Majanka's Reviews > Incarnate

Incarnate by Jodi Meadows
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Apr 26, 12

bookshelves: dystopian, romance, young-adult, read-2012
Read in April, 2012

I have trouble making up my mind about this book. On the one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed the storyline and thought it was highly original. And with highly original, I mean probably the most original book I’ve read all year. Sure, considering the year has only just begun, but I’m sceptic about any other book released this year surpassing this one when it comes to originality. Don’t believe me? Let me introduce you to the world of Ana.

In Ana’s world, souls are reincarnated, but they keep the memories of previous lives in their new lives. As such, the current one million minus one souls on the planet have all known each other for over fivethousand years. Everyone is familiar with each other, everyone knows how to read from the start of their new life, they know how to do housechores, how to garden, etc. On top of that, mosto f them are excellent in at least one profession as well, something they have perfected over the years. People die of course, but whenever a child is born then, it holds the soul of the deceased, ready for another reincarnation round. That is, until Ana came around. You see, Ana is a newsoul, or a nosoul as her mother occassionally names her in a hateful fit. She has never been born before, nor has she been reincarnated. And the soul who was supposed to be born on the day Ana came to this world? Gone. Lost forever.

Ana is forced to grow up with her mother, Li, caring less than nothing about her. In fact, Li’s hate for her daughter is so predominant that on the day of the latter’s departure to the big city of Heart, in hopes of finding an answer to all her troubles and to who she really is, Li sabotages Ana’s compass. Ana naturally gets lost – unlike the other souls, she doesn’t know these lands – and runs right into a sylph trap. Sylphs are vicious creatures who burn you, and an encounter with them is almost always lethal. In a desparate attempt to escape from the sylph, she jumps into a river filled with ice-cold water. Ana is convinced this is the end for her, but then somebody manages to pull her out of the river. Meet Sam. From point one we know that he’s going to be Ana’s love interest for the rest of the story. And although his name implies that he might be a boring, ordinary, laid-back fellow (sorry to everyone out there called Sam, but when I hear that name, it just reminds me of the stereotypical boy-next-door. Not exactly ideal for a character in a book in this genre.), he proves to be at least somewhat entertaining. While Ana recovers from her injuries, manages to save Sam’s life a little later, and gets over her fear of being not-worthy enough to walk on this very earth, Sam and Ana grow closer together. When it’s time to leave for Heart, Sam decides he will show Ana the way.

But once they arrive in Heart, Ana is less than welcomed. She is put under strict surveillance, and it’s obvious that not everybody likes her. Some people openly detest her. Ana must struggle to find out more about who she is and why she’s here while she must also try to find her way in this new city, surrounded with strangers, allies and foes alike.

Well, that’s the best I can do for summarizing this story. And till that point in the story, I must admit that I was thoroughly enjoying Incarnate. I loved the idea of souls incarnating with all their memories intact, and the history of the world and the city of Heart itself was intriguing as well. Dragons and sylphs roaming the place occassionally added an odd, but delightful mix of fantasy and dystopian/utopian to this novel. However, from the moment Ana arrives in Heart, the entire story goes downhill. It’s so peculiar for the author to suddenly throw everything she built up so carefully behind, and focus solely on a romance story, that I could hardly believe this was the same book. I mean, you have every potential in the entire world to make the best story ever out of the material Jodi Meadows presented her readers with, a story epic enough that movie makers would beg her for the film rights. We have a girl who’s entirely new in a world where everyone’s been aroudn for five thousand freaking years. Instead of diving into the library searching for clues for her existence, and hopefully enlightening us with some more interesting history details of this strange world, or looking for reasons behind things that Ana finds undeniably odd, like the Temple suddenly having a door nobody noticed in the last millennia, Ana is too busy doing other stuff. Other stuff like learning how to play the piano. Learning how to dance. Going to Masquerade Balls. And most importantly…falling in love.

It’s like at some point the author decided “Let’s throw everything I’ve built up out! I want something new, something fresh, something…romantic.” And then the book went entirely downhill. The majority of the second part doesn’t focus on any substantial life questions, as it should (for instance, how is it that people keep their memories from the previous times they’ve reincarnated? How does society work, do they always choose the same person to be the leader?, and I have like a million more questions I won’t bother you with now), but it focuses on the blossoming love between Ana and Sam. It’s not that they’re not a cute couple. I mean, I sort of like Sam – he has mood swings, he’s afraid of dragons, he plays music, he’s kind-hearted and generous, so he’s not exactly your stereotypical love interest – but I simply don’t understand why Ana, instead of looking for answers she has been craving for her entire life, is happy just doing things with Sam. Sure, the author could’ve squeezed some romance in if she had to, but this book didn’t really need it. It’s strong enough on its own. Additionally, focusing more on the romance than the storyline was a bad move. Thank god there isn’t any mention of a love triangle yet, or I probably would’ve stopped reading alltogether, no matter how much I liked the initial premise.

As the second part focuses mostly on Sam and Ana, there are no major discoveries to be made. Their love is sweet, romantic and all about the “I don’t want to admit I have feelings” part. Generally I would understand this, Sam being a five thousand year old man with all the memories of those lifetimes, not to mention the many times he was reincarnated as a woman, and Ana being barely eighteen years old. Then there’s also the question, if Sam falls in love with Ana and she dies, will she return or not? I mean, if she returned, all would be merry and happy, but if she doesn’t, he would be seriously heartbroken. But nah, these aren’t the kind of things our main characters worry about though. The only thing they’re really concerned about is the other person returning their feelings. Ah, children. (Except that Sam is bloody five thousand years old, and not a little kid anymore!)

The ending is a bit disorienting. A lot of things happen at once, big secrets are revealed and all of the sudden we have answers to just about half the questions that have been burning in the back of my mind since page one. It’s a bit of an anticlimax really. Also, I thought some parts in the final chapters weren’t really clear, and I had to reread a lot of sentences to actually get who was where at the time and what exactly was happening to them. It would probably make a nice ending if this was a movie, but for a book, I would have liked the answers to come at a slower pace, and not all in the final chapters. The big answer left me going: “whaaaaaaaaat….” and I was, needless to say, very dissapointed. I saw that one coming from page one, but dismissed the idea because it would be just too cliché. At least I’ve learned another valuable life lesson: nothing is too cliché. Additionally, it felt like some plot elements didn’t add up in the ending sequence. The writing, which was enjoyable so far, was erratic and all over the place. It’s like the author wanted everything to happen at once, but that just doesn’t work in literature.

Also, and I forgot to mention this before, when they arrive in Heart, Sam sneaks out a couple of times. Although Ana says she will confront him about this, no explanation is given whatsoever throughout the entire novel as to why he left the house in the dead of night, and plot-wise, it doesn’t seem of much value as well. It’s like Jodi Meadows forgot this alltogether by the time she got to the end. Or, maybe she will use it in her second novel. But I’m afraid that’s wishful thinking on my part.

As you probably gathered by now, Incarnate is a mix of genres as well. Science fiction, dystopian, utopian, romance and fantasy with dragons and sylphs. This will probably not work for everyone, but I have to admit that I liked it. I thought it was brave to mix fantasy with a dystopian setting. I have to applaud the author for her bravery, and I must say that, in my opinion, the mix worked very well.

As you can see, I have a lot of trouble classifying this book. I liked the premise and the world-building, and if I’m being honest, I thought the main character was enjoyable as well. I certainly did like her and felt for her, especially in the beginning. Sam is decent for a love interest, but he didn’t really catch my interest. I’m not sure if he’s the kind of guy you want to take home and show your parents. His personality is fine – glad it’s not a bad boy type for once – but it’s the reincarnation fact that might be a bother. In this dystopian/utopian world however, he is definitely one of the good guys. However, action, mystery and suspense are lacking greatly in this novel, especially in the second part, where romance is the main focus. The ending is all over the place and confusing. But in the end, the story isn’t necessarily bad. It could have been much more, but eventually it is what it is, and what it is, is entertaining and enjoyable. If you’re not a big fan of romance, I would say, skip this one. But if the world-building and premise has intrigued you enough, I would say, go for it. If you’re a fan of dystopian/utopian, you should at least give Incarnate a try.
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