Four stars for genuinely creepy, well done atmosphere. Minus one star for relying so heavily on photographs (photo montages, whatever - their own sort...moreFour stars for genuinely creepy, well done atmosphere. Minus one star for relying so heavily on photographs (photo montages, whatever - their own sort of work of art within the story) to create that atmosphere instead of with words alone. (As a package, they were remarkably effective.) Minus another star for a stilted boarding school plot mashed together with a stilted horror plot (think Urban Legend (the movie) mashed up with Session Nine, only not as effective). All the vibrancy of the creepy atmospheric writing is lost in wooden characters (and almost minus another star for relying so heavily on the format that Looking for Alaska skewers and only occasionally overcomes itself). All equalling out to an intrigued but ultimately disappointed two stars. (less)
If I could, I would rate the descriptions of East Africa at least 3 stars, all the rest a grudging 2 stars. I wanted so much to like both this book an...moreIf I could, I would rate the descriptions of East Africa at least 3 stars, all the rest a grudging 2 stars. I wanted so much to like both this book and this heroine, both of which should have been right up my alley, but they were steadfast in their refusal to give me the slightest hook of appreciation. The mystery was patently obvious and hamhandedly presented; the text tells us the heroine is smart and clever and then has her utterly oblivious to the easily-obtained answers to the mystery.
And, really, the heroine is at the root of most of the problems with this book. I can handle sketchy stock characters to flesh out a scene, but when your heroine seems to be mostly a compilation of Designated Personality Quirks (she hates tea and loves coffee, because it's less stuffy har har, we're going to tell you this at least twice in every scene where she might possibly consume a beverage!; she's anachronistically modern and egalitarian and independent, and god help us all, spunky) and a lot of telling entirely mismatched with the showing, it's hard to hang a novel on the strength ("strength") of that. This was also hurt by the imprecision of the POV, which was alternately deep in Jade's head then making descriptive, flattering commentary about her lithe figure, effortless style, and entrancing green eyes.
I just. I wanted to like her so much. Former ambulance driver in World War I! An adventuress striking off as a reporter on her own to fulfill a dying request! And instead she was this slapdash amalgamation of Cool Girl (she's too practical to be interested in all that lesser girly stuff; she has no truck with fashion and her own appearance but is effortlessly beautiful and attracts all the boys while being admired by all the other girls; did we mention she likes coffee and thinks tea is silly? also she's the best shot, the best mechanic, and the bravest hunter ever) with genuinely moving, well-written moments of PTSD flashback.
And let's not even get started with some of the race issues. Our independent (she's American, you see), anachronistic heroine thinks the way most of the Happy Valley set treat the local populace is kind of despicable (and she's right!), but the narrative hardly backs her up with her "and I will treat them better and no different from anyone else" prospect. The one character of color with any sort of significant onscreen presence and a personality beyond "mysterious, possibly wise, possibly crazy mystical person," is a little boy who just, like, stops showing up halfway through with scarcely a handwave, and the glaringly obvious MacGuffin has hardly any dialogue at all. (I can't really penalize them for being poorly sketched stock characters, because that's true across the board.) It's hard to believe in the heroine's protestations of equality when the author doesn't even come close.
All that, though, and I may still seek out the next book in hopes that the author gets better at writing people, because gosh her writing about landscape and animals was enjoyable. (less)
**spoiler alert** Interesting world building, hampered by a bog-standard Nonsensically Reckless Urban Fantasy Heroine and her Mysterious/Dangerous Lov...more**spoiler alert** Interesting world building, hampered by a bog-standard Nonsensically Reckless Urban Fantasy Heroine and her Mysterious/Dangerous Love Interest. I'm quite interested to know more about the universe the author has created, as well as some of the secondary characters and villains, but we'll see how quickly my patience runs out with this Feisty and Independent Heroine. Also, the transition from slavery to love interest was handled...awkwardly. I didn't buy the psychological gyrations of the heroine. It felt like there was a lot of handwaving and trust-building experiences that happened offscreen.
Basically, how much more would I have enjoyed this book if it weren't first person narration? So much.(less)