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Fallen by Lauren Kate
Fallen #1

Delacorte Press 2009
Hardcover
452 pages
YA Paranormal Romance; Horror

This is a tricky book to review, for a very simple reason: I did not know what this book was about, or what kind of book it was, when I started reading it, and the slow reveal made for a pleasurable, interactive reading experience. So, I’m torn. On the one hand, I want others to have the same experience, which would mean I would have to keep mum about the plot etc. On the other hand, I really really want to talk about what actually happens. See? Torn.

I admit, unashamedly, that I bought this book for its cover (please, click on the image to get a better view, it’s worth it). 2009 has been a very, very good year for YA covers, and this is easily in the top 5 (don’t ask me what other books are in the top 5, because it’s like the Tardis: bigger on the inside). It’s gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous. Composition, typeface, colour, atmosphere – it has it all.

Since I got it for the cover, and on the vague assumption that it would be some kind of paranormal romance book (they usually are, with covers like this), I came to it with virtually no expectations. This turned out to be a great advantage for the novel, because the prose isn’t its strong suit. “But what is it actually about?” I hear you asking. Let’s not rush into these things. I’m still gawking at the cover …

Lucinda Price hasn’t had the easiest of childhoods. Since she began seeing shadows at a young age, her worried parents have dragged her around to psychiatrist after psychologist, hoping for answers. Only by lying has Luce managed to get off the hated medication and have a semblance of a normal life – until, one night at a beach party, the boy Luce was with dies and everyone, including Luce herself, wonders what she had to do with it.

She is packed off to a reform school called Sword & Cross in Georgia by a judge and her parents, a place dating back to the Civil War, complete with its own cemetery and church-turned-gym. The students are strange or crazy, many with tracking bracelets on their wrists; there are security cameras everywhere and a fence to keep them in. Within her first hour there, she is befriended by Arriane, and her eye is drawn to a gorgeous boy called Daniel. She feels like she knows him somehow, but after a friendly grin he gives her the finger. It’s just the start of an immediate animosity on Daniel’s part that Luce can’t understand, or reciprocate.

She also befriends Penn, a ward of the school since her father, the groundskeeper, left her an orphan; and Cam, a green-eyed, handsome boy, makes it clear he’s interested. But Luce can only think of Daniel, who wants nothing to do with her. As the appearance of the shadows increases, and her strange dreams of being held in Daniel’s arms high in the sky persist, Luce is drawn deeper into a world of timeless love and a timeless battle between good and evil.

So that’s my spoiler-free review – except that I’ve left a few hints you can choose to ignore or dissect, as you please. If you’re really wondering what kind of paranormal this is, the title gives it away (and everyone else has given it away in their reviews!). If you’re like me, you won’t even notice. It meant nothing to me until I started putting the clues together – and it was fun doing it that way, figuring it out as I went. You WILL figure it out a LONG time before Luce does. Considering that hers is the only perspective we get (and the only reason we don’t get her first-person narration is so that Kate can include a prologue and epilogue from Daniel’s perspective) and that we start out with the same clues she does, this is somewhat surprising. She is a bit slow on the uptake.

Now, since I can’t talk about the heavy symbolism or [blank] undertones, or any of the fun stuff, because just not enough people have read it yet, let’s talk about something else that’s become indicative in YA fiction over the last few years. How many YA books have you read that are about a girl, often a lonely or isolated or virtually friendless girl, starting a new school year (either at their regular school or a new one), and encountering a hot new guy who for some reason or other pretends to hate her?

I can tell you how many I’ve read – in fact, I’ll list them for you:

    Twilight
    Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side
    Deadly Little Secrets
    Evermore
    Evernight
    Perfect Chemistry
    The Vampire Diaries (kind of)

I bet you can think of lots more, and this list would be longer but I’m trying to limit how many of "these" I read. Possibly Marked should be on the list too, but I just can’t remember. I’ve been told by trustworthy friends that Hush Hush is the worst culprit of all. And now we have Fallen.

To be fair, Daniel has a pretty good excuse, but when Luce flares up at his patronising "you don’t understand" attitude and lets him have it, I had to say "Good on you Luce!" For much of the book, it’s a puzzle-piecing read (and again, I really wish I could discuss the whole premise, but I made the decision not to give any spoilers and I’ll stand by that), which makes it fun, but it’s also hugely uneventful. That you only notice it in a vague sort of way is a good thing, but the prose still isn’t strong enough to make this a really great book. It relies heavily on the formula mentioned above, plus symbolism and mythology, without questioning anything or being at all original.

One of things I really liked about Twilight (that others hated), was the original, or different, take on vampires. I’m not impressed by authors who utilise what’s already out there – it’s no challenge, and means they haven’t really thought about it and lack imagination. Its a harsh criticism I know, but I’ve been reading adult Fantasy for years and years and originality is the big Sticking Point between good and bad Fantasy. I haven’t put this book down as Fantasy, but the criticism still applies.

Another criticism I have brings us back to the prose: the descriptions were poorly drawn and sometimes conflicting. I had a hard time picturing the place – maybe because I’ve never been to that part of the world, but mostly because the descriptions were rather weak. I was also confused by the explanation of Sword & Cross, that it used to be a military outpost during the Civil War – and yet the only descriptions we get are of cinder-block dorms and a church that was built much later than the war. At one point she mentions had decrepit the place is, how it looks like it’s decomposing, but mostly I couldn’t visualise it at all. Even the church, with its vine-covered exterior, was a confusing site for me – especially considering it houses a large pool and other rooms. There just wasn’t enough detail. Kate had the perfect opportunity for some beautiful atmosphere-building to match the lovely cover, but ultimately failed to deliver. I sometimes feel that YA authors are getting lazy. It’s not enough to have all the elements there, to follow the formula. This book stands at 452 pages not because there are lots of words, but because the font is so damn big.

I will be reading the next book, Torment, though – and not just because it too has a very pretty cover. The ending was just enticing enough, and Daniel said some lovely things that I’ve read before, and there’s still plenty of things to be revealed that they’re all being very secretive about. But I’ll be hoping for more magic (of the reading variety), more passion, more originality.

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