Sunday, June 3, 2012

Review: INCARNATE by Jodi Meadows

Ana is new. For thousands of years in Range, a million souls have been reincarnated over and over, keeping their memories and experiences from previous lifetimes. When Ana was born, another soul vanished, and no one knows why.  
Even Ana's own mother thinks she's a nosoul, an omen of worse things to come, and has kept her away from society. To escape her seclusion and learn whether she'll be reincarnated, Ana travels to the city of Heart, but its citizens are suspicious and afraid of what her presence means. When dragons and sylph attack the city, is Ana to blame?  
Sam believes Ana's new soul is good and worthwhile. When he stands up for her, their relationship blooms. But can he love someone who may live only once, and will Ana's enemies--human and creature alike--let them be together? Ana needs to uncover the mistake that gave her someone else's life, but will her quest threaten the peace of Heart and destroy the promise of reincarnation for all?  
Jodi Meadows expertly weaves soul-deep romance, fantasy, and danger into an extraordinary tale of new life.
I picked up this book following the recommendation given by Ems on her blog. [Side note: She's cool and her blog is cool. Go follow.] I wasn't really sure how I'd like the book, given the whole reincarnation thing, but the whole mistreated-girl-finds-a-friend-and-learns-her-worth thing sounded interesting, so I picked up a copy.

I knew within the first couple chapters that this book was going to end up being another book binge. You know tunnel vision, where you suddenly feel like you're looking through a narrow tube and can only focus on what's right in front of you? I get tunnel reading sometimes, where I'm so busy following a story that when something from the outside world forces its way into my reading (like an impatient boss reminding me that my lunch break was technically over ages ago), I have to take a few minutes to reorient myself to my surroundings. I got that with this book.

Meadows does an excellent job with her opening chapters. We meet picked-upon Ana as she leaves home for the first time. We're caught up in her wobbling bravery as she attempts to traverse the wilds of the Range on her own and seethe with her when we learn of her mother's treachery (Ana's mama is not a nice mama). Then, even as we're grousing to ourselves about abuse and such, LIFE AND DEATH STRUGGLE!!! She almost dies and then tada! Cute boy to the rescue! Oh, not just a cute boy, but a sweet and sensitive cute boy. Swoon.

Said boy, Sam, is definitely a perk. Here are some of the other things I liked:

-The mythology. Turns out that Heart, the capital city, was not created by the million people who live in it. No, the group found it sitting in the middle of the Range, completely built with houses and a glowing, mysteriously pulsating temple in the center, just ready for inhabitants! According to the writing someone eventually learned to read, everything was built by some deity named Janan, who promised to come save them all from trouble. Only, of course, he never did, and soon only a minority still believed that such a being existed. After all, when you spend five thousand years fighting off angry dragons without any help, you start to think Janan is full of hot air.

I liked that there was a mythology in place because of the mystery it brings. What's with the pulsating temple? Why doesn't it have a door? Is it really empty? What's with this Janan guy? If he didn't make the city, who did? And why does it all make Ana feel hinky?

-The internal/external conflicts. This is not an adventure book. Yes, there are some physical conflicts that are pretty important, but much of the tension of the story resides inside Ana. She's got some wicked self-esteem issues (thanks, Ana's mom), so much of the book is her learning not to freak out every time someone looks at her sideways. It can be a bit tiring, but it reminds me a lot of the disproportionate worries teenage girls feel all the time. They'll get it.  And yes, watching Sam help Ana blossom is sweet.

-The meaty philosophical questions. While some books let a single person or a small group of people reincarnate again and again, none to my knowledge have let an entire civilization do so. And let me tell you, Meadows doesn't set up this world and then ignore the possible consequences of being reborn repeatedly over five thousand years. Actually, it gets pretty trippy. I mean, say you start off as a girl. Who's to say you're coming back as a girl? What if your friends get in an accident die before you? They'll be learning how to walk again while you're still working your way through menopause. And genealogies! What a headache! You could come back as your own great-grandson - or worse, come back as your former lover's kid. Ewww.

When I first finished this book, Ems asked me how I liked it, and I told her the truth - that I had liked it when I was reading it, but I needed to process it all. So, after processing, here are the things I didn't like so much:

-The mish-mash of worlds. As far as we know, this is a fantasy world. At the beginning, I tried to figure out if Ana actually lived on Earth, either way before our time or way after, but there wasn't really anything to indicate that she was anywhere but a made-up world. I mean, it reads like a fantasy world. There are dragons and evil shadow creatures called sylph and forests and a temple that glows white and has a heartbeat. Fantasy. But there are also drone planes. And laser guns. And medical devices that read soul fingerprints like heartbeats. And handheld devices called SEDs that sound suspiciously like iPhones. I mean, really, what?

-The lack of depth in pretty much anyone but Ana and Sam. You know, anyone else could've died in the book and I wouldn't care. Sure, Sam's friends were nice, but they were all just a bunch of floating heads to me. Because of the whole "I've lived as 300+ people in my lifetime" thing, I had a hard time keeping track of how old everyone was, what they looked like, what their personalities were.

Oh, and the villains! I won't give away who the main baddies are, though that's partly because they're pretty obvious and partly because we don't know who one of them is even by the end. But let me pick on Ana's mother Li for a minute just because she's set up as a baddie from page one. She's a perfectly sadistic harpy, and that's great, except I got to the end and had no clue why she hated Ana so much. No clue! Sure, I could guess, but the book never really says why. How lame is that? Villains are people, too, even harpy mothers. Was a little motivation explanation too much to ask?

-The attempt at suspense. I won't give anything away, but at one point near the end, Ana is made to doubt Sam. By extension, we are as well. At least, I think we were, but I spent most of my time lackadaisically skimming to get to the point when Ana realizes that everything's fine. I mean, really? I was supposed to buy that? (Oh, and I totally guessed several other moments way way way in advance. I'm lookin' at you, Ana's costume.)

-The lack of answers. Meadows does a great job setting this book up for a sequel. Great job. There are so many unanswered questions at the end of the book that you know she's going to need another two books at least to get everything unraveled. But TOO MANY unanswered questions are a big turn-off. I mean, technically, she did answer what Ana originally set out to answer (why was she born?), but the way that answer was delivered was pretty lame in a deus ex machina kind of way. A lot of people talk about things coming about organically, and folks, that didn't feel organic. Plus that's one teeny answered questions against the hulking heap that still rest unanswered.

Whew! Long post. So time to sum up, yeah?

Incarnate gets some things really right, other things not so much. Some of the things that I liked (like Ana's internal issues) may bother you, while some of the things that bothered me (the mish-mash of tech) might fly completely under your radar. My advice would be to read it. I fully plan to read any future sequels with the hope that Meadows will iron out the wrinkles.

Points Added For: Sam, because he's awfully sweet; the sylph, because they sound interesting; the pit, and that's all I'm saying about that; that Meadows didn't shy away from the consequences of the reincarnation thing; the lack of a love triangle (woohoo!).

Points Subtracted For: One-dimensional baddies, Ana's immaturity (it makes sense, considering how she was raised, and Sam calls it "impulsiveness," but her lack of self-control really got on my nerves), the dragons (dragons? really? you couldn't have picked something less mainstream?), SEDs, being predictable in places, the fact that everyone knows everyone else even though there are A MILLION OF THEM (trifle unbelievable, no?).

Good For Fans Of: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi (same type of heroine), The Selection by Kiera Cass (same type of abrupt ending), Across the Universe by Beth Revis (so says Amazon).

Notes For Parents: I don't remember any language, but since I read it so quickly, that isn't a completely sound promise. There is some violence (burns, dying people, knives being plunged into various body parts), and a sensual makeout scene or two. Of course, depending on the beliefs of the family involved, this is a book that uses the belief of reincarnation, so that may bother some people. Also, there's a homosexual couple in the book (remember what I said about people not always coming back as the same gender they were before? Yeah, that.)

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