Review: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

I read my first Brennan earlier this year, and unfortunately have not been able to get my hands on any more of her Demon’s Lexicon series. While it pains me to let a great series go unfinished for the time being, when I saw the description for her new series touting a gothic romance tagline, I knew I couldn’t resist. Unspoken‘s description is rather misleading; it’s not a gothic romance so much as it is a commentary on the genre. It’s irreverent, tongue-in-cheek, and wholly unlike any of the other young adult paranormals on the market today. It’s also most probably the result of an illicit love affair between Diana Wynne Jones’s Castle series and Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart, so it goes without saying that I am all onboard for this literary lovechild.

Unspoken dares to go where few young adult paranormals go; it follows the path that

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

real people would likely take, and the results are completely unexpected. In a genre where single-brain-celled characters consistently insist on making reactionary decisions that undermine their own credibility, Unspoken stands out for its unabashed ability to allow its characters a natural progression of reasoning. Usually, my reading experiences consist of reflecting on how I would handle a situation, then frustratingly following along as the characters bumble along doing the exact opposite. It came as no small surprise, then, to find that Kami and Jared nearly always reacted in a way that seemed completely rational. It’s also perhaps a sad commentary that their realistic reactions were such a novelty. Nowadays, it seems that only the truly predictable is, in fact, artistically unpredictable.

Unspoken is a breath of fresh air infused by characters who think before they speak, and whose words are worth reading when they do speak. Kami and Jared’s interactions are witty yet age-appropriate. They sound like two intelligent and sarcastically clever teenagers, rather than two thirtysomethings culling their mental archives of pretentious pop culture references. True, the characters (Kami and Jared included) often read as rather one-dimensional archetypes, yet I believe that Brennan was striving for that effect somewhat, as the novel reads as a rather cheeky reflection on the genres that provided its inspiration. In this context, lack of dimension isn’t necessary, but it’s also not a fireable offense. I had no problem connecting with Kami and her friends, though Ash never really resonated as more than a foil for Jared.

Unfortunately, where the beginning of the novel drew me in straightaway, I feel that Brennan lost her footing in the middle, and by the time the action plot was underway, the whimsical tone and novel approach to paranormal simply weren’t enough to save the rather mediocre underlying story. This came as a blow, since I was convinced early on that this would be a rare five-star book, but the end didn’t fulfill the promise of the beginning. Still, Brennan leaves her characters with an intriguing premise for future books and, most importantly, ample room for character growth. I’ll definitely be back for the second installment and lament the fact that I’ll have to wait over a year until I’m back in Kami’s company.

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