Not that I had a ton of experience but this was the freakiest slumber party I'd ever attended.
I think I came into this book expecting something entirely different from how it turned out to be. Some turned out better but more just left me unsatisfied.
The story starts with Lela and Nadia forging the unlikeliest of friendships: Lela is the school misfit who smokes, does push ups and beats up abusive foster fathers while Nadia is the school's Queen Bee. They meet in the most auspicious manner, Lela saving Nadia from getting her stash from an opportunistic drug dealer. It seems like a sweet story of Nadia taking Lela under her wing and giving her a shiny new perspective in life, a camera and the daring to forge a future out for herself... until Nadia commits suicide and gets herself sent to The Dark City where... hmm.. it's actually quite fuzzy the workings of this place but think of it as purgatory with shady creatures that possess already dead bodies, where you can watch your least liked episodes of your favorite shows through a TV connected to an umbilical cord (!) and a tower that eats people. Literally.
Lela has to find Nadia and manages to entail the help of Malachi, the captain of the Guards who watches over this magical, fun place.
I liked a lot about this book. I liked the crafty imagination vividly depicting the details and the dreariness of The Dark City. There was a lot of action sequences which I quite enjoyed, the gruesome details appealed to the latent action flick fanboy in me. I have some fondness over Michael because he reminds me of Fat Bastard and I really liked Ana because often times she spoke in my behalf when I wanted to voice out my disbelief over certain plot points. I also liked how the author handled the issues of suicide, depression and rape making the behavior of those who experienced it in this book believable, earning my compassion and understanding.
I just didn't expect it to be this... SUGARY. I don't mind the sweetness of it all, I just needed something more to wash off the cloying taste.
It's so easy to use romance as the gateway emotion to form the foundation of a story. I'm okay with that, even if it sometimes comes to a point where it starts to feel lazy and this book crossed that line several times over, I felt, relying too much on the chemistry between Malachi and Lela to drive the story along.
I really like Malachi, his story is heartbreaking, but as Lela romantic interest he got a little too whipped for my taste.
Thinking back, it wasn't really insta-love but the gradual attraction between Lela and Malachi felt flimsy to me. Overall, Malachi seemed drawn to Lela by her strength and tenacity in the face of a daunting situation. Which is not bad... until he dropped all his responsibilities to do everything in his power to help this "fascinating" creature and thus single-handedly founding The Cult of Lela. I just wish the romance wasn't as heavy handed as it ended up (I can't believe I'm complaining about that) because it felt like an ill-fit for me in the face of how crazy-impressive the world Sarah Fine built here.
Crazy-impressive but still confusing. The scope just felt too big and tied to too many contradicting mythologies. I have this picture of Suicide City as some purgatory where you work out your issues and when you're ready, you go to The Sanctum and get judged if you can move on to the next phase. This made the ending sound a lot like cheating. Because I don't get the deal with Lela taking Nadia's place so she can go into the grassy, sunshiny place and have her soul move on. That's like getting someone to take the exam for you while you go on a vacation. Maybe my preconceived notions about purgatory colored my confusion further but the logic of it all looked pretty skewed to me.
I'm very vanilla towards Lela. I liked her in the beginning but towards the middle she started to call herself out on her mistakes. She'd openly declare herself stupid or a moron out loud... but her awareness of this doesn't change the fact that she did get the stupid on in some scenes. I think my tipping point was this very Matrix-y sequence (which I liked) where she gets taught how to fight by Malachi and Ana only to burn her hand during crunch time thus making the flirty fighting lessons pointless.
I'm not even going to get started on the Mazikin (seriously, what are those things?) and the vagueness of these creatures. Suffice to say, I'm terribly disappointed with what I know of them in the end. It's okay to withhold some of the plot points for the next book, but seeing the big role they played in this book, what I knew of them by the last page was terribly deficient and didn't really spark my curiosity any more than it confused me.
Despite these gaping plot holes and the rough journey to get there, I still liked how things ended. I'm still curious where things are going and how Malachi and Lela would figure in the new status quo. I'm hopeful the wrinkles in the plot would get ironed out sufficiently and if I can dare hope further, ease on the sugar a little, maybe.