Saturday, 6 April 2013
Review: The Between
The Between by L.J. Cohen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Upfront disclosure: I know Lisa Cohen on Google+. We've beta-read for each other and we're mutual fans. She offered me a free copy of the book and asked me to read it, not necessarily for review, but because she wanted my thoughts on it.
First, the language. I know she's worked hard on the editing, but there are still a few issues. She refers to the "girl's bathroom" when she means "girls' bathroom" (more than one girl uses it), there are half a dozen sentences with missing words or slightly odd word choices, as if they've been incompletely revised, a couple of other grammar issues and a homonym error ("pendent" for "pendant"). In the realm of things, that's not too bad.
Otherwise, the language is functional, but doesn't rise to beautiful or extraordinarily evocative. That's a valid stylistic choice, by the way, and is well-suited to the point-of-view character, a seemingly ordinary American teenage girl. A very high three stars for language, four if those editing glitches were fixed, which I'm sure they soon will be.
The plot kept me guessing. I didn't know where she was going with it, and in fact it ended up with a resolution that was very different from what I'd expected (and not what the protagonist was originally going after, either, which felt a little unsatisfying to me). Like the protagonist herself, it reminded me very much of Lisa's other novel, Derelict, which I've beta-read in an early draft: an angry, rebellious young woman struggling against odds that are way beyond her and being frustrated at pretty much every turn. I think this may have something to do with why I didn't always feel pulled along by the story. I don't get a sense of progress towards the protagonist's goal. I was trying to put my finger on why I set both stories aside at times to read other things, and I think that's it. For me (and not necessarily for every reader), a sense of progress towards the protagonist's goal is important. So plot gets three stars: competently handled, with no obvious holes or absurdities, but for me at least not as emotionally satisfying as it might have been.
One other thing to say about plot, actually: I know that Lisa deliberately steered away from having romance as a plot focus, and for that I applaud her. I know that who is with whom is a preoccupation of young adults, but that's not the only interesting story you can tell in YA, and good on Lisa for standing firm on that and telling another one of those interesting stories.
Now, character. There are two viewpoint characters, Lydia and Clive, and they're distinct in their voices, viewpoints and motivations. Both of them are well-drawn and believable, and the minor characters are also distinct. The relationships between them are varied, they shift sometimes, and all the shifts are believable too. This is an author who knows what she's doing as far as character is concerned. Four and a half stars, easily.
Finally, the setting. Other reviewers have commented that in The Between, some of the most tired tropes of the Fae are given fresh life, and it's true. Titania and Oberon are everything scary and dangerous you ever heard about the Fae, but seen from Lydia's viewpoint they are also petty, selfish tyrants. They remind me of Third World dictators, in fact. The Fae court is beautiful and strange, but also faded and dependent on glamour. Here is an author who's gone back to the primary sources, rather than just building on more recent interpretations of the Fae, and it shows. The idea of being able to draw magic from love and memories and connections to other people, foreign to the Fae, is an inspired touch of originality, too. A clear four stars for setting: while it's built on a lot of prior art, the author does interesting new things with it nevertheless.
Overall, four stars, and the lost star is mostly because for my personal taste the plot wasn't as satisfying as it might have been. This is a very fine YA novel, and I look forward to more from L.J. Cohen.
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