Author: Mindee Arnett
Release: January 21st 2014
Genre: Science Fiction, Space, Adventure, YA
#1 in the Avalon duology
Sequel: Polaris (#2)
A ragtag group of teenage mercenaries who crew the spaceship Avalon stumble upon a conspiracy that could threaten the entire galaxy in this fascinating and fast-paced sci-fi adventure from author Mindee Arnett.
Of the various star systems that make up the Confederation, most lie thousands of light-years from First Earth-and out here, no one is free. The agencies that govern the Confederation are as corrupt as the crime bosses who patrol it, and power is held by anyone with enough greed and ruthlessness to claim it. That power is derived from one thing: metatech, the devices that allow people to travel great distances faster than the speed of light.
Jeth Seagrave and his crew of teenage mercenaries have survived in this world by stealing unsecured metatech, and they're damn good at it. Jeth doesn't care about the politics or the law; all he cares about is earning enough money to buy back his parents' ship, Avalon, from his crime-boss employer and getting himself and his sister, Lizzie, the heck out of Dodge. But when Jeth finds himself in possession of information that both the crime bosses and the government are willing to kill for, he is going to have to ask himself how far he'll go to get the freedom he's wanted for so long.
This book absolutely seemed foolproof to me. Despite all the negative reviews I have seen so far, I seriously thought I couldn't go wrong buying this book. After having read and really liked Arnett's other two books, The Nightmare Affair and The Nightmare Dilemma, I counted on this novel to be just as much fun, if not even more, because the premise seemed even more promising. However, I was sadly mistaken, unsurprisingly. I really should have listened to everyone else and stayed my hand, but I'd truly hoped for some light, funny space thievery and nothing more.
I will say that this novel isn't bad. It's just not well developed or particularly well executed. It seriously takes ages to get into, the first time I really felt a spark of interest was somewhere between page 250 and 300. There were in fact some shocking plot twists here and there, but in all honesty those weren't ever really built up. They were shocking because you didn't see them coming, and you didn't see them coming because there were never really any clues for them. They did seem plausible in a way, which is why I wouldn't say they were unbelievable because there weren't any hints, but I personally simply like it when, after the revelation, you look back upon what you've read and you're like "Oh, that's what that was all about!", you know? So either I just never registered those hints and forgotten all about them (since it did take me a long time to get through this book and I was honestly thinking about dropping it anytime, which is why I never logged it in as currently-reading until yesterday) by the time they became important, but I seriously missed this.
Other than that, the plot is, as I already implied, pretty slow moving. Not that it's not full of action — it is — but it just doesn't have any substance to it. I don't know how to describe it, but I think the narration style has a lot to do with it. It's written in 3rd person focusing on Jeth's thoughts and feelings, but I could never fully connect and commit to this narration. And it's not like I have a problem with 3rd person; at this point I want to blame the author and say that she just can't write in that style properly, but I honestly don't know. Maybe it wasjust me in the end, but in my subjective opinion of it, it felt like Arnett struggled to get everything to the page and didn't really know how to convey everything she wanted to convey. It felt like she didn't intend to do 3rd person at all in the end, but somehow ended up doing it anyway and now it's all messed up because it feels more or less like 1st person but you always get so thrown out of the narrative because you constantly realize that it's not 1st person.
The next construction site would be the world-building, which was seriously lacking. Like, gaping, open wound lacking. There was almost nothing. Nada. It was told, albeit not in an info dump and that is the only nice thing I can say, that there are multiple galaxies, there is some sort of space FBI called the ITA, and there are some planets that are independent and some that are ... not independent? I never even understood what that meant, like I got that there was something called the Confederation (I think?), but it was never explained how that worked, either. Or what exactly it even is. In the end, writing novels about space is always tricky, because we know so little about it and you can literally invent anything. The possibilities are endless and you aren't limited to anything within the realm of plausibility, because who knows, after all, the world you just invented might just be true — nobody knows! However, if you do design a new world, then you really, really, really have to sit down and explain things, goddamn! We don't know anything about shit. Tell us! Don't just expect us to sit there and know everything right the fuck away. That's why I'd never write about space if I were an author, even though the possibilities are endless, you also need to start from one, you need to literally explain everything because you're essentially designing something wholly new and original (in theory, anyway). This world seemed pretty interesting at first glance, but it was just never elaborated on.
Now, onto the characters. For the most part, Arnett used the concept of telling, instead of showing. Most of the characters just openly talk about their background stories in dialogue, leaving nothing to finding out via second or outside sources, through habits, fears or hopes; we just get told their entire life stories by themselves in a few paragraphs. That's it. And, sure, they all have their different personalities and quirks, but they just felt robotic to me. Like someone assigned them these personalities and they're just acting them out, which essentially, they are, but it simply shouldn't be so gapingly obvious.
Their relationships, well, I don't think I need to say a lot about this topic. Since I have failed to connect to or invest into anything, really, about this novel at all, the relationships seemed pretty forced or unnatural too. Especially the main romance between Sierra and Jeth was not to my liking at all, it was very insta-love and not much more beyond that. For a second there, I thought it might get interesting <spoiler>if Sierra really had gone behind Jeth's back and faked any and all feelings, leaving him hanging</spoiler>, but no, of course not.
All in all, maybe I was let down by the high hopes I had for the novel, expecting it to be a light and fluffy read just like Arnett's other trilogy. I shouldn't have been blinded by that and should have realized that this is a whole different kind of book. Ultimately, Avalon was peppered with clichés and, save for a few exceptions, mostly predictable as well. It didn't even serve as that much of a source of entertainment, since at times I had to drag myself through sequences that I felt were boring and didn't offer up much either. Maybe, had this book been a hundred pages shorter, it would have been more bearable, but having to crawl through 400+ pages of wasted potential isn't that pleasant.