Author: Brodi Ashton
Publisher: Balzar & Bray
Series: Everneath #1
Other Reviews for This Author: None
Everneath is one of those books that you totally almost expect to suck. Let's be real, here - its premise is one that borders on edgy but relies on the romance to advance the plot, making the edgy storyline sound like a secondary one to the more prominent issues of love and teen angst. Things could go so right with it, yet they could go so wrong. It alternates between the past and the present and has at least one love interest that's dark enough to make his home a black hole. None of this is surprising, or new, or, frankly, worthy of creating high expectations. To some readers, these things were all that were there and Everneath was a disappointment. Yet - Everneath is more. Having read it months ago, some parts of the book are hazy, but my glowing satisfaction with it is strong. Everneath is a book that is emotional, addictive, and acts like a paranormal drug for the heart.
For one hundred years, Nikki Beckett has been the source of energy for Cole, a creature - person? - of cryptic origin. Cole is an immortal, a resident of an underworld known as the Everneath that uses humans like Nikki to Feed from. Nikki has been Cole's source of energy, his salvation, for such a long time that her memories have become distorted dreams. Who is Nikki Beckett really? Who is Nikki beyond Cole? Nikki has no way of answering these away from her dreams in the Feed, unaware of just how rare it is to retain them at all, even if they just are in dreams. Whether willing or not, Cole has kept Nikki prisoner for one hundred years, and her time as his Forfeit is almost up. Nikki has the choice of becoming a part of the Tunnels of the Everneath, or to return to her life in the human world long enough to say goodbye to the people of her memory.
The price is herself. Cole has attached to Nikki in a way that he hasn't been able to before. She's more than a Forfeit, a source to Feed from. She has beauty and poise and love about her, all of which are things that Cole wishes to have for himself. In letting Nikki go to say her goodbyes, he knows that she'll be all his for eternity in six months, swallowed by the Tunnels. Cole doesn't anticipate the effects of her return, or the power behind Nikki's memories. Though one hundred years have passed in the Everneath, a mere six months has passed in Nikki's world. Six months of her absence. Six months that felt so much longer.
A life awaits Nikki, but it's a life that is already in-progress. People in school believe that she's been away because she got a drug problem - its origins coincidentally coinciding with when Nikki first met Cole. Her friends and family are distant, and her ex-boyfriend Jack is by far the most distant out of all of them. Nikki's relationship with Jack is strained, yet she immediately remembers that he, more than anyone from her life, helped her to survive the Everneath. The problem is that Nikki just can't bring herself to break down the barrier between them now, especially with Cole's inevitable return. Even as Nikki struggles to remember why she left home, why she loves Jack, she has to figure out exactly who Cole is...and what his real goals are. Everneath is a story of love, loss, and tragedy as a girl has to look at who she used to be and who she's become in order to save herself.
Judging by the above description, it's hard to pinpoint why Everneath was such a success for me on its premise alone. Yes, the idea of Forfeits, the Everneath, the Tunnels, and Feeding is an interesting one - I mean, come on, it's definitely not a traditional take on the Greek myth of Persephone (or Eurydice, for that matter). With all of the YA fiction revolving around Greek mythology and, specifically, tales like that of Persephone, Everneath sticks to its guns by showing the classic YA PNR protagonist in a different light. Nikki is like a lot of the other protagonists out there on many levels - she's reserved, romance-focused, and doesn't have a lot about her that immediately strikes the reader as being unique. The Everygirl, basically. Her protagonist type comes up a lot in YA PNR, yet I found Nikki to be more relative than I initially anticipated. Her issues with Cole and Jack are romance-based, yes, but she struggles with her relationships for a good reason. Her history with Jack and her lack of connectivity to her family leave holes in her life that make Cole's darkness an understandable escape that she quickly regrets. There's something about Nikki that's constantly wanting, constantly conflicted. The reader always wonders about her past because of the narrative structure, and the aspects of her character that remain a mystery make the story enticing. Ashton manages to take Nikki's status as an Everygirl and add to it - we ask why. Why did Nikki want to escape her life? Why does she want to fight becoming an Everliving and live alongside Cole in the Everneath? Why does she regret her decisions - and why does she want Jack back? Nikki may be a character that's hard to get behind from a personality standpoint, but her motivations are strong enough to make an impact on the reading experience. I found myself asking these questions about Nikki and, as a result, looking at her character closely, realizing that she had nuances that I didn't initially suspect to be there. Not all readers will appreciate Nikki's journey or connect with it - the downside to her starting point is that it will deter readers that don't want to look at her from a deeper perspective - and that's sometimes one of the biggest issues to have with a protagonist that's supposed to be likable.
Moving on, the importance of Jack and Cole in the narrative is pretty much pivotal to the enjoyment of the story. It's safe to say that Ashton has this love triangle well and truly messed up. There are no easy decisions with these two characters, and for good reason. Jack is a quieter, gentler guy that cares for Nikki and shows it. He has a lot of good qualities and is the 'lighter' of the two characters in terms of personal morality. His stubbornness to speak with Nikki throughout the book gets frustrating. It's hard to imagine him right away as a character that Nikki should end up with - after all, at least Cole pays attention to her and declares his want for her, right? The problem is that Cole is effed up. He's the kind of male love interest that YA PNR haters will hold up as being psychotic and disturbed. He's not to the point of, say, Warner from Shatter Me, wherein he's so awful that his status as a love interest is partially because of the obsessive psychosis...but it's close. Nikki is special to Cole, and his limited viewpoint of the world as an immortal leads him to claim her as a possession of his. I found myself disliking Cole because of this - his minor moments of humanity and kindness are squelched by this repeated treatment of Nikki as an object that is rightfully his, instead of as a person that has the right to a fair choice. Towards the end of Everneath, Cole does make a character transition that leads him to being a more probable interest than he was at the narrative's beginning, but, if I have to pick a team, it's Team Jack all of the way. Nikki's relationship with both boys is pivotal to the story, and they are by far the two characters that get the most page time. Secondary characters do make appearances as the plot unfolds and we get an idea of what the Everneath is and what it means to people that live in the world above. Though not always memorable by name, Ashton does make a point by giving her secondary characters strong personalities that really up the creepiness/tension factor of the story - though they are more plot-oriented than character oriented. Nikki's connection to her family and friends could have been stronger, so I'm hoping that Ashton makes the effort to expand the amount of memorable characters within the sequel.
So - the question is - why does Everneath stand out when, like so many other books before it, it follows the formula of centering a girl's romantic struggles around a supernatural conflict that thematically parallels her romantic decisions?
The most obvious reason is that, at the end of the day, I freaking love this theme. This is a narrative structure that I can totally support as a reader if I enjoy how the author does it. The longer (and more critical) answer is that Ashton makes this story emotional in a way that Twilight was emotional, though not in a mimicking fashion. Everneath manages to take these characters - Nikki most of all - and use their mysteries, their destructive natures, their inability to communicate, as ways to enhance the story and leave an emotional imprint on the reader. Regardless of my criticisms of how this book doesn't resonate on a plot level the way it does emotionally, there is no doubt that its narrative left an emotional imprint. I read this book months ago and could still tell of its best qualities - could still tell you that the reading experience surprised me and delighted me, that I was actually happy with yet another YA retelling of Hades and Persephone. For a fan of this narrative structure, Everneath impressed me because it was something that felt fleshed out and thought of.
Ashton's writing is rather great, too. The strength of the emotions lies in her prose and the way she discusses Nikki's narrative. There's always a level of desperation and struggle to the story, and Ashton doesn't forget the emotional turmoil that Nikki has been hiding away. The reader always has the sense that it's just below the surface, that it's just about to be revealed. Pages turn faster and faster as the story unfolds. Pacing-wise, Ashton does a pretty fair job of keeping things together without descending into a rut. The emotions and the plot trade hands often enough to keep things interesting. Ashton's narrative structure, however, is what makes the story really special. She takes the moments of impact post-awakening and counterbalances them with moments from the past. As time marches forward and Nikki learns more about the Everneath and why she is special to Cole, why she is still in love with Jack, we see the unfurling of the events that lead her to choosing Cole and getting to the prison of the Everneath in the first place. Not only is it a risky and admirable narrative decision, but it works. The story structure is just something that sticks around and keeps it memorable. Between that and the emotional resonance, it's hard not to enjoy Everneath - especially if you like a good dosage of angsty romance. The world is interesting, too, using a basis for Greek myth, secret societies, and other little bits and bobs to make up a mythology that's just great. Not everything about it is as fleshed out as it could be, but there's little disappointment in the actual reading experience because of the dramatic nature of the world and its mythology. The Tunnels and the Everneath actually do feel threatening the way Cole does, and that sneaky, fear-stained creepiness really gets to a reader after a while.
Everneath is just excellent if you like your YA paranormal romance emotionally strong and angst-filled. It features some standards like love triangles (or pseudo-love triangles, considering how Cole straddles the line between hero and antihero), an Everygirl protagonist, and mythology that takes inspiration from classical sources. The writing, narrative structure, and characters really do add something special to it - and my own personal reaction was perhaps even better. There was just so much to enjoy about Everneath with how it tore my heart out and managed to make me depressed at the thought of Nikki's impending return to the Tunnels, or elated with her slow but sure return to romance with Jack. A book like Everneath that resonates with your emotions allows even the most tired cliches to get a pass - however small - if their execution is interesting. Readers looking for a YA paranormal series that is highly romantic, dramatic, and enticing will find Everneath to be satisfying and rewarding - and they will definitely be anxious for the next book, Everbound, which looks to be very good indeed...
Cover: Dress covers are so over-and-done, blah, but I'm a sucker for a pretty dress. I find it creepy and haunting, and that certainly fits the tone of the book. It might not stand out for readers looking for something 100% unique, but it will sell well to the target readers of YA paranormal romance.
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Copy: Received from publisher/publicist for review (Thank you, Heather and Harper Collins!)