The original review can be found at The Founding Fields, here.
Shadowhawk reviews Julianna Scott’s debut novel for Strange Chemistry.
On The Holders: “An Irish fantasy that reads like an X-men novelisation. Which means of course that this was pretty damn good, no mistake.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
Julianna Scott’s The Holders is a debut effort, and quite a stellar one at that. From the very start, it reminds me a lot of Marvel’s X-men comics, and the fantastic world of mutants created within the pages of those comics and the movies and various television shows that have followed over the years.
The central premise of the novel is as such: 17-year old Becca’s young brother Ryland has the ability to skim-read people’s thoughts and it has driven him quite crazy in his short life. Because of his freaky ability and the tantrums that follow, he has no social life, and is very much alone, with only his elder sister and his mother to take care of him. One day, a pair of Irish men arrive at their home and tell the family that they represent St. Brigid’s in Ireland, a school for individuals who are as Ryland is, and where he can get the true help and care that he deserves. It turns out that St. Brigid’s is a school for the gifted, same as Charles Xavier’s school for mutants in the pages of X-men. And the teachers reflect their students. Being an urban fantasy, the powers are not attributed to mutations, but powers handed down through near-ancient bloodlines in Irish magical mythology. For me, it was one of the defining moments in the novel.
The characters in the novel are just as much an interesting bunch as those in Martha Wells’ Emilie & The Hollow World. Becca makes for an excellent sympathetic protagonist, and through her (in the first person), we see a lot of the workings behind St. Brigid’s and the world that Julianna Scott has created. And I see the inspiration behind The Holders as limited to not just X-Men, but also the TV series Heroes. There are elements of both in the novel and with this great mix of IPs and Irish fantasy, Julianna Scott has shown that debut authors can write novels that are as good as, if not better than, novels written by seasoned and experienced authors.
Becca, her brother Ryland, her love interest Alex, and all the instructors at St. Brigid’s make for a really delightful cast of characters, each of who brings something different to the narrative. Each character has a vitality of their own to offer to the narrative, and while we don’t see much of Ryland, that is just fine since this is first and foremost Becca’s story. She is a forceful young adult who is ready to take charge of her life, and that of her brother and mother at a moment’s notice. She cares about the people close to her and she is very much a hero in her own right. I do have to say that Becca has become one of my favourite characters in urban fantasy, and a lot of that has to do with how intelligently and realistically she is written.
Her romance with Alex lacks any cliches and is a very natural occurrence over the course of the novel. There is no suddenness to it, no hand-waving at all. The two of them have to go through several trials, and what results is something that is better for the both of them. I’m not all that a fan of romance elements in my books (I’m actually largely indifferent to it), but this is one instance in which I was hooked onto the romance, and wanted to read more of it.
There is a lot of complexity to the world that Julianna Scott has created, and I loved every bit of it. Whether it is the history of the Holders, the magic-users of the world, or seeing them practice/use their skills, was a rather thrilling experience. The author never gives the game away too soon, and she has played all her cards fairly tightly in her hand. The revelations, as they happen, are told with an eye to the atmosphere that needs to be created to give the reader the best experience, and that is what I wanted from a novel like this.
The pacing of the novel has its ups and downs, and sometimes the narrative gets a little too slow, but overall, I did not have any issues with it. Julianna Scott takes her time with the world-building and the narrative, and she does not seem to have sacrificed much of anything in the novel. She appears to know what she wants out of it, and she delivers on the promise of the blurb. I wanted to be entertained by the novel, and to see a culture and area of fantasy that I have next to no experience with. That is what I got, and I’m pretty happy with how it all went down.
Again, in short, The Holders by Julianna Scott is another strong title from Strange Chemistry, and definitely not one you should miss out on reading.