After The Astonishing Color of After (which was amazing, btw) I wanted a quick read that’d be a little less brutally real and a little more fanciful. Sara Holland’s Everless looked like it would fit the bill, and it absolutely did.
I’m sad that I can’t give this four stars. After reading the first few chapters, I thought Everless might be on its way to a full five—the beginning was that good.
Sara Holland did a masterful job with the early exposition and character introductions of the first few chapters. This is no small feat—it’s a terribly tricky thing to write that most YA authors in the fantasy and dystopia genres handle much less successfully.
I’m actually going to give you the first few lines so you can get an idea of what I mean. We open on our protagonist, Jules Ember, hunting in a forest (because apparently I am trapped in the circle of hell in which every YA series must begin with the young female protagonist creeping through a wood in search of small critters to hunt for her slacker family’s survival):
“Most people find the forest frightening, believing the old tales of fairies who will freeze the time in your blood, or witches who can spill your years out over the snow with only a whisper. Even the spirit of the Alchemist himself is said to wander these woods, trapping whole eternities in a breath.
“I know better than to be afraid of stories. The forest holds real danger—thieves who lie in wait, crude knives and alchemic powder on their belts, to steal time from anyone venturing outside the safety of the village. We call them bleeders. They’re why Papa doesn’t like me hunting, but we have no choice. Luckily, in the winter, there’s no undergrowth to hide the thieves from sight, no birdsong to muffle their footsteps.” (page 1 – Everless by Sara Holland)
Honestly, I think just reading that gives you a better sense of the tone and the premise than the published blurb.
Thanks to the legendary Sorceress and Alchemist of long ago, time—as in, a human’s lifetime—is bound to blood, from which “blood iron” can be extracted for use as currency or re-absorption into another person. In this inventive fantasy world, we have a pretty standard YA dystopian divide between the haves and have nots: the have-nots of villages like Jules’ home Crofton, and the haves of feudal estates like the palace at Everless.
Unfortunately, things come off the rails once Jules arrives to work as a servant at Everless. Not wanting to be recognized from her childhood living at the estate, Jules is ~incognito~ for her secret mission… but uses her real name and does nothing to actually prevent being recognized. She deliberately worms her way into court… then says things like “how did [my unrelenting and ill-advised quest to uncover deep dark secrets in this amoral palace of oppressors through deception] land me in the middle of this chessboard?” Her love interest is almost devastatingly bland, and I’d wonder what Jules sees in him if she had much of a character herself. I kept waiting for a plot beat I didn’t see coming chapters ahead, and it never came. Some of this, I know, is a symptom of having read a lot of this genre… but some of it is just the middle of the book not being effective for me.
I will say that I am quite interested in reading the second book, the upcoming Evermore. In the last quarter of Everless, Holland began to explore some really interesting possibilities for action sequences and Jules’ character, so I’ll be more than happy to keep going with the series. (From what I’ve heard, it’s supposed to just be a duology, but I have doubts.)