Gail Carson Levine
I had high hopes for this book after being delighted by Gail Carson Levine’s previous fluffy YA fantasy stories, Ella Enchanted and Fairest. Alas, I was doomed to disappointment, since this book features neither the well-drawn and likable heroines nor the uplifting thematic content of those two books.
The story, a romance between the young woman Kezi and Olus, the youthful god of the winds, is ‘inspired by’ the story of Jephthah’s daughter in the biblical book of Judges. Now, admittedly, this story is one of the most disturbing and controversial stories in what is undoubtedly one of the most difficult books of the Bible — a book made more confusing by its narrator’s determined refusal to provide moral editorializing on the action. I’m not a biblical scholar, and I’m not about to offer an exegetical commentary on the story…but I think it’s safe to say that the proper interpretation is not that Jephthah’s God does not exist and his people have created an evil, demanding god whom they worship in vain. Unfortunately, that’s the approach that Levine takes in her story, which takes the biblical narrative as a very loose starting point from which to spin an original story of true love facing conflict. (No, you have not forgotten something from your Bible class. There is definitely nothing about a woman-god romance in Judges.)
Even in the non-derivative parts of the plot, however, Levine fails to develop positive themes in a meaningful manner — she attempts to illustrate the power of courageous love, but is unable to do so, mostly because she fails to create three-dimensional characters with a believable relationship. The story is told in short chapters from the alternating viewpoints of Kezi and Olus, a narrative device which could have helped to develop both characters. However, neither central character is developed enough to make their voices distinct, and the short alternating chapters, instead of drawing the reader into the characters’ internal lives, just leave the reader confused as to who is narrating. The two characters face difficult tasks in their quest to be together, but the tasks are, in my opinion, too easy — particularly Olus’s, which seems pretty silly since he is supposed to be a god. In fact, the depiction of him as a god never convinced me in the least — besides a few superpowers, he was basically an ordinary human. I didn’t get the least sense of wonder or even otherness from Levine’s depiction of him.
I’m afraid that Levine has signed onto the new paranormal romance fad that has exploded into YA fiction of late. Making that genre work is a definite tightrope act, requiring well-drawn characters, believably passionate love, and a deep sense of the profound otherness of the supernatural character. (When done right, it can be kind of cool…at least I think it could. I’m having a hard time thinking of good examples right now.) Unfortunately, Levine has managed none of these…and played flippantly with a biblical story into the bargain. Let’s hope she moves back to fairy tales in her next book.