Thursday, 4 October 2012

UNSPOKEN BY SARAH REES BRENNAN: A Review

Happy Thursday, my lovelies! The week is almost over, and so it seems the perfect time to recommend you a great book that you could read over the weekend. The book in question?

UNSPOKEN by SARAH REES BRENNAN

The Synopsis

Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met . . . a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.

But all that changes when the Lynburns return.

The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him?




The Review

I read this book ages ago. I mean aaaages. When I found out that advanced copies were available on NetGalley in March I was in there like a greyhound after a fuzzy toy rabbit (not surprising considering my opinion of Sarah Rees Brennan's earlier books) and I snorfled the book down in approximately three hours. When I finished I tried to stand up and fell over because I'd been sitting on my legs for so long without moving that they had completely fallen asleep. I think it's safe to say that I was gripped.

But it's taken me all this time to review the book, and that delay isn't purely because I was waiting for the book to be released before I started talking about it. The delay was mostly because I had FEELS while reading this book. Many, many feels. I still have them now, just thinking about it. My thoughts are complex and swirly and keep wanting to spurt out of my ears. Mostly when I try to talk to people about UNSPOKEN I end up making a weird face and producing these funny groaning noises, like: 'God it's so... grrrrgh. It's just arrrgh! You know? Nnnngh.'

So apologies if this review is even less coherent than usual.

First of all, UNSPOKEN is a complete change of tone and pace from SRB's previous trilogy, The Demon's Lexicon. Those books were incredibly fast paced and really dark all the way through. There was humour there but the jokes were like the inflatable emergency vessels you see on the walls of big ships: very important, and you're glad to see them there, but not really vital to keeping you afloat most of the time.

In UNSPOKEN? The humour is the ship. It's what is going to carry you where you need to go. And because this is part Gothic novel, part murder mystery, the pace is necessarily slower and the plot less action-based. SRB is subtly unspooling clues and hints and foreshadowing aaaall over the place, as well as establishing a much larger cast of important characters right from the start. The darkness comes in disconcerting flashes that are all the more disturbing because they're contrasted against an idyllic setting and quite normal teenage characters who are initially more concerned about taking naps or finding something to eat (or, in Kami's case, proving to everyone that she is the world's best Girl Detective) than survival.

Straight away, this quite daring change in writing style reminded me of a favourite author of mine: Diana Wynne Jones. DWJ's books are so wildly different from each other that it's kind of a joke among her fans. DWJ was also an author who used humour as an integral part of her work, and who wasn't afraid to contrast that with seriously horrific images and elements. Her plots tended to hinge on moments of what dramatists call peripeteia - sudden and complete reversals in the plot which shed an entirely new light on everything that has gone before. There are a few other reasons why this novel reminded me of DWJ's books, but to share them would be to spoil, so my lips are zipped.

But the deeper that I got into the book, the more I found myself thinking about Mary Stewart. She was an adult author who wrote brilliant romantic suspense novels, and one of the things that made her work unique was this astonishing sense of PLACE she always achieved. The rich tapestry of smells, textures, sights and sounds in her stories always made you feel that you had really visited Greece or France or Northumbria, and SRB achieves that exact feeling in UNSPOKEN. The setting of Sorry-in-the-Vale is dense with detail, with a sense of fully realised history. This is all the more remarkable when you find that Sorry-in-the-Vale is an entirely fictional setting.

The other Mary Stewart-ish aspect of SRB's book is the sense of menace. With each page the tension seems to grow, hovering overhead like stormclouds about to burst, and by a third of the way in you really are suspecting EVERYONE - even the characters you like a lot - and completely unsure of who Kami should trust.

One of my favourite things about this book, however, was the way in which it differed from most of the work of both the authors mentioned above, by creating for main character Kami a warm, loving and close-knit family. Not only are they a big part of Kami's life but they are also deeply embroiled in the mystery that Kami is trying to solve, and possibly endangered by Kami's discoveries. That was such a novelty in a book with fantasy/paranormal elements that I gloried in it. My favourite character is Ten, Kami's sensible, quiet little brother. I would swap him for MY little brother any day.

And Kami not only has a family but a large and diverse cast of friends, and it's there that I kind of want to go all fangirly and just hug the book because Angela, the beautiful yet apathetic brunette best friend character who hates almost all human interaction is basically Bella Swan, if Bella Swan was British and had a best friend (called Kami) who wouldn't take no for an answer, and subtly bullied her into getting involved in things, and forced her to have a sense of humour. Bella, I can confidently state, would have been far better off for this interference. Holly (a friend that Kami rediscovers along the way) is another common YA trope turned on its head: the busty, out-going, popular blonde who seems to think about nothing but boys. In TV and novels, she's usually a heartless b*tch who will try to wreck the heroine's life for giggles. In real life, of course, that girl wants and needs friends who see her for who she is inside just as much as the socially disconnected brunette girl does.

Something else happens with regard to Angela and Holly that also makes me want to hug the book, and SRB. But again, it is to spoil. Lips zipped.

However, now we come to the part that is so complex and where I'm basically prevented from saying anything interesting or useful because of teh spoilers. Jared. Ash. GHHGHGH! The traditional YA paranormal love triangle it is not and I. Have. The. Feels. You see, if I say that Jared is basically the antithesis of Nick from The Demon's Lexicon, and Ash is like the flip-side of Alan from The Demon's Lexicon you will not understand what I am trying to say. You'll think you do BUT YOU WILL BE WRONG. I can see what SRB is doing here! It makes me so very excited!

*Makes helpless hand gestures*

Look, just suffice it to say that the relationship stuff in this book is every bit as complicated as the relationship stuff in a real teenager's life and that's before you bring in the mind-reading soulmate aspect of the thing. Some bits, like Jared's aversion to touch and something that happens right at the end of the book are so intriguing and clever, I don't even know what to say about them. I will try to refrain from anymore of the strange subvocal noises though.

I am so looking forward to getting my hands on the next book in this trilogy and seeing SRB really dig into the magical mythology that underlies the plot and the character's heritage. There is clearly some insanely juicy (and bloody) stuff there and I wants it, my precious. I'm also on tenterhooks waiting to see where Kami and Jared (and Kami and Ash? Maybe?) will go after the devastating events of the book's climax. My need to read book #2 is increased by the unresolved ending of UNSPOKEN. I'm not sure, now that I've calmed down, that I can really call it a cliffhanger, but it's certainly open-ended, and I think we're set to see some truly mind-bending changes to the status quo that SRB set up in book #1.

In other words? UNSPOKEN = highly recommended. Go get it. Shoo.

6 comments:

Vivienne said...

I really didn't get on with this one as well as you did. I couldn't get past Kami using American terms which seemed so out of character for an English person. I also struggled with the constant humour.
Glad you loved it though.

Zoë Marriott said...

Viv: You know what's really interesting about that? I've read American reviewers saying that they found the dialogue very difficult because it was too English. Someone even said 'Do English people really TALK like this?' which made me wonder if she had read Harry Potter, or if maybe the HP script was heavily edited for the US audience. Clearly we're still pretty different, even with the heavy cross-pollination of books, TV and films!

Krispy said...

I've been dying to read this book since I heard about it, and though I have finally bought it, I still haven't read it because of the book I'm still reading. I don't like to start new things before finishing old things.

But this makes me so excited because I love SRB's humor and the complex relationships she puts in her books. I'm so excited to see how she turns tropes on their heads and to find out what the heck this devastating ending everyone keeps talking about is!

Thanks for the review!

R.J. Anderson said...

Every time somebody complains about the characters in SRB's books sounding American, I want to wail, "BUT SARAH IS IRISH!" And she is. She has visited the US many times, but she is not US-born or US-resident. So I can't see how this accusation makes any sense, unless the people complaining are working off some strange perception of How All British People Talk which is... not necessarily the same as reality.

Furthermore, SRB's books go through the process of being edited by a UK-based publisher, and surely if for some mysterious reason she were using purely American language which is not common in the UK, they would point this out to her and get her to fix it? Just because most of Kami's language is easily comprehensible and familiar to an American reader doesn't mean it is therefore un-British. It just means it is not self-consciously or conspicuously non-American. It is, in short, mid-Atlantic. Kind of like Ireland, maybe. :)

Escapism Fanatic said...

I gotto read this book. No time. But I'll be making some time for it.

Zoë Marriott said...

Krispy: Yes, that is SRB's specialty and why I like her books so much: complex relationships, humour, and trope reversal. It's quite fangirly sitting there going 'Aha! I see what trope you are messing with there!'

R.J. Anderson: I think the idea is perhaps that SRB's spent too much time watching American TV and reading American books, and is 'writing American' without realising. There's an odd fear in the UK of people being too American-ised, or being influenced without realising it, and I think these remarks may stem from that. But since UK teens probably watch as much if not more US TV than anyone (including SRB!) and read more American books, to say that UK teens wouldn't talk in such an 'Americanised' way is perhaps a bit illogical. After all, teens do talk differently in different areas, to different people, and often depending on what was on telly last night...

Escapism: Great :)

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