Rating: 3/5 Stars
I was given an eARC of this novel by the author in exchange for an honest review. This review will be spoiler-free. (Disclaimer: I meant to finish and review this novel before its release date, but since it was only sent to me a little over a week before publication and I had other obligations, I wasn’t able to. Sorry!!!)
The best way I can describe this book is to say it was enjoyable. Not great, but not bad either. A true three out of five stars. I was actually considering giving it 3.5 stars, but enough issues piled up by the end that I couldn’t justify the half star.
I want to start off with the things I liked and felt were really working for this novel. By far my favorite part of it was the romance. Although it didn’t play a huge role in the story, it acted as my shining beacon in the darkness. What I liked most about it was the realism. Abi, one of the main characters in this book, reminded me so much of myself when I was her age. Experiencing a crush through her point of view was incredibly relatable, and gave me some teen-girl-crush nostalgia. There was nothing weird or unhealthy about the relationship, either, which is always something I look for. Overall, it was well done.
Another thing I felt was well done was Reis’s use of imagery (when she remembered to include it, that is). A lot of the settings were described very well, so I was able to see them clearly. Along these same lines, the action scenes were written clearly, too, and the tension was also consistently on-point, keeping me on edge until the characters were out of danger.
The magical elements also really worked well in this story. The world building was mostly clear, where I had a decent understanding of how the magic worked, and it was cool to see the magic in action during fight scenes. My favorite moments were where characters would use their teleportation as a fighting tactic, disappearing and then reappearing behind the person they planned to attack. To me, that was both clever and really cool.
There were also great mystery elements that kept me invested throughout the novel. I found myself making predictions a lot, though sometimes I felt like there were mysteries that didn’t really need to be mysteries. For example, it took Reis a long time to even explain in what way Ben and Abi’s mom was sick. They kept saying, “Things haven’t been the same since our mom got sick.” All the while, I was wondering, “Sick how? Obviously mentally, but what are her symptoms? Is she depressed? Anxious? Schizophrenic? What?” It would have been nice to have some clarity with that a little earlier on.
Which segues nicely to the things I felt could have been improved. The first is the ridiculous amount of time it took for Reis to give us a visual image of Ben and Abi. We finally get some imagery of them when Abi finds a picture of her mom at a young age, but before that there had been plenty of time to describe the two of them. The story switches between Ben and Abi’s points of view, after all, so Ben could have easily described Abi and vice versa. Instead, we get “I look like my mom and Ben looks like me” imagery. To this day I’m not entirely sure if I even have a clear picture of Ben or Abi in my head.
Speaking of the POV shifts, I felt that Reis didn’t use them very effectively. She seemed to be determined to switch between Ben and Abi every other chapter, with the occasional random POV of a side character thrown in. This would have worked if something interesting or exciting had happened every chapter, or if every chapter had at least pushed the story forward in some way. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. In the beginning, Abi’s chapters really drug the story down, ruining the pacing completely. A couple of her chapters revolved around introducing characters who would be important later in the story, but who I feel Reis could have gotten away with not introducing until they arrived later, just for the sake of keeping the story moving. If I were Reis, in the beginning of the novel I would have had an introductory chapter for Abi and a scene where she went over to her friend Cora’s house and hung out with Cora’s brother Jesse and his friend Theo. Other than that, I would have cut her other scenes until the action began for her and I would have focused mainly on Ben.
Towards the end of the novel, something that really started bothering me were some plot inconsistencies. I had noticed it as little stuff earlier in the book, like Mr. Flynn assigning a project that was due on October 31st and then in the same chapter telling someone that Halloween had been two weeks ago, but by the end the issues were pretty big. One example has to do with a crystal necklace that plays a large role in the story. Abi had found it early on in the novel, and had left it at her friend Cora’s house. Later in the novel she was afraid to tell Jesse that the necklace was in his house with his sister, and it was made out as a big deal that she wanted to tell him but kept getting interrupted. In Chapter 39, though, she says, “I saw that necklace again. The one at your house.” This implies that he knows the necklace is at his house, but then a few chapters later she tells him that it’s in his house and he acts shocked. Stuff like this happened a few times, and it really drove me nuts and pulled me out of the story.
My final gripe is something that I actually did not count toward my rating of this novel. If I had, it probably would have been at 2.5 stars instead of three. I excused it because I assume it is not an issue in the final version of the book, but I’m bringing it up because it really did negatively impact my reading experience. This is the grammar and punctuation issues that I found scattered throughout the book. Now, I know Reis had some trouble with her proofreader backing out on her very close to publication, and so I wouldn’t have held it against her at all if there had been one or two errors scattered here or there that I’d found. The problem was that, by the end of the novel, it felt like she’d written it with her eyes closed (or like she’d dictated her novel and then hadn’t read back through it to check for errors). Punctuation-wise, commas were the main issue, usually missing from where they should have been. Grammar-wise, things were misspelled, words were omitted, and some things were just oddly phrased. My first drafts of my own novels have less errors than this ARC, which, honestly, I felt was a bit ridiculous. Again, a few errors I could have easily forgiven, but when you’re giving a book out early for review, I would think you’d want it to be as close to perfect as you could get it in order to ensure your book got the best possible rating.
Overall, I enjoyed the basic concept of the plot. There were moments where I genuinely got swept up in the story, be it because of the romance, magic, or action. However, there were also times where I was taken out of the story because of silly mistakes, which is a shame. I was invested enough, though, to be interested in reading the sequel whenever it comes out, because I do want to know what happens next. In the end, this would probably be a fun read for someone who does not look at books critically. It isn’t a novel I would go out of my way to recommend, but I also wouldn’t steer someone away from it if they came up to me and said they were planning to read it.
Anyone who is looking for a book featuring magical secret societies, mind-based magical abilities, and/or a war where you don’t know who you can trust would most likely enjoy this novel.