Monday, February 18, 2013

Book review: Unearthly Series by Cynthia Hand

I read a lot of non-fiction, pretty dense stuff at times, and occasionally I just need a bit of fluff to give my brain a break. But it can be hard to find something light enough to blow through quickly that doesn't leave me wondering why I bothered. I've found some gems in young adult fiction that fit the bill and my latest discovery in that genre is the Unearthly series by Cynthia Hand.

The series is a trilogy: Unearthly, Hallowed, and the very recently released Boundless. In keeping with the recent paranormal craze (Side note: Can we really call it recent? I mean, I know Twilight is huge and all, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer was big, what, fifteen years ago? And Bram Stoker introduced us to Dracula a century before that...but I digress...) a teenage girl named Clara discovers just a few pages into the first book that she's not entirely human. She's actually part angel, like the hang-out-with-the-Big-Guy, fly-with-impressive-feathery-wings, wear-white-robes-and-wield-a-flaming-sword kind of angel. (Nice change from vampire, werewolves, and zombies, isn't it?) She's not a full angel; her mother, she learns, is a half-angel, and her father left when she was really young, to show up only occasionally throughout her childhood.

Ms. Hand builds the mythology as the series progresses. In the first book, Unearthly, we learn very little about angels except that there are no female full angels (say what??), the "bad" angels are called Black Wings, and all angels and part-angels have grayscale variations of "whiteness" on their wings, emblematic of their purity. We do also learn that each angel, half-angel, or quarter-angel has a Purpose, and that it's not always crystal clear, often communicated in fuzzy, recurring "visions" that only provide a brief, sensory snapshot of vignette in the vague future. You'd think angels would have some kind of more direct access to the Almighty, but it doesn't seem to work that way in Ms. Hand's angelic world.

Of course, as is practically a requirement for YA fiction, there is a love triangle. Clara falls for a ruggedly handsome cowboy-type in her high school. Tucker is all sorts of an all-around Good Guy. But, naturally, he's not an angel. And there's this other guy, Christian (seriously - I kid you not), who it turns out is intricately involved in Clara's big-P Purpose. And he's also just a really Good Guy. Teen angst, complete with misunderstandings, hurt feelings, broken hearts, and many tears, ensues.

It's hard to talk too much about the plot without providing spoilers, but I'll say that I particularly loved the little digs at the Twilight series, and the nod to C.S. Lewis's "The Great Divorce" toward the end of the second book, Hallowed. The books are, as a whole, quite non-religious - notable in a series about biblical beings who are God's servants. There's the obvious Good vs. Evil theme throughout, but God Himself is a very distant figure who is rarely mentioned and seems to have very little to no involvement in the events of the story.  Consistent with "angelic" characters, there is little swearing - and even then it's only the "biblical" words - and the raciest scene involves a sweet kiss between teenaged lovebirds.

The series has some emotional moments; I'll admit to shedding a tear a time or two. The final book, Boundless, even held a few twists I wasn't expecting and *slight spoiler alert* the Good Guys win in the end. For the most part it's fairly predictable, easy reading. A great series to pick up when you need a breather from the heavy stuff.

Unearthly (ISBN: 9780061996160)
Hallowed (ISBN: 9780061996184)
Boundless (ISBN: 9780061996207)
by Cynthia Hand
Buy them from Amazon as hardbacks, paperbacks, ebooks or audiobooks: Unearthly, Hallowed, Boundless
Look them up on goodreads: Unearthly, Hallowed, Boundless
Find them at an independent bookseller near you: Unearthly, HallowedBoundless
Or go check them out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

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