What do you get when you have a beautiful teenage girl at a creepy boarding school where she meets a couple of cute boys who are both interested in her? Well, in the case of FALLEN, you have a promising YA supernatural romance that loses it in the last three chapters.
Luce (is that pronounced “loose” as in unfastened, or “loo-kay”?) Price is a high school girl who’s enrolled at reform school after an incident (which she doesn’t remember) in which a boy she’s hanging out with is burned to death. We never do find out exactly what happened, but the incident incriminated her enough that her parents shunt her off to Sword and Cross Boarding school where they hope she will be prevented from causing any further deaths. There she meets Arianne, her suddenly new best friend; Cam, a cute boy who adores her; and Daniel, another cute boy who sometimes likes her and sometimes hates her. Natuarlly, she finds the inconstant one irresistable.
Various other students and teachers at the school seem to be altering events to keep Daniel, Cam and Luce apart, or to throw them together. Gabbe, the perfect Southern Belle, pulls Luce away from Cam. Missy, the pixie punk rocker, tries to keep Luce away from Daniel. The reader, of course, knows that Daniel and Luce are bound together by fate, and that Luce keeps getting reborn again and again, only to die before she and Daniel can be together. No spoilers here, the prologue pretty much tells you this.
I enjoyed the setting of this novel. Kate uses the standard “creepiness” tropes, but the reason they are cliches is becaue they work. Mossy stone angels, ruined churches, dank dismal dorm rooms with peeling paint, marshes and unkept gardens–yep, Nicely creepy. Her heroine’s background is also gothic. Luce literally has dark shadows in her life, and she’s had to pay a price because of them. Luce’s strained relations with her parents are the direct result of the shadows. I was hoping that when Kate explained what the shadows were, we’d find a trace of some ancient curse, and that we’d also find that Daniel was attracted to her darkness, and that he was dangerous because of his own dark side. I’d kind of hoped that either it would end tragically, or that it would end well because of Luce and Daniel’s own efforts to subvert the forces that opposed their relationship.
Here’s what I disliked. One, that the above didn’t happen. Daniel and Luce are saved, but not through their own efforts. Two, that everyone at the school seems to care more about Luce’s relations than about their own affairs. Teenagers without a generous ladlefull of self-absorbtion don’t feel like authentic teenagers. Two, that Luce describes herself as being a brilliant ace student, on a full scholarship to a prestigous school (Dover, her previous school) and yet she acts pretty dumb most of the book. She doesn’t seem to care about studying at all, and has to have an accomplice in order to research anything. Three: I didn’t like that Luce always appeared exactly the same in each of her lifetimes, even though she was in different continents some of the times. Really? I get that if Daniel is immortal, pictures of him from the 19th century will look just like him today, but why should Luce look exactly the same?
My number one pet peeve about this book: Christian Mythology. Okay, okay, maybe I should have seen it coming. I mean, the book is titled FALLEN after all, and one thinks of fallen angels. But she looks so gothy and desolate on this lovely cover, I wanted Luce to have done something awful to deserve her curse. I wanted her to be of a necromancer clan, maybe. Or, I wanted to know which witch her ancestor pulled off to get this pinned on her. I wanted SOMETHING that made sense. Because the book doesn’t really get too much into it. When it comes time to bring out the huge enormous secret, the big reveal, the thing which will kill Luce if she finds out about it (because her puny mortal brain will explode?) the secret is…
Wait for it…
Yup. Just angels. Fallen angels, some are bad, some are good, some haven’t made up their minds yet. But they’re angels. Doesn’t that explain everything?
Yeah, not really to me either. One, because, as a skeptical agnostic, I know more about religion (especially Christian mythology) than most people, but the minutae of Catholic dogma are lost on me. Two, because even if I were up on my angel taxonomy, this mythology has been warped. For example, one of the semi-magical people (both the non-magical people die) in this book actually says that Luce can’t be reincarnated because she wasn’t baptized. Yes, you read that right. She can’t be reincarnated because she wasn’t baptized. Made me scratch my head too.
Daniel and the others go on and on about how Luce can’t know the truth, she can’t handle the truth, it’s too super secret and he’s sorry but he can’t tell her much except that they’re all a bunch of angels and then that’s it. That kind of pissed me off. One, because it’s a bit of the “don’t you worry your pretty little head about it” and two because, hey, what about me, the reader? Don’t I get to know? The novel pretty much ends without clarifying things for the readers. There were far too many questions left unanswered, and far too many assumptions made. Like, are the angels that rebelled against God the bad guys, or the good guys? Because I know enough of the Old Testament to know that’s not a gray area. And WHY do they have to fight? And WHY does anyone give a rat’s ass as to whether Luce lives or dies (except Daniel, of course, who luuurves her).
Honestly, Luce is a bit too much like Bella Swan for my taste, and the whole structure of this book is a bit too much like the Twilight novels, and not in a good way. Bella had two personality traits: pretty and clumsy. Luce has two personality traits: Pretty and a good swimmer. They’re both supposed to be smart, but we’re told that, not shown that, and so I bought it in neither story. Pretty and nominally smart girl goes to a spooky place where she is wooed by two overly perfect boys. Supernatural people take an unseemly interest in her love life for reasons that are not quite explained. I liked the twilight novels, but not so much that I wanted to read these elements again.
Another one of my problems is that Daniel’s attractiveness is weighted too heavily on the surface. Pretty is as pretty does, and the guy is a jerk. The first thing he does when he sees Luce is flip her off. Okay, it’s explained later, but that was still my first impression of the guy. He mocks her, then compliments her, then asks her out, then ignores her. Sure, it works like catnip to insecure drama-hungry young girls, but it’s not attractive behavior. He acts like a self-absorbed teenage boy, and yet Luce is always going on and on about his looks, which made me imagine a 17 year old boy, which made me a little squicked out. Back when I was interested in 17 year old boys (a long, long time ago, and for a short window), it wasn’t their looks I was interested in. Most teenage boys are dorks, gangly and pimpled with only sporadic attempts at hygeine. What made them attractive was that they paid attention to me, and the fact that they were older, and more sophisticated (like I said, a short window). For some reason, while I could imagine Edward Cullen as a perpetually 17 year-old-man, I could only see Daniel Grigori as an immature little prick who just happened to have a pretty face. They’re both passport-holding citizens of Assholistan, but Edward made it sexy while Daniel didn’t. Maybe it’s because I’ll only fall for that once.
If you love the idea of a gothic high school drama about star-crossed lovers, and if Christian mythology doesn’t make you roll your eyes, you might enjoy this book.