Sunday, August 19, 2012

Review: The Unnaturalists

I wish The Unnaturalists was as cool, clear, and well-defined as its cover is.

I was so ready to love this book the minute I read the summary. Girl scientist in a steampunk, alternate Victorian London? Soooooo sweet. I was beyond excited when I got an ARC in the mail (thanks for the heart attack, Simon & Schuster Canada!), because usually they just send me ARCs of sequels to books I haven't read and then I have to give them away.

I was still set to love it when I read the first, breathtaking sentence: "The Sphinx stares at me from her plinth." Right on the first page, Vespa Nix is in the Museum of Unnatural History, being cornered by a freaking Sphinx. You soon find out that the Sphinx is frozen in a time-warp forcefield thing and of no real danger, which is an epic mind trip. God, the first page is so cool.

But after that -- very soon after, on like the second page -- the book becomes muddled. Vespa is pushed (by a mysterious, anonymous hand) into the forcefield and she's trapped in a forcefield-like room thing where the Sphinx is ALIVE and ABLE TO HARM HER, and you're all like OH SHIT MAN WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN HOW'S SHE GOING TO ESCAPE?!?!

But... the Sphinx just kinda looks at her. And stuff. It seems like the author is going for a super-tense, omg-is-she-about-to-spring-and-attack? kind of moment, but it drags on for, like, a couple pages of description of the moment so it ceases to be tense anymore because you're pretty sure the Sphinx is still frozen, in the author's own description freeze-frame, so she can't possibly hurt Vespa anyway.

And oh, Vespa. Vespa Nix. What an awesome name. And she's a POC (maybe mixed race?) girl in the book AND on the cover, whoot! But unfortunately, not even that -- and not even her killer dress -- can save her for me. She sounds like a Valley Girl, and in a Victorian (or pseudo-Victorian) setting, it's just so, so distracting. Also, for all that they try to make her this passionate scientist, she spends all of two minutes studying science in this book. She talks on and on about how much she wants to be the first female scientist in her world, but she never even talks or thinks about her so-called passion. She's too busy fawning over her brand-new, shiny Love Interest, Pedant Lumin/Hal/Bayne/The Architect.

I hate the love interest, by the way. He honestly had four names, and he's called each of them quite a lot of times. Who is this guy?!?! He's a scientist at the museum. No, he's a secret agent for the Architects. No, he's a lord's son. He had a major identity issue; I couldn't identify him, much less swoon over him, because I never got a clear picture of him.

I should probably mention the POV of this book. Half of it is in Vespa's first-person POV. The other half is third person POV following a young (how young, though, I wasn't really sure... maybe 12 or 13?) Tinker (think gypsy) named Syrus Reed. The two stories are barely related. The POV characters see each other a handful of times and they're loosely connected in a plot kind of way, but the discrepancy between the POVs is just too big. It felt like two novels stuck roughly together. I would have greatly preferred this book to be entirely in Syrus's third person POV. But that book, if it existed, would fit much better into the middle grade world.

I dunno. This book was just muddled.

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