Review: Innocent Darkness by Suzanne Lazear

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Genre: steampunk, historical fiction, young-adult, supernatural fiction
Series: The Aether Chronicles Book One
Pages: 407 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected August 8, 2012
Rating: 2.5/5

A steampunk faerie tale with romance, danger, and a strong-willed heroine.

When spirited sixteen-year-old Noli Braddock and her best friend Steven "V" Darrow take a flying car out for a joyride, neither expects Noli to be sent to reform school to mend her hoyden ways. While at the dreadful school, Noli's innocent mid-summer's eve wish summons Kevighn, a mysterious man who takes Noli with him to the Realm of Faerie. At first Noli believes she has been rescued. But the sinister reason behind the handsome huntsman's appearance quickly become clear--he wants to use Noli as a blood sacrifice to restore his dying world. V, who has secrets of his own, shows up to help Noli escape and return to the mortal realm--but first, they must navigate the dangerous intrigues of the Otherworld.

If they are successful, Noli will live. But if Noli lives, the entire Otherworld civilization will die.

This seemed to have a lot going for it, based on superficiality and blurbs - steampunk elements and a tale of the fae courts? Not many authors would think to meld such different ideas, but Suzanne Lazear went for it with this. Does it work out well in Innocent Darkness? Unfortunately, no, no it does not. The author certainly tries for a lot - a strong heroine, a quirky and unique storyline - but not all ideas are explored as fully as they should could have been. The 'steampunk' shown in Suzanne Lazear's first book in The Aether Chronicles leaves a lot to be desired, as does much else about this first novel. Based on an alternate version of the real world, Innocent Darkness gets off to a fast, seemingly good and intriguing start with a suicide and ominous hints of danger but the rest of the novel can't and doesn't hold up to that level of originality or strength. This is going to get spoilery so do not read if you don't want some events spoiled for you before reading the novel.

The writing of this is pretty much just there - it's not purple and bloated but nor is it beautiful and a joy to read. I liked the story but it never fully hooked me - though this is 400+ page book, I've been known to down such novels in a day. But here, I found myself  strangely dragging my feet when it came to reading Noli's story. Maybe part of it is unfulfilled expectations because immediately I realized that the steampunk aspect wasn't going to be what I had desired, nor were the fae. Suzanne Lazear is an adequate storyteller, I suppose, but work could be done on narrative consistency, streamlining exposition, less repetition and better POV changes as those in the ARC version were often abrupt and jarring. Innocent Darkness also doesn't read like it is set in 1901 and that's for sure. I have to also complain that the "twists" were often easy to spot - especially those about main character and love interest "V". I first called that he was exiled fae (though the 'royal' tag surprised me because it's so cliche and been there-done-that (coughAshcough), and that the evil, reviled High Queen was his mother. I wish more restraint had gone into the foreshadowing for both - there is no punch to either reveal because both are transparent to any ready paying any attention. I also have to wonder why so many plotlines are just dropped and never mentioned - unless they're ploys to ensure continued reading the series. Like: Noli's father and Kevighn's connection to his disappearance,

It must be said that this novel certainly lives up to the second word in the title. This is a surprisingly dark book given the synopsis and overall impression it gives. There are several creepy factors at play that up the ick factor (Kevighn, the doctor, Kevighn, etc.) but the reform school takes the cake.The punishments (waterboarding? sensory deprivation chambers?), though based on fact, are absolutely horrid to read about. The repeated attempt to squelch out any life from the girls at Findlay House bothered me the most outside of creepster Kevighn. The girls are powerless, abused, neglected and isolated and that's considered a good thing by society. Sure, the fae murder a girl every seven years to keep their magic, but the humans are equally horrific in their treatment of "hoydens" and unwanted troublemakers - they're shunted to the side where no one has to look at them, much less deal with them. Innocent Darkness doesn't stop there, though, for also included on this "steampunk faerie tale with romance, danger, and a strong-willed heroine" are such things as rape, abuse, abandonment, opium dens, prostitutes, suicide and murder. 

Noli is spirited, willfull and disobedient - but the girl also spends a lot of time running away from boys and crying. I don't begrudge anyone a good cry but it seems to happen to Magnolia Braddock. A lot. Noli has to fight classism and elitism as a member of "distressed gentry" but it doesn't endear her to the audience as much as the author thinks it does. Of course Noli is special and perfect and beautiful and remarkably intelligent - it's just too much. There's just not much about Noli that defines her or makes her unique among a thousand YA heroines who are special and the only one who can save the world. Characterization throughout the book is done in broad strokes -V, Kevighn, the High Queen - all are one dimensional and unexplored.  Why is Tiana so evil? What caused her to change so abruptly? Why does Kevighn do her bidding, what does he get out of it besides pain? The cast at large feel like they  are just there to play cliched roles behind Noli and V and the inevitable love triangle I can practically see forming already. I also got tired of the sheer repetition of everyone's vocabulary - "hoyden" is way, way overused, as is "soft women", "giggled"  and other often goofy monikers.

This is where it gets the most spoilery because finishing this was when I felt the most frustrated by Innocent Darkness. Flat out? I felt cheated by the incredible lack of an ending. Not only does it feel completely rushed and simplified, all the twists and turns feel so completely convenient for the main characters dream. V needs another sacrifice to 'keep' Noli? Voila - Charlotte has the Spark! Noli doesn't want her friend to die for her? Voila - said friend has a terminal brain tumor anyway that the fae can't heal. Sure other complications come up, thanks to the Queen, but the whole ending felt like a cop out, a cheap ploy to ensure reader continue with the next book. And then. And then, after all of the events of the novel being about securing a sacrifice and the fae have a willing girl lined up... it doesn't happen. What? The Noli/V storyline is presented prominently and exclusively once the deal is struck and we are left with that as the cliffhanger. I can only assume that Charlotte's fate will be sealed or revealed in book two but damn if that didn't feel like a bait-and-switch.

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