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Confessions of a Bibliophile

An aspiring writer and bookstore employee with an incredibly bad book-buying habit... I'll read just about anything (so long as it will appeal to my interests in some way), but my main loves are YA and sci-fi/fantasy. I also like quirky history and science books and will book nerd. A lot. Currently in the process of weeding out my personal library. Find me on Twitter @princess_starr or check out my YA book, Snowfall, on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240027

The Arrivals: A Novel

The Arrivals - Melissa Marr I really don’t like to sit here and say “How dare an author try to overstep their genres and try to write something different!”; I really don’t. I like it when authors I like do diversify and bring something different, even if it’s just a matter of how old the target audience is. Case in point: Melissa Marr. I really love the first three books in her Wicked Lovely series, enjoyed Carnival of Souls and I…have things to say about Graveminder. It’s not that I want her to just write YA urban fantasy, I do want to read more from her. But after finishing The Arrivals, I don’t know why I don’t like her adult books. The premise completely drew me in. People are brought to a Weird West alternate dimension called the Wasteland and there are demon-summoning monks and giant sandworms (lindwurms actually) and insectoid vampires. Sign me up. Except that for all the cool stuff Marr throws in, none of its actually explained. This is the weakest example of world-building that I’ve come across from her so far. Jack explains to Chloe that the Arrivals’ job is to keep peace. From…what exactly? The demon-summoning monks? Are the demons that big of a problem? What is exactly Ajani’s deal? If he’s the Big Bad, I don’t understand what he’s doing that’s so bad other than killing his own people. Nothing about this world gets explained and I’m honestly so confused about what the actual plot is. The only explanation at all that we get is to why the Arrivals have exactly landed here—they’ve all killed someone in their past and this is the way they’re atoning for it. (I’m kinda sad that we don’t get backstory for all of the Arrivals; I really wanted Melody to have been a fifties housewife who snapped under the misogyny. Alas, she doesn’t get much screentime.) This is probably one of the very few things that made some sort of sense—I don’t completely buy the fact that every single one of the Arrivals has killed before (and it’s even a stretch with Jack and Kitty’s group)—but I can see Jack asking newcomers about their past and putting things together. Now how fighting demon monks and sand worms figures into atonement, I really don’t know, but it’s at least one explanation in a book with so many holes.(Also about the setting—is it just the Weird West? You know next to nothing about the human population of this world, the only characterization that we get of a native is Garuda, one of the insectoid vampires and his people. But the regular humans, we get nothing. They’re all in the background. And again, demon summoning monks—I REALLY WANNA KNOW ABOUT THE DEMON SUMMONING MONKS, OKAY? Why are they summoning demons? Is there religion in this world? What do the demons do, exactly? EXPLAIN IT TO ME.)There’s no plot. There’s something going on, but I have no clue what it is. Jack and Kitty don’t like the other group of Arrivals, lead by Ajani. Ajani is evil. This is all of the plot that we get. I have no idea why Ajani is evil—aside from he wants power and he kills his men—but we never get why Jack and Kitty hate Ajani so much. Which is a really big issue considering that Jack wants to kill Ajani and Ajani wants Kitty on his side because she can do magic. The backstory for these three is barely explained. I want to know what happened. Did Ajani and Jack used to work together? Did something about one of them rub off the wrong way? Why is Kitty the only Arrival who’s able to do magic? Are she and Jack really from the Wasteland and not from the late 1800s? I have a hundred questions about all of this and none of its ever explained. Instead of having Kitty trying to uncover why she can do certain things, what we get is the two words that I’ve come to dread: love triangle. Marr has pulled off a good love triangle before; it’s one of the reasons why I really liked Wicked Lovely in the first place. Here, it’s just boring and trite especially when it lacks the background. I really didn’t care if Kitty ended up with Daniel or Edgar; as far as I’m concerned, they’re all superfluous to the plot of the book. No, Kitty’s plotline doesn’t hinge on her making a decision on who she wants to sleep with forever and ever, but the amount of time it’s given to versus her trying to uncover why she can communicate telepathically with Garuda is far more. And the love triangle illustrates my biggest problem with the book. I don’t care about these characters. I want to. I really wanted to care about these characters, and get to know them more. But there’s nothing for me to grab onto. Kitty’s torn between two men; her brother Jack is honorable and loyal and wants to kill Ajani; Chloe is surprisingly adaptable. That is the majority of characterization that we get in this book. When Jack’s lover Mary is killed in the beginning, I really didn’t get his grief or that he was all that upset over it. (Not helping was his willingness to jump in bed with Chloe the first moment they realized that they had a thing. Look, I’m fine with them wanting to sleep together, but I do not buy that Jack wasn’t over Mary yet, even if he did call Chloe by the former’s name.) As the group’s going into their final confrontation with Ajani, it’s revealed that one of their own, Hector, has betrayed the group. And I’m sitting there, reading and thinking, “Did Hector even have a line beyond confirming battle strategies?” That should have been a big moment, omg how could he do that why did he do that, but we never spend time with Hector so I honestly don’t care. Chloe’s one of our main focus characters but she acclimates so quickly into this world that I never get the feel that I’m learning things along with her. Really, all Chloe’s reactions are “Oo Wild West? Wait how did I get here? I CAN SHOOT GIANT WORMS and Jack’s hot. I’m good.” (OH CAN I BRING UP THE VERROT HERE? So the bluedzuigers’—the insectoid vampires—blood has healing properties and can telepathically link a human to Garuda if the human drinks it. THREE HOURS after Chloe wakes up, Jack forces it on her and she describes as an addictive rush and that she needs to get more. This is after establishing that Chloe’s been sober for five years, only breaking her sobriety the day before she wakes up in the Wasteland. Chloe wants more Verrot, wants the rush of it and addiction is never discussed. Nuh uh. I don’t care if there’s no stated affections of Verrot addiction, why Chloe’s reaction doesn’t worry her ticked me off.) None of these characters stand out for me. All of the Arrivals are supposed to come from different time periods and different backgrounds, but they’re so largely interchangeable that I didn’t get the feel that they’re people. Melody is a sociopath, Francis is a weirdo, Edgar’s a silent killer, Kitty’s brash, etc., etc. They fulfill one role and that’s it. I don’t get the sense of why these people do stick together, why they turned away from Ajani. Ajani’s not even a good bad guy, we only get two scenes from his perspective and that’s it. Also, not helping is the fact that all of the characters are from different timelines, and it doesn’t read that way. I can excuse Jack or Kitty or even Edgar for picking up some slang and current idioms from the more current Arrivals, but there’s nothing in here that tips me off that Francis is a drug-dealing hippie or that Edgar’s a former Mafia hitman unless it’s outright stated in the text. I hate to say this, but this feels like an earlier draft—the “Okay I see where you’re going, but it’s not quite there.” As I said, the setting sold me (I would honestly play that Deadlands campaign if there was one) and I was ready to get into the characters. But the lack of development, both for the plot and the characterization, killed this for me. There’s so much in here that’s not explained or revealed and it’s frustrating for me, particularly if the reason is that there’s potential future volumes in store. (Even though I know Marr has said that this is going to be a standalone book; however, with the prevalence of series these days…) I don’t want to wait for these revelations, I want to know them now, especially since there’s nothing to grab me in this book that makes me want to read more. Unfortunately, all I can say is that you’re better off grabbing Marr’s YA books because I think she does a better job of plotting and characterization in those and to skip this one altogether.