I took far, far too long to read this book. It was one of the first things I was approved for on Netgalley, and I downloaded it back in September along with four other books, excited to finally have my hands on these fabulous e-galleys. Unfortunately, I overestimated my ability to read for long stretches on the tiny screen of my iPod, and so while I'd gotten over halfway through this book when it expired, that wasn't enough. The end result was that yesterday, when I decided I felt like finishing it, I had to go and jump through hoops to re-download it and search out my stopping point. I also lost all my bookmarks, so this review will be less coherent than I intended it to be.
Once I'd retrieved a copy, I tore through what remained of this book in less than an hour. It is without a doubt one of the best YA paranormals I've read recently, and here is why: it avoids almost every single flaw the genre is so plagued with. For instance...
1. The heroine in your conventional Twilight/Fallen/Halo YAPNR is often an ordinary girl who we are constantly told is not pretty, despite the opinions of all the guys around her. She's shy, supposedly book-smart though her actions generally bely that, virginal and easily overcome with hormones when her love interest shows up, and really mostly just a stand-in marking where the female reader should insert herself, particularly when the book is written in first person.
Not Kali D'Angelo. Oh, she's the furthest thing from it. Our first introduction to this badass chica is her beating up on hellhounds with extraordinary martial competence and no regrets. She's definitely supernatural, though she doesn't know what kind. 'Shy' is not a word that could be applied to her; rather, I would say that she is 'reserved' and more out of a conscious decision to distance herself than anything else. She's intelligent, though it's mostly street-smarts and martial know-how. (I'm not complaining; at least she makes decisions for good reasons.) Her virginity, hormones, and appearance have nothing to do with the plot. Words cannot express how happy I am for this. After the whole book, I couldn't describe Kali to you, nor could I tell you how HAWT the guys were, and I cannot overemphasize hwo great this is. Because really, if this girl is going out and killing supernatural critters every other day, why would I want to get distracted by her looks or those of her love interest? All I need is her personality.
Speaking of - I love this girl's soul. She's genuninely a good person, though she doubts it every now and again. She does what she does for others, or at least she needs to believe that she does. She is strong; makes sacrifices, takes chances, puts the benefit of the general population before her own without judgement or much bitterness. If you were frustrated with Scarlet of Sisters Red for the way she dismissed non-hunters, Kali will alleviate that. The book's first major event is her luring a chupacabra from the body of someone she doesn't like into her own, counting on her unusual nature to save her but not sure that it will. She does it because it's right, and that's all it takes.
2. The love interest here, if you can even call him that, is distant and has very little effect on the plot. I couldn't describe his abs to you if you tortured me, because they're never mentioned. He doesn't smolder or have a crooked grin or whatever the fuck other love interests are doing these days. Kali doesn't melt around him or become an airhead. He's got a hint of overprotectiveness - there was one scene when he intervened in a situation that she was handling just fine, and I was worried, but that was the end of it. Their relationship had an interesting dynamic and while I wasn't really into it, I think I'm happy with how it turned out.
3. The supporting cast are teenagers and also actual people. Thank goodness. I can't possibly tell you how frustrated I've become with two-dimensional teenage characters that exhibit only the worst possible stereotypes of my age group. It's insulting, unfair, and immature on the part of the authors. The teens here are simply fabulous. Skylar is my favorite, of course, because she's spunky and funny and nothing keeps her down, but I was happiest to read about Bethany - the gorgeous, wealthy, blonde cheerleader who is for once in a hundred novels not a bitchy fashion-obsessed bimbo. She actually comes close to Skylar in my mental ranking of characters: she's smart, dry-witted, loyal, kind beneath her facade, and the kind of person I'd want to be friends with. There's also Skylar's broad array of brothers, who added a nice dimension to the cast and also made for a good, light running gag.
4. Supernatural creatures. Sparklepires? Fursploding werewolves? Fey? Angels? Nope. Try chupacabras, dragons, basilisks, kelpies, manticores, hellhounds, zombies, hydra, and more. I don't want to say too much because this is one aspect you'll probably enjoy more if you let it unfold naturally, but the supernatural creatures are wonderfully varied and the explanation for their existence is extremely interesting. The way they've been integrated into society is cool as well, and felt very believable to me.
5. The finale is... unusual. There were a couple of big surprises and Kali had to make some hard choices, but I felt like they all came from a good place and they were the right choices for her. There's also no cliffhanger to this, but instead a tidy denouement which actually made me sniffle a little and then a last chapter that feels like the lead-in to a truly badass series - one which I will definitely read.
6. Love triangle? Nope. I realized when I was reading this that I've started playing 'spot the love interests' with YA books, because there are almost always two and they're usually very identifiable. I was completely, utterly wrong here. The guy I thought would be a love interest wasn't (thank goodness) and the one I figured for a mentor figure was (not so thrilled about this, but it'll work in the end, I'm sure). It was so refreshing. And you know, in a book this light on romance even the one fellow didn't actually matter that much. Lovely.
7. The relationship between parent and child is something that many YA authors have trouble with; they resort to Disappearing Parent Syndrome in order to explain things away or let their characters do things they otherwise wouldn't have managed. Kali's dad, while not the most present of parents, is a really great guy. Explaining why would be spoilers, but let's just say that their eventual heart-to-heart made me want to give my parents big hugs. Like every parent, he's doing the best with what he has, and he's made mistakes, but his heart is really in the right place and he tries.
There will be aspects of the ending that not everyone will take as easily as I did. One of the major revelations really changes the background of the book and the potential nature of the sequels; I think it opens up new territory, but that's an individual judgement call that each reader will need to make for themselves.
The reason this is a four-star book and not a five: at times the narrative was repetitive/redundant, often in a way which made Kali seem momentarily frustrating. Mostly I liked her, but she sometimes assumes that everything has to do with her even when it's completely illogical.
Also, I should mention one more thing (being dropped in here courtesy of my lost bookmarks from the beginning, or else I would have mentioned it earlier): Kali's emotions about the transition between her human and non-human times are intense and well-crafted. Understandably, she feels like she's losing part of herself when she makes the change, and that made her really sympathetic to me.
I'm not sure this is one I'd advocate that you buy, but it does come out right around Christmas and there are worse books to get as gifts, so at the very least it deserves a place on your wishlist.
Full disclosure: I recieved a galley copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. No external considerations went into this review.