Some things split your life in half.
It’s been a really long ten days. I’ve finally finished reading this book and I’m so conflicted. As one of my most anticipated reads of the year, there were so many elements I was ready to love. How to do daily life after surviving the battle to end all battles against the big bad. The physical and emotional repercussions years after the event. The various ways different people cope with the memories of trauma. Then there was the unexpected inclusion of some things I absolutely adore reading about but can’t speak about here, because spoilers.
So, why didn’t I devour this book and how did my intended ‘I’m going to shout about it from the rooftops’ become ‘I don’t even know what to say’?
“I’m tired of being celebrated for the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
For a good portion of this book I felt like the story was merely an introduction to the sequel, where stuff will happen. Sure, plenty of stuff happens here too, but there was so much time spent on world-building and catching everyone up on the events of the past ten to fifteen years that I was itching for more. I became frustrated by the descriptions of the buildings the characters were walking past or through; I wanted more action and by the time I got it I was pretty tired.
Sometimes Sloane wondered if the world had been worth saving.
I wanted to get to know our Chosen Ones. I did get to know Sloane, although if the book had been written in first person it probably would have helped me get inside her head more. From the blurb I learned that one Chosen One would not survive this book, and wouldn’t you know it? They’re the one I was most interested in getting to know.
Overall, the remaining Chosen Ones felt mostly two dimensional. I managed some low level frustration for the golden child. The social media star made me want to unfollow their entire character. Then there was the Chosen One that I honestly can’t tell you anything about; I’d need to reread the passages I highlighted to remind me.
The first part of the book really got my hopes up. I love reading about people so damaged by life that they’re trying their best to simply survive, and I’m always enthralled when people who have experienced trauma find ways to overcome it enough to thrive (not that all of our Chosen Ones are thriving). When the second part unexpectedly wandered into territory that I usually actively seek out, my response was more ‘um, they’re doing what now?’ than ‘woohoo!’
But was my experience of this book one big ‘are we there yet?’ No, and that’s part of the conflict I’m left with. I loved Mox. I loved Ziva. I even loved Sloane, despite how many porcupine spines dug into my skin as I tried to get closer to her. I loved the exploration of trauma impacts. I loved the self awareness of this book (yes, the Dark One is a terrible name). I loved the entire concept.
I’ve read so many five star reviews of this book and I envy them because that’s the book I hoped I’d be reading. I expect I will turn up for the sequel, although I will be careful to manage my expectations.
Content warnings include death by suicide, drug addiction, mental health, squishy murders where your insides become your outsides and torture.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and John Joseph Adams, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for granting my wish to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
A decade ago near Chicago, five teenagers defeated the otherworldly enemy known as the Dark One, whose reign of terror brought widespread destruction and death. The seemingly un-extraordinary teens – Sloane, Matt, Ines, Albie, and Esther – had been brought together by a clandestine government agency because one of them was fated to be the “Chosen One,” prophesised to save the world. With the goal achieved, humankind celebrated the victors and began to mourn their lost loved ones.
Ten years later, though the champions remain celebrities, the world has moved forward and a whole, younger generation doesn’t seem to recall the days of endless fear. But Sloane remembers. It’s impossible for her to forget when the paparazzi haunt her every step just as the Dark One still haunts her dreams. Unlike everyone else, she hasn’t moved on; she’s adrift – no direction, no goals, no purpose. On the eve of the Ten Year Celebration of Peace, a new trauma hits the Chosen: the death of one of their own. And when they gather for the funeral at the enshrined site of their triumph, they discover to their horror that the Dark One’s reign never really ended.