(review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/24122.html)
Back in 2009, I bought, read and loved Marr's debut novel Wicked Lovely. Unfortunately, my love for the series has waned with each subsequent book (though I've yet to read the last installment, Darkest Mercy), but this didn't keep me from being curious and a little bit excited when I found out she was going to be releasing an adult novel. The premise sounded good, despite being PNR, and it's Melissa Marr! To make matters even better, I got an ARC of the book for free. See, I work at a bookstore, and we're lucky enough that publishers throw ARCs our way in the hopes that employees will read and promote the book. Nobody wanted Graveminder's ARC, so I got to take home. We received the ARC after the release of the book, so I didn't feel pressured to read it too soon either. October felt like the perfect time to read a story about restless spirits, and it was nominated as the Alphabet Soup Book Club's October pick. Win-win-win-and-WIN!
All that said, it really is too bad I didn't enjoy this book all that much. *sigh* Believe me, I really wanted to (read above), but it just didn't work out.
First thing's first: I don't like Paranormal Romance all that much. God knows I've tried to, but it rarely ever works out (though in some very rare cases it *does*, I swear.) I think it's important to get this little fact out of the way because this book IS Paranormal Romance. I knew this before jumping into the book, but I didn't let that deter my excitement; besides, Wicked Lovely is mostly PNR, and I liked THAT book quite a bit, so why not this one too? Well, here's why:
1) Bek and Byron's romance: I'm a picky reader when it comes to romance. It's probably why I have a hard time reading PNR in general. Usually what kills romance for me is insta-love, which actually *doesn't* happen in this novel. In this story, Bek and Byron's relationship is already firmly established, but it's the "It's Complicated" folder, by which I mean Byron is completely in love with Rebekkah, but she's too stupid and stubborn to admit that she reciprocates those feelings. There were so many passages in this book where Byron dwells on how much he LUURRVEEESS Rebekkah so much and so many passages where Rebekkah tries to hard to suppress her very obvious attraction to Byron that it got on my nerves really, really fast. I like sexual tension, and there was potential for there to be a lot of it here, but it ended up falling flat because the characters dwell on it way too much, to the point where it gets repetitive, and it's all very dramatic, in the annoying way. Now, what I DID like about the romance was that the characters questioned just how in love with each other they actually were; they find out that the Undertaker and the Graveminder always fall in love. So are they actually in love with one another, or are they ONLY in love because of their destinies? This isn't wholly original, but I liked that they questioned this, even if their angsting and dwelling on this became as repetitive as Byron and Bek's angsting about their feelings in general.
2) The gender roles: in this book, in the city of Claysville, the people made a pact with the Devil way back when and because of this, they need two people: one to fill in the role of the Graveminder, they make sure that people are probably treated after they die so that they go to the Afterlife properly; and the Undertaker, who assists the Graveminder is performing her task. Now, what I found odd about all this was that the Graveminder was ALWAYS female, and the Undertaker is ALWAYS male. ALWAYS. At one point in the book, they even show a list of all the people who have been Graveminders and Undertakers and they are ALWAYS ALWAYS Graveminder = female and Undertaker = male. Why is this? Why can't they switch it up once in awhile? Why must there always be heterosexual relationships between the two? Couldn't they have EVER shaken it up a bit? I'm sure girls can be Undertakers too, as well as men being Graveminders. I don't know; maybe I'm making mountains out of anthills, but this is something that jumped out at me and made me question things.
3) Worldbuilding: I will give credit to Marr for creating an inventive and creative spin on the ghost and spirits stuff; it was something I had never come across before, and I thought it was all pretty cool. I did find that some of the world-building aspects were underdeveloped though. For one, why were people rebelling in the Afterlife/Underworld place (I forget what this place was called in the novel..)? I think the scene that confused me the most regarding this was when Rebekkah first goes there and she gets shot at by "people" (spirits? ghosts?) who "live" there. Why would they do that? I didn't get it. Maybe I missed something? Another thing was that when Rebekkah goes to this, if something fatal were to happen to her, she would die, but Byron, even though he's an Undertaker and human, can go there and NOT be killed. If it was explained why, I missed it, or it was explained badly. One other thing (though I think I could make a list quite a bit longer if I wanted to) that puzzled me was that Graveminders are inexplicably drawn to the Afterlife place. It's never explained WHY, they just ARE, and as such, it's kind of a dangerous place for them to be hanging out or to visit, because it might lead to suicide (like it did with Rebekkah's step-sister.) They never explain WHY this is, and I couldn't see any particular draw to the place; I mean, it's full of gangsters who shoot at each other and stuff! I wouldn't want to live there forever. I just didn't buy it. It also didn't help that Rebekkah never seemed to feel a pull to the place at any point in the novel. If you're going to throw in something weird like that, you may as stay consistent, you know?
As for the rest of the novel, it was the embodiment of mediocrity for me. The writing was meh (though not BAD), the story lacked tension (it's supposed to come off as a bit of a mystery, but it's pretty clear from the beginning who is responsible for everything) and didn't do much for me, and the secondary characters were all just sort of... there. (I did like that one girl Byron was sleeping with though; she was all right.)
All in all, this was a super mediocre reading experience, and as such, it made me nitpick a lot more than I might have otherwise.
Final Verdict: I am a fan of Marr's YA stuff, so I really wanted to live this jump into the adult market just as much. Unfortunately, this novel didn't deliver for me on a lot of fronts, and because of this, I ended up nitpicking the hell out of it. It's really not a TERRIBLE novel; I've read much worse, but I've also read MUCH better, and from I've read much better from Marr herself, so this novel really was a letdown. The romance drove me crazy with the two leads constantly angsting about their feelings, the world-building felt like it had a lot of plot-holes and the gender restrictions of the Graveminders and Undertakers left me a little baffled and frustrated. The writing, plot, and secondary characters weren't terrible, but they didn't really do anything for me either. It's really too bad, because I really wanted to like this book. Ah well.