question of the age range on this book; I absolutely do not believe it belongs in Adult Fantasy. There are some “adult” themes, but as a whole, it reads more YA than Adult. The main character is 16 years old, and most of the other acolytes are around the same age. Then there’s the general maturity level of the characters, their thought processes, logic, and the decisions they make, all of which strongly give me the impression of more Young Adult than Adult in nature. I read somewhere that the author described it as possibly NA, or New Adult, and that I would concede as well, but not Adult. (This was also an interesting read that further adds to my feeling this way.)

Measured in that regard, I enjoyed it enough to be curious about the next books, but definitely not for an adult reader looking for a Fantasy along the lines of Song of Ice and Fire, Wise Man’s Fear, etc.

Nevernight is dark. If you are one to be swept up in language, it will devour you. I would recommend it to Fantasy lovers, those not adverse to violence, if you’re looking for something a little ominous that will entertain you (but not really challenge or change you), then you’re in the right place. I look forward to hearing more about the second book in the future.

 

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Review Corner: Storming by KM Weiland

 

I found Storming by KM Weiland through a combination of Twitter and Goodreads. There was a lot in the Goodreads description of this book, which started with praise for it from readers. I would have preferred just to have to blurb about the book, the rest is what reviews are for, but, I scanned and finally found the description. It was interesting enough, I happen to have a soft spot for steampunk and the many offshoots, and particularly, I have a strong love of the ‘20s era, at least in the way of music and some of the style, not so much in the social culture; the slang can be pretty fun though, haha (don’t get me started..)

Anyway, I decided to give it a try since there were some fun elements involved.

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I really wanted Storming to be more than it was and feel it could have been made stronger, but as is, it wasn’t what I hoped it would be.

One big thing I made note of from the start was the use of jargon in reference to flying the planes, which is a sizable part of the action in this novel. I think it’s very clear in reading this novel that KM Weiland is not overly familiar with flying airplanes, or with aircraft in general (if this is not true, I will be very surprised and must ask about some choices made). There is a heavy reliance on jargon and phrases used by those who are quite familiar with such things, most likely to enforce a sense of history and knowledge on the part of Hitch, who the story follows and is a pilot.

It makes sense for Hitch to know what he’s talking about and doing when it comes to planes and flying, but that doesn’t mean that an explanation and further description in layman’s terms wouldn’t be a good idea in a novel like this for the reader…who may not necessarily have that knowledge.

I lost track of the times I noted where this lack of knowledge in the author seems apparent. Information isn’t wielded with authority, and so there isn’t what feels like a wealth of knowledge to tap, it’s a string of jargon and passable sentences that show what the author wishes. She probably did a lot of research, and that’s great, but there needs to be more in the novel, at least for me. The opportunity was there, in particular, when Hitch is showing young Walter how to fly when they go up in the plane together for Walter’s first ride. The lack of familiarity weakened it for me, the jargon alone didn’t impress me when there is no other indication that the author has working knowledge of planes and flying that can be shared with the reader. I hazard to say it was almost confusing at times, and often had to resort to googling if I had any desire to actually understand what action was taking place. There were some wonderfully crafted lines that described the planes movement at times, but it was in part undercut by the lack of more intimate knowledge with the subject matter; the scene is interrupted when you have to lookup a term to understand the description…kind of kills the action.

The description of Walter’s first ride in the plane, whiche he so dearly wanted was heartwarming and well written. I enjoyed the scene, aside from aforementioned issues.

I was sorry to realize that I wasn’t a huge fan of the characters, mainly because I felt there was nothing to invest in with them. I had moments where I cared, instead of becoming more invested as the story progressed. This was in large part due to the pervasive feeling that the characters were there to act out a set script, the plot lines the author wanted to happen, instead of the story moving forward as a result of the actions and reactions of fully realized characters with their own set of thoughts and desires that fall within their personalities.

There were occasional scenes or lines that I appreciated, but in general they were few and far between. The rest of it was a collection of action scenes that I questioned or things I generally just didn’t buy, continuity issues sprinkled throughout, with a dose of, what I feel, is questionable dialogue.

Some examples include: you don’t lose a heavy accent within a couple of days by being around people that speak a native language that is not yours, as is the case, apparently, with Jael, the woman who drops out of the sky. Jael supposedly speaks another language as her native tongue, and though she might understand more English within a couple of days if she’s smart,  and she might be better at the weird word placement English has in comparison with other languages, again if she’s smart, but you don’t lessen an accent within a couple of a days. It takes more time and a lot more conversation.

As for the dialogue, it was often far too pointed and scripted sounded. It screamed “I am dialogue!” I rarely felt like there was conversation going on, more a necessary interaction for the reader to understand the next point. There was also some very heavy handed talk of heroes, both in dialogue and not, that I personally wasn’t a fan of. It was a bit much for me, seemed like trying too hard. Walter, as a child, I could understand a bit more, but still, wasn’t a fan. None of it was particularly witty or funny, and I don’t remember anything standing out, which was a shame.

Even the drama seemed manufactured, such as the villain of the tale (or the man who pushed Jael out of Schturming,), named Zlo, and his demand for money from the town…there’s no explanation or context given for this desire. Zlo has been foraging, stealing, and generally taking what he wants or needs, both for him and the others (such as food, etc.,) as Schturming moves from place to place being completely contained in the air, aside from those let onto the ground to forage…again, there’s no reason for Zlo to value money, and it’s unclear what value he places on it.

The premise was interesting, which is why I was excited about starting Storming, but I was disappointed. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, or at all what I expected or hoped. With some more attention to detail and further development, I think it could be better, but as it, I’m not among the throng of people that are impressed and overjoyed with this novel.

Review Corner: Raining Embers by Jessica Dall

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.

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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.

idiva_063Again, 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.