“In the kingdom of Sempera, time is currency—extracted from blood, bound to iron, and consumed to add time to one’s own lifespan. The rich aristocracy, like the Gerlings, tax the poor to the hilt, extending their own lives by centuries.
No one resents the Gerlings more than Jules Ember. A decade ago, she and her father were servants at Everless, the Gerlings’ palatial estate, until a fateful accident forced them to flee in the dead of night. When Jules discovers that her father is dying, she knows that she must return to Everless to earn more time for him before she loses him forever.
But going back to Everless brings more danger—and temptation—than Jules could have ever imagined. Soon she’s caught in a tangle of violent secrets and finds her heart torn between two people she thought she’d never see again. Her decisions have the power to change her fate—and the fate of time itself.”
My Thoughts: As Sara Holland‘s debut novel, Everless is impressive. The premise is one of the more creative stories from the young adult world in a while. Ms. Holland only briefly explores the implications of time as currency, leaving plenty as potential fodder for future stories in the series. What we do learn about the kingdom of Sempera and the smaller world of Everless is intriguing. There is a feudal feel to the story not just with technology, traditions, and clothing but also in the behaviors of the royalty versus those without royal blood. As with time as currency, Ms. Holland only briefly explores the class system of Sempera, hopefully to readdress it in the next novel. On top of all this is the mythology behind the magic that binds blood and therefore time to iron. This is no creation myth, as the gift of blood-iron was a relatively recent — meaning a few generations — discovery. All of these elements combine into an enjoyable and thoroughly different story.
One thing that is not different is her use of the heroine trope, in which our innocent and clueless heroine holds the key to not only her own survival but to unraveling the mysteries in her life. Of course, this also means she holds the power to banish the class system and the wealthy’s abuse of blood-iron forever. Not that she gets the chance to learn much or explore her discovery. As with any good YA series, the first novel ends right about the time Jules makes this fateful discovery. That said, Jules is not a bad heroine. She is feisty, independent, intelligent, and strong-willed. Moreover, Jules shows the ingrained nature of servitude that comes from a lifetime of poverty and of being deemed a lesser being by lack of wealth. This servile nature is instinctive in Jules, often clashing with her rational mind and high emotions, and it allows us to see her as a girl who knows what is right but cannot overcome everything she has ever been taught to truly make changes. Ms. Holland does a great job showing her flaws as well. All this should be enough to make Jules shine above other YA heroine; alas, it does not. Instead, it feels as if Jules is yet another heroine much like all of the other fantasy/dystopian YA heroines that came before her – clueless and relatively helpless up until she discovers the truth.
One of the best things about Everless is that Ms. Holland avoids the ubiquitous love triangle within the story. Thank. Goodness. Yes, there are two brothers. Yes, Jules expresses interest in one of them. Yes, there is more than meets the eye with the other brother. However, Jules shows she does not need either brother, as much as she might want one of them. Nor does the story devolve into a soap opera. The relationships, or lackthereof, stay firmly on the periphery, secondary to the overarching story and more of a nice-to-have versus an essential piece of the puzzle.
There are many things Ms. Holland does properly within her first novel. Her premise alone is enough to warrant that praise as it is unlike other stories in the genre and offers so much potential for future novels. For the most part, she manages to avoid the tropes that have mired many a YA author, especially the romantic subplot that seems to exist in every YA novel ever written. Of those items where she falters, you can easily ascribe her missteps to inexperience because they are not too horrible. It is difficult to write any YA novel without falling victim to at least one of the common tropes if only because many authors have found success by including them. My expectation is that Ms. Holland will feel more comfortable breaking free of such commonalities for her next novel and will provide us with a sequel that is more nuanced and weightier and a heroine who is stronger than in Everless, which means I can’t wait to see what she can really do.