Sunday, August 02, 2009

Wings Lacks Enough Life to Really Fly

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

So ... sci-fi/fantasy for young adults ... Time was when the genre barely existed, languishing in obscurity among the geek/Goth set. These days, you can barely open a teen novel without encountering some kind of wizard, vampire, demon, werewolf or djinn. All it takes, it seems, is an inky black cover, an allusion to an otherwordly creature and bam! You've got yourself a bestseller. But, while that may be enough to grab a reader's attention, is it enough to sustain it? Shouldn't there be some substance behind a book's sexy jacket? Dabbling in a trendy genre may get an author published, it may get a writer read, but without memorable characters or vivid writing, it won't get him remembered. In a post-HP/Twilight world, it's just not enough to stick in a faerie and call it good.

All this is my roundabout way of explaining why I wish I'd spent my $9.99 on something other than Aprilynne Pike's debut novel, Wings. I've been eyeing this book for awhile now, even though it looks like every other teen fantasy novel Borders carries. You know what I'm talking about - it's got the dark cover, emblazoned with a single object and a mysteriously succinct title (Yes, just like Twilight; actually, very like Tithe by Holly Black). Its jacket also boasts not one, but two recommendations from none other than Stephenie Meyer. Add to that the fact that Pike's (1) LDS and (2) an Arizonan and you understand my intrigue. So, on Saturday, I headed to my favorite bookstore armed with $7 in coupons and Borders Bucks. I made a beeline for the YA section, plucked Wings off the shelf, and proceeded to make it mine. Since I had 30 minutes to kill before the rest of the mall opened, I plopped down to read. A few chapters in, the realization hit me - I'd just wasted 10 bucks. Clearly, this was a novel I should have borrowed from the library for free. It wasn't terrible (trust me, I know terrible), it just failed to dazzle me. In a genre based on magic, I expected to find at least a spark. But it wasn't there. Not for me. Why not? Patience - I'm getting there.

First, let's talk plot. Our heroine, 15-year-old Laurel Sewell is new in Crescent City, California. Having been homeschooled her whole life, she's understandably nervous about her first day at high school. After all, she's nothing like the other kids. Not only has she never attended public school, but she's also never had a zit, never been to a doctor, and never taken any medicine not mixed by her mother. She's never hungry, rarely cold, and she gets antsy if kept inside too long. Oh yeah, and the Sewells found her in a basket on their front porch when she was 3. Did I mention she's a little different?

Despite these idiosynchrasies - or perhaps because of them - Laurel gains the attention of nice guy David Lawson. Feeling both flattered and suffocated by his advances, she allows him to show her the ropes. Pretty soon, the two are best friends. So, naturally, Laurel turns to David when she discovers just how different she really is. Although she's freaking out about the wings that have suddenly sprouted from her back, David reacts with his usual calm. A science nerd, he promises to approach the problem logically - they'll do research on the Internet, collect some samples, study them under his microscope, figure things out. Whatever their origin, David thinks the wings are beautiful. Laurel sees the growth as just one more sign of her freakishness.

A trip to her old house, a cabin on woodsy land her family's owned forever, brings the real revelations. It's there that she meets Tamani, a handsome faerie with mischief in his dancing eyes. Somehow, the stranger feels familiar. She soon learns why - she was once a faerie, too. Before she's really had time to process that little tidbit, she's also informed that they're smack dab in the middle of a faerie/troll war. And that she's the key to keeping their world safe. As if that isn't enough, she also has to deal with biology, her parents, and the jealousy that's so palpable between David and Tamani. Then there's the whole identity thing - which is she, human or faerie? In which world does she belong? And how exactly is one girl, with gauzy wings and no magic to speak of, supposed to save the world?

So, okay, the story's pretty familiar. Pike's faerie world is slightly different from the norm, but not enough to be truly original. And the whole idea of a teenager realizing he/she's not exactly of this world's been done a million times (Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Schyler Van Alen, etc.). Unfortunately, the same goes for her characters: Laurel's interesting (especially at first), but not really captivating. David's so nice he's boring, and Tam's nothing more than the stereotypical sprite. Don't even get me started on the villains. Let's just say they're such caricatures, it's laughable. Because the characters don't come alive on the page neither do their relationships. Where there should be warmth, where there should be sparks, where there should be passion, there's canned dialogue and an awkward attempt at romance. Plot-wise, things move too slowly in the first half of the book, then too quickly toward the end. We get the truth about Laurel in one fell swoop; one minute she's cramming for a bio test, the next she's being threatened by trolls. There just wasn't enough of a set up - Laurel's change from (semi) normal high school student to troll-hunting faerie was way too abrupt for me. Plus, I kept asking myself, "Why is all this happening now? What's the urgency? What's the point?" So, yeah. I found too little life, too little cohesion to make Wings truly enjoyable.

On the bright side, I think Aprilynne Pike's got lots of potential. Judging from her blog, she's got personality to spare - I just wish she'd use some of it to liven up her story. Since Wings is the first book in a series of four, we can except to hear more from this first-time novelist. Let's just hope she improves with time.

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mild language and some sexual innuendo.

2 comments:

  1. I didn't think it was as good as expected either, but I too hope the sequels are better.

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  2. I enjoyed it despite all of that. Maybe because I'm a fantasy fan? I also thought David was kind of blah, mostly because he is so nice, and accepts the situation so easily. Yet, I felt like Pike did a good job making Laurel into a unique character.

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