Review by Nef.
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I recently picked up Alyzon Whitestarr
for the first time in a few years. It was one of those books, written in the LOOOOOONG wait between The Keeping Place
and The Stone Key
, that we all picked up and devoured, then … forgot, basically. Until I picked it up again, the main thing I remembered about the book was being confused by one typo where Alyzon was suddenly inexplicably talking to Harlen (it should have read Harrison) mid conversation.
So it was a pleasant surprise to pick the book up and read it again after so long.
Alyzon is the ugly duckling in a family full of artist-swans. She feels like she lost out in the looks department as well as the talent department in her eclectic, beautiful and talented family.
Then she hits her head. After waking up from a coma that lasts a month, Alyzon finds that her senses are extended. She can smell things, taste things and hear things more acutely. What is more, those extended senses also allow her to smell other people's essences, their emotions, and to glimpse into their memories when she's touching them.
She basically becomes Edward Cullen without all the stupid sparkly vampire crap.
On returning to school, Alyzon starts discovering that people’s essences do not always match their appearance. Throughout the school, she starts smelling a foul stench coming off students that indicates that there is something very wrong with them. The smell is particularly bad from Harlen Sanderson, Alyzon’s former crush, who is uncomfortably interested in Alyzon on her return. Most worryingly, Alyzon’s younger sister is starting to emit the same smell, and Alan Rayc, who seems to be the source of this rottenness, is after Alyzon’s dad.
With her new group of friends, Alyzon has to find out what is causing this sickness of the soul, and how to stop it before it takes over two of her family members.
I found this book an intriguing read second time round. There are these random (and convenient) discussions between characters scattered throughout the story about the purpose of art, the nature of good and evil, and what causes evil, all of which are quite a cool addition to the story. They’re the types of discussions that you wish your family had around the dinner table, but never really did.
I really liked the characters in the story. Alyzon’s Da Macoll is a stand-out, and her mother is pretty well drawn as well. I really liked the way Alyzon starts to learn that her parents aren’t quite as one-dimensional as she previously thought. It subtly shows Alyzon maturing as she realises that the adults around her are people with their own stories, which gives the story an extra level. Her siblings feel familiar, but as though you are hearing someone tell you about their family – she just accepts that they are what they are, and so we really don’t see much more of them that what Alyzon tells us.
Alyzon’s new group of friends (I always wanted to know who Alyzon’s friends were before the accident – they don’t seem to have existed) are interesting, but, not all that complex - I would have liked to know more about them, as they all have backstories that would be worth exploring.
If I have any issues with the story, it’s the trusting way in which Alyzon’s friends simply accept that she can smell their essences. Not being so trusting myself, if someone told me they could smell my soul, I’d start walking slowly away and then block them on facebook. They do explain why they are so ready to believe her, but I’m possibly too cynical to accept a soul-sniffing BFF so readily.
This is a story I wish there was a sequel to. Not that it doesn’t work as a standalone novel; it does, but it raises so many questions in my mind that I would really like to know what happens next. There is an unfinished element to the story that makes me think that the most interesting part is what happens after. Perhaps I may start a campaign …
All in all, this was a delightful little piece of escapism. It’s a strong story about good prevailing over evil and how the individual can stand against evil by being true to themselves and what they believe.
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