The original review can be found at The Founding Fields, here.
Shadowhawk reviews the sequel by Julianna Scott to last year’s YA debut novel The Holders, an urban fantasy with an Irish mythology twist.
“A good novel, but the ending is a bit rushed and doesn’t quite have the climax I was looking for. Still, it is a good follow-up to its predecessor, which I really enjoyed.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
Last year’s The Holders was a really damn good novel. I went in not knowing what it was about, and by the time I was done with it, I was surprised. It was, in many ways, the perfect debut. And it made my “Best Debuts of 2013” list. I’ve been waiting for the sequel, The Seers, ever since. I finally got a chance to read the novel last month and I have to say that it is a good read, overall. Not quite the narrative magic that I was hoping for, but then again the debut set the bar really high I feel. Still, I loved a lot of things about the novel, such as the development of the magic system and the world itself, which is always a key component of a sequel I feel.
The sequel continues Becca’s journey to fit into her new life as someone who has a few magical abilities that she never suspected, which was a big adjustment for her in The Holders. And now, she has to continue to adjust, especially since now she has to meet the wider culture of the Holders, in the form of the more high society-styled aristocrats. They are very much the Holder upper-class, and one of the things that Julianna explores in the new novel is how frustrating it is for Becca to understand these people, people who are more concerned about their own welfare, their parties, and their balls, and their lifestyle rather than creating an inclusive society working to better other Holders, such as what Becca’s father and his friends are doing at St. Brigid’s Academy. As I remarked in my review of the debut novel, St. Brigid’s operates very much like the Charles Xavier Institute from the X-Men comics, and it definitely has that whole feel going for it.
But that’s not all. We meet quite a few new characters, such as Bastian who is a son of the head family of the Bhunaidh (the aforementioned high society-styled aristocrats of the Holders), among others. Julianna does very well at both expanding her cast, and also developing the existing cast even further. That’s one of the things that I liked about Becca’s father Jocelyn, and her boyfriend Alex who is one of the teachers at St. Brigid’s and also one of its recruiters. As far as Bastian is concerned, I loved everything about him. He is not quite what he seems when we meet him for the first time, and he turns out to be a real surprise midway through the novel. I won’t go into spoilers here, but I will say that he is one of the best things to happen to this entire setting. He really brightens things up and he is a great character with some great dialogue and some good and interesting action sequences.
The star of the novel though, is definitely Becca. She is feisty, assertive, funny, a bit of a social goofball, and she stands up to bullies wherever she meets them. She stands up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. She is loyal to a fault, and she is dedicated to the people around her. And once her powers continue to manifest in different ways, she becomes all the more interesting. One of the subtle themes of the second half of the book is: how much power can one person have? There’s no easy answer to this question, partly because it really is a complex theme in the context of the narrative, and also because there is an incident in the final third of the novel that temporarily sidelines this issue for something much more immediate and personal for Becca.
And that’s where the best and not-so-best parts of the novel are. I loved how Becca responded to the situation, and how she really did take charge of proceedings. I loved how she dealt with her romance with Alex, and how she dealt with Bastian and how she made concrete efforts to fit into the Bhunaidh society. But, at the same time, I was disappointed with the climax itself. It was very… anti-climactic. The ending felt very rushed, as if Julianna had spent too much time on the setup and had thus run out of enough room for the resolution. The one redeeming quality of the ending is how much of an emotional ending it is, given what happens to one of the characters, someone we had met for the first time in this novel, very early on, and how much of a connection Becca had developed with said character. Not to mention this character’s relationship to two other people in Becca’s life. That particular subplot was very heart-breaking, enough to almost make one cry.
Sadly, we don’t get to see much of Darragh this time either. The Holder who plans to control the world and rule it, he is the big antagonist introduced in the previous novel, but the new novel deals with him rather obliquely. We don’t even really see him right up until the end, and his appearance itself is rather… well, anti-climactic. I had this particular image of him built up from everything I’d read thus far and he doesn’t quite seem to match up. Its a bit of an interesting twist to the story, and I’m open to seeing where Julianna takes him.
Still, all in all, I had fun reading the novel. It is fairly fast-paced and it gives the reader some great insight into Holder society in general, which is kind of a necessity at this point since we’ve already had the culture established in The Holders. Its a natural avenue of approach to the larger story, and in that context Julianna certainly does not disappoint. But at the same time, it doesn’t meet all the expectations I had of it. Such as the ending and Darragh’s character. And at times, it was as if Becca was acting out-of-character, such as when she meets Bastian for the first time. There’s a history there between the two of them and Becca’s obstinacy with regards to this shared history was surprising. She could have dealt with it in a different way, but the way it was executed felt like a contrivance just to add some drama to her relationship with Bastian.
But, that didn’t negatively impact the reading experience itself too much, and The Seers is still one of the most fun novels I’ve read in recent months.
More Julianna Scott:
- The Holders (Review)