Review of UNTOLD by SARAH REES BRENNAN
(second in THE LYNBURN LEGACY series, review based on an advance reading copy)
I loved book one in this series, so I eagerly started UNTOLD the moment I received my copy. I confess it took me a while to reinvest in the story. The scarecrow opening felt a little too bizarre and random for my tastes and the exact same tone that I found hilarious in the first book struck me as snarky in UNTOLD. It took me a while to put my finger on why the same tone would appeal to me in one book and then bother me in the second, but then I realized that the first book ended in a very dramatic, traumatic showdown and cliffhanger. What nettled me wasn’t the constant joking around, but using the humor to avoid actually addressing the emotional issues.
Nevertheless, that same tone won me over again after enough jokes made me laugh aloud. For two examples: One character thinks she may have kissed a different guy than she meant to in a darkened room. When explaining this to a friend, she defends that it happens and her friend responds, “In Shakespearean comedies, all the time.” Earlier than that, Kami makes one of her snarky quips at the sorceress Lillian who “shut her eyes briefly, as if she hoped when she opened them she would behold a world in which people never said such ridiculous things.” So it wasn’t that I didn’t like the humor, only that I occasionally wished Kami and everyone else would pause their joking and be serious for a moment.
UNTOLD contains too much romance drama for my taste, not a big surprise after the ending of UNSPOKEN. Still, much of the drama could be completely avoided if characters simply communicated. I’m not calling that unrealistic. I often feel silly critiquing this trend, because it frequently happens in real life. Nevertheless, when it’s so obvious to you as the reader what each person is thinking and that all they need to do to fix their problem(s) is tell each other what they’re thinking, it’s wearisome. I realized after finishing the novel that this may be a bit of a middle book thing. While it’s far too harsh to say UNTOLD suffers from middle book syndrome - as Brennan has a way of making everything enjoyable (despite all my nitpicky complaints, the story had my full attention) - I do suspect the back and forth romance is really a type of filler. In regards to the sorcerer conflict, not much changes from the start of UNTOLD to the finish. (Then again I read on tumblr that Brennan’s style is known as: Book One - Set Up, Book Two - Make Out, Book Three - Defeat Evil.)
Jared’s far too moody. I really wish someone would grab him, shake him, and say, “Get over yourself and grow up.” Granted, he’s young (and smack in the middle of extreme, fantastical circumstances), but I still enjoy YA stories with more mature characters. Kami’s certainly mature while still seeming believable for her own age. I only hope that Jared has some significant character development in the final book. A lot of his moping and sacrifices feel completely unnecessary and avoidable.
While UNSPOKEN followed Kami’s perspective exclusively (correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s what I recall), Brennan slides into some other characters’ viewpoints periodically in UNTOLD. Perhaps I’m being silly, but it feels like cheating. There are suggestions in writing but no firm rules; you can write the story the way you want. In my mind, though, when you choose a perspective you accept the inevitable challenge of when you want to show what another character is doing or thinking but the viewpoint character isn’t there or doesn’t know. It seemed to me that we only slipped into a different viewpoint when Brennan really wants to show her readers something Kami doesn’t know.
I thought I guessed the big twist at the end (and I did), but then Brennan piles on twist after twist after that and I suspect the one I predicted was more along the lines of a decoy. As might be expected after the ending of UNSPOKEN, be forewarned that UNTOLD ends in another cliffhanger. I’ve expressed my annoyances with cliffhanger endings many a time on this blog. UNSPOKEN’s ending snuggled into a safe zone that satisfied me while still being a cliffhanger, but at the ending of UNTOLD I wasn’t thinking about the characters’ motivations as much as the author’s and that detracted from my emotional connection.
I feel like I’ve been rather hard on UNTOLD in my review, so I’ll repeat that even when something annoyed me I still enjoyed the book. And for that matter, I raised my expectations for this book perhaps unreasonably high because I revered the first so much. I’m crossing my fingers that a lot of what bothered me can be attributed to this being the middle book in a trilogy and that the final volume will earn my adoration as much as UNSPOKEN.