Review: Hallowed by Cynthia Hand

Hallowed by Cynthia Hand

Four stars

“For months Clara Gardner trained to face the fire from her visions, but she wasn’t prepared for the choice she had to make that day. And in the aftermath, she discovered that nothing about being part angel is as straightforward as she thought.

“Now, torn between her love for Tucker and her complicated feelings about the roles she and Christian seem destined to play in a world that is both dangerous and beautiful, Clara struggles with a shocking revelation: Someone she loves will die in a matter of months. With her future uncertain, the only thing Clara knows for sure is that the fire was just the beginning.

“In this compelling sequel to UNEARTHLY, Cynthia Hand captures the joy of first love, the anguish of loss, and the confusion of becoming who you are.”

Suggestion: If you haven’t read it, read my review of Unearthly. I’m going to be referencing it!

Now, once that’s done, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that I wasn’t that impressed with Unearthly. I liked it for sure, but it was fairly boring all things considered. I was left with hope, however, that Hallowed would be better than the first book. Going into it, though, I was worried. I’d too recently had my hopes crushed by Crossed by Ally Condie.

The beginning didn’t exactly assuage my fears quickly. I halted about 50 pages of the way in, terrified I was looking at ANOTHER slow start. For everyone’s reference, things ALMOST happening are not the same as things ACTUALLY happening. You need more than a few “cry wolf’s” for me to be hooked.

And then the rest of the book HAPPENED.

Sure, it had its faults (which I’ll get to be in a minute) but MAN things happened. I’d gotten an inkling of how wrapped in the book Hand could keep a person at the end of Unearthly, and now she was USING that power the way it was meant to be used. New characters, new issues, new answers, new questions. Take note, Crossed, THIS is what a 2nd book in a trilogy should look more like. Tucker and Clara continued to be cute, the angel lore/world continued to get more and more interesting–all the things I liked got expanded, which was nice.

Now, of course, the big thing here is the death expected in the book. I don’t want to give away who it is, so I’ll try really hard to just explain how I feel about it without mentioning a name. I was worried about this premise, because the whole “oh someone’s going to die” thing always seems to be taken so melodramatically. Hand handles it quite well, I must say. There is a certain level of melodramatic-ness that just has to be there because that’s what this plot convention is about, but it didn’t rule the situation. I’m not one to get overly emotional at books, but the last scene made me take a sniff or two. It was excellently done and I applaud.

Most of the things that I took issue to in this book were nitpicky, so I’ll just run through them quickly:

A) The whole love triangle thing. Don’t get me wrong, Hand deals with it MUCH, MUCH better than I’ve seen anyone do lately. I’m still impressed, even after reading this book. However, I do feel that it got to be a bit much in Hallowed. There is only so much you can discuss a love triangle issue before you start falling into cliché just because it’s what a love triangle lends itself too. Hand does it well, but I don’t think she needs to do it so much.

B) Clara’s mother’s purpose. Um, what? Pardon me, but I feel that it just seemed a little … trite? That’s not the word, but I hope you understand. Something about it didn’t sit with me, but that’s possibly because it’s going to be retroactively explained in the final book.

C) Jeffrey’s purpose. You can’t just throw something like that into the last few pages of the book like that, people! After all the big reveals and sadness and everything, I felt like this just got tacked on and didn’t get the importance it deserved. Obviously it’s going to be a big part of the next book, but the little that was in Hallowed was … hollow.

D) Samjeeza. Two books later, I’m still not really any closer to understanding this guy. While I feel that’s the point–it’s obviously intentional how kept in the dark we’re supposed to be–it’s still rather annoying. He’s attacking, then he’s sorry, then he’s nasty, then he’s upset–and there is no explanation of why.  Why in the world Clara did what she did at the graveyard still confuses me. Even Clara didn’t seem to understand the plot move she was making.

Clearly, those four issues just need one thing to resolve them: the next book. And you can bet I’ll be reading it, without a doubt. Hallowed was a solid, interesting and always moving. The best part? I can’t already predict how this is all going to end. Sure, I can formulate, but I can formulate multiple scenarios and that is exciting. I can’t even tell you if I’m Team Tucker or Team Christian, because Hand has made me love them both in so many ways. I liked Unearthly, but it wasn’t as good as I thought it could be. Hallowed is a definite, visible improvement that makes me almost more excited to read the third book than the actual plot.

The third book in the Unearthly series is yet untitled and slated for a 2013 release.

Review: Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

3 ½ stars

When Clara Gardner learns she’s part angel, her entire life changes. She now has a purpose, a specific task she was put on this earth to accomplish, except she doesn’t know what it is. Her visions of a raging forest fire and a mysterious boy lead her to a new high school in a new town but provide no clear instruction. As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she’d have to make—between the boy in her vision and the boy in her life, between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. . . . When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?

As a fan of the Fallen series by Lauren Kate, I was pretty psyched to get a hold of this book. The Fallen books are great, but I was really looking for a fresh take on angels and I got it. The main character, Clara, is a quarter angel who is trying to be a normal teenage girl while also trying to fulfill her purpose from God, which comes to her only as a short vision. Yes, the “normal teenage girl who actual [insert superpower/secret here]” premise has been well tried, but Hand pulls it off quite well.

The problem, however, comes with the middle of the book. The beginning starts off fast and interesting, but the middle kind of sinks. It focuses more on the teenage stuff as we wait with Clara for her purpose to reveal itself and be fulfilled, but the waiting—while realistic—takes far too long. I blew through this book only partially because it was compulsively readable. The other reason was that I kept flipping through pages looking for the next big angelic event, not prom. Clara falling in love for real was cute, but it felt like filler. Once you get towards the end—if you can hold on that long—you are rewarded, as things start happening one after the other in a very exciting way.

Once again, I’m going to harp on the fact that young adult books have this horrible tendency to have their main characters—typically females—fall instantly in love with their guys. Love at first sight is great, but I’ve seen this so many times it makes me groan. I understand that Christian was the guy from her vision and all, but come on. All these female MCs falling head over heels for guys the second they meet is making me lose faith in my own gender. Hand’s insta-love was certainly not the worst I’ve ever seen, and she even tried to balance it out, so I’m being unduly harsh in this particular review, but the constant issue of this is pushing me onto my soapbox. I’m off now.

Despite how unflattering this review sounds, I am genuinely excited to read the next book. I think that now that Hand has things moving, events are really going to start happening. Unearthly was compulsively readable and hard to find a stopping point even at its dullest middle event. The ending was very vague in a way that leaves me conflicted as to whether it is good or bad, but either way it does its job. There were so many loose ends that the next book has the possibility of being jam-packed with excitement. The end of Unearthly gives me faith that Hand can pull that off is she doesn’t feel locked into waiting for Clara’s purpose to show itself in a realistic timeframe. You can be sure you’ll hear how that goes!

(The second book in the Unearthly series, Hallowed, is expected to be released January 17, 2012)