Author: Melissa Marr
Publisher & Release Date: William Morrow (imprint of HarperCollins), July 2, 2013
The Hook: A small band of people pulled from throughout time struggles to fight for justice in a strange land.
The Lowdown (from GoodReads): “Chloe walks into a bar and blows five years of sobriety. When she wakes, she finds herself in an unfamiliar world, The Wasteland. She discovers people from all times and places have also arrived there: Kitty and Jack, a brother and sister from the Wild West; Edgar, a prohibition bootlegger; Francis, a one-time hippie; Melody, a mentally unbalanced 1950s housewife; and Hector, a former carnival artist.
None know why they arrived there–or if there is way out of a world populated by monsters and filled with corruption.”
Overall Impressions: I love the premise – people from Earth pulled from different time periods into a mystery land. There’s a definite Western flavor to it all, partially due to the leaders of the band being from the American West; he’s a cowboy, she’s a jill-of-all-trades, but also due to the desert setting, the small towns, the mining resources, the weaponry, etc. Combine it with magic, monsters, demon-summoning monks and sort-of-vampires, and you get a fantasy western!
There’s also the matter of how people from Earth don’t always stay dead; they die and then they “wake up” again within a week. Unless they don’t, in which case someone else from Earth shows up.
The story description gives the impression that the book is Chloe-centric, and Chloe’s important, but the book opens with Kitty and Jack – Chloe doesn’t arrive until the fifth chapter. Jack and Kitty have been in the Wasteland for 26 years and tried their best to make sense of it. They’ve formed a band that fights corruption, most often traced back to the villainous Ajani, who also recruits newly arrived humans to join him. They’re about to find out they missed some really important information. In a way, Chloe really serves as the catalyst to resolve the uneven détente between Jack and Kitty’s group and Ajani.
Marr builds strong and engaging main characters – Kitty, Jack, Edgar, Chloe and Garuda are well-fleshed out. However, secondary characters were not always so well done, though Marr does a nice job with the team dynamics. Garuda is a bloedzuiger and really the only native being important as an individual to the story. (Bloedzuigers share some characteristics of what we would describe as vampires, but they’re not undead. They do live a very long time and their blood has restorative powers. The glimpses of bloedzuiger pack culture are fascinating.)
I have mixed feelings about the climatic clash between Our Heroes and The Villain. The lead up to it was engaging, but there were some unexpected twists in the big showdown that felt overly tidy. It does set up a new power balance, one that invites readers to tell their own stories on the canvas Marr creates.
The Highs: Fantastic world-building and intriguing characters. Part of me wishes we had gotten more of Melody and her backstory, but her character’s focused bloodthirstiness -so incongruous in a 1950s housewife- might be a case of a little goes a long way.
I really rooted for Kitty and Edgar.
Buzzkills: The villain is from Victorian era and fully believes in imperialism – the Wasteland is just another place to claim for the Queen and exploit. He is thoroughly icky, generally believes in having his dirty work done for him, and has some now-repugnant views about native races and women. Really, about everyone else in general. So, he’s a very effective villain. However, I don’t really understand how he first rose to a position of power in the Wasteland.
More of the Wasteland and the different races and how they interact could have been explored.
The relationship between Jack and Chloe seems a little fast-placed as Jack has kept himself fairly closed off for 26 years and Chloe is aware of her tendency to make bad relationship choices; of course, the first time they begin acting on their mutual attraction, they’re both hyped up on Verrot, which gives a drinker enhanced speed, strength and healing but doesn’t necessarily do a lot for higher reasoning skills. (For the record, they do stop themselves.)
The Source: Galley from publisher, obtained at BEA.
Disclaimer: No chocolate or trips through space and time were provided by the publisher for this review.