(Original review posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/32499.html)Why I Read It:
Kobo was having a Boxing Day sale so I browsed what titles they were discounting and came across this for $1.99 CAN. Since its release in 2009, I've heard a lot of good things about this series (especially this first installment), so I picked it up and read a big chunk before my e-reader went and died on me.
I haven't read a whole lot of Southern Gothic fiction. Actually, I haven't read a lot of Gothic fiction period (save for Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights). But I like the IDEA of the Southern Gothic. It sounds eerie and atmospheric and AWESOME. However, I know for certain that I am NOT a fan of Paranormal Romance. I try reading it and I've tried to shake this bias, but the truth of the matter is, it's rarely my cup of tea. And that's okay!!! I'm not saying PNR is bad, it just doesn't usually work for me. So it was with equal measures of excitement and trepidation that I started this novel.
Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed.
One of my problems was with the voice of the narrator, Ethan Wate. At first, I appreciated that the novel was doing something a little different with the PNR by making it from a male perspective instead of a female one. However, when you get right down to it, this still reads like every other PNR YA out on the market right now: x person meets y person and is instantly attracted to them. In this case, it's just the boy who meets and falls for the girl instantly. Yeah, it takes them forever to admit that they're dating and they don't profess their love for each other until the very end of the book, but the point still stands that Ethan was attracted to Lena from the get-go. So in the end, it's really not that different. At all. At least Ethan had some sort of reasoning for being instantly attracted to Lena -- to the fact that's different and not from Gatlin and therefore doesn't have the small-town prejudices that Ethan believes almost all of his peers possess -- but it still all felt too reminiscent of instal-luv (or in this case, insta-attraction I guess. Whatever.)
So yeah, about Ethan's voice as a first-person narrator; it didn't really gel with me. He didn't really come off as a BOY to me. He read more like some kind of wish-fulfillment, what girls WISH boys were like inside their minds. I'm not saying that boys aren't allowed to be sensitive and caring, but Ethan's voice just didn't feel genuine to me. I honestly think Ethan and Lena could have gender-swapped and it wouldn't have changed the story in any real significant way.
Also, I was disappointed at the lack of atmosphere. I know the novel isn't marketed as horror, but it IS marketed as a mix between fantasy/paranormal and Southern Gothic, so I wanted it to be creepy!! Eerie!! Spooky!! Something. But it never really was. Yeah, there was the mystery surrounding Ravenwood Manor, but that mystery was quickly solved as Ethan is allowed entrance there fairly early on and we get to meet in the infamous Mac Ravenwood. Actually, the world-building in general all felt kind of off. I understand that this is the first in a series, but when you're clocking in at almost 600 pages, you really do have a lot of room to flesh out your world. I seriously didn't understand the world of the Casters very well though. They're kind of witches/warlocks, and there are different categories of Casters (like, for example, Sirens who are able to persuade people to do almost anything) but I never really understood Lena's category, which was called a Natural. Does that mean she's capable of doing almost anything? Or do they mean the weather (she inadvertently messes with the weather quite a bit throughout the course of the story)? or what? Also, there are little things, like Casters being separated from their parents at birth in case they go Dark, so the parents don't have to go through the pain of watching their child become evil. But one of Lena's cousins (Ryan I think her name was...) ISN'T separated from her parents and when Ethan asks why that's the case, Lena just shrugs and says she's a special case. That's it? Then why even have that bit in your world-building? Also, we find out that there are OTHER beings who are paranormal besides Casters, such as Ravenwood. But I never did figure out just WHAT he is. All we ever find out is that he sustains himself on people's dreams like a vampire sustains itself on people's blood (and oh yeah, vampires exist in this world apparently). Okayyy...?
Speaking of the whole Potentially Turning Evil Thing (when Casters turn 18 they either go Light, where they stay good people, or they go Dark, which means they become Eviiillll), could you be any more cliche? I also had a hard time feeling worried about Lena going Dark because the people who ARE Dark (such as Lena's cousin Ridley) didn't feel very dangerous. All Ridley does and strut around, bearing a lot of skin, seducing dudes and cousin a bit of mayhem, but never anything extremely harmful or dangerous (except when she tries to get Ethan's dad to jump off a building -- now THAT'S dangerous and kind of freaky). And the reveal of the villain at the end of the novel who's also Dark? It felt so corny.
I was also incredibly peeved off at the depiction of a lot of the Gatlin citizens in this novel. Yeah, I get that it was set in a small town and that people from small-towns tend to be more prejudiced and small-minded and yadda yadda yadda, I didn't have a problem with that. I had a problem that all the girls at the school were all dumb and stupid and unlikable because they were all girls who cared too much about their make-up and are cheerleaders and are therefore superficial. I am so tired of girly-girls being depicted as bad guys. And this isn't even a personal thing -- I was a tomboy for the most part growing up and I still don't wear make-up to this day, but I still get incredibly irritated when girls are seen as vapid and stupid people because they like wearing make-up and are on a cheerleading squad. That's more of a pet-peeve than anything though.
And the pacing!! IT WAS SO SLOW. Seriously, we spend almost a quarter of the novel watching Ethan pine after Lena while she continues to rebuke him, then reluctantly starts to let him in her fold. Then we spend another huge chunk of the novel watching the two of them worry over Lena is going to go Dark while the people of Gatlin treat Lena like shit because she's "different". There's some Caster stuff here and there, but like I mentioned above, I found most it confusing and unsatisfying. So really, the whole thing felt pretty slow, though it DID pick up a BIT of steam once Lena tells Ethan about the Caster stuff.
I do have to say though that I really liked Link.Final Judgment:
I feel like this review has just been one long rant, so I want to stress that I did not HATE this book. I just really wanted to love it and I'm kind of bitter because of my disappointment. I did manage to read it until the very end though, so that's gotta mean something, right? At the end of the day though, would I recommend this book? Probably not... not unless you were a hardcore fan of YA paranormal romance. Am I going to read the rest of the series? Maayyybbeeee, though probably not. From reviews that I've read of the second novel in the series, Beautiful Darkness is even slower than this one, and I already found THIS book really slow. So, all in all, it just wasn't for me.