Friday, April 26, 2013

Power (Descendant Trilogy #1) by Theresa M Jones

The Rising are going from strength to strength, their demonic goal is nothing less than the end of the world. And to achieve that they’re opening the seven seals and unleashing the four horsemen. War has already consumed the planet, with worse to come.

Against them stand the descendants. Descendants of 9 holy women each with their own gifts and talents who strive to counter The Rising and hope for their prophecy to come true – that one will be born who is descended from all 9 of the Primatus.

And into this strides Allison, teenage mother, in a very rocky relationship, just trying to get by in Texas as the world falls apart. Until she comes into her power and is brought by David to the Descendants – because she could be the one. Whether she is or not, the leader of the Rising thinks she is and isn’t taking any chances in letting her live.

The concept of this story is an interesting take on a lot of old memes and I really like the combination. The demons have chosen their humans according to classic sins and their descendants seek to end the world. On the good side we have angels tapping 9 super holy women so their descendants can oppose them. Each bloodline has special powers and you can collect them all. The ultimate good guy will be born who is descended from all 9 of the first holies making her the super-duperest good guy of them all. She is, of course, prophesised.  It’s a classic story that has been in many different forms but can still be a good one (they even had Castafonda whose descendants inspire love – yes they have a useless Heart power!)

It’s not nuanced. The bad guys want the end of the world, the good guys want to stop them. Even reading from the bad guy’s point of view they are comically evil – melodramatic in the worst way. They make early comic book villains look like nuanced and human characters with well shades and fascinating motivations.

I do like that the origin story is presented as being allegorical. Yes he uses angels as an example, but also points out that in the past the same story was told using Greek gods. Except we then get the seven seals and the four horsemen that don’t work so well. Also Deception is one of the horsemen – damn that seal’s always open. Does he run for government?

Much of this is told in info dumps – but it is interesting in and of itself and it does make sense in the setting. In fact, the main thing that makes the info dumps less realistic is Allison’s inability to sit still for 15 minutes so we constantly have the dumping interrupted by them taking a walk or Allison’s internal commentary.

This paranormal romance has a lot of unique elements to it as well. We’re all familiar with romances that just cannot be because of the curse/laws/rules/whatever and they tend to be convoluted. This romance has a barrier at the beginning for a very simple, very real, very human reason – Allison’s fiancé who she cared for has recently died.

It’s perfectly reasonable – normal even – for David to decide that a romance with Allison so soon after her fiancé and father of her child died was out of the question. It’s even reasonable for him to feel guilty about even thinking of her in that way; natural or not, we respect when someone is grieving and the appropriate ways to relate to them. Similarly, Allison’s guilt over betraying Alex is reasonable as well. That’s also a very natural part of the grieving process, worrying we’re moving on too soon, thinking we’re disrespecting their memory.

I also liked that the romance happened slowly. Yes there was a moment of instant attraction and the description of their mutual hotness at length, but then the relationship took a long time to become a relationship. Weeks, perhaps months of talking to each other, knowing each other, working together before we finally got the lust definitively turning into love

The writing is, on the whole, good in terms of pacing and describing things close to Allison. There are a couple of hiccoughs – I think the dialogue is stilted, especially near the beginning of the book where Allison is angry and confused. It doesn’t flow, sometimes they make little speeches at each other and the word choice isn’t natural; sometimes it misses it’s town as well, being overly long winded or formal then curt then folksy. This is coupled with not doing a great job of conveying the true state of the world. It’s supposed to be war and famine, the world falling apart but the main thing I remember is an unlikely military pact between Britain, Afghanistan and Israel. They epic consequences didn’t feel epic.

It’s not unreadable and it’s not storybreaking by any stretch, but it could use some polish.

I do dislike some of the gender messages in the book. Firstly, the descendents of Primitus Arabella, the artist (who we mainly see in dance) are 99% female. None of the other Primitus are referred to as being primarily one gender and I can’t help but think this is mixed with the fact that most of the Arabella descendants we see are dancers which is considered unmanly.

I also dislike that one of the Primitus, Castafonda, has the defining virtue of “chastity.” I don’t like the idea as a virtue to begin with as it comes with a lot of anti-sex messaging and shaming but at least this is universal and David, a descendant of Castafonda, is equally dedicated to staying chaste. But still, the way they talk about it, the fact that Allison is an unwed mother becomes the disqualifying factor because there’s no way a descendant of Castafonda would do such a thing! It’s hard not to see this as a judgment. Then we take that to Lillith, one of the big bads whose big badness is represented through her evil, corrupting sexual nature.

Beyond that we do have a strong female character with a strong friend and a strong relationship with her mother; those alone are pretty unique in the genre. She doesn’t dislike other women – in fact I don’t think she dislikes any other women and while men do form the biggest roles in her life, her mother, Samantha and Sharon are still very much part of her circle. She’s also a single mother of a young daughter and Samantha is the driving passion of her life. She has no regret about being a teenaged mother but openly refers to the way it changed her life and the opportunities she lost while, at the same time, loving her daughter fiercely.

We don’t have any other minorities at all though, as far as I can see.

I was also interested to see a Chosen One who may not actually be the Chosen One, but could still be powerful despite that. And she didn’t go off on the fight alone – for all her power, for all her strength, for all her sainted super-specialness she went with friends and allies, planned with them, worked with them, fought along side them. She’s breaking the spunky protagonist code with that one.

It was a fun book, it was an interesting book and it was definitely a unique book in many respects. I won’t be shelving it among my favourites by any stretch, it could use a polish and it certainly lacks depth and nuance but it is definitely a book I don’t regret reading since it picks up after half way. It has potential.

A copy of this book was received in exchange for an honest review

ETA: clarification of clumsy wording