Katherine Tegen (releases on Jan. 31, 2012)
This book made me feel like a silly giddy teenage girl again, and I mean that in all the best ways possible. I read most of this book in two sittings, so I was able to submerge myself into this world of ancient souls and really get the feel of the world that Jodi Meadows put together. This is both good and bad – good because it allowed me to appreciate the story while bad in the sense that it allowed me to pay close attention to the world building so I was left with giant unanswered questions.
Incarnate is a little unusual compared to most paranormal/supernatural YA books of late. It follows Ana, an 18-year-old girl, who is living her first life amidst a population that has continually been reincarnated for the past 3,000 years. These people have all their memories and experiences of their individual pasts and have been living together with the same million people for hundreds of generations. Ana is ostracized by a large portion of the population who feel she replaced a previous soul that was never reincarnated. Her father abandoned her as a baby and her mother treats her as a “nosoul”, as though she’s not entirely human. On her 18th birthday, she leaves her home in search of answers about her existence by going to the large city where all the old souls live. She gets incredibly lost, meets a guy named Sam, and essentially gets into a lot of trouble.
Ana is a wounded and perpetually abused character, so she’s meek, hesitant and afraid of everyone. These are all character traits that generally drive me nuts in a main female character, but because of the history of her abuse and isolation, Ana being a victim seemed like an organic result of her personal background. She wasn’t just being a victim for the sake of a guy coming to rescue her, but because she was so mentally and emotionally damaged. And yet that didn’t keep her from doing some heroic things every now and then.
Strangely enough though, my biggest problem with the plot came when Ana finally took some action in her own story. While I appreciate and saw the growth in the character to give her the strength to finally disobey rules, when she turned into Lara Croft, dragon rider, it was like someone suckerpunched me out of the story. It was such a ridiculous element and visual that I was laughing at the story instead of being wrapped up in the action. Luckily this portion of the book was short and soon the plot picked up again with more excitement and answers that were more believable to me.
Our leading guy, Sam, is one of those original souls with 3,000 years of memories though packaged in an 18-year-old body. Sam was a nice guy, which is always refreshing, and the slow burn of the romance between he and Ana felt very well paced. To be honest, the will-they-won’t-they bit of the romance plot was my favorite part (strange considering my slight anti-romance rant on Friday) and it made me a bit giddy when the two finally were together. I was also very impressed that I could believe that Sam was 3,000 years old with so much experience and yet still living inside the hormonal body of a teenager. On a side note, he also says one of the best pick up lines (though not used as such) I think I've ever heard, which probably could only come from someone a couple millenia old.
The secondary characters were fun, though not really fleshed out, while the “bad guys” didn’t spend much time in the actual story. And now that I really think about it, the “bad guys” come more in the form of missing information than any actual characters. I could go into that more, but then we’d have a bundle of spoilers.
Jodi Meadows writes in such a way that this book sped by. It flowed so well and sucked me in so quickly that before I knew it, three hours and two hundred pages had gone by. She crams her world so full of ideas that it was inevitable that I would end up disappointed at the lack of explanation of things I thought were key to the story (or just me wanted to know everything about the world). A bit more about that is later on in a spoiler-ish bit. But this is a world with dragons that shoot acid instead of fire (brilliant!), centaurs (though they never actually appear), and shadowy beings that burn you. Despite these aspects of high fantasy, the story instead stands pretty much grounded in a different form of reality.
There’s a lot of talk about whether Ana is the harbinger of the end of the old souls’ reincarnation and if there are more new souls floating around out there. Ana also spends a good deal of her time worrying she will only have the one life to experience. Luckily the author gives us some answers resolving a few of the soul-related mysteries. Considering how many giant mysteries were left in the air, it was nice to have a least a few things explained even if it was done during an awkward time (in the middle of the biggest action sequence).
Some things that could be considered minor spoilers are ahead. It’s mostly my own speculation though.
The city of Heart and its history fascinated me the most and it’s the lack of an explanation for the origins of the city that left me disappointed. I get that this was the beginning of a series, but they live in a city where the walls have heartbeats. This is a city that just so happened to already exist much in its present state, including hundreds of houses, when the reincarnated population finally found its way to its safe haven. While there were a couple of hints as to the origin of the heartbeat, I didn’t get the background or history that I craved. I think I was most bothered by the lack of curiosity and blindness of every other character in the book that they seemed to live in a city that was actually some kind of living thing. It was like a cult mentality had blinded them to the weirdness of the city they just stumbled upon fully formed.
Though overall, I think what matters most is that I spent most of my time reading this book with a goofy grin on my face. This was a great setup for a series that has the potential to be unique among the other YA paranormal series out there. Jodi Meadows comes up with compelling ideas and pulls them together to create a believable, fun world. I’m excited to see where this series goes in its sequels.
Interesting ideas creating an odd yet believable world filled with characters that grew naturally; lots of will-they-won’t-they romance moments; a lot of setup with only a little resolution
I received an ARC from the publishers in return for an honest review. Thanks to Katherine Tegen and HarperCollins for sending it my way.