This book is attempting to do many things at once. It is trying to be a detective story, a science fiction story, a dystopian society story, a “first-job” story, and an adult relationship story. In all honesty, I think the author put too many eggs in this basket. Yes, the result is a solid story, but one that I believe didn’t quite achieve its potential in any of these categories.
Disclaimer: I received a free digital ARC for this novel. However, both the decision to post a review and the contents of the review are voluntary and my own alone.
There are some things liked about this story. For example:
Annalisa is well characterized (perhaps even better than the author intended). Annalisa, the lead character, is the pureblood daughter of a very senior member of the society. The author has done an excellent job of characterizing the sense of “entitlement” and “self-centeredness” that such an individual would have (even though she is somewhat in rebellion against her background and particularly her father – the rebellion is within the context of her entitled role in society rather than outside of it). This is apparent in many places in the story, but is most strongly emphasized in the relationship with Mavel (her beast servant). Throughout the book Annalisa treats Mavel as if she is entitled to have a crush on him (and eventually an intimate relationship with him) without much apparent thought as to his feelings or opinions. In essence, she unconsciously treats Mavel as more of a possession than a person. In reading the book, one is immediately reminded of some of the tensions between masters and slaves in the Antebellum South of the United States, particularly with regard to intimate relations. While there is a gender-flip here (in that the best analogies to the Antebellum South are with regards to White male masters in intimate relations with Black female slaves) the depiction of the relationship between Annalisa and Marvel incorporates many of the same “one-sided” elements. In a lot of ways, this realistic depiction of Annalisa is perhaps the best feature of the story.
Interesting dystopian society: The author has introduced a simplified dystopian society (with some science fiction elements) by creating two basic class of humans, the “purebloods” and the “modded”. The “modded” are genetically modified and further divided into beasts (strong), alabasters (beautiful), flares (possessed of unusual mental powers) and basilisks (poisonous). Further, the author has divided the city into Gold, Silver and Bronze districts (largely inhabited by purebloods) and Green, Red and Black districts (largely inhabited by the modded). As the power in society is controlled by the purebloods, the ordering of the districts follows logically from the names, with Golden being the most elite, and Black and Red being the least elite. Somewhat like the Hunger Games, this simplified society provides a (relatively) intuitive background to the story that does not require extensive world-building to be understood by the reader.
Things that I struggled with:
Likability (or perhaps relatability) of the main characters. I found Annalisa to be very difficult to either like or relate to. Now, there is no requirement that the lead character be likable! (A whole lot of excellent books would go by the wayside if this were true!) However, my sense is the book is weakened because of this. Mavel is probably the closest to a likable character, but his character is not developed with the strength it could be given the background of the story. Too often in the story Mavel comes across as the “cardboard cutout” that Annalisa clearly perceives him to be. In some ways, Annalisa’s character sets up a tremendous opportunity for Mavel’s character (and the tensions around the Mistress to Beast interaction) to be the focal point of the story, and the author does not take advantage of that.
Possession confusion. The book opens with what appears to be a description of a pureblood being possessed. Later in the book Marvel is accused of being possessed. Annalisa’s job is with the Human Possession Department. However, nowhere in the book are any of these pieces actually connected. There is no conversation where possession is discussed or debated (so the reader can understand it better), and there is no inkling of whether beasts or purebloods are immune (or targeted for that matter). The last few paragraphs of the book provide the best clues, “I thought it was an easy matter of beast possession. You know, obvious suspect, obvious crime.” However, it sure would have helped to have had more information on this earlier! (By the way, even after reading the book, and writing this, I still haven’t figured out why the introduction appears to be a possessed pureblood rather than a possessed beast. This may be obvious to everybody else, but it sure wasn't obvious to me!)