Cal MacDonnell is a happily married New York City cop with a loving family. Seth Raincrest is a washed-up photographer who has alienated even his closest friends. The two have nothing in common—except that they both suffer from retrograde amnesia. It’s as if they just appeared out of thin air thirteen years ago, and nothing has been able to restore their memories. Now their forgotten past has caught up to them with a vengeance.
Cal’s and Seth’s lives are turned upside down as they are stalked by otherworldly beings who know about the men’s past lives. But these creatures aren’t here to help; they’re intent on killing anyone who gets in their way. In the balance hangs the life of a child who might someday restore a broken empire to peace and prosperity. With no clue why they’re being hunted, Cal and Seth must accept the aid of a strange and beautiful woman who has promised to unlock their secrets. The two must stay alive long enough to protect their loved ones, recover their true selves—and save two worlds from tyranny and destruction.
Every time I read an urban fantasy novel – which isn’t often – I remember why I’m not a huge fan of the genre. I had slightly different expectations of this book, in that I anticipated the story to start in our world and move into the fantasy realm and thus be more epic than urban fantasy. This is not the case at all, with the narrative staying firmly rooted in the real world with the briefest of forays via memory of Aandor. I think this book will appeal more to readers who are fans of books like The Dresden Files or even Kevin Hearne’s The Iron Druid Chronicles than lovers of epic fantasy.
This book has a very odd voice in that the exposition often tends toward verbose, almost purple prose in a style that teeters toward being over-written. This makes the book rather descriptive and eloquent at times, which doesn’t seem to gel with the cast of gritty characters including a no-nonsense cop and porn-photographer-cum-frat-boy. The prose style would’ve been better suited to en epic fantasy in fact, but just didn’t quite work in what reads more like a noir novel with a dash of magic thrown into the mix.
I love rich world-building and I’m willing to overlook story issues in fantasy if the world-building is stellar. Awakenings teases with the world-building, mentioning the history and politics, the demographics and societal structure in the other world. Because the action takes place in the contemporary US though, there isn’t time to fully explore Aandor and I found this frustrating and it made it somewhat tricky to really get to grips with the stakes for that world without better understanding how it all worked. There are a lot of hints at the medieval nature of the world and the racial/ethnic disputes happening in the background – all fascinating stuff we never see enough of on the page.
As far as the story goes, I found the beginning a little slow to get off the ground with a lot of changing POVs that I found tricky to keep track. There were also a lot of characters with similar names – and quite a few names starting with C – which confused me at the start. The middle really picks up! Unlike so many books that suffer from a muddy middle, the middle here is where all the interesting action and intrigue lies. It was a real page turner and I struggled to put the book down, but then things started slowing down toward the end. I guess it was possibly a symptom of the author knowing he wouldn’t be able to fit all the story he needed to tell in one book, but not wanting to make the first installment too short, so there were a few scenes toward the end that I found dragged a little, especially with certain POV characters I just didn’t really care about much at all.
Overall, I don’t think this book really knows what it wants to be and so vacillates between detective noir, urban fantasy, YA contemporary, epic fantasy, and mystery. Consequently, there were many chapters I loved and then there were several I didn’t really care for at all because it felt like they didn’t really belong and could’ve been part of an entirely different book. The ending will also undoubtedly leave some readers frustrated and feeling cheated. I went into this book knowing it was the first in a series so the ending didn’t surprise me but if you prefer books even in a series to have a sense of closure at the end of book 1, this one might not be for you.
Interesting story, some interesting feminist views and portrayals of women, fascinating secondary world, some lovely language, but overall it didn’t quite come together for me in the way I needed it to to really love this book. Awakenings gets 3.5/5 splats from me.
Review by Suzanne.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author for a fair and honest review.