ARC Review: “Conjured” by Sarah Beth Durst

ConjuredConjured by Sarah Beth Durst

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Eve has a new home, a new face, and a new name—but no memories of her past. She’s been told that she’s in a witness protection program. That she escaped a dangerous magic-wielding serial killer who still hunts her. The only thing she knows for sure is that there is something horrifying in her memories the people hiding her want to access—and there is nothing they won’t say—or do—to her to get her to remember.

At night she dreams of a tattered carnival tent and buttons being sewn into her skin. But during the day, she shelves books at the local library, trying to not let anyone know that she can do things—things like change the color of her eyes or walk through walls. When she does use her strange powers, she blacks out and is drawn into terrifying visions, returning to find that days or weeks have passed—and she’s lost all short-term memories. Eve must find out who and what she really is before the killer finds her—but the truth may be more dangerous than anyone could have ever imagined.

Two and a Half Stars

Thanks to Negalley and Walker Childrens for this eARC!  This title will be released on September 3rd, 2013.

Fair warning, guys: I have a serious case of Mixed Feelings about this book.

First of all, I have to give kudos to Sarah Beth Durst for managing to pull off an amnesia story that didn’t frustrate me immensely.  These things are so incredibly easy to do wrong.  The not-remembering part of the story is handled gracefully and compassionately.  I sympathized with Eve; the disorientation after an episode felt real and frightening, and I was legitimately invested in the day-to-day scenes of Eve just trying to get by with her memory loss.  She has an amnesia episode every time she uses her magic, and wakes up with more nightmare images and days or weeks lost. (I love it when people show the costs of magic!  It makes things so much more REAL.)

I found a lot of the first 2/3rds of the book delightful.  I’m a sucker for a good nightmare sequence, and this book has them in droves.  Scary, nasty, frightening circus scenes and moments where you find yourself legitimately fearing somebody’s knitting yarn.  Fabric sewn over people’s mouths and girls miniaturized in boxes.  Death in the guise of entertainment and descriptions that will make your spine shiver.  Those nightmare scenes ROCK.  I also enjoyed the way the multiverse idea was treated; again, this is something you see done badly, so it was nice to see it done in an interesting way.  Although I was a little confused—and kind of dubious—about the involvement of Witness Protection.  It seems like magical teenagers from other worlds would warrant at least the INVOLVEMENT of other people, even if they are being protected from a freaky serial killer, but WitSec seems to be operating in isolation here, which is fairly weird.

So, I enjoyed the first 2/3rds of this book.  But you can’t build a story on just amazing nightmare scenes…and I have some problems later on.  I feel like the worldbuilding was rushed and sometimes shallow.  I also feel that Aidan’s—he’s one of the scary magical teenagers—his backstory and purpose were rushed and shallow, and not given full importance.  Same for Zach, the love interest, who seems kind of like the male version of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, except with a little family angst jammed awkwardly into the situation.  He was never developed to my satisfaction.

But my biggest problem is that this is set up as a book about self-discovery.  About creating yourself.  It’s a book about finding your individuality—or it should be.

I’m going to try to make this unspoilery: Eve makes big game-changing decisions, which is what agency is supposed to mean, but she makes most of them at Zach’s urging.  In my opinion, her personhood continues to be about other people telling her she’s a person, not about her finding it out for herself.  She only shows agency when other people are telling her to.  Other people can use her magic, but she still can’t.

I don’t think this is the author’s intent, but I just…couldn’t bring myself to ignore it.  This book brings into question a bunch of huge free will problems, and then dodges them entirely by giving other characters most of the agency.  Also, to me, certain scenes smack frighteningly of ‘You’re the only thing I need to be happy!’, which is a very dangerous trap to be caught in.  No one person can be anybody’s everything, no matter how awesome they are.  That thinking is where relationships go to die.

So yes: I enjoyed this book.  I still think the nightmare sequences are awesome and the idea has loads of potential.  I still like a lot of the characters.  But the ending made me uncomfortable.  I think it’s entirely possible that the ending won’t make others uncomfortable; I fully acknowledge that I think too much about these things, and again, I’m guessing the author didn’t want to imply what I’m seeing.  I’m giving it the stars it has for coolness and the fact that I did enjoy myself most of the way through, but despite my eternal cycle of rereads, I probably won’t be picking it up again anytime soon.

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