Jessica's Reviews > Harbinger

Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne
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Mar 09, 12

Read in March, 2012

First, I want to start off and congratulate Etienne with creating a story world seemingly set in reality, but with the paranormal influences of Native American myth and tarot cards. I really liked the world she created.

Now, I want to preface the rest of my review by beginning with a quote by John Gardner from his The Art of Fiction: Notes on the Craft for Young Writers, “It is this quality of the novel, its built in need to return and repeat, that forms the physical basis of the novel’s chief glory, its resonant close. … What moves us is not just that characters, images, and events get some form of recapitulation or recall: We are moved by the increasing connectedness of things, ultimately a connectedness of values. To achieve such an effect, the writer must rise above his physical plot to an understanding of all his plot’s elements and their relationships, including those that are inexpressible” (Gardner, 192-3).

Like in most creative writing workshops, I think it is imperative to start a review with some of the strengths (especially if it is going to be a somewhat negative review). Strengths include the use of tarot cards and the myth in use surrounding the inhabitants of Maine. In addition to this, most of Etienne’s character descriptions are captivating (blue hair, etc). I also really enjoyed Dr. Mordoch as a torturous character.

I don’t want to be unnecessarily cruel, because I think Etienne has great potential as a writer and storyteller despite the shortcomings of Harbinger. The plot is unnecessarily hard to follow, and bogged down with flashbacks that I found myself not caring about. I was too involved with the current plot, to be too interested in reading the flashbacks and Faye’s memories. I think that if Etienne is going to have such a myth based narrative, the importance of the talismans and their purpose needs to be clear at the beginning. In fact, the main dramatic question of the narrative changes a number of times. It starts off as the reader wondering how Faye is going to escape this horrible school that her family forced her to attend. Then it switches to why is there blood colored stuff under Faye and her friends’ fingernails, and how are they sneaking out. Then it switches again to who Rita is and what is the secret in the Compass Rose.

I can appreciate a narrative with many questions within the story, but Etienne never really established which question was to be the most important. I constantly felt like the author would pose a problem to the reader, and then we would hear the solution or concerns about that problem while forgetting all about the rest of the questions in the story.

Overall, I am giving Harbinger 2 Stars. I just couldn’t stay focused on the text and all the characters (except Dr. Mordoch) seemed too flat. I don’t want to discourage you all from giving Harbinger a chance, because you might have a better experience. But I think there are stronger YA novels out there.
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Reading Progress

03/06/2012 page 21
7.0% "Having a lot of trouble getting into this one."
03/07/2012 page 122
39.0% "The story has picked up..."
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