Friday, 4 April 2014

Review: Twixt by Sarah Diemer

Twixt by Sarah Diemer
Format: eBook
Published by Muse Rising on 9th April 2013
Pages: 238
Genre: YA, Fantasy
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No one sleeps in Abeo City. The lost souls gather indoors at night as Snatchers tear through the sky on black-feathered wings, stalking them. But inside the rotting walls of the Safe Houses comes a quieter, creeping danger. The people of Abeo City have forgotten their pasts, and they can trade locks of their hair to sinister women known only as the Sixers for an addictive drug. Nox will give you back a single memory--for a price.

Like the other lost souls, Lottie wakens in this harsh landscape and runs in terror from the Snatchers. But she soon comes to realize that she is not at all like the people of Abeo City. When she takes Nox, her memories remain a mystery, and the monsters who fill the sky at night refuse to snatch her. Trying to understand who she is, and how she ended up in such a hopeless place, Lottie bands together with other outcasts, including a brave and lovely girl named Charlie. In the darkness, and despite the threat of a monstrous end, love begins to grow. But as Lottie and Charlie plot their escape from Abeo City, Lottie’s dark secrets begin to surface, along with the disturbing truth about Twixt: a truth that could cost her everything.
I was looking forward to reading Twixt since I remember that I read The Dark Wife a couple years ago and enjoyed it, but I think Twixt failed to measure up to the The Dark Wife.

The prose in Twixt is lyrical, but unfortunately I don't think the writing style worked for the story that was being told. I think a sparser style would have helped to build up the atmosphere and tension much better. As such, I think the pace was slowed by the descriptive prose. That's not to say there weren't moments when the lyrical prose was fitting and beautiful, but I felt the narrative was weighed down by the style a lot of the time, making the first half drag on a bit too much.

Nothing much really happens in the first half of the novel. There was a plot twist about 60% in that I saw coming from miles away, so I spent the first half just kind of waiting for the twist to happen. Characters are not particularly well fleshed-out; I think maybe if there was more emphasis on getting to really know the characters in the first half then I wouldn't have been so bored. But I just ended up thinking, "Nothing is happening and I still don't feel like I know the characters at all."

Part of this problem lies actually with the very concept of the novel. People wake up in a place called Twixt with no memories of anything that preceded their awakening. So, naturally, without memories, everyone's sense of personality seems greatly dimmed. They can get pieces of their memories back by taking something called Nox, so there's one scene in which characters briefly talk about what few memories they have, a scene which I really appreciated. But otherwise it was hard for me to see the characters as real people.

I must say that one exception is a character called Isabel, who is sort of the ex-girlfriend of the main character's love interest. She was probably the most interesting character in the entire novel who had a curiously complex personality and hidden depths, but unfortunately that still wasn't very well-explored and I never understood her motivations. She left the deepest impression on me out of all the characters though and I desperately wanted to know more about her.

This problem was compounded by the fact that the main character gets a crush on one of the other characters pretty much as soon as they meet and they fall in love very quickly. For me to really enjoy a good romance in any story, I have to get to know both characters myself and fall in love with them; I have to understand why they're in love with each other. But since characterisation in this novel was somewhat on the weak side, I was annoyed by the insta-love.

The world-building is also confusing. It's hard to really talk about it without spoiling the reveal that comes about two-thirds through the book, so only click if you don't mind being spoiled for that:

The characters who live in Abeo City seem to come from different time periods, though this is never made clear. It's revealed that those who come to Abeo City are dead souls, so one explanation is that these people have died at different times, but then wouldn't the characters themselves have a sense of how much longer they've been here compared to other people? I really wanted the novel to delve into this, because one of the characters, Edgar, seems more old-fashioned than the other characters. He wears a waistcoat and a white collared shirt; the other characters wear hoodies and sneakers and jeans. When talking about his memories, he says that his mother "contracted a coughing sickness". I'm not sure anyone would really say that these days. I would have liked it if the novel had actually tackled this and explained what was going on so I could have a better understanding of the characters and visualise the setting more clearly. I kept expecting an explanation but none came.

Not only this, but I also wanted to understand the theology of the novel. Twixt is revealed to be what humans call purgatory. Snatchers, whom everyone in Abeo City is absolutely terrified of and thinks of as monsters, are actually good-- they're represented as like angels. There's a church somewhere in the novel as well, but I couldn't figure out what it was really meant to symbolise. I wasn't sure whether the book was really at all religious in any way, but the presence of the church was confusing.

However, having said all that, the book definitely picked up at around 60% after the plot twist. The pace was faster, things were happening, and and the romance was actually written beautifully, once I got over my annoyance of how instantly they fell for each other. I think Diemer is really at her strongest as a writer when she writes about love. I think that's why I enjoyed The Dark Wife so much more, because the love story there takes up more space in the narrative; it's much more central and has a little more time to develop and unfolds wonderfully. I think I got to the know the characters much better too in that one. But yeah, the love story is the best part in Twixt. That's where the lyrical prose really, really shines, and I just melt into the feelings that the two characters have for each other. And it's why this novel still manages to earn three stars from me despite all the problems I had with it.

So overall, I think the premise of this book was cool, but it could have been better executed. The love story is wonderful though. If you haven't read anything by Sarah Diemer and you want to read a nice lesbian love story, I would definitely recommend checking out The Dark Wife first! That was really, really good. Once you've read that, you can decide for yourself whether you want to try Twixt.

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