Review: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Title: Unspoken
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Genre: young-adult, supernatural, mystery, Gothic
Series: The Lynburn Legacy #1
Pages: 377 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: September 11, 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4.5/5

Kami Glass is in love with someone she’s never met—a boy she’s talked to in her head since she was born. This has made her an outsider in the sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale, but she has learned ways to turn that to her advantage. Her life seems to be in order, until disturbing events begin to occur. There has been screaming in the woods and the manor overlooking the town has lit up for the first time in 10 years . . .

The Lynburn family, who ruled the town a generation ago and who all left without warning, have returned. Now Kami can see that the town she has known and loved all her life is hiding a multitude of secrets—and a murderer. The key to it all just might be the boy in her head. The boy she thought was imaginary is real, and definitely and deliciously dangerous.

I loved this book from the start. It is good. No, it's great. It's Gothic and sassy and funny and clever and thisclose to being perfect. I love it to pieces. I stayed up til nearly one in the morning to finish it, on a night where I had to get up at 4 the next morning. If that isn't a clear enough picture of how thoroughly entertaining and engrossing this gem of a book is, I don't know what to tell you. A surefire winner. Unspoken is unique, it's fun, it's populated with amazingly real, fleshed out characters operating with a strong plot about magic, and secrets, and history. It's a breath of fresh air in a genre that tends to stick to the same ideas and themes and plots. Even when Unspoken does veer into well-tread territory for YA, it ends up being the exception to the rule. The first novel I've ever read from Irish young-adult author Sarah Rees Brennan, it left me eager for more and unwilling to close the cover. The first in a new Gothic and paranormal series, despite a few flaws and missteps, the premier novel in the Lynburn Legacy sets a high bar for any of the other novels to live up to. It can be creepy, genuinely funny, and completely real - all often on the same page. A promising start to begin a new trilogy, I finished this impressed and anxious for more. This was my first Brennan, but it  most definitely won't be my last.  

It's always a pleasure when an author takes the time to create and develop a character with as much depth and personality as Kami Glass. It's easy to self-identify with can-do and hilarious Kami (even if I recognize I lack her original and hilarious way with words): she's a strong character with wants and desires all her own, she isn't defined by who she likes, but what she does, and she grows and learns as she works her way to the bottom of the twisty mystery and aura around the feared Lynburns. Diversity and wit are another two things sorely lacking in a lot of novels geared towards a young-adult audience, but that is not the case here. Kami's Japanese heritage is important to her, and the slight xenophobia shown towards her in her firmly English village help reinforce her uniqueness. I just loved Kami and reading about her. Even with the third person POV distancing her a bit from the audience, this is a perfect example of a well-written, realistic, concrete character. There were so many quotes from this girl that I either laughed at, or giggled at, or just plain amused me. Kami is one character that will stick out in my memory as wonderfully executed and developed.

Kami isn't the only standout character from Unspoken, amazingly enough. The secondary cast of characters are also distinct and well characterized. Kami's hilarious dad takes the award for second-funniest, but really, from sleepy, world-hating best friend Angela to creepy, remote Rosalind, this is a novel with a strong core of characters that all pop from the page. Even when I didn't like certain characters (Ash, etc.) I could appreciate the variety and originality they brought to the novel. Not just in tune with her friends, I loved the interactions of Kami's family - they aren't set pieces created for Kami to gloss over, but important and meaningful parts of her everyday life. Her mother is especially important to the plot of the novel, and the stumbles in the relationship between protective mom and curious Kami strike a delicate, but compelling, balance. Happily minus a lot of the tropes in YA used to get characters to operate autonomously, there are no Missing Parent Syndrome or abused/ignored/lonely kid ideas here; Brennan is too smart to fall for those overused plot devices.

The plot is strong, the dialogue pitch-perfect, and the mystery well-crafted, but there are certain sections of the novel where the tension seems to flag as the kids uncover more and more clues without any meaningful revelations. I didn't mind overmuch, because when the atmosphere matters, it's done well... and I always enjoyed the side trips and adventures Kami cooked up for her friends to get into. It cannot be denied that Unspoken is an entertaining and engrossing novel. The Lynburn family, once they come into play a bit more, supply a lot of the tension with the unexplained acrimonious interplay between the Lynburn cousins, Ash and Jared. I am most definitely not a fan of the love triangle, but as it is used here, I found it at least palatable. Kami doesn't fall into the trap of instalove - even though she's "known" and maybe loved Jared for years before meeting him, and she doesn't bounce back and forth between the cousins just to foment melodrama instead of plot momentum.

I did have a few problems with Unspoken as I progressed through its nearly 400 page length. Most notably: the end. A lot of reviewers have been disappointed with the way and place Brennan chose to end her story, and I am certainly one of them. It's a hell of a cliffhanger, and though I don't buy Jared's final words and attitude for a minute, Brennan certainly knows how to leave her readers wanting more. The plot extends eaily to book two, but  it was an abrupt end to such a slow burn mystery. I also felt that the magic aspect could use some strengthening. What is explained is interesting, but I couldn't get a firm grasp a few parts of the mythology. A little more time and paragraphs to explore those elements would've been appreciated, but there at least will be two more novels to expand on what's been laid down here in the first novel.

From even pacing to creative plot to wonderful, zing-filled dialogue, Unspoken is a book I most definitely will be buying and rereading. Carried by a complex and brave protagonist, coupled with a thoroughly well-done Gothic vibe, there is much more to love about this novel than to lament. I for one, will be counting the months until the arrival in the next book of the series. Brennan has impressed me, and I can't wait to see what she does with the foundation she has laid down.


  1. YES! *fist pump* I am SO glad you enjoyed this one, just like I knew you would! I don't buy Jared's word at all either - it's obvious he's just hurting and that Kami and Jared are so uncertain about each other without their link that they can't read each others facial expressions, but at the same time, I love the ending just because it gives Kami and Jared room to fall in love without their link. In some ways, especially from Jared's side, their link was almost unhealthy due to his dependency on Kami and I can't wait to see how Brennan approaches this new level of complexity to their relationship. Wonderful, wonderful review, Jessie! I am SO glad you enjoyed it! :D

    1. I find it hard to believe people don't like this book! It has everything I look for in a great read - atmospheric setting, well-drawn characters, a smart and twisty mystery... Sarah Rees Brennan gained a new fan with just one book!

  2. I'm so glad you loved this too, Jessie! It was easily a favorite of mine. I really loved Kami. Actually, I enjoyed all of the characters because they were so strong like you said!

    The cliffhanger sucked but it didn't upset me as much, I guess because I feel like there was no other proper place to wrap it up. And also, I am just so used to cliffhangers now that I have become immune to getting pissed off over them. Ha.

    Great review and I am glad we agree on this one.

    1. I guess I should stop complaining about cliffhangers because they are so prevalent! I just wanted a different ending, I guess. I am definitely planning to read the sequel and didn't need one to ensure I would do so!

      So am I! I am going to start pushing this on people I know -- it's so funny and atmospheric I want everyone to read it!


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