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Book Reviews: Illuminate by Aimee Agresti & The Thief’s Covenant by Ari Marmel

03 Apr

I’ve been reading quite a few books recently, some insanely excellent (The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight), most very good (White Cat by Holly Black or Luxe by Anna Godbersen), and the occasional dud (Wolf Gift by Anne Rice). Some of the books I read are already quite popular and adding a lengthy review seems rather pointless. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green for example, is a book that I really enjoyed but is so widespread that I’m just a voice among thousands at this point and I’m afraid I don’t have much to add.

But I have this habit of going to Barnes & Noble at least once a week (sometimes more if I can swing it), selecting a new book off the shelves and settling in until I finish it. Which tends to take about 2-3 hours depending on the length of the book. (I read fast). I also gravitate towards young adult fiction, though with the exception of character ages, can be hard to differentiate between adult fiction since so many talented authors can be found on YA shelves. I’m open to reading anything, so feel free to send me suggestions, but I like YA better. I find this stems partially from my own tendency to write YA fiction but also because I think many YA authors understand that readers aren’t so interested in WHAT happens as much as we care about HOW the characters REACT. To deviate for just a moment from the point of this post, you only need proof of that in the “team” phenomenon of YA culture. We don’t just take a boy or girl’s side because the plot tells us we have to. We do it because one of the characters speaks to us more strongly and so when we discuss our love of a story with someone else, we identify with that particular character’s plight. At least that’s my theory.

Anyway, I try to at least post a small review of my thoughts on Goodreads.com but I thought for those books that I liked a little more or were new enough to have few reviews, I’d go ahead and review here. Today’s choices are Illuminate by Aimee Agresti and The Thief’s Covenant by Ari Marmell.

*WARNING: THESE ARE SPOILER-ISH REVIEWS. I TRY TO STAY AWAY FROM GIVING AWAY THE ENDING BUT I WANT TO THOROUGHLY DISCUSS MY FAVORITE ASPECTS OF THE BOOKS SO STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED.*

Illuminate is the story of Haven, a confident outsider, who gets a mysterious internship of a lifetime in Chicago. The book hints at the bizarreness of Haven’s invitation but doesn’t really get into it. I liked that because while the internship may be unlikely, so are the rest of the events of the books. Haven and her best friend Dante are chosen for the internship, along with their fellow student Lance. But as they arrive at the hotel where they will be working, Haven learns a much darker secret about her new employer. It turns out they’re demons and in the business of capturing souls. Haven and Lance are angels-in-training, a fact they learn through the book. The story leads up to an epic battle for the souls of their fellow high school students.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the book. Actually, I should say that I loved it. It is a longer read and has a slow build, so if you’re someone who prefers to jump into the heart of the action, you may find the book a little frustrating. I’ve been kind of a fan of the whole angels and demons genre lately and this book fit perfectly. (Technically, I’ve always loved the genre, in fact, I think Frank Peretti’s “This Present Darkness” is an absolute masterpiece but it’s fallen off my radar until recently.) I especially love a good angels/demons book that doesn’t necessarily give the characters (or the readers) all the answers. Rather it gives just enough to understand the current problem, but not to see the big picture. And the thing is, angels and demons, in whatever religion or mythology, are almost always like basic soldiers. They don’t get to know the big picture of the general. It’s a take orders and get shit done kind of mentality. Which is very much what happens in Illuminate. There’s a mission and a focus but we don’t really get to understand a greater purpose and I found that worked really well.

Two things that also stood out to me were the way one part with Lance completely surprised me and Haven’s description. The part with Lance (I won’t spoil but you’ll know when you get to it) made me go back and reread a previous scene. What I thought (and what Haven thought) happened, wasn’t the case at all. Usually I catch those little details but I felt like Agresti did a good job hiding the truth, but without resorting to an unearned retcon. The other aspect I enjoyed was the Haven as an outsider thing. Obviously the outsider character has become a bit of a stereotype. The thing is, the only part of Haven that wasn’t confident was in her looks (like most girls, seventeen or otherwise) and even that changes quickly. She’s not miserable and lonely. She’s confident and happy in who she is and not being part of the “cool kids” gang. And once she gets into her internship and is shown how to actually do her hair and makeup, she ends up being pretty confident in her appearance too. I really loved that.

Now for Thief’s Covenant by Ari Marmel. I think this would be my favorite of the two, though they were pretty different. Widdershins is the heroine of the book and she’s a thief. If you’ve read Tamora Pierce’s Trickster books, you’d probably think that Ali & Widdershins would get along brilliantly.

The story weaves back and forth between flashbacks to tell the story of Widdershins and Olgun, the god who accompanies her, and how they end up in the middle of a fight between gods and their worshippers. I will note that it is a tough read. Not in the sense of being a bad book, on the contrary it was quite good. But there is a lot of information in a short book (by fantasy standards) and with the added jumping around in the timeline, it can take a bit to grasp. Personally, I felt like it was written for fantasy book readers, not those just breaking in. The author seems to trust that you’ll be able to understand if you give the book a chance and doesn’t pander or add in needless exposition. Still, it’s something to be aware of.

I found Widdershins to be a great heroine. She’s about 17, knows how to use a sword and is tough as nails. Plus she’s a heroine on her own without the addition of romance. I love this growing trend of female heroines who aren’t driven by a man or love for a man.

Both are books that I highly recommend. If you’ve read them, let me know your own thoughts on them!

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Posted by on April 3, 2012 in Books & Writers

 

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