Book Review: Unwept by Tracy Hickman and Laura Hickman
Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal
Series: Book 1 of The Nightbirds
Publisher: Tor (July 1, 2014)
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Some books start off with a shaky opening but then end up getting better as the story gains momentum, but other times there are books like Unwept that go the opposite way. These books manage to capture my attention right off the bat and get me invested with an interesting premise, but then they stumble and lose me about halfway through. The magic fizzles out and I can’t get it back.
I have my inklings as to why this might have been the case with Unwept. Thing is, I love being teased with a bit of mystery. And this book did that very well, starting off by painting a baffling yet very intriguing picture. A girl named Ellis Harkington comes to herself in the middle of a train ride accompanied by a nurse and baby, but has no memory of how she got there or any of her life before this moment. She arrives at a remote seaside town named Gamin where everyone seems to know her better than she knows herself, but she can’t even recognize any of their faces. A group of young men and women called the Nightbirds — who claims to be a literary society – welcome her back into the fold with open arms, and yet for a literary society they don’t seem all that interested in books…
Then there are the nightmares. Ellis dreams of clouds of moths and visitations from a strange soldier with a paisley-shaped mark on his face. There’s also talk of terrible things happening all over town, like a devastating fire, missing people, and the discovery of mutilated bodies pointing to a ruthless killer on the loose. And why are there no children in town? There this real sense of unease and foreboding. The atmosphere is practically humming with anticipation. The stage is set for something great, and you know deep down in your gut that this book has got to be building up to something huge.
Well. It didn’t really happen. At least, not for me. You must understand, this book had me wrapped around its finger and I was completely under its control and prepared to fall head over heels in love with it. I cannot give enough praise to the first half of this novel; it was fantastically well written and constructed to give the reader a perfect foundation. I simply adored the first 150 pages or so. But not long after that, the plot started fraying at the edges.
Unfortunately, being plied with all that escalation with ultimately not much payoff has a way of making me feel a bit grumpy. I’m also disheartened by the lost potential of this story. The book could only maintain the suspense for so long before I started questioning where it was trying to go and what it was trying to say. I had the sneaking suspicion that I was being led on a wild goose chase. Not long after that, I finally had to admit to myself that I really had no idea what was going on. By the time some answers were forthcoming, I don’t know if I felt as invested or engaged in the outcome anymore. The revelations were certainly eye-opening, but it’s a classic case of “too little too late.” I just can’t decide if the disappointment hurt more or less because the story had such a strong and promising start.
Unwept is also the first book of a series, and – unsurprisingly, perhaps – it has the stamp of a “Book One” all over it. Don’t expect any satisfying or clear-cut answers. Instead of growing and expanding, the story seemed to shrink back in on itself. There is mystery at the beginning, and there will still be mystery at the end, and probably more blanks and question marks than you started out with. It’s hard to tell now, but I think I might have had a more positive reaction to the book if I had known to rein in my expectations a little.
In the end, I don’t think Unwept is a bad book. The sheer enjoyment I got out of the first part of it is a testament to that. It’s also such a quick read that if you’re even remotely interested in the description, I would say it is well worth your time, as the average reader can probably knock it out in one or two sittings. It has a fascinating premise, and I have no doubt it’ll work for a lot of readers. I just personally wish I been better prepared for its peculiar pacing.
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Tor Books!