Title: A Touch Mortal
Author: Leah Clifford
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Series: A Touch #1
Other Reviews for This Author: None.
It's taken me for-freaking-ever to get around to reading this book, and even longer to reviewing it. The initial publication of A Touch Mortal was in 2011. Not long ago by most people's standards, but the book world can be unforgiving despite the glacial pace of traditional publishing. I got a copy of this book late in 2011 and felt a lot of excitement for the story. Why? It deals with a paranormal trope I enjoy (angels) and all of the reviews were love-or-hate because of how unusual it was. That is where A Touch Mortal stole my heart, too. It's unusual. It uses YA tropes here and there, but so much of this book is angsty and emotional in a way that is entirely its own - and I loved every minute of the reading experience.
Eden was ready to kill herself. The darkness found in the choppy sea was ready to swallow her. Smother her underneath the weight of the world until she couldn't feel it anymore. Nothing was going to save her that night but death...until Az and Gabe came strolling along. The two boys were playful with each other and were seemingly unaware of their fateful intervention in Eden's life. Eden had no idea that the boys knew more about her intentions than what any average pair of bystanders would have gathered from seeing her on the beach that night. She had no idea that their fates were inexplicably tied to hers, or that her life would change forever when she set her sights on Az.
Now, weeks later, Az and Eden are head-over-heels in love. True love, too. They seem so perfect for each other. Eden has nothing but affection for this boy that entered her life. He saved her, after all, in ways that she can never truly express to him. So why is it that there are still secrets about Az? No matter. To Eden, the only thing that matters is that they are in love and that he won't abandon her. When the dramatic night comes about wherein Az dies - brutally, like something out of a tragic film - Eden can't go on anymore. Gabe is there as a new friend, but he can't quell the rage and sadness that fills her up. The only thing that Eden can do is return to the dark place that she was almost swallowed by weeks prior. Eden doesn't get saved from it a second time.
So, why doesn't she die?
The world that Eden knows is nothing compared to the one she discovers upon death. Az and Gabe aren't just beach bums that stumbled into her life without reason. They're angels - rather, Gabe is an angel. Az is partially Fallen. His life is balanced between good and evil; he can either atone for his mistakes and rejoin the ranks of Gabe's kind or succumb to the temptations of Lucifer's minions. Az is a prime target for Lucifer's manipulations, and so is Eden. Eden is a different type of being. One that is far from angelic. Eden is a Sider - someone who is in-between life and death after they commit suicide. Someone who is parasitic off of the emotions of living humans and puts on a glamour to hide the rotting flesh of their real bodies. Eden may be in love with an angel, but her life only seems to be Hell.
Contrary to what you may think, the plotting of A Touch Mortal is a lot more complex than my summary makes it out to be. It's a book that you cannot really identify as anything other than itself. It starts off with so many traditional formulas and tropes. Then it slashes them, over and over again, like a crazy, machete-wielding demon of story. By the time the hundredth page hits the reader, there is so much going on and Clifford does not give the reader a chance to be bored. But where is the protagonist in all of this, you ask? My predictable review formula dictates that I talk about my primary concern with the novel first, and Eden is the main character dealing with all of the crap inflicted by A Touch Mortal's insane storyline. She's raw and edgy and hard to deal with at the beginning, but she's more than worth the investment that the reader puts into the storyline. The complexity that lies within her character is brought to the forefront right away. Clifford uses Eden as a way to explore just how dangerous insta-love can be. She does fall for Az within the span of weeks (Clifford skips ahead in the narrative, too, and chooses not to detail the courtship between them), but a lot of it stems from the very real feelings of loneliness and despair that inhabit Eden's initial character. She's suicidal and depressed - both factors that make her instant attachment to Az understandable, as she feels that having someone around gives her the reason to live. The narrative then puts Eden on her own for a while, and the reader sees a new side of her. Eden learns to live with her half-life as a Sider and learns quickly not to put so much easy trust in her love of Az. She becomes strong and, with the help of a Sider that becomes a friend/mentor of sorts, learns to stand on her own. Eden's journey is one that is very dark and psychological in the sense that she constantly battles with giving too much of herself to something, whether it involves depression or helping out other Siders in ways that are potentially fatal to her. Eden's journey in A Touch Mortal is one in which she begins the journey of finding balance in her life. It's long and involves a lot of heartbreak, but the romance she develops with Az becomes deep and meaningful as a result of it. Clifford takes the initial insta-love and hero-obsession and explores it to the point where it becomes a commentary, not just a story.
Clifford clearly has her stuff together with Eden in A Touch Mortal, and the same goes for her other characters. Az is a kick-butt kind of hero. He's intense and feels deeply for Eden. His dark side is real and not just something that is constructed for plot intensity. Not to mention that the romance that develops between him and Eden is deep. The initial instant-love is presented because of the overall theme of the novel and quickly develops into something else. Az doesn't reveal everything to Eden that he should initially, and the lack of honesty is a huge issue that she doesn't forgive, - even if there were extraneous supernatural circumstances that made him feel that it was the best path to take. What was so awesome about this was that Clifford managed to show just how royally messed up guys like Az can be in their actions without even realizing it. That breech of honesty effected Eden's entire existence and led her to kill herself. It's not something that is remotely easy to forgive, and the forgiveness takes a lot of time and has a price to it. That kind of message alone made Az a hero worthy of reading about. The circumstances were messed up and he managed to redeem himself enough that I pushed for him over any of the other side characters, but it was clear that their relationship was important and not going to be easy-going. Then there was Gabe - the other major supernatural being around from the first chapter that was not a love interest. At all. For various reasons pertaining to his gender preference. It was awesome. Seriously, folks. Here Clifford showed just how easy it is to write a realistic character who is LGBTQ and place them in the story without stereotyping them. Plus, he's an angel. No shame. Never an issue. Let me repeat that: it was never an issue that he was into men and an angel. Leah Clifford instantly became one of my favorite authors because of this fact. Gabe is not only a well-drawn character (his friendship with Az and Eden is a constant struggle between the need to do what he is required to as an angel and help out his friends, and the way it's portrayed makes the angelic system seem interestingly flawed and says a lot about his character). Gabe is a character that is, in effect, doing what I wish other characters would do in YA - portraying a realistic LGBTQ image in what some would consider a 'taboo' way (because I imagine Clifford has gotten stink about her gayngel - yes, I did call him a gayngel) that actually shows teen readers that they can be who they are and still be pretty awesome. So, yes. I may have a thing for Gabe. Because his character was complex and entertaining. Clifford doesn't go easy on him, either, but it's luckily issues of the supernatural variety versus the sexual variety.
Also, he's a freaking gayngel.
Non-fancy wordplay is clearly not my forte. However, wordplay of the fancy and stylish variety is abundant in A Touch Mortal. Clifford has snappy prose that really highlights the voices of the main characters. Third-person perspective works to her advantage, too, as she manages to make each character focused on feel fleshed out because of it while still retaining a great sense of individuality in their dialogue and exposition sections. Clifford got the dark humor side of the teenage experience, which really fit with the general tone of the novel. The swearing and language felt on-key, too, which helped things feel very real. Clifford establishes A Touch Mortal as something that is very gritty and hard-hitting for a paranormal novel for teens (I say this because teen paranormal novels are often more romance than hard-hitting paranormal concept right now). Her world building was strong, too, while still feeling fresh and unusual. The paranormal vocabulary used was fairly simple and to-the-point without feeling stupid (the usage of Slider, for instance) and reminded me a bit of Randy Russel's Dead Rules. Both novels hit towards the same type of audience, and the world building for both of them feels organic and isn't overly-done or overly based on the novel's premise only to later become shallow. Clifford throws a lot of information at her reader as the story goes on, yet none of it felt like it was invented just to move the plot along. Her attention to detail was especially helpful. A lot of the concepts brought to the table don't directly effect why the characters do what they do - such as the real appearance of Sliders - but show instead the layers of the paranormal concept. Sliders, for instance, are parasitic and in a constant struggle to balance between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Their decaying appearance hidden beneath their glamour suggests - correctly, mind you - that the darkness that pervaded their minds as living beings never really left them, that death was not an easy solution to their problems. That kind of stuff is what made the world in A Touch Mortal stand out. The novel was also fast-paced and made for a quick read. Putting it down was extremely difficult. Compelling aspects aside, it does end with a major cliffhanger for the next book and it will doubtlessly have the reader frustrated if they don't have the next one on hand.
In short? Read this book if you want the paranormal romance and angst with purpose. There's so much in A Touch Mortal that other paranormal YA's forget about or only show glimpses of within the first book in the series. Eden's tough-girl personae and emotional issues. Her instant-love with Az and how that doesn't lead to a healthy relationship. The wonderful world that is dark and edgy, taking the concept of the angel/demon mythology and turning it into something original. A Touch Mortal was a book that I couldn't help loving. It won't be for every reader because of the many unusual aspects that it brings to the table, but it's a quality piece of YA paranormal literature that gives its readers more than they were expecting.
Cover: Eh. The cover is okay. I like the color scheme and the title font, but the girl on the cover is pretty average. She picks up the emo-ish vibe that Eden radiates, but it's nothing that would turn heads on its own.
Rating: 5.0 Stars
Copy: Received from publisher/publicist for review (Thank you, Heather and Harper Collins!)