Amanda's Reviews > Harbinger

Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne
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's review
Feb 29, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: dystopian, mystery, supernatural, young-adult, psycho-thriller
Read on March 01, 2012

Well this was an eerie read. The kind of eerie you get when watching Shutter Island. All through the book I was expecting monsters to claw through the ventilation, half-hidden eyes peering through the windows, children's laughter echoing in the distance.

Sara Wilson Etienne sure knows how to set the mood. I think in this debut, that was her strong point, and what won me over in the end. She kept me flipping through the (digital) pages, wondering what was happening; if Faye was psychotic, or if she was genuinely experiencing extraordinary things.

We open with Faye's father abandoning her in Holbrook Academy - an asylum for troubled teens - leaving her under the trust and care of Dr. Mordoch. But the very moment she is assigned to her own group, Faye and her allotted "family" starts experiencing inexplicable events. They wake up every morning with red hands, progressively intricate symbols are painted on Faye's floor, and there is also the mysterious blonde-haired girl who only seems to show up when no one's around.

The first half of the book shows promise of a psychological thriller. I was so very looking forward to a logical and seasoned explanation to everything. It had me guessing at conspiracies, at mad scientists, at a psychosis so severe it would derail Faye's entire life.

However, true to the supernatural genre readers have been attributing to this novel, the plot took a very different course. I guess this is why I'm conflicted in my rating for Harbinger.

In the end though, it is unfair for me to judge a book simply because it didn't turn out the way I wanted it to. It would be like rating Harry Potter two stars out of five simply because Hermione ended up with Ron instead of Harry or because Snape dies at the end. If you didn't already know that, whoops.

So now, onto my criticism.

The Characters
I will be brutally honest and say that I did not like Faye. At first, she was bearable and I somewhat pitied her. I hated the way she was left there by her father, I resented the way she (and the other "patients") were treated, and I certainly understood her desire to get out of Holbrook.

But throughout the course of the book, she took such a steep nosedive that I really wanted to shake her silly.(view spoiler) She never once stopped to introspect. The way she treated her "family" once she had came up with her conclusion(view spoiler) was ridiculous and only served to push them away.

The characters were simply not believable. It was as if they didn't have any real passion - that all their antics were just a facade;(view spoiler) and the ending seemed like a cop-out.(view spoiler)

The Worldbuilding
What world building?

But here is a case where the lack of world building did not actually matter. It was suffice for us to know that it was set in some kind of dystopian future, following some sort of war, where people lived in "Cooperatives".

I didn't need a whole infodump of background behind the war, behind the Cooperatives, behind whatever other things out there -- and Etienne did not trouble me with any. I'm very thankful for that. It's important to be aware of what your readers need to know, and what should be kept in your Author's notebook, and not every writer seems to get that.

The Ending
Here is an example of an author who wants a happily-ever-after kind of ending, all wrapped neatly in a bow, who is afraid to kill off her main characters. I'm sorry to say it, but I cannot see this happening. It would have been much more absolving if the Harbinger did not survive the entire event. I cannot see any other way for redemption. God only hopes it's not stretched out into a sequel.

But again, I refuse to judge a book because things did not turn out the way I want them to. The world does not work like that, so why should a work of literature?

So despite my annoyance at the MC, despite my disappointment in the ending, The Harbinger still had me hooked, still had me sucked into a creepy atmosphere of forests and turrets shrouded in mist, and so I leave it with four stars.
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