Unlike the lovely and dedicated Helena, I only participated in the Readathon for a few hours. During that time, I read Anathema by Megg Jensen.
Magic. Lies. ManipulationThe first in the Cloud Prophet series, Anathema is the story of lowly slave Raychel who learns she is so much more. In the world Jensen has built, there are two classes of people. One class, the Malborn, are members of the nobility who own the land and everything on it. The other class, the Serenians, are the indigenous people and slaves to the Malborn. Among these people there are the "gifted," individuals with magical powers. Reychel is gifted with prophecy, allowing her to read the future in the clouds. Because of her gift, she is called upon to help lead the Serenians to freedom.
Reychel is a slave girl sheltered from the outside world with no hope for escape. The night before her dreaded fifteenth birthday, her best friend disappears, leaving her to face her branding ceremony - when her master’s sigil is burned on the back of her bald scalp – alone. She soon discovers nothing is as it seems when people desperate for freedom beg for her help.
Can Reychel learn to believe in herself in time?
This story is structured around some fantastic ideas: the struggle of an enslaved people to be free, the betrayal of those closest, the hero's journey, etc. It's a shame these interesting elements are not better executed. Anathema is a young adult novel, but that's no excuse for it to skimp on the emotional buildup or dynamic storytelling. Events happen quickly, too quickly, without adequate tension to make the actions and reactions believable or important to readers. I wanted to care so much more about the characters than I did, but Reychel (the most well developed) was often cardboard. She developed deep relationships with everyone she met, but it was never explained why. Big misunderstandings abound. Other characters can instantly see truths Reychel has missed her entire life, but the reader is expected to believe Reychel is the strong, capable leader who will save her people. Reychel didn't seem strong or capable to me. She didn't even seem all that smart. I tripped over the dialogue a number of times. It contains a good degree of social niceties that don't move the plot forward or tell us anything about the characters - they just talk for the hell of it, I guess. That's expected in real life, but not necessary in novels.
Jensen's ideas are wonderful. She has a strong creative sense that bleeds through the novel. Unfortunately, Anathema falls short on the basics. Timing, plot execution, believable tension, dialogue, and realistic characters are all issues impacting my overall enjoyment of the novel. I still give it a 3 based on the quality of the driving ideas, but the mechanics fell flat.
Overall, I did enjoy Anathema, it just didn't grab me in the way I think it could have. I purchased it for a mere $.99 on Nook, and while in retrospect I wouldn't pay more than that for it, it was worth the purchase price and time commitment. Anathema is a short, fast read that may appeal to younger teens and tweens who like stories with light paranormal elements (don't let the length scare you, it's not really 620 pages, that's just an error in the Nook formatting). There is nothing I would consider inappropriate for tweens and younger teens, and they may enjoy the characters and tone. Older teens and adults, however, won't find much substance. I doubt I'll read the sequel.