Unfortunately, this is my second disappointing book in a row. Boo. It’s also the second book in a row that will be hard for me to review. Two reasons for this: The first is that a big chunk of my disappointment has to do with how long I’ve been waiting for this book (almost three years). What I initially heard about it turned out to have very little to do with the final story – to be expected after a three year wait. The second is the weird combination of fabulous writing and a bizarre, difficult-to-wrap-my-head-around story. To explain:
This is the story of five gifted teenagers flown to France by a billion-dollar corporation/family to take part in an excavation of an underground palace. Of course, nothing is really as it seems, and there’s some really funky stuff going on in this palace.
Sounds interesting! Except that from the beginning, the book feels…almost unfinished. Gorgeous writing, great flow, but the story takes a long time to get started, and once it does, it feels like the entire beginning didn’t really fit. These kids are flown out, and they start noticing something’s wrong (though what they notice, I couldn’t tell you). They freak out, and lock themselves in this underground palace. Bad Stuff Happens. The book morphs into some kind of science fiction fun-house chase scene that goes on for pretty much the entire novel. There was very little down-time, and when the characters do start to develop, it’s in little spurts that contribute very little to the plot, like they were tacked on later. We never learn much about the mechanics of everything, and there are some pretty major plot holes that I can’t discuss without going into extreme spoilers.
I read through the book waiting for something to happen to tie it all together, and yes, in the end it did tie together…sort of. If you ignored a few major plot holes. And decided that the first 85 pages of the book were disconnected from the story.
But here’s the thing that makes this review difficult: I really do feel like the book is written well. Maybe not pieced together well – it felt like it needed another draft – but the words themselves, the flow, the rhythm, the imagery, the dialogue, the sensual elements…those things were phenomenal. And that makes it hard for me to determine if my frustrations with the book are due to the book itself, or due to something in myself. I mean, I don’t normally like chase-scene books. Some people adore The Knife of Never Letting Go, for instance, and I finished it feeling like I’d watched a four-hour car chase. Exhausting and pointless. And I know that Ness book wasn’t pointless. It just felt like that to me, because I’m easily exhausted and bored by chase scenes. So maybe the plot holes I found in this book weren’t really plot holes, but me not paying enough attention. Maybe the characters developed more than I noticed, because my mind slipped off while the teens were running from the enemy. Etc.
I will say that I’ve read a few other reviews of this book, and it seems that some people adore it, and others felt like me, like it was a solid draft of a book that just needed a bit more work. I guess it just depends on the reader. And after three years of reading, I admit that I do wish I’d been on the love side instead of the meh.