I tried to read this when I was obsessed with Holly Black’s books because someone told me it was similar. For some reason, back then, I never made it more than fifty pages in. Recently, I’ve been putting off reading it because, if it was like Holly Black’s writing, I probably wouldn’t like it.
I can see why, at thirteen, I never got that far into it because it’s nothing like Holly Black. It is, however, something I really like now.
I didn’t even mind the love story in this! I think I said in my review of Shiver that I’m willing to give love stories more of a chance now; however, realistically, most teen relationships break up, so every teen love story having a happy ending irritates me. On the first page it says “Once upon a time, an angel and a demon fell in love. It did not end well.”, so from the beginning you know this is kind of a doomed romance. And it falls apart so beautifully. If it’s done right, heartbreak and sadness can be beautiful. (Don’t believe me? Ask Shakespeare.) This is written in such a way that it’s so sad, but it’s so beautiful. It’s sad, but it’s perfect.
The world building was also amazing, and it gave such a nice picture of the world without consuming the story. It was very easy to picture people and places. If it was done right (which it wouldn’t be), it could be made into a stunningly beautiful movie.
For the first three hundred pages of the book, the balance of backstory and current events was perfect. I’m rarely happy with the amount of backstory in young adult books, but in this it was so perfect. There would be bits and pieces of the backstory that would tie in with whatever was happening in the story, and, even though it was covered fairly quickly, it would be the perfect amount of information.
I did have a small issue with the backstory whenever Karou started to learn who she was. For the entire book, it was fast paced with a balance of backstory and present day, and then around page three hundred it shifted to slow moving backstory. This lasted for the rest of the book. This wouldn’t have been an issue if it was a short book, because then it wouldn’t be that much backstory, but my copy is four hundred eighteen pages, so, for more than a quarter of the book, it was slow paced backstory. It was important backstory, and it had to have the level of detail it had, but it was a very sudden shift in pace, and it was weird. After about sixty pages of it I became less irritated and more interested, but it took sixty pages.
For most of the time I was reading it, I was thinking that, even though I didn’t like the way the backstory was handled, there was no other way it could have been done. But I thought of one. Every so often through the book, there will be a mostly blank page with a sentence or two on it. These pages always start with the words “Once upon a time” so they are clearly a little removed from the main line of the story. So why not, from the beginning of the book, have every other chapter or every third chapter be about Madrigal, and why not start each of these backstory chapters with “Once upon a time”? Then, at the end of the book, Madrigal’s last chapter will be when she dies, and Karou’s last chapter would be when she figured out who she was. Maybe throughout the book the author could have emphasized the similarities between the two of them so that some people could have put it together? Starting each Madrigal chapter with “Once upon a time” also would have really emphasized the fact that this is a fantasy.
Also, imagine the possibilities if the book were written with the chapters alternating storylines. Obviously, you could read the book as presented with mixed storylines. You could, potentially, read one character’s story and then read the other character’s story by skipping chapters. Your view of the book would be different depending on how you read it. This is missed opportunity that would have made this book even better.
Speaking of the fact that this is fantasy, I don’t frequently enjoy things that aren’t on the more urban side of urban fantasy, so I didn’t know if I would like this, but I did. Even though there were some new names for magical things, they weren’t hard to pronounce or hard to remember. Honestly, the names of people are probably harder to pronounce or remember.
I was a little bothered by the fact that the author seemed to use chimera as a blanket term for many kinds of creatures. In Greek mythology, a chimera is specifically a female monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail, not just any creature that is a mix of several animals/human. Also, according to the first search results I found from google, they’re all female, so the stuff about male chimeras in this book is inaccurate.
I was halfway through writing a paragraph about how I’m pretentious about mythology, so maybe it’s not a huge deal, but no. I am pretentious about mythology, but there has to have been another name that could have been used other than chimera, or another creature they could have been. I can be irritatingly picky, but I think it’s reasonable here.
I was also a little bothered by Karou’s relationship with Kaz, because they have a four year age gap and she’s sixteen. I have never met a sixteen year old who would feel comfortable dating a twenty year old. The only guys who would date a girl that much younger than them are horrible people. They may seem nice, but they’re horrible, and there are probably hundreds of reasons that they can’t get a date their own age.
Overall, I think I was just impressed by the beauty of this book. The imagery, the backstory, the heartbreak, the backstory.
Five out of five stars.