Unwept, by Tracy and Laura Hickman
Tor Books, July 1st, 2014 (Fantasy)*
Rating: Beach Vacation (I’m conflicted) (3/5)
Unwept is the first part of what appears to be a serialized novel (how I hate those! But I’ll come back to that). It begins with a young woman coming to herself on a train. She remembers nothing of her life before the nightmare she has just awoken from, and knows nothing about her current situation or herself, except that she is called Ellis. Ellis is on her way to Gamin, a small coastal town where she is told she will recuperate from the incident that caused her amnesia.
Upon arriving in Gamin, Ellis meets people who seem to know her well, who supposedly she once knew. Her cousin Jenny, her friend Alicia, and the unsettling Merrick among them. She never really settles in, keeps longing for some place that is more “home” than this strange town where the young people seem slightly off, the dishes and the victrolas appear and disappear seemingly without human intervention, and there are no children.
Ellis spends nearly the whole mini-novel discovering what makes Gamin strange, so I won’t give any of it away here. I will say I found the premise odd, unusual, and without much purpose. I am not sure what the novel is really about, in the end. Simply a young woman’s strange journey? An ancient tale of gods, mortals, and the battle between heaven and hell? Mortality? Other questions I wrangled with: what kind of people are the Gamin inhabitants? What does the baby on the train have to do with anything? Who are the Disir sisters? Where did she meet the man in her nightmares? How do the “outsiders” get to Gamin?
So, it was confusing. When I thought I was driving through regular corn fields, the story veered left into a crop circle, a totally unexpected direction that caught me off guard.
The main character was a little dumb about the people she meets in Gamin. It appears she has all this scientific knowledge, particularly about anatomy (where did that come from?), but when it comes to discovering who is the “bad guy” and who is the “good guy,” she makes the wrong decision, even though it should be blatantly obvious to the reader, and there were signs ALL OVER the place that should have indicated to her who she should trust and who was the monster.
I heartily dislike serial novels. The brevity interrupts the story at the edge of a cliff, makes the story too short to really get deeply involved in, and it requires me to wait for the resolution, at least once, possibly twice, depending on how many installments are written. And I wonder how it affects the writing – even Charles Dickens’ stories were inflated, bloated, and drawn out. This new trend irks me so much I am going to find out the causes, interests, motivations, and extent of this new serial novel trend in publishing. Look out for a post soon on why we’re all suffering from serial novels right now.
Even with all its strangeness and brevity, I really enjoyed this piece and couldn’t put it down till I’d finished it (not challenging, given that my e-reader counted only 177 pages). The strangeness and the mystery kept me turning pages. For that reason, and because I’m conflicted about this portion of a novel, I give this a mediocre rating of “beach vacation.” I may read the next in the series, as long as I haven’t completely moved on and lost touch with the story by the time installment #2 is published.
*Advance copy received by the publisher via NetGalley
The focus on nightmares and the weird dreamlike quality of the setting reminded me of The Dream Runner, by Kerry Schafer.
While Unwept is much shorter and much simpler, the worldbuilding, origins of Gamin, and love triangle made me think of N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.