In The White Oak, the first book in the Imperfect Darkness series, Cora Alexander falls through a sinkhole and enters the underworld still alive. Her living presence threatens the tyrannical rule of Minos and the infernal judges who have hijacked the afterlife and rebuilt it, trapping human souls in a mechanical, computer-controlled city that lies at the core of the earth. To survive, Cora must rely on her untrustworthy guide, Minotaur, an artificial intelligence built by Minos. She is helped by a mysterious voice, and by Sybil, underworld librarian and author of each person’s book of life. Sybil’s collection holds the key to humankind’s intertwined life stories. When Cora’s own book is destroyed, Sybil gives her a magical golden pen and sends her to the underworld city to write her own destiny. Along the way, Cora finds the ghost of her dead brother, Lucas, a genius programmer who alone is capable of finding the chink in Minos’s armor. But will he be able to get Cora out alive, or will they both fall victim to the underworld trap?
This book review is of an ARC received from NetGalley. You can buy the ebook April 9, 2012!
Wow, where to start with this book? Let me to just mention that reading this book and Illuminate by Aimee Agresti at the same time was WEIRD. Illuminate, as I said, went very, very slow. The White Oak, on the other hand?
HOLD ON TIGHT.
From page one, this book throws you right into the action. Every page from there on out always has something happening. Now, this is usually my kind of book, but The White Oak made me realize something: this is only my kind of book when it’s done right.
My rating of 3 stars may be affected entirely by the way I read. I read FAST. I get bored or I don’t understand what’s going on, then I skim. This book never stopped moving, and that turned into a problem. I feel like, even in the beginning, I was never grounded into the world. I understood the basics of what was going on, but that was it. The rest of the plot took place an inch or two above my head, with me only understanding what was happening in the moment and not really what was happening in the overall plot. Important facets weren’t explained enough, and that really became a problem for me. My first observation about this book, as you saw if you follow me on Goodreads, was, “This reads like a NaNo novel!”
I was also continuously jarred by the book jumping into different points of view. The POV switches always came without warning, and the only clue that we had that they were a switch was that the font went into italics. Personally, I think everything that was explained in the infrequent and random switches could have just as easily been cut or told from Cora’s point of view. Actually, when Lucas was describing Cora, I found myself really not liking her–in odd contrast to the passable POV character she was.
So why three stars, then, if I came out feeling like I never got the book? Because of the descriptions. The setting. Seriously, when White slows down and writes a description, she WRITES A DESCRIPTION. Her descriptions of the Underworld and the beings in it were gorgeous, period. This absolutely made the book for me.
And you know what? If you have a better handle on Greek mythology than me, it might make this book a higher rating for you, too. I enjoy reading Greek mythology, but I don’t know it like the back of my hand or read it obsessively like, say, Egyptian or Japanese history. I have a feeling that people better acquainted with the myths will have an easier time settling into this book than I did. There were a bunch of allusions being thrown out there that I knew, but not off the top of my head. And I don’t Google while I read. 😛 It got curiouser as technology and mythology were constantly being juxtaposed, because it kept jarring me every time I tried to remember the actual myth. Mythology lovers might find this cool, but I kept going, “Wait, what?”
All and all, if you enjoy Greek mythology about the underworld, check this one out! It’s a rollercoaster ride that barely even stops at the ending. If you’re not so mythology oriented, it might not be entirely up your alley, but that’s just my opinion. I gave this one a shot, and I’m not disappointed I did!
The second book in this four part series, Sword of Souls, is to be published in July 2012.