Karsten Knight – Wildefire
Length: 394 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Started: 13 July 2011
Finished: 14 July 2011
Where did it come from? From Simon & Schuster for review.
Why do I have it? The gorgeous cover caught my eye, and once I realized that it involved mythology, I was in.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 15 May 2011.
Calling Ashline a
“goddess” isn’t flattery,
it’s just factual.
Summary: Ashline Wilde has never quite fit in. She’s adopted, she’s the only Polynesian girl in her suburban NYC school, and her older sister Eve is unpredictable, violent, and destructive… or at least she was before she skipped town. When Eve comes back, she causes enough havoc that Ashline is forced to change schools: she enrolls at an elite private boarding school located in the northern California forest. Life seems to be better at Blackwood Academy: Ash is a star tennis player, she gets to flirt with the cute young local forest ranger, and she’s even making friends. But it turns out that some of her classmates are more than they appear, and that Ash might be one of them… and that they’re not as safe at Blackwood as they might think.
Review: This book has a great premise: kind of American Gods for the teenage set; narrower in scope but with the gods’ power amped up, and set at a boarding school. And we all know how I feel about boarding schools, not to mention world mythology and gods interacting with mortals. So, this book had a lot going for it, and in some ways it lived up to that potential, but it also had a few major flaws. First off, it’s got an extremely slow start: Ashline doesn’t realize what she is until almost halfway through, and she doesn’t realize who she is until 3/4th of the way through… two facts that are both given away to the reader by the back cover copy. I also didn’t really connect with the characters; Ashline seems sort of brash and blustery throughout, and she effectively kept me at arm’s distance, which is not what you want in a protagonist.
But my biggest problem was the writing. I didn’t notice it at first. When you’re reading fast, it’s easy to gloss over some of the oddities of Knight’s prose, and early on in the book, I was reading fast: it’s big type, geared for YA, and I was excited to get to the meat of the story. What I noticed first was that some of the dialogue didn’t sound quite like real people talk… not overtly wrong, just a little off. When I slowed down, however, I realized that it wasn’t just the dialogue – it was the prose, too. There are just enough odd word choices, strange phrasings, and minor factual inaccuracies that I couldn’t read it without wondering about the editing process. For example, talking about the “tar blackness” of the forest, two people who had never “demonstrated much like for each other”, or a single person that “flocked to” a light – those and many other similar turns of phrase just didn’t sit right in my ear, and at times majorly distracted me from the story.
The good news is that in the back half of the book, once the plot really gets its legs under it and takes off, the writing stopped being nearly so distracting. Whether it actually improved, or whether I just stopped noticing because I was (once again) reading quickly, I couldn’t say, but by then I was so caught up in the story that I didn’t much care. Knight throws some really effective curveballs at the reader along the way; a few of which I saw coming (because I knew the mythology), and a few of which caught me completely by surprise… including one on the last page that was a game-changer, and a good enough hook that I’ll almost certainly be reading the sequel, despite the issues I had with the prose. 3 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Tough one. It’s got too many issues to recommend putting it at the top of your list, but if you like world mythology, the story’s good enough to be worth giving it a shot.
First Line: Ashline Wilde was a human mood ring.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 141: “It takes a lot to curb your appetite, but the griot pork on your plate hasn’t been touched, and the corn fritters are cooling.” – As a word, it means a member of a hereditary caste among the peoples of western Africa whose function is to keep an oral history of the tribe or village and to entertain with stories, poems, songs, dances, etc.; as a food item, it’s marinated pork shoulder.
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