Review: Fallen by Traci L. Slatton

Thursday, December 15, 2011
Title: Fallen
Genre: post-apocalyptic
Series: Untitled #1
Pages: 242 (Nook NetGalley ARC edition)
Published: July 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

When the world ends, all that is left is love....

As chaos descends on a crippled Earth, survivors are tormented by strange psychic gifts. In this time of apocalyptic despair, love is put to the test. One woman with mysterious healing power guides seven children to safety. Charismatic Arthur offers her a haven. Slowly Emma falls for him. But at the moment of their sweetest love, his devastating secret is revealed, and they are lost to each other. Will Emma stay with him? 

I, quite simply, wanted to love Fallen. I'm often an easy sucker for a well-told post-apocalyptic novel full of second chances and "special abilities":  the exact premise and subsequent hope I had for this one when I stumbled upon it browsing NetGalley one night. I wanted to be swept away into a story of love and hope in the ashes of a epic, world-changing disaster, and on some levels that is exactly what Fallen is. Though Ms. Slatton's novel is quite intense and emotionally gripping from the outset, I found something ineffable lacking from my reading experience with this story of survival in a world gone mad. Unfortunately glossed over in that romantic-sounding blurb for the novel are the extreme character personalities, the not-fully explained science ultimately behind everything, and the often harsh machinations of the plot or characters. Fallen certainly still has a lot to offer (Newt!), and I can say up front that no matter how dismayed I was by sections of this introductory novel, I most definitely will be reading the two planned sequels as soon as possible.

Emma is a tough but determined woman, alive when millions have perished in the mists that have destroyed her world. I found Emma to be quite remarkable, if sadly not a character that I would personally identify closely with for reasons I'll state later, in that she has not only lived but helped seven others do the same. I may not identify with her, but I certainly respect her: she's that kind of woman. Strong and willful, Emma is at her best with her "kids" as she calls them, though only one is her natural child. Emotionally drained from the destruction and separation from her other family, Emma is very cut off from any kind of emotion outside of the children: even when speaking of those she loves (Haywood, Beth, Arthur) it doesn't quite read that way on the page. She's just too removed, too clinical in all her decisions, especially regarding her situation with Arthur. When Emma prostitutes herself for food, safety and numbers within his militaristic camp after a chance encounter, it is understandable, especially within her world and means, but it happens far too quickly. Perhaps Emma's severely divorced emotions played into her lightning-quick decision to bargain her body, but even though it was based in altruism for her band of ragtag misfit kids, it left me with a dislike for Arthur.  I wish that Emma was more fleshed out, beyond just her role: that there was more than just a Mama Bear-type personality at work.

Arthur is a tricky character, albeit intentionally. He's vague and brusque: he's not motivated by kindness or altruism.This is a man that emerged from the killing mists a bit mad, yes, but stronger and determined. Usually I like a strong, determined man, but when combined with "ridiculously controlling" the said main begins to lose his luster - and fast. For example, Arthur threatens Emma with: "You can't escape me. I know you too well. I know all your secrets, the secrets of your body, the secrets of your heart, the ones you think no one knows. I know them." How downright creepy is that to say within days of knowing someone? Given that I wasn't much a fan from the beginning, Arthur does very little to redeem himself over the course of the novel, so at least he is a consistent bastard. He almost shoots a friend for merely talking to Emma, he orders her in her clothing choices, tells her where she can and cannot go. . .  I didn't like the power dynamic between the two at all. It was vastly unequal and obviously full of lies and secrets. So many painfully obvious hints and outright allusions are made about Arthur's past before Emma asks anything, and information is still a long time coming even after she finally (FINALLY) manages to dredge up some curiosity about this former brilliant scientist that doesn't see the merit in basic hygiene after an apocalypse. Yes, you read that right: Arthur is a "brilliant" man, who while rebuilding human society (that is his explicitly stated goal) believes hygiene is not important. That incongruity just drove me nuts: the eradication of germs, bugs, etc. leads to longer, healthier lives, aka exactly what Arthur is trying to reestablish. It just made no sense, even if it was a small facet of his otherwise large personality.

I disliked Arthur and Emma together immediately; it seemed an both an unreasonably hasty and a disagreeable arrangement. Emma was far too familiar and trusting with this unknown man right after providing information about how some people survived the mists only to become brutal, inhumane and capable of great violence towards anyone. For someone usually so protective, just taking Arthur at his word right upon meeting him seems very unlikely. Arthur is much too much the Dominant Alpha Male in Charge. Another part of their relationship that bothered me was Emma seeming and repeated insistence not to ask any pertinent questions about Arthur's clearly shady past. Her willing ignorance for most of the book concerning key, important issues about the disaster that killed millions denigrates a lot of the compassion she displays towards her gifted and strange children. Where this novel does get you on an emotional reader are those children. From the strange but kind Newt to the worrying Mandy, the children brought the best out in Emma, Arthur, Robert, etc. I cared the most for the band of teen and pre-teen survivors and was most invested in seeing them endure to the end.

This is most definitely not a young-adult post-apocalyptic novel. From the random, copious amounts of cursing, to the gore present in almost every encampment to Emma and Arthur's frequent, rough and frenzied couplings, all representations of sex, language and violence are quite mature throughout Fallen. Even if Fallen sadly can't escape the ubiquitous YA cliche of a love-triangle (you had to know it was coming from the beginning), this novel at least has the maturity to cast that unfavorable aspect to the background and the end. Though I fear the triangle will feature much more prominently in the sequels to follow this book, hopefully it won't be dragged out ad nauseam. The time spent in the Russian camp is also quite distasteful, especially when considering how women are treated within the extreme camp of the Russian antagonist Alexei. It's firmly and quickly established within Fallen that women survivors are somewhat less than the men: they are more likely to be cannibalized, used as live shields, discarded as useless. The rogue camp is even worse than Alexei's: I'd go so far as to label that "disturbing" and extreme example of the brutality brought onto some by the mists.

I was extremely frustrated by Fallen's ending. Emma spent the entire novel pining and wishing for one certain thing to happen, and as soon as it does, she is dissatisfied. She wants the previous situation back. It's just irritating that once Emma attains what she wants and has worked for the entire novel, she wants something different. There was no real disclosure on the mists and why they can affect some survivors the way the do - as in Newt or even Emma's own case can attest - and I felt the lack of closure was a big disappointment. Only tantalizing, science fiction-esque hints of a "biomind" and "collective consciousness" behind the almost sentience of the mists were bounced around as answers nut never solidified or thoroughly detailed. I wanted more from Fallen: more characterization, more information to make the science behind the mists at least seem viable, more emotion. While I wasn't the happiest reader I've been at the conclusion of this post-apocalyptic tail with slight supernatural elements, I will be continuing the series to see what Emma finally decides and does with her life.

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