Author: Shauna Granger
Series: Elemental #1
Other Reviews for This Author: None
This book was sent for me to review some time ago when I had a clunky old e-reader and was easily taken in by the pretty cover. I started reading the book and was immediately turned off by the opening's disjointed voice and the plethora of grammatical errors found on each page. So, I stopped reading it. End of story, right? Well, I decided to pick up the book again because I had a long bus trip, a Kindle, and had a hankering for that particular type of self-published story. I downloaded the mobi file via Smashwords and was delighted to see that it had been updated. I read it again and the beginning was not the best - but much less messy than before - and finished it. Earth is a self-published novel that will certainly find a strong audience in plot-oriented readers who enjoy stories like Cate Tiernan's Sweep series, but its execution is weak and makes it hard for the novel to stand out.
Shayna and her friends are more than run-of-the-mill students. High school and its trials are hard enough for most people, but her group of close friends has an extra issue that makes everything even more difficult. They are Elementals - they have the ability to control one (or more than one) of the four main elements: Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. Shayna has an affinity for all four of the elements on some level, but the Earth element is the strongest. Her friend Jodi is an Air elemental, and her friend Steven is a Fire elemental. They practice a specific type of magic together that focuses on the strength of their elemental affinities - a magic that makes devote Catholic Steven a bit uncomfortable, but nevertheless taps into parts of the world that Catholicism never could.
The group of friends understands that the usage of such magic is sacred and must only be done with good intentions. Their latest plan is to use a select few spells to help out a mutual friend named Tracy. Tracy is stuck in an abusive relationship and can never seem to break free of the psychological hold that her boyfriend has on her. Magic isn't always the best way to go about things, but Shayna knows that Tracy will never fully break from her relationship without some hardcore assistance. The group of friends prepares for the inevitably difficult task of aiding the magic - for magic takes time and cannot fix everything - and their friend.
What happens is so much bigger than a happy ending for Tracy. The friends discover that a multitude of supernatural happenings seem to be going around town. Elementals and other witches have been around for centuries, but the local covens would have known ahead of time if any major magical events were occurring. The happenings are also completely out of alignment with white magic. Animal sacrifices and blood magic that inhibit the darkest of proceedings occur, causing the locals to be wary. The dark magic could just be a group of wannabee Satan worshipers, but the magical community can sense that the people causing the havoc have a lot of power behind them. Coincidentally, a pair of twins has recently started school with Shayna and has shown interest in her - not to mention a possible understanding of her elemental abilities, which she tries to keep hidden whenever possible. Could they be the cause of the disturbance, or is it something far more sinister than Shayna and her friends could ever imagine?
Where Earth really lacked strength for me was the characters. There's just no other way around it. Shayna was a heroine that I enjoyed to some extent, but her voice lacked a certain "oomph" that made me want to keep reading. Her general narration of events wasn't bad, but nothing about it really stood out to me as a reader, either. She starts of the novel pretty much where she stops as a character - the growth wasn't really substantial to me because of the focus on so many varied plot threads. Instead of using the time to elevate Shayna as a narrator, it was spent focusing on a few random subplots and spending some time setting up a small amount of romance and stretched-out intrigue. The plot parts of the book just never made her move forward as a character - which is one of the biggest ways to keep me from getting invested in the story. Reading for plot is all well and good, but refraining from making that pivotal connection between the narrated main character and the plot makes it hard to focus on what's going on - especially when the novel has lulls in the action. Some readers will love Shayna and her attitude, and she isn't by any means a character that is too perfect or insipid in what she does. She has moments of strength, a decent narrative voice, and a dynamic set of magical abilities. All of these aspects are in main characters that are really, really enjoyable to read about, but losing the personal investment in them makes them boring. There are worse protagonists that Shayna in both attitude and common sense, but the lack of interest made the reading experience worse in some ways than if she had shown an awful attitude or TSTL moments.
Granger does herself a favor with her secondary characters - some fall flat, but a few are just interesting enough to keep the reading experience worth continuing with. Jodi and Steven are by far the most developed of any of the characters. Jodi is the lesser of the two characters - she doesn't get much backstory or focus compared to Steven, but she has her own personality and can be entertaining to read about in the trio. She's a character that has potential, but it doesn't get used much in Earth. Still, she sticks out as being a character that could come in later books and steal the show. Steven is the character that I truly liked - and it's not just because he's gay and out. He's flamboyant to a small extent, and his sexuality is very much a bonus in terms of adding interest to the character, but there's also the addition of his Catholicism and strong faith despite that. I never really see a devote LGBTQ character in YA, and it added depth. Combining it with his Latino heritage and its love of mysticism helped to not only make his combination of faith and magic semi-believable, but it was actually very interesting. The twins that move into town are also worthy of reader regard, but mostly because they add something to the mystery rather than anything new in the romance department. There is a romantic thread that's vaguely explored, although Shayna is much more hesitant about it in the beginning than is common in YA - though both of the guys are hot hot hot. Of course, the romance itself ends up coming on fast after the halfway point and doesn't get nearly enough explanation/support in the text for it to be particularly believable for the reader. The lackluster romance didn't do much more to harm the disconnect to the voice, because at that stage the disconnect was already accepted. Still, some readers who connect to the protagonist will still shake their heads at the romantic relationship being presented.
Granger does marginally better with the writing and plotting of Earth. There are a lot of fantasy elements that she carries into the story - most decidedly the ritualistic and magick elements that are seen in a lot of YA witch fiction (the realistic type that is found in the Sweep series - not the Sabrina the Teenage Witch type). There are mentions of athames (knives used in Wiccan ritual) and a frequent usage of herbs, meditation, and other devices that lean more towards the lesser-known religions. Nothing that's totally off-the-wall, but stuff that may make very religious readers uncomfortable. The effort in making those aspects of the novel seem thought-out was great, though, and it makes those parts interesting. There certainly is a depth to the magic system, and Granger makes a point of showing her readers that she has a lot to offer in the future in regards to it. The plot moves along at a fast pace, and the biggest issue with it all is that there isn't a ton of explanation as to why certain elemental affinities occur, what makes these characters so powerful, and the solid rules of the magic system in question. Everything's a bit too vague, and the sad thing is that the sections pertaining to the magick and rituals are extremely interesting and helped make the book stand out in comparison to other self-published books that don't use many of the better aspects of their concepts in favor of petty romances. Granger does use her plot well, and there are a lot of great major and minor plot events that keep things interesting. Some don't completely pertain to what's going on in the main plotline, but they are cool and keep the pace fast. Granger also has some solid fight scenes that use the elemental/magickal elements well. The book itself is around 4,000 Kindle locations - which is about the average length of a YA novel. This means that Granger actually tried to streamline aspects of the novel and focus on keeping her premise the main point of the novel. Readers won't find it to be too drawn out, which is a rarity in self-published work these days.
My initial reaction to Earth is not an overwhelmingly positive one. Earth is a novel that, in many ways, did not make the mark for me. The protagonist and I did not have an initial connection, and the romance did not help matters at all. Some aspects of the world's mythology also left me wanting something more. However, I've read far worse self-published novels. Granger has an authorial voice and a good sense of interesting plots, and her characters have potential. Shayna and her friends could all easily be expanded upon and get stronger with subsequent books. A more polished magic system - which is already a positive aspect of the novel - would make the subsequent books stellar. Basically, while there are novels I liked much more out there, there are novels I liked much less, too. I liked aspects of Earth enough to consider reading the sequel, but nothing about it was outstanding enough for me to make a conscious effort to seek it out.
Cover: This cover really is nice. Yes, it's fairly generic, but the hues and the title font stick out when you look at them. Great for a novel that will sell almost exclusively digital copies.
Rating: 3.0 Stars
Copy: Received from author for review (Thank you, Shauna!)