Monday, June 25, 2012
Taken by Storm
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
I'm fanboyish about Jennifer Lynn Barnes' Raised by Wolves series. This shouldn't be a secret to anybody who reads this blog regularly. So the news that Taken by Storm would be the last chapter of this series, at least for the time being, made me sad. After having read the book, however, I can totally see why Barnes wants to wrap things up. Taken by Storm is by no means a bad book, but there's a sense of fatigue about it; a feeling that's it's time to move on. All great stories, after all, must come to an end.
After the traumatic events at the end of Trial by Fire, Bryn has realized that she can't be a human in a werewolf world for much longer. Callum, the precognitive alpha of alphas, has promised to change her into a werewolf, but for reasons known only to him he refuses to do it just yet. To give herself a fighting chance, Bryn is instead training to use her innate power of resilience, in between high school and pack duties. The relative peace is shattered by a call from Shay, the scheming alpha of the Snake River Pack. Shay has called the Senate together to discuss a matter of grave importance: a rabid werewolf is on the loose, threatening to expose them all to the humans. And Callum confirms Bryn's worst fear: the rabid is, most likely, an old and troubled friend.
As I said, Taken by Storm isn't a bad book. Barnes still has her particular knack for storytelling. Characters are unique and distinct. Plot twists are unexpected, but not bullshit. Deeper themes about coming of age, standing by those you love, and making hard decisions are present. Overall, it's a compelling read. But the fire in the story is... well, not gone entirely, but dimmed.
The main problem with Taken by Storm is that it's just not enjoyable. While the series has always gone to dark places, the serious bits were mixed in with moments of hopeful, lighthearted energy. It was fun. Taken by Storm isn't fun. It's unrelentingly grim from start to finish. Characters die, survivors agonize, and there's a persistent sense of helplessness through it all. It's like the main objective here is to push our heroes to their breaking point, and while that's not bad storytelling, it's not pleasant to read either.
I get the sense it wasn't terribly pleasant to write, either. The writing is detached, as if Barnes' interest is distant. I get the sense that she's going through the motions, but her heart is not in this story anymore. The pacing is whacked, too. After a slow first half, we start getting plot twists one after another. To Barnes credit, all of these twists make sense; it doesn't feel like she's just throwing out random nonsense. (Well, except for that business of shadows, which wasn't foreshadowed even a bit to this point.) But it crowds the story unnecessarily. Interesting ideas wind up neglected. One bit that especially sticks out as mishandled is when they need to join forces with a former enemy. Great idea, I thought. He was a good character in the past, and he does indeed inject a bit of life into the proceedings. But rather than do anything with this, said character merely swoops in, does his thing, and then swoops out. Instead of playing up the potential drama of an interesting situation, we get a quick cameo, and then move on. Weak.
On the subject: the ending is also kind of weak. It feels like Barnes wrapped up the main story, then spent the last fifty pages on a mini-sequel. Those last fifty pages aren't bad, and in fact they make for a very satisfying ending. But it's has a tacked-on feel, and seems to be even more rushed than the preceding material.
The cast is probably let down the most. Bryn was the chief attraction of the first two books, snarking and smartassing her way through life, with allies by her side adding their own personal brands of awesomeness. No more of that. Bryn is world-weary and morose, scarred from the events of Trial by Fire. Devon is still his same old self, but he's off-page for 90% of the book. Lake is here, but she fades into the background. The other returners have the same problems, reverting to bland nonentities. Only the mysterious Callum and antagonist Shay are in their usual form, and while they're both memorable personages, their prominence contributes to the sense that our main characters are powerless in the story.
So overall: a decent read, a decent finale, but a letdown. Taken by Storm has thrilling bits, triumphal bits, and tragic bits; it's well-executed, though not so much as the previous books; it keeps you turning pages. But the plot's a huge downer, the themes gloomy, and the writing apathetic. Not a failure, but a definite stumble, and just before the finish line, too. By the end Barnes has wrapped up all the series' major plotlines, albeit some of them in a hurried manner, and that might be for the best. I still want more stories about these characters and this universe, but she needs to take a break and start fresh a few years down the line.