Book Rating: ★★★☆☆ (2.75 / 5 stars)
Jemma is a seemingly normal teenager: a bit of an outcast, she has spent most of her life fantasizing over her crush like a woman out of a Jane Austen novel. But when popular and beautiful Veronika coerces Jemma into her clique, it leads to something Jemma never thought possible: a ring transports her to a world parallel to hers…and her crush, Aaron, is also from there. Suddenly, she finds herself having to train for a quest, all while trying to understand this new world, Aaron, and the foes afoot.
Let me start by saying that if you enjoy YA Fantasy Romance, you will enjoy this book. I might have enjoyed it about ten-to-twelve years ago as well, to be honest. But, by the time I got 40% into the book, I knew it wasn’t for me, but I hung on due to some of the good in the story.
I’ll start with the good: Lara Kellett-Smith is a fantastic writer. You get wrapped in Jemma’s insecurities, and understand her feelings for Aaron, as well as her conflicts over him. Kellett-Smith has also spent a good amount of time foreshadowing, wrapping little details in seemingly insignificant events, and building up a world with rules and a hierarchical structure that is often difficult to do in Fantasy. On a fundamental level, it’s a good book.
But it wasn’t my cup of tea.
In a way, there was something reminiscent of Twilight in this book. Now, this goes back to what I said above: when I was thirteen, I loved Twilight. Now, I don’t. So I am sure that I would have enjoyed this book when I was younger.
From this point onwards, I’d like to provide a spoiler warning as in order to discuss what I don’t like, I may have delve a bit more into the plot.
The story starts off very slow. Jemma is describing her life, and I’d say nothing much happens for about 10-15% of the book. When she finally arrives in the Otherworld, she is told she has to go on a quest with five others, as Veronika did not return. In a book called Quest, I anticipated much of the book would take place on the quest. Perhaps this was my own fault. Perhaps I was expecting something different and should have looked at the book more closely. The quest itself didn’t begin until almost 60% of the way through, and it was basically complete by 85%.
I think I went into this book expecting a Fantasy Adventure with a romantic subplot. The romance itself takes up most of the book though. While I’ll read romance, I much prefer it to wrap more into an actual story. While this book does it better than others, I found myself skimming through wondering when they would get to the quest!
While Aaron as a character isn’t a bad guy (in fact, I understand why Jemma is so attracted him), the elements of this romance didn’t work for me either. Again, this is all a personal opinion and I think some people will find it all very romantic. But a lot of the elements did remind me of Edward and Bella from Twilight. Though, I will admit, Jemma and Aaron’s romance is much healthier.
To start with, there are multiple times when Aaron sees Jemma naked, mostly non-consensually. While most of this time is for medical or accidental reasons, these are two seventeen year-olds and I’m never a big fan of the trope where accidental touches or glances are used to show sexual attraction. This wasn’t as badly done as I’ve seen, so I let that slide.
But where it really started feeling too much like Twilight for me was this: Aaron is a shifter, not just any shifter though! He can shift into five animals. So we’re dealing with a situation where the normal girl is in love with a shifter, but also one of the most powerful ones out there! This causes Jemma to act mostly as an observer to most situations, despite training for this quest. Her main role is to provide information or notice things, it seems. Everyone tells her she isn’t useless, but in a way, it falls mostly on Aaron.
Then, Aaron tells Jemma a few things, all of which made me iffy. One: Jemma’s presence calms his “animal instincts” and his “hot-headedness”, further bringing home the point that she is the one for him. Two: there is an obstacle to their relationship, in that he is “promised” to another, but neither of them actually love each other. This one didn’t bother me as much as I’ve seen it before and don’t mind the trope, but added with everything else, it didn’t work for me. Finally: Aaron tells her that he knows she’s the one, because they mate for life, and he has this inbred animal instinct that tells him that he knows. This is a big revelation for two seventeen year olds.
The final thing with this romance that really made me uncomfortable was the forced marriage that occurs towards the end of the book. Again, it works in some cases, but these are two teenagers who, for all intents-and-purposes, are from the modern world. Yes, Aaron’s world is a bit different. Not technology like phones or computers, but they’re forward thinking. So they are forced into a marriage, and while even Jemma is hesitant since she is so young, they both ultimately accept. But they cannot consummate due to Aaron’s promised relationship to his betrothed. It just felt a little odd to me.
This all takes center stage, rather than the actual conflict going on where the rulers of the Otherworld are trying to basically usurp authority and change the rules. While I’m fine with romance in stories, sometimes it helps really make the story work, it was clear that Aaron and Jemma’s relationship was more important to the plot than those background events.
Honestly, this is probably how teenagers would act. Their relationships are more important. But it just didn’t work for me, unfortunately.
I will say though, please don’t let my review stop you from reading this book, especially if you like YA Fantasy-Romance! I think you’ll love a lot of this if that is your cup-of-tea.
It just didn’t work for me.
What’s it about?
Jemma Alder doesn’t do the outdoors. Her books might get wet. At seventeen, she’s endured more than her fair share of tragedy, and her future is uncertain, but she has her friends, her good grades, her part time job, and her devastatingly romantic daydreams set to sweeping cinematic music – even her loathsome step-father, Lord Robert Clayworth, has treated her tolerably since ‘The Change’ last Christmas.
Then, Jemma’s familiar life deviates. Her best friend falls ill with a mysterious virus; social Queen Bee, Veronika Mason, reels Jemma into her clique; and her crush, Aaron Norling, takes an unexpected interest in her social life.
But even Jemma’s wild imagination couldn’t have foreseen how these events would catapult her into another world, nor dulled the shock of finding Aaron part of the Otherworld family who take her in. Before she can make sense of what’s happened, Jemma’s worst nightmares come true and she’s coerced into joining a team of five other teens on an expedition into the wilderness. But troubles are simmering in this land. The family are keeping secrets and the tribal system is not what it seems.
Soon, a challenging quest becomes a deadly game for survival, as it seems someone does not want the team to return, let alone succeed.