Sunday, April 1, 2012

Review >> Harbinger

Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne
Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne -- February 2, 2012 -- Hardcover, 309 pages, Putnam (9780399256684)

"'Nay, are there not moods which shall find no expression unless there be men who dare mix heaven, hell, purgatory, and faeryland together, or even to set the heads of beasts to the bodies of men, or to thrust the souls of men into the hearts of rocks?'"

Harbinger is the story of a young girl's struggle to supress the horrific images she sees when looking into other people's eyes, and her inability to cope with the reality of everyday life in a world nearly destroyed by humanity. Her parents decide to send her away to Holbrook Academy, a boarding school for misguided youths, under the guidance of the head caretaker, Dr. Murdoch. Feeling betrayed and abandoned, Faye must accept the help Holbrook Academy has to offer, or face the abuse of the sadistic groundskeepers called Takers. However, she soon learns that there is more to this mysterious institution than the cookie-cutter facade presented in the brochures sent to her family. Now, Faye and her "family" of misfits at Holbrook, including the elusive and brooding Kel, find themselves involved in an ancient ritual involving crude talismans, symbols drawn in red, hidden rooms, and a foreboding prophecy predicting the end of life on Earth.

Let's just start off by saying that I am a huge sucker for gorgeous covers, and I often find that this superficial approach to book selection has led to more than one disappointing read. However, Harbinger lives up to its cover by providing a unique and suspenseful story to match its evocative jacket.

Holbrook Academy is a character in and of itself, from its otherworldy appearance, its extreme isolation from the rest of humanity (which has fallen into chaos after energy shortages have left society in ruins), its mysterious sculpture garden featuring statues of screaming children, and what appears to be the last protected piece of land free from human destruction. I found the characters in this story to be quite well-rounded as well. There seems to be a trend in YA novels to place a huge emphasis on the heroine of the story and her love interest, leaving her companions and villians to be practically nonexistent. This novel does the opposite, and allows the supporting characters to have a much stronger persona, and also offers sympathetic antagonists. In addition, the story was an extremely suspenseful read, and had me hooked from beginning to end. The use of an unreliable narrator in the form of the mentally disturbed Faye made for a deliciously creepy read, and reminded me of the YA novel Chime. The romance between Faye and Kel may have been a bit over the top, as it's one of those instalove moments, but as the story progresses, this particular plot point actually serves a purpose. Overall, I was incredibly pleased with the psychological horror aspect of the story, with a bit of post-apocalyptic, the supernatural and history thrown in for good measure. How can you go wrong with a story about a doomed planet?

"I danced. Me, Faye. I danced."

If you liked Harbinger, you might also like:

Chime by Franny Billingsley
Sweep #1 by Cate Tiernan
Balefire by Cate Tiernan

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