One of these things is not like the other. Can you tell which one?
I always find alternate reality stories intriguing; after all, who hasn’t thought of the proverbial fork in the road and wondered how different their lives would be if they made a different decision? What would it be like to find out just how different things would be? Would you regret it?
While alternate realities are a part of If, Then, it turns out the story is not so much an exploration of the road not traveled so much as it is a story about the line between alternate realities blurring. It is about seeing an alternate self and wondering how and why your lives differ. It is trying to make sense of the differences and questioning whether your alternate self is happier. It is about the choices we consciously make and those we don’t recognize as choices but which impact our lives all the same.
I loved Kate Hope Day’s If, Then. It is intelligent but approachable. It is clever, with an ending that took me by surprise even though I thought I knew how the story was going to end. It is supremely well-written, balancing characters and drama with the right blend of development for each. The novel itself is not very long, but Ms. Day makes excellent use of each word to extract the full amount of world and character building necessary for understanding and connection. I just wish it was making more of a splash among readers because it is so creative and an excellent overall read.
While I enjoyed every minute of Kate Hope Day’s debut, Inspection is a novel I almost quit reading on more than one occasion. The premise is decent, and you connect with the characters almost immediately. The problem is that nothing happens for a good two-thirds of the novel. Josh Malerman spends that much time showing the reader his school, what it is like for the students there, and why some staff members may have a problem with it. In other words, the first two-thirds are boring.
Once Mr. Malerman introduces readers to the girls’ school, the story takes off like a rocket. Suddenly, we can see the entire picture and get an idea of where the story is going. We understand the real horror behind the schools’ establishment, and we recognize the manipulative greediness of the headmaster and mistress. The story also gets dark – so very, very dark. While Mr. Malerman avoided showing the monsters in his previous novel, Bird Box, in Inspection we don’t just see them, we get into their minds and see the world from their eyes. We also see the steps the kids are willing to take to gain control of their lives, and it is not pretty. Or tidy.
Inspection is the type of novel I am glad I finished but did not necessarily enjoy. The ending is nothing like I thought it would be. The story went to places I was not expecting, and I am glad it did if only because it improved a subpar novel. I did not enjoy the slog to get to that point though, and the shock and awe of the ending only moderately overcome the monotony of the story’s beginning. That ending certainly allows the story to earn its place in the horror genre, but the true horror is getting through the monotonous first two-thirds of Inspection first.
Frankly, Never-Contented Things is a significant disappointment. Sarah Porter’s version of the cruelty of the Fae towards humans is neither original nor good. The heroes are weak, and the villains are boring. Ksenia spends so much time defending her relationship with Josh to an invisible audience that the rest of the story feels like an afterthought. As such, those elements Ms. Porter intends to be horrifying are dull, and the entire story lacks excitement. I found myself severely detached while reading it, not caught up in any character’s story enough to warrant my full attention. I finished it in the off-chance it got better and because I still really like the cover. It is not one I would recommend to others though. If you want stories about the Fae, stick with Holly Black, Julie Kagawa, Melissa Marr, or Sarah J. Maas.