This Just Sounds (and Reads) Too Familiar: Jessica Shirvington’s “Embrace”

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I recently had the opportunity to read “Embrace”, the first installment in a new YA trilogy by Jessica Shirvington. It sounded interesting, but overall I was far from impressed. In fact, I was disappointed. While there is nothing new under the sun, I am sick and tired of reading and rereading the exact same story ad infinitum. Occasionally, the familiar story will make a splash through a new twist, interesting characters, or a beautiful literary flair. This was not the case with “Embrace”, and honestly, it is not the case with any of these stories in recent months.

Here’s a quick rundown of the book: Violet Eden is a hard-working, artistic, withdrawn high school student who, by way of an irritatingly vague and cliche letter (penned by a mother who died giving birth to her) presented to her on her 17th birthday, finds out she’s more than human. In fact, she’s a half-angel. And on her birthday, hordes of angels bents on enslaving humanity descend on her because these half-Angels–Grigori, they’re called–were specifically created by the good angels to combat the bad angels. Violet, who also trains in martial arts with a sizzlingly hot trainer who also happens to be a Grigori, finds herself in the stereotypical love triangle. One is the aforementioned trainer; one is an angel. The Grigori is somewhat of a best friend, despite her feelings for him; the angel is (predictably) possessive, manipulative, quick to anger, and (naturally) possessed of an otherworldly beauty.

This is “Legion” meets “Twilight” meets “The Mortal Instruments.”

I’m going to go ahead and insert a lengthy disclaimer here. I called the YA fallen-angel trend five years ago, so I was basically tired of it before it really came along. This might not make me the best reviewer for this book. Further, I have issues with girls like Violet who, for all their superficial awesomeness, are at heart the same whiny, insecure little girl whose most earth-shattering decision has more to do with boys than with the disaster at hand. Also, I have a huge problem with having to read about the same ancient, beautiful, inhuman male character who, for all his long centuries of life, never learned how to treat a girl.

If the above renders my review useless to you, so be it. Stop reading if you haven’t already.

To continue, the characterization was flinchingly awful. Violet sounds great on the synopsis. She sounds refreshing, she sounds unique, she sounds like an interesting person. Artistic, works hard, steadily mastering self-defense, life brushed with tragedy. Sounds a little maudlin, but cool enough to pull it off, yeah?

Nope.

Here’s the thing about Violet. Violet is most deeply torn not over her destiny (instant face-palm: I would love to read a well-written YA novel where an obvious destiny does not lazily dictate the book), or the fact that God is more or less allowing angels to enslave humanity. No, her most pressing issue (of course) has to do with whether she really wants the angel or the half-angel. Violet is, in essence, the exact same teenage girl we’ve been reading about for six or seven years now. Of all of the things she is, all the things she could be–she is pretty much about the boys.

The boys themselves are flat. I’d go so far out on a descriptive limb as to say one-dimensional. Worse, they are the same one-dimensional character. The angel is just a little more talented and lot more curt than the half-angel. They seriously are two halves of the same whole.

Overall, the writing is poor. “Show, don’t tell” is a rule I don’t adhere to exclusively, but there was far too much telling going on in “Embrace.” The sentences are flat. Even when allowing for necessary differences in writing as opposed to speaking aloud, the dialogue was unrealistic and often cringe-worthy. The entire story is hurried–except when Violet’s love interests are concerned. This is a little bit sad, because the actual framework for the story has the potential to be good. The author did craft an interesting framework with the angel types and hierarchy. You also have to give the writer props for crafting a book that is a perfectly typical YA paranormal romance. The story is straight, it is to the point, and it does not pretend to be anything other than what it is. Unfortunately, I do not like what it is.

Overall, “Embrace” lacked. All of the complaints above are (I believe) true, and if they are true, they’re absolutely valid complaints. As obnoxious as they are, though, there is something else. There is a theme in this book. It is by no means exclusive to this book. But there is an implication(in between the oh-so-vital boy problems) that good and evil are interchangeable. That there is, in fact, no true good and no true evil. When you are writing about angels–whatever you personal interpretation of angels happens to be–that’s seriously a major flaw. Judging by the history of science fiction, fantasy, and even horror, you can make the argument that a great work of fantasy can’t exist without good and evil. That fundamental struggle is vital to this genre. At least, it is vital if one wishes to make a mark on this genre. The writing and plotting and characterization could have been beautiful, but without that underlying, universal conflict, the story would be found wanting. In my opinion, at least, “Embrace” was severely wanting.

 

This all said, I am fully aware that tastes differ, and this might be the perfect read for somebody out there. If you’d like to take a closer look or view some differing and well-supported opinions, here you are:

 

http://www.amazon.com/Embrace-Jessica-Shirvington/dp/1402268408/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

 

Thanks, as always, for reading what Miss Beans says.

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