This is one of my favorite SFF novella's, in no small part because of the perspective it takes. I first read it in high school, and the story has stuc This is one of my favorite SFF novella's, in no small part because of the perspective it takes. I first read it in high school, and the story has stuck with me. The basic premise, a group of scientists from various disciples examining artifacts at a dig site, trying to study an alien menace that once threatened the galaxy, is simple enough. The thing that makes it so fun is that the alien menace is humanity. We are the boogieman, the horrifying threat, the monster that the rest of the galaxy still fears five thousand years after our extinction. It's a deeply cynical story, but there are moments of light and hope in it.
For all that, the thing that I remember the story best for is the ending. I can't help but grinning whenever I read it. ...more
I very nearly skipped over this book, for several reasons. Firstly, vampires are a subject that has been done too often, and that has done well too inI very nearly skipped over this book, for several reasons. Firstly, vampires are a subject that has been done too often, and that has done well too infrequently. Furthermore, this was a young adult novel. I recognize that excellent novels can come out of the young adult category, but like vampire novels there's a certain tendency to those novels being pleasant exceptions. Thirdly, the cover itself reminded me of the covers I've seen of the Vampire Diaries novels. As someone who thought that the Vampire Diaries made Twilight seem like a literary masterpiece on par with Anna Karenina or Bleak House, this was not a positive selling point. Still, I was looking for something new to read, reviews for the book seemed positive, and hopes springs eternal that I'll find something good in genres in which I should have given up all hope a long time ago.
The first line struck me. "They hung the Unregistereds in the old warehouse district; it was a public execution, so everyone went to see." Let me clarify something: the way it struck me was not in a positive way. More like being struck by the skeletons of the last few hopes that I had for the book. Male porn stars are hung. People executed via a noose are hanged. I took a deep breath, consoled myself with the fact that it was being written in the first person, that the point of view character might be ignorant of the proper word and that the author and editor deliberately used the incorrect word to help establish the character.
Once I got over my initial qualms and started into the novel, I was honestly surprised. The book is excellent in every way. My problems with the first line aside, Kagawa's prose is first rate; clear and readable and literate. The prose doesn't aspire to be that of Ulysses or A Farewell To Arms, and that's perfectly fine given its category. It's still considerably better than it has any right to be. The pacing was close to perfect. I would have preferred that the early sections be stretched out a little further, especially Allison's initial few hours as a vampire. The scenes I love best in vampire books are those that focus on the first few minutes after the character has been turned, and how they react when faced with people they knew before they changed. I would have liked more, but the scenes that were there were extremely well put together, some of my favorites in the novel. However, I can also see how the pacing was measured and that slowing things down further would probably have made the book less enjoyable overall for most people who will read it.
The book moves at its own pace, never rushing, but there is at least one important moment in each chapter, usually involving some degree of action. The world building is both spartan and impressive; by keeping the overall state of the world a matter of conjecture and hearsay, the "there's no way that this society could actually function" factor that pops up for me in most fictional post-Apocalyptic societies never reared its head. Where do people in the city center grow their food? Where are their factories? Their mines? Is there any trade with other cities Presumably, Allison is just in no position to know, and so the story can skate by without explaining those things. What world we did see was convincing, well formed, and interesting.
Allison herself is a walking collection of tropes. She's an action girl, a samurai, a vampire, a knight in sour armor, an anti-hero, a loner, a poor little orphan girl, etc, etc, etc. That's not a bad thing. The biggest laugh of the book comes from a character lampshading one of the tropes. It works because Kagawa makes her interesting. We know where her character is going. It's never a surprise. But as is the nature of tropes well written, it's an entertaining and worthwhile journey. Zeke, the male lead, isn't introduced until halfway through the novel, and I feel that it was another smart choice. Allison, as a character, is fully defined before she meets the probable love interest of the series, and so Allison is as a character is never defined by her relationship with Zeke; Zeke is defined by his relationship with Allison. Zeke is also a fun character in of himself; he serves as the moral center of the book, and his role is essentially to humanize Allison.
I don't mean to say that he makes Allison the vampire more human; I feel that Zeke makes Allison the person more human. Allison, as she's initially introduced, is essentially little more than an animal. Her life is nothing but a search for food. There are small nods to her wanting more, with her love of her small book collection, but even as a human she was essentially a parasite. She contributed almost nothing to the world, she just kept existing day by day, always taking. I say almost nothing, because she did look out for Stick, but Allison the human had been ground down by the world she lived in. Zeke provides Allison with meaning, goals, and purpose. The result is that over the course of the novel, Allison becomes more human, despite being a vampire.
There's a strong religious theme running through the novel, and if the series title ("The Blood of Eden") is any indication it'll only get stronger as the series continues. Faith is explored, from a few directions. In particular, Jeb has a fascinating opinion of God and the nature of the world. Overall, I suspect that much of the plot is based on events from the Bible; there's strong thematic elements of the Hebrews in the desert and perhaps of their captivity in Babylon, the vampire that turns Allison is an obvious Cane reference, and Zeke's character hints at Christ-like overtones.
If I have a complaint about the book, it's a mild one: I was disappointed at how the last section of the book was as action-driven as it was. Up until that point, the story was essentially character driven with a few action scenes; towards the end the balance reversed itself. I think that if the story is ever made into a movie then those scenes will pull in crowds, but though well written those scenes in the novel felt like something of a letdown. There was also one moment of problem resolution at the end that felt too obvious; I would have preferred the immediate aftermath of the climatic battle to have played out differently.
The Immortal Rules is a book aimed at young adults, but I wish that it had been marketed differently. It's a young adult novel like Starship Troopers, Ender's Game, the Hobbit, and the latter Harry Potter series novels are young adult novels. It's not good for a young adult novel, it's very good for a novel, easily one of my favorite SFF novels that I've read for the first time in the last few years.
The book is obviously going to be part of a series (the cover gives that away) but I feel that it stands quite well on its own. It doesn't end in Happily Ever After, but the two main characters end up in satisfying places. Still, once I finished the book, I wanted more. I wanted more of Allison and Stick, I wanted to see more of Kanin, I wanted to know how Zeke ended up in the long term, I wanted to see what Eden was like, I wanted the story to keep going. Since the next book is not yet available, I did the next best thing, something that I very rarely ever do immediately after finishing a novel for the first time: I turned back to the first page and started rereading.
This time, I felt no pain reading the opening sentence.