Thursday, August 18, 2011

On Banshees: A Soul Screamers Triple Review

Rachel Vincent's Soul Screamers books have captured my attention over the last several months, and I've really been enjoying them so far. It started when I came across the prequel, My Soul to Lose, which takes place primarily in a psychiatric ward. It introduces Kaylee in a pretty clever way--by making the reader question whether she's crazy or whether there might be something supernatural going on. The prequel is really not necessary to the rest of the series, and you can start with book one and have no problem following along. I mention it because it was what sucked me into reading the rest of the books.

 My Soul to Take: The story is told from the first person point of view of Kaylee Cavanaugh, an average high school student. Kaylee has what she calls "panic attacks" in which she screams uncontrollably and sees shadows. She's suspected for some time that these episodes are attached to specific people who are fated to die very soon, but has never had confirmation of this. Then an attack happens while she is out with friends at a night club and a young woman, the target of Kaylee's panic, ends up dead with no apparent cause. It is soon revealed that Kaylee is a banshee--a death omen. And she's not alone--Nash Hudson, Kaylee's crush, is a banshee as well. They team up to solve the mystery of the teenage deaths.

This book is full to bursting with exposition. With the exception of a handful of "death" scenes, the bulk of the book is people explaining the supernatural world to Kaylee. I didn't mind all the world building so much, as it's what I expect from the first book in a series. However it does require patience on the part of readers. I for one often had things figured out way before Kaylee did, and had to wait for her to catch up.

The characters have a lot of potential, but for the time being they were mostly vehicles for world building. Kaylee is simply average--average looks, average intelligence and competence, bland attitude, low to average social standing. She blossoms slightly as the book nears it's close, but no drastic development. Nash is actually a bit better, showing a reasonable amount of emotion and conflict. The host of secondary characters are intriguing. And the "villain" really caught me by surprise.

The romance wasn't really front and center in the book, but it was present as a sweet underpinning. Nash and Kaylee just begin to connect and build trust. They share kisses and comfort, but it's a chaste enough that I'd feel comfortable passing this book to my 13 year old niece.

The plot is simple, but surprisingly emotional. For me much of it was predictable, but there was an event or two that I didn't see coming. In other words, it doesn't completely insult your intelligence. I was most interested in the mythology of the book, which left a lot for the author to build on in the future--grim reapers, monsters, other worlds.

This book took me a total of 4 1/2 hours to read, and it was well worth that very slight investment of time. Bottom line, if your looking for a quick yet satisfying fantasy tale, be you adult or teen, this is not a bad pick. 4 stars.

My Soul to Save (Contains Spoilers From Book 1) In this, the second edition to the Soul Screamers series, Vincent begins to expand on her universe by offering readers a first real glance into the Netherworld. Kaylee and Nash attend a concert where the lead singer drops dead on stage, and Kaylee fails to scream for the girl's soul. It is discovered that the girl, and many other pop stars like her, does not have a soul. In short, the entertainment company for which they work has been making contracts with demons and using the pure souls as currency. Todd the reaper, and Nash's brother, has a connection to one such star--Addison. She and Todd once dated, and Todd still cares for her deeply. When they find out that Addison is going to die soon, and that her death will mean eternal torture at the hands of the demon who owns her soul, the group sets out on a quest to save her.

As far as books in a series go, this one felt somewhat like a bridge or transition to the next book. While the first book established a lot about the supernatural elements of Kaylee's world, there were many unanswered questions. This book begins to address those questions while raising others. Similarly, the characters are described more thoroughly, but don't change or develop much. We learn about Kaylee's courage and loyalty, all of which is tested. But in the end she is not dramatically changed by her experiences. Most of the big character development is in the secondary characters, namely Todd and Addison.

Nash and Kaylee's relationship is still present, and it's very sweet. But again, they don't progress forward too much. They are busy with everything else, and don't seem to get any alone time. This is compounded with Kaylee's own doubts about the relationship and her will to take things slow physically. So the romance/passion grade on this would be a 2/5.

The most interesting parts take place in the Netherworld. There are a lot of clever ideas here that the author has only begun to tap into. The human souls as currency, the references to drug use, the hellions and other creatures, are all surprisingly dark. I appreciate that Vincent doesn't go for pure rainbow and butterfly happy endings, but rather let's each book resolve itself with mixed emotions.

I have to comment on the pop star soul selling thing momentarily. The media company is described a lot like Disney and the pop stars like little Hannah Montana clones. This made me dislike Addison, and I had a really hard time feeling sorry for her. I actually felt at times like she would deserve whatever happened to her. That being said, I warmed up to her a bit. But I felt like more could have been done earlier in the story to make her more likeable. As it was, I spent most of the book not really caring whether they'd be able to help her or not.

Overall I'm grading this book as a 3. It has solid world building and interesting ideas, but is so-so in character development and motivation.

My Soul to Keep (Contains Spoilers From Book 2) Never exactly a light series, Soul Screamers takes a notably dark turn in this book. After a party that gets out of hand, Kaylee begins to suspect that some of her classmates are using demon's breath--a Netherworld substance with hallucinogenic properties. She and Nash set out to cut off the source of the drug before things turn deadly.

First of all, I have to applaud Vincent for attempting to tackle as difficult a topic as addiction. What I have admired about this series most thus far is that she manages to address real problems common to many teenagers, but does so through fantasy elements. From parents and school, to the will-they-or-won't-they aspect of Nash and Kaylee's physical relationship, these character read like real teenagers. In this particular book the addiction is used to illuminate many of the character's flaws, fears, and inner demons. There was a great deal of character development and many emotional moments.

Vincent continues to build the paranormal aspects of her world, hinting at more interesting facets and possible future plot threads all the time. While this takes a back seat in many cases to the internal struggles, it's still fairly well done and worth noting.

Kaylee is left on he own or with very limited help many times throughout this book, and in many cases that seemed needless. I questioned many times why she did not find someone stronger or more knowledgeable than herself to help. I'm continuously bothered by the apparent lack of competent adult policing/fighting forces in this little supernatural world. One would assume that if there are a decent number of banshees and other creatures, there should be some kind of leader, or a warrior class, anyone at all that could step in when someone evil threatens multiple lives. Or it could all be left up to a teenage girl...that seems fine too.

My other major complaint is the utter lack of resolution in the ending. BIG SPOILER ALERT, Highlight to Read: One of two things needed to happen in this ending: either Kaylee needed to leave Nash for good because of all of the crap he did to her, or she needed to forgive him and try to start over. She half-asses it instead, saying she wants him to get better so she can have him back. In a long established relationship, that would make sense: I would be able to believe that she loved him and that their relationship could sustain temporary separation for the purpose of mental healing. However, their relationship is fairly new--three months I believe. Realistically, even if they felt in love, taking a break at this point would mean the end because the relationship is not established enough to survive it. So yes, I hated the ending and I felt it was a massive cop out on the authors part.

These complaints aside, this was a good book overall. It had a lot of depth and emotion without needless angst. 4 stars.

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