This review originally appears on my blog
The setting to this novel is refreshing compared to most YA novels currently out there. The “Romeo and Juliet meets The Godfather and hangs out with Twilight” relation; the mythological Arcadian shape-shifters; the beautiful ruin-covered Sicilian landscape; and menacing age-old rivalries all add up to serve a very appealing story.
Kai Meyer introduces us to the dark underworld of Sicily’s Mafia in a realistic yet subdued manner. The undying authority of Cosa Nostra and bloodlust between the Alcantara and Carnevare clans indicate at an action-packed storyline, however, this anticipated feature wasn’t fully delivered. The majority of this story was predictable and the key points to the storyline were revealed very early on without much mystery for us to linger onto beforehand. Regardless of this, the themes of death, loss and violence were handled in an appropriate manner as to not give the reader an uncomfortable reading experience.
The protagonist – Rosa Alcantara – is introduced as a kleptomaniac with a hidden secret. Her snarky comments and sarcastic tone sets her aside from other female protagonists but her rebellious nature seems to gradually shy away when she comes into contact with the desirable Alessandro Carnevare – who just so happens to be the impending capo of an enemy clan. Even though he is the novel’s obvious love-interest, I was relieved to see that the ‘insta-love’ factor was absent at their first meeting. There is, undoubtedly, a strong magnetic attraction between the pair that supports their faith in each other during the dark stages in the story - which adds to their list of positive qualities along with being realistic, well-layered and diverting. Alessandro is a somewhat reserved and mysterious character - at some stages I expected him to suddenly turn on Rosa but I was glad to see that he was willing to defy his own clan for her safety.
The element of shape-shifters captivated me, especially because it was derived from ancient Greek mythology which I am undeniably enraptured by! The written transition from human to animal form was impeccably done with each clan assuming the form of a different species of animal - the Lamia and Panthera being the novel’s main focus.
Unfortunately, even though the premise for this story completely intrigued me, it did come with its flaws. One aspect that I had a major problem with was the over-description of individual scenes. I felt that Meyer was going too far in his attempt to bring these mystical places to life – the non-stop details made it hard for me to process them all at once and it took me a couple of re-reads to finally piece together what I think it was that Meyer intended for me to visualise. The first handful of chapters also lacked in substance. I understand that they were used to help readers familiarise themselves with the Mafia and Rosa’s background but it was very spread out and seemed to be going forward without much sense of direction; up until Rosa’s interaction with a familiar-looking tiger which resulted in the surfacing of centuries worth of family secrets.
Despite these flaws, Arcadia Awakens proved to be a very fascinating read, especially considering it was originally published in German. I’m eager to get my hands on the next instalment – Arcadia Burns – which is to be released next year.