Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Review: Kelly Armstrong, The Reckoning

not with a bang but a whimper


(I wouldn't normally write such a lengthy review for a book that disappointed me as much as this one (why waste any more time on it!?) - but the more I got to thinking about the issues I had with this book, yet more and more troubling issues kept occurring to me, and the angrier I the review just grew and grew. Sorry.)

Unlike the previous two installments of the Darkest Powers Series, which are driven both by plot and character development, The Reckoning is driven solely by a few of its action sequences. That a few of these scenes did keep me near the edge of my seat is, unfortunately, the only positive thing I can bring myself to say about this utterly disappointing conclusion to the trilogy.

My main criticism is that the author builds up a number of compelling issues in the previous two books which are left completely unresolved at the end of the third.

Of all of these, the most disappointing for me deals with the character development, particularly the romance between Chloe and Derek. I have to say, I was impressed with the build-up of this romance in the first two books. Derek and Chloe did seem to share a unique understanding of each other. And there were the necessary frustrating, yet interesting obstacles to their being together. But in The Reckoning, this romantic tension completely fizzled, in my opinion. None of the obstacles between Chloe and Derek are actually resolved, but somehow they magically seem to go away? The way I see it, the primary obstacle to Chloe and Derek being together is Derek's selflessness. This manifests itself in two concrete ways: 1) he is a genetically modified werewolf and fears he will lose control and hurt her (hence his shock and horror when he suspects that she likes him earlier in the series); 2) he knows his brother Simon has a crush on her and would never want to hurt Simon.

As to the first: Derek completes his transformation for the first time, realizes he retains his basic humanity even as a wolf, and therefore assumes he'll never hurt Chloe? Too convenient. What about that evil poltergeist that haunts the house, always reminding Chloe and the others that their genetic modifications will drive them to insanity before long? What about Derek's uncontrollable strength that sometimes leads to violent outbreaks with disastrous consequences? We're just supposed to forget all of these issues, which only a few days ago were apparently so crippling that when Derek suspected Chloe might have feelings for him, he responded with shock and horror? More importantly, we're expected to believe that Derek would allow himself to forget it so that he could be with Chloe? Completely out of character for him. Really corny, really unrealistic - laughable, even.

As for the second obstacle: I'm sorry, but Simon's drawing a poignant little comic to show Derek that he doesn't mind him being with Chloe is, in a word, lame. the selfless Derek that we have come to know and admire would never accept that so quickly. Plus, Derek had basically already attached himself to Chloe before Simon even gave him the comic.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying Chloe and Derek should never end up together. I'm just disappointed that these two very serious, very compelling obstacles were erased so easily. Did Armstrong just get lazy? For me, it cheapened the romance and the series as a whole.

Putting Derek and Chloe's not-so-star-crossed romance aside, there are about a hundred other issues that are unresolved. I'll just list several off the top of my head:

-Chloe's father. Why keep bringing him up in the books if he's never going to make an actual appearance? If Chloe's never actually going to contact him?

-Chloe's mother. Why show us glimpses of her ghost if she's not actually going to play a role?

-Chloe's dream to be a film director. Personally, I found all the director/screenwriter references kind of grating. That said, this was an interesting component of Chloe, and I was kind of hoping we'd have some kind of epilogue or something showing that she didn't give it up.

-Tori and Simon being siblings, and Kit being Tori's father. Why in the world does Tori never find out about this? Would have been really interesting to see her reaction. What's the point of all the build up in the previous books, of planting the suspicion in the reader's mind about it, if there's not going to be any resolution or follow through???

-Simon's character in general. What a boring, one dimensional person. I kept thinking there would be some revelation about Simon. No idea what it might be. But just something to make him more than this flat, boring, friendly preppy dude - "Whoa, bro, cool it, bro" - ughhhh. No such luck.

-Liz. Ever since she and Chloe have that heart wrenching scene in the 2nd book, where Liz accepts that she's a ghost and warns Chloe she'll have to cross over to the other side eventually (but isn't ready yet) - I've been bracing myself for it to happen. I really thought it would at the end of The Reckoning - would have been so perfect and bittersweet. But nope! Apparently Armstrong forgot about that scene.

-Chloe's necklace. Where did it come from? How was it made? How does it work? Again, I kept thinking there was going to be some back story here, some revelation. But we got nothing. Apparently it was just a handy plot device, and something pretty to put on the jackets.

-The Demi-Demon. I found the Demi-Demon enormously interesting. I was very excited when Chloe had to make a deal with her so she'd help break the crew out of the Edison Group building; couldn't wait to find out what horrid things she'd have to do in return. But...she winds up not having to do anything, because in a typical manipulation of the plot, the Demi Demon is somehow sucked back down into hell, never to bother Chloe again. Seriously? Soooo boring.

-The warning that Chloe and the band of genetically enhanced supernaturals will eventually go insane because of their powers. This was a very interesting and stressful part of the plot. I kept waiting for it. When's the insanity going to kick in! How are the characters going to cope!? I couldn't wait for them to support each other and show some real strength in the face of their impending doom. But, no. This never happened. One of the most interesting components of the whole story, which is, predictably, left utterly unresolved.

-Rae. Seriously? We don't find out what happens to her?

I really do feel like the author just got kind of bored and decided to just slap this story down as fast as humanly possible, so she could get it over with and move on to the next series. From a marketing standpoint, I suppose the content of The Reckoning doesn't really matter. Most anyone who read the first two books would buy the third just to find out what happens. But I have to say, as a reader, I find it offensive. I felt manipulated when I finished the Reckoning. As you read the first two books, Armstrong makes you think she's got some master plan worked out, that all the little hints and clues she's dropped along the way will eventually add up to something. I suppose I have only myself to blame for this disappointment--for allowing myself to have faith in this author!

1 star

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