Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave
This is a difficult review for me to write as, on paper at least, TGOIAS is everything a book should be.
The plot is its biggest standout, our protagonist, Isabella, lives on an island under strict and misguided near totalitarian rule, despite this, her best friend is the governor’s daughter, Lupe. However, when a murder and some other mysterious happenings cause the Governor to try and flee the island a rift is finally torn in the girl’s friendship and Isa’s bursting anger shame’s Lupe into plunging into an ill-advised adventure to fix her father’s mistakes.
Lupe’s father organises a search party and Isa muscle’s her way into it to try and save her friend.
As you can see, the premise alone is interesting, especially so since our protagonist shares some of the blame (something I always like to see, I always wonder why protagonists who had nothing to do with a rubbish situation somehow feel it’s their business to get involved in heroing toward a solution, usually with the grace of an elephant whose just finished slamming diamond whites). From there, again, on paper, the narrative goes from strength to strength, refusing to reply on clichés, bringing new ideas to the table in a mix of a world mixing reality and fantasy, keeping everything well paced.
The characters, I stress again, on paper, are good, in that they are neither annoying perfect nor irritatingly incompetent.
Why then, does my review sound so cold, and why do I keep stressing that, on paper, clause- Instead of using emotive language or straight up saying the book’s good, because it sounds like it is good, right?
Unfortunately, I can’t sing TGOIAS praise from the rooftops as, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t immerse myself in this book. This isn’t usually a problem I have,.I love reading, I can immerse myself in the phone book, but TGOIAS would just not let me in. I found myself watching my cat endlessly wash herself, this is the same cat, mind, that I absent-mindedly over armed when she interrupted the Lady Trent saga – that’s what usually happens when it comes down to a battle of cat vs. book. Not this time.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why this was too, as, as I’ve expressed multiple times, on paper it’s hard to find fault with this book and, having finished it, I can confirm the book is well paced, well written and original the whole way through.
Having considered it for a while I had to conclude the final culprit was the characters. The book is quite short, and there wasn’t a moment wasted; which sounds like a good thing, but with every word dedicated to description, or moving the plot onward, a world in which no interaction is without purpose, I found it hard to empathise or connect with anyone, even the main character, whose head we have a window into, didn’t seem to have much to say about anything except current events, even how she feels about them is something not much indulged in.
While I can appreciate an author who won’t let her work stagnate the end result was that, instead of reading a book and making a window into a part of Isabella’s life, it felt more like watching a play. All the actors spawned into being at the beginning and ceasing to exist at its end, I had no concept of what the characters, or their lives, were, outside of their current predicament. The reader is not taken into the world, so much as invited to watch some events unfold.
So, I identified the characters as the problem, but, I reasoned, the book was quite plot heavy, so I would finish and see how the whole thing wrapped up.
Only for the end to hinge entirely on an emotional investment I just didn’t have.
So, on top of everything else, I’m going to call out the end as a massive anticlimax. It was like, in my mind, if George R.Martin decided to end Game of Thrones on a succession of emotive character letters explaining their real and deeply traumatic personal issues. You don’t spend a book world building and adventuring with cardboard cut-out characters, only to demand I get upset when the cardboard inevitably gets blown off the epic cliff they’ve been put on.
But I digress.
Immersion being a purely emotional response perhaps TGOIAS will speak to you in a way it just didn’t for me, but, personally, I’m going to recommend you read something else.