Saturday, 28 November 2015

Review: Blackbird and Deadfall

The Blackbird duology by Anna Carey is the first book series I've read since R. L. Stein's Choose Your Own Adventure novels (which, by the way, were my absolute favourite books growing up, and are partly to blame for me being the monster lover that I am today), and I can say with certainty that I wasn't expecting it. It took me a little while to get into the first novel, Blackbird, but once I did, I was immersed and eager to find out just what the hell was going on. The story was a unique, fast-paced adventure that had me close to loving it. I have to say that the sequel, Deadfall, lost me at the end, but more on that later. There will be minor spoilers, but I won't post the synopsis for Deadfall to spare most of them. For the sake of minor spoilers and to save confusion (we're dealing with amnesia in these books), I'm going to call the main character Blackbird.

A girl wakes up on the train tracks, a subway car barreling down on her. With only minutes to react, she hunches down and the train speeds over her. She doesn’t remember her name, where she is, or how she got there. She has a tattoo on the inside of her right wrist of a blackbird inside a box, letters and numbers printed just below: FNV02198. There is only one thing she knows for sure: people are trying to kill her. On the run for her life, she tries to untangle who she is and what happened to the girl she used to be. Nothing and no one are what they appear to be. But the truth is more disturbing than she ever imagined.

Already you can see why I liked this series. Giving your character amnesia is kind of cliche and overused, but you'll never hear me complaining about it. Memory loss is a perfect way to weave your characters into a surprising web and have them realize horrible truths that they might have been better off forgetting– like the fact that Blackbird and others like her are being hunted.

The gaps in Blackbird's memory were cleverly created, and I was pleased that they seemed to be triggered by random occurrences. It kept the novel moving at a steady pace and maintained my engagement. And Blackbird is an engaging story. Watching Blackbird go through the motions, be followed and hunted by shady characters, and scramble to find her next step brought me deeper into the story. I loved the mystery of it all, the world that was slowly being built before my eyes.

Which is probably why Deadfall disappointed me. There was so much potential in the first half, but it seemed to skim over so many distinct possibilities. I wanted to know more about the freaky society hunting these people. I wanted more from the love triangle. I wanted to know more about the island where the kids were dropped off on. I just wanted more. Instead, I was dumped with half answered questions, a slapdash ending, an unneeded character death (seriously, there was no reason for it, and I'll get into why it didn't bother me later), a simplistic explanation, and the general feeling of "What the f*ck?"

This is yet another series that should have been extended. I wanted the books to go out with an explosion, and I got a bang. The kicker is that I know the series could have been deeper, the adventures wilder, the secrets darker, etc. There was so much here, and all I got was a skimming of the surface. The ending was as simple as they come, and the character that died was one I was becoming invested in. If I'd had one more book with this person, their death would have affected me more. Instead, all I could think was, "Seriously?" It seemed to be done solely for shock value, which I can simply tolerate in fiction. Character deaths ought to mean something, whether it be motivation, the closing of a circle, the final arc of a character, a catalyst for something to drive the plot. Killing a character just to kill them isn't as exciting as it used to be, now that The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones have snatched up the habit of "Let's kill everyone in sight because we can."

The characters were pretty good. I enjoyed Ben and found him easy to relate to, which is why the twist with him seemed completely out of the blue for me. Rafe was perhaps my favourite, though he didn't get nearly as much book time as I wanted him to. The villains weren't very deep, which I found a little disappointing, though I can appreciate the appeal of a fictional psychopath as much as the next reader. The person I found hardest to relate to was, ironically, Blackbird. I think that has to do with the writing style. Believe me, I understand it as a method to get the reader more involved– this is a choice you would make, etcetera. Except... I wouldn't have made those choices. Throughout the series, I had to separate myself from Blackbird, which made me feel a little guilty since the writing style wasn't bad. I just find that novels written this way are better suited for the R. L. Stein books, since you actually make the choice. In the Blackbird duology, your fate is already chosen for you. But at least you don't get eaten by an alligator.

So, would I recommend these books? To be honest, I'm not sure. I liked them, but I didn't love them. However, I love the idea behind them. It's really fantastic, and it's clear that I wanted more from it. I was just very unsatisfied with the ending. I suppose if you can accept that not everything will be answered, and are looking for some fast reads this holiday season (I finished both books in three days, and I was working at the time), this is a series you should try out. And who knows? Maybe you'll agree with the choices Blackbird makes, or understand them better than I did. And if that happens, this series will blow your mind.


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