Monday, February 6, 2012

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

Ever since I read a New York Times article a few years ago proclaiming that angels were the new vampires in YA (an article which I cannot seem to locate and may very well have made up), I avoided angel books. However, as someone who is suspicious of articles proclaiming any sub-genre either “the next big thing” or “so over,” I should have known better. And if I had, I might have read and enjoyed Unearthly by Cynthia Hand that much sooner.

Here’s the synopsis (from the author's web site):

Clara Gardner has recently learned that she's part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn't easy.

Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place—and out of place at the same time. Because there's another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara's less angelic side.

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 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?

The first clue that moved Unearthly of my list of Books I Am Reading Because Another YA Blogger Liked Them and onto my list of I Might Actually Enjoy This was the cover blurb by Richelle Mead. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I love love love the Vampire Academy series. And now the Bloodlines series as well. So, dubious politics of cover blurbs aside, you put Richelle Mead on the cover saying she liked a book, it’s gonna increase my chances of reading it.

The next thing that really knocked me out was the cleverness of the prologue. Action prologues are a vastly overused trope in YA books at this point. It seems like the editors are terrified that today’s short-attention-span youth may chuck a book if they don’t get grabbed right away (and who knows, they may be right), so they stick in these vague intros that tease the hero or heroine’s mortal climactic danger. This lures us in with the most exciting part of the story so that we have enough adrenaline pumping to speed us through all that pesky scene setting and character introducing.

Since Unearthly is about an angel, the action prologue is presented as her vision of the all-important purpose that she’s been put on the earth to accomplish. This transforms it from an overworn device into a seamless part of the narrative that accomplishes its purpose without drawing attention to itself.

Cynthia Hand also manages to introduce a real surprise into the end of the novel. So often, the payoff of the action prologue is all about whether the heroine will live or die, and the big revel at the end is that she lives, yay! But in Unearthly, the ending manages to bring up questions of destiny, purpose, and love.

But, of course, none of this would work if the characters weren’t so much fun to spend time with. And the good news about the fact that it took me so long to get to this wonderful book is that the sequel is out already, so I don't have  to spend more time with them!

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