January 21, 2013
First sentence: "I'll sleep when I'm dead."
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Review copy provided by my place of employment.
Additional disclaimer: while I wouldn't claim to "know" Lenore, I have met her on several occasions when she stops in town, and enjoy her company.
Felicia is dead. (That's not a spoiler.)
She's been lounging around in her hive in Level 2, revisiting her memories -- only the pleasant ones, please; specifically of Neil, her boyfriend at the time of her death -- talking to her friends Beckah and Virginia, trying to stave off the ever-increasing boredom. Then, one day, something Exciting happens: the system malfunctions, and Beckah disappears.
Oh, and Julian -- an old, not-so-beloved flame of Felicia's -- reappears. And it seems that Level 2 isn't the happy, peaceful, resting place Felicia thought it was. In fact, it's a place where a group called the Morati -- angels who weren't quite, well, angelic -- are siphoning humans' energy in order to invade heaven. And they need Felicia's power.
What the what?
At first take, this is an interesting glance into the afterlife. I liked the use of Felicia's memories to give us backstory, without having to set up everything first. (Yes, we do eventually learn how she died.) It serves to help us get to know Felicia, to understand her interior motivations.
But, unfortunately, it also allows us to keep our distance. Which is the first of my problems with this one. I go back and forth between whether I'm a character-driven reader or a plot-driven reader, and I think I'm both. If the plot is slow, I will forgive it if there are fascinating characters. And I'll forgive wooden or stereotpyical characters if the plot keeps my interest. The problem with Level 2 is that I didn't have either.
I think we're supposed to like Felicia, with all her guilt and complexities (not to mention her fixation on Neil). But I just... didn't. I thought she was whiny privileged, and not at all the Heroine she was made out to be. (Maybe that was on purpose? And there will be More in the next book?) I did like Julian (whom I don't think we were supposed to), but I felt let-down by his character arc. I wanted more from him. And Neil? Well, lets just say he was arm candy.
The second of my problems is that I felt the plot was uneven: perhaps it was because the memories broke up the flow of the plot, but I felt it came in fits and starts. It was too slow at the beginning, took too long to get rolling, and then ended up going too fast at the end. In fact, I finished the book with a "WHAT? HUH?" expression: I had no clue, really, what just happened. Perhaps that was my fault: I'm not exactly the most careful of readers all the time, so I probably missed something. Either way, the Twist and the Big Reveal did not work for me.
Now, to be fair, I may be being a bit hyper critical. It's not every day that someone I "know" gets a book published, and advance buzz for this was quite good. I'm always more critical of books with a lot of advance buzz, so I tend to avoid them. This book reminded me a lot of the Matched series, so I know there will be readers for it. And I'm not sorry I spent the time immersed in this world.
I just wish I had liked it more.