** spoiler alert **
The thing I loved most about The Gathering was the atmosphere. It was a beautiful, slightly creepy setting to step into. It would have been the perfect story to read on a rainy, dark day. The setting was so vivid I never questioned the images I carried in my head. It was rich without being overwhelming -- and we all know what I mean about overwhelming. There are some authors who would give us a pine tree by pine tree play by play of a haunted woods and think that was the interesting part. I think a lot of budding (and published) writers would do well to read The Gathering and see just how much fun Armstrong had with it. I'd love to know if Armstrong had this creepy little town in the middle of nowhere in mind first or if the supernatural creature was her first thought. I'd love for the paranormal to have evolved from the idea of Salmon Creek and not vice versa.
Before going to bed two days ago I decided to read the opening chapter of a couple of my to-be-read books and decide what I wanted to read first. I cracked The Gathering open, not entirely sure when I had bought it or even where, and began reading. I didn't put it down for two hours.
The opening chapter is a bit of cliche and yet I was hooked. I'm sure when/if you read it you'll think of some half remembered horror movie. I can almost swear there's a season one or two episode of Supernatural that opens very similarly. The main character and her friend are at the lake. Her friend is splashing around, showing off, because she's an experienced swimmer and member of the team. The main character, Maya, is content to sun herself, but strips down after some prompting. While she and her friend are talking the friend vanishes. Maya jumps in and tries to save her friend. She swears she feels something pulling her down, but since her swimming is no great shakes and she's traumatized she spends a lot of time trying to decide if that actually happens. Her friend's body is only found when they drag the lake later.
The story moves a little slowly and with so many interesting things it still devolves into new-boy-in-town-takes-interest-in-girl, which was a little disappointing. I also sense I'm going to be on the wrong side of this love triangle because I'm definitely not Team Rafe. I liked Daniel. He was strong and resilient and cared about Maya. Rafe lied... a lot, but he's a super sexy bad boy so who cares? Me. Sadly, me. I have a feeling these books are going to be very Team Rafe so I guess for the first time I'll understand how Jacob and Gale fans felt. Make room for me on the losers bench, guys. (Yeah, I'm also mildly ashamed to be drawn into another love triangle, pick up a team sign.)
I thought there were a lot of plot elements that would have been better spent evolving over Maya's romance with Rafe. I was interested in her relationship with the forest and the wounded animals she rescues. I was interested in the way she jumped off a two story roof and landed on her feet. I didn't really care that she was running away from Rafe or even that she'd been drugged.
Maya gets roofied at a party. She half-suspects, half-does-not-suspect Rafe. This isn't of any major importance to most of the plot, just in their relationship, but I'm going to bring it up because I think she behaved reasonably for a YA heroine afterward. She made sure she wasn't alone with him until she was more than just guessing he wasn't responsible. She was slightly traumatized by the experience. I didn't like that ultimately another girl did it to her and that the girl accused her of faking it. Yeah, another female character steps in and asks her wtf she just said, but I just wasn't thrilled with the whole thing. It didn't really bring anything to the core story, just add drama to the romantic shenanigans. I guess I'm tired of this mean girl/heroine rivalry where the mean girl is mostly mean for no reason.
Anyway, this book reads like 1/3 of a book, not one part of a trilogy. What's the difference you say? Well, it was like reading part one of a story and approaching the climax just to have it end. Despite really liking the book I think other readers might be better served to wait until all three are out. I was left very frustrated. I definitely wanted more, but instead of anticipating the next year I'm sort of annoyed by it. If I see the second book out and I can refrain from buying it then I'm going to skip until the third is on the shelf.
So slightly cliched, revisiting a lot of the current paranormal YA troupes, and a bit frustrating... but I still enjoyed it more than three stars. Maybe I'll reread and downgrade it later.
Cover art: I thought it was gorgeous until I realized the girl on the cover was supposed to be Native American. Harper, blue-tinting it did not hide the fact that you used a white chick. I don't think anyone's going to raise a riot over the cover being white washed since they blue tinted... oh the irony and shame.