Saturday, July 17, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Fathom by Cherie Priest

Fathom by Cherie Priest
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2122-0


The ageless water witch Arahab has been scheming for aeons, gathering the means to awaken the great Leviathan. She aims to bring him and the old gods back to their former glory, caring little that their ascendance will also mean an end to the human race. However, awakening the Leviathan is no small feat. In fact, Arahab can’t complete the ritual without human aid.

Arahab’s first choice is Jose Gaspar, a notorious pirate from eighteenth-century Spain. But when the tasks proves too difficult for Gaspar, she must look elsewhere, biding her time until the 1930s, when the ideal candidate shows up: a slightly derranged teenager named Bernice.

Bernice is sophisticated, torn from New York and forced to spend a miserable summer on Anna Maria Island, a tiny rock off the coast of Florida. She’s also been saddled with the companionship of her farm-raised cousin, Nia. Eventually Bernice’s disenchantment gives way to rage, which leads to a deadly crime. When Nia won’t cover for Bernice’s actions, she turns on Nia, chasing her into the deadly coastal waves.

But the timing is right and the elementals have better ideas: the moment the girls go under, Bernice is commandeered for Arahab’s task force and Nia is turned into a strange and powerful new creature by a servant of the earth who doesn’t want to surrender its green fields and muddy plains – not yet, at least. Add in a hapless fire inspector who’s just trying to get his paperwork in order, a fire god whose neutrality has been called into question, and a bizarre religious cult, and rural Florida doesn’t seem quite so sleepy anymore.


My Thoughts:

I really wanted to like this book and I really tried – and I did enjoy reading it, but ultimately I feel disappointed. The idea is so good, but the execution left me wanting more. I think if it was twice as long, maybe it would have felt more complete, more satisfying. I actually feel a little bad about not liking this book as much as I wanted to, because the effort was solid, it just didn’t quite work for me. Just so you know, this review is likely to be peppered with minor spoilers.

Let me start with discussing the characters. The two cousins felt underdeveloped and their “miserable summer” together is actually only a day and then Bernice commits her crime and Nia flees from her into the ocean. Both of them are barely established as characters before they disappear for a while during their transformations. Then suddenly we’re introduced to Gaspar and I think he could have used some more detail, as well, especially his first attempt to awaken Leviathan, which is mentioned but only in passing. Arahab is meant to be evil and malicious, but I never felt that she was as threatening as she should or could have been. She mostly comes across as petulant, or even incompetent.

The pacing was too fast I think. In Boneshaker the pace was quick and that suited the narrative, what with being chased around the city by zombies, etc, but for this book it just made it feel rushed. Fantasy needs to be epic, especially when you’re dealing with old gods and bringing about the apocalypse. The world and myth wasn’t clearly established and involved a lot of guess-work and assumption for me as a reader. Very little about the creatures was ever fully explained. It just wasn’t very transparent.

And somehow I forgot for a good half of the book that the story was set in the 1930s, which I think is problematic. I should not be able to forget what time period we’re in. I think it points to not being fully immersed in the setting and not being shown enough of the world and the people in it.

One last gripe and then I’ll say some good things about this novel, really, I will, because it certainly wasn’t all bad, just disappointing. My last gripe has to do with the cult that the blurb mentions. And you might be able to guess what I’m about to say – the cult did not get enough page-time to be effective. It almost felt like it was thrown into the mix to make it more interesting, and wasn’t really explored and utilized to add depth to the story.

Okay, now for some positive thoughts.

Talk about imagination! I really think that the framework of the story that is here is wonderfully, powerfully imaginative. The ideas behind the novel are just great and are the reason that I really wanted to be able to gush about this book. It’s actually been difficult for me to write this review, because I respect the creativity that is apparent throughout the narrative and I want to be able to say only good things about it.

Let me conclude, before I start to repeat myself.

Despite the fact that I felt unsatisfied at the end, I would still recommend this book as long as you don’t have hugely high expectations of reading an epic dark fantasy. If you liked the fast pace of Boneshaker, you might also enjoy it in this novel. And if you just want to read something quick and imaginative you may also like it. Now, go read, minions.

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