Friday, April 22, 2011
Author: Gena Showalter
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
I noted that Intertwined didn't seem to know what it wanted to be, and consequently wound up reading kind of like a series of X-Men comics. Unraveled, however, seems to have decided that a series of X-Men comics is exactly what it wants to be. And so we get a lot of different plot threads coming at us one after another, to the point where you wonder if any of them are going to be tied up. There are indeed some closure problems, and by the end of the book some stuff seems to have been awkwardly pushed aside in favor of more interesting stories to come. But enough is explained, and the ride is exciting enough just in the present, that all in all it's still a worthwhile read.
Like it's predecessor, Unraveled is difficult to sum up because it throws a lot at you in a scattershot manner. In brief: through a somewhat bizarre sequence of events, the human Aden Stone is now the King of the Vampires and has to deal with half his subjects trying to curry his favor and the other half trying to depose him. Meanwhile, Aden is still stuck with three human ghosts anchored to him, and wants to figure out who they are and how he can help them move on to the hereafter. Aden is also turning out to be a literal magnet for trouble, as some strange compulsion is drawing everything from homicidal fairies to vicious goblins straight to Oklahoma in search of him. All that has to go on the back burner, however, because a witch's curse will kill Aden's friends and allies in a week unless he attends their meeting -- which he can't do because the witches have given him no indication when or where the meeting will be held.
And there's some other stuff going on too. It's kind of complicated.
Like the first book, the storyline is a sequence of occurrences, one after another, which aren't always strongly related. The progression is generally logical -- later events are explicitly the result of earlier ones -- but it becomes apparent as time goes on that the only reason anything really happens is because the author thought it would be neat. It's similar in concept to the Kalix MacRiannalch books, but without the brazen audacity of the latter. And as is depressingly usual with this structure, ideas tend to get dropped and then not picked up again. One character is eventually revealed to be another in disguise, for no apparent reason other than that the author was done with him and it simplified the story. Early on Aden kills a fairy, whose ghost then sticks around haunting the ranch for the remainder of the book. But while the death becomes an important plot element, the haunting doesn't amount to much but several scenes of a dead fairy screaming at Aden. And the subplot about Penny meanders around and goes nowhere.
A bigger problem is that very little care is given to the consistency of the setting. A fantastic story doesn't have to follow realistic rules, or even logical ones, but there do have to be rules and they do have to be followed. But over the course of Unraveled we have several things turning out to not work exactly how we thought. There's at least one bold-faced retcon: The nature of vampirism is changed to bring in another type of supernatural creature. It does kinda make sense, but it seems like a really contrived setup for a twist that helps settle down the "Aden as vampire king" plot. And said twist still seems like it's pulled out of thin air.
I could go on, but you get the idea: The plot's a mess. The characters, however, redeem these flaws, if also creating a few new ones in the process. The good: they're likeable. Their motivations are believable, and their voices are consistent, if not exactly distinct. You cheer for the heroes, and you hiss at the villains. And while the plot has problems, Showalter's writing does not, with witty asides and a sense of slowly-growing tension that draws the reader further and further in. The various romantic subplots they find themselves in are fun reading and convey a sense of real devotion to each other. Although they skirt the edges of the torrid-yet-sappy zone occupied by Twue Wove stories, so probably not for everyone.
That said, it's hard to escape the fact that an uncomfortable amount of the plot is driven by the heroes doing stupid things. Mary Ann is the prime offender. Even if we leave aside the whole "I love you, but you're not safe with me" rigmarole that goes back and forth between her and Riley, the girl still is the biggest problem the heroes have. Early on, realizing how useless she is to the team, she tries to get stronger and more active. She succeeds, but then every time she uses this newfound agency, it backfires and makes their situation worse. Admittedly she's not at fault for her power-nullifying ability turning into something that has ALL the various factions of the supernatural trying to kill her. But she has no excuse for the frankly idiotic plan to figure out the location of the witch's meeting, which ends up making things a lot worse for her friends.
Aden isn't exactly a master strategist, either. It takes him twice as long as it should to figure out that his obviously-evil therapist could be handled by ratting him out to Dan for being creepy and possibly a pedo. Admittedly, Aden has a reason for not doing so immediately. But said reason turns into an abandoned plot thread later on, so WTF was the point of any of that? Moreover, after it's established that Aden still has Eve's time-travel powers following her departure at the end of Intertwined, it doesn't seem to occur to him that he now has a game-breaking superpower at his disposal. Yes, yes, experience has taught Aden to be wary of changing the past, but there's at least one situation that's desperate enough that I can't see why he didn't at least give it a go.
Despite everything, I still enjoyed Unraveled. It's got a unique premise which is well-written, it doesn't take itself too seriously, and it has some great scenes. At some point a little over halfway through, it really got it's hooks into me and I was enjoying it immensely. But when all is said and done, it can't help but feel like a step down. Intertwined was a good book with some problems. Unraveled is an acceptable book despite problems. It's not bad, but it's closer to being a guilty pleasure than the Great American YA Paranormal. If you liked the first book, you'll like this. If you didn't, this probably isn't going to do it for you.