I put this book down at around 24% and could not pick it back up again. Typically, when a book doesn’t connect with me I’ll skim a lot to get through it so I can at least put up a review that represents the whole book (some books really do get better later). But the problems I had with this book were from the writing rather than just the plot (such as it was) and therefore not something that was going to change.
First and foremost, the dedication in the front to Brad Pitt was worrisome. Would this be a thinly veiled fan fiction to an author’s crush on a beautiful person? In this case, the truth was verified on the author’s website: “In 2004, Susan Klaus was hired as an extra on the movie set of Ocean’s Eleven and was in a scene with Brad Pitt. Upon arriving on the set, Mr. Pitt was mobbed by the extras. Klaus felt sorry for him and realized that he is so uniquely gorgeous, he is hounded and hunted like wild game. This became the bases [sic] for the harpy story. Since then, all of Klaus’s protagonists in her books resemble a young Brad Pitt.” So yes, the insta luv and constant desire of both the harpy and main character to have sex does feel very much like a Mary Sue about Brad Pitt. And yes, as noted later, this is very much a book about superficial beauty.
The Mary Sue aspect might have been acceptable had the writing been strong. But very stilted, unnatural dialogue turns already flat characters into cardboard cutouts. Dialogue is used only to emphasize a point or info dump, not to actually converse or give our characters personalities. As an example, the Harpy thinks to himself while getting ready for sex, “Unlike a man who mated for pleasure, he was an animal who procreated to ensure his bloodline and willingly endured any hardship to complete this goal. Neither love nor passion played a role in the bonding.” Who thinks like that? During sex?? If an alien creature doesn’t know what love is, why is he even thinking about it? Or, actual dialogue, when main character Kari is asked what Dora is like, goes off into this textbook sounding spiel,” Actually, they’re terrified of people and very elusive so little is known about them except they’re voiceless, tree-dwelling vegetarians. The brown winged, dark haired harpies are the most prevalent. The goldens were a rare subspecies, more aggressive, and known to dominate flocks…” I’m falling asleep already.
Inconsistencies were really problematic as well. Main character Kari is told over and over again that the planet is dangerous, she tells us over and over again it is dangerous, was nearly killed when younger, and gets attacked several times even at her own home by the local fauna. And yet, she will offer to drive 2 days alone to her plantation or walk unescorted through the forest to a remote lake, talking to the animals like Snow White expecting them to braid her hair and make dinner, with no fear at all despite that same area having an animal that nearly killed her when younger. Either the jungle is dangerous or she’s plain stupid. Probably both. But even other inconsistencies, such as being told that Harpy is a Greek work meaning to “steal” on one day and then she says the very next day that Harpy is a Greek word meaning to ‘snatch.’ That definition also changes from ‘loathsome winged beasts,’ to ‘noisy flying monsters.’ She can’t remember a definition in 24 hours on her favorite subject/obsession? There is quite a bit of difference between the two (I can snatch an apple but it doesn’t mean I stole it).
As noted earlier, dialogue is used for heavy info dumps, typically environmental messages with the subtlety of a semi truck. Our 21 year old says mature lines like, “I’m not a child anymore, and I still don’t understand why men kill such beautiful creatures.” And so we are set up for endless lines of ecological moralization: “On Earth, you learned about the planet’s past wildlife. The tiger, the white seal pup, the elk, the shark, and countless others – all beautiful and all gone from hunting or loss of habitat. The harpies will share their fate. Dora is a remote outpost with no protective laws for its wildlife..” blah blah blah. Ad nauseum.
Really disturbing to me was the shallowness of the characters. Everyone is obsessed with beauty. Kari is told the jungle is dangerous and that she is too beautiful to be lost to it. So I guess if she was ugly, it would be ok if the jugnle ate her? And when a doctor, of all people, is telling her about her mother, he notes how beautiful she was, like it was sad that such a beautiful person died – nothing about her personality or person. I guess if mom had been ugly, it might not have been so tragic. And let’s not get started about the doctor surmising that the reason the young men kill the harpies is because they are better looking than the human boys and those boys are jealous (!)
Adding to this is the really bonkers science. Harpies procreate with humans because they are 50% human and 50% bird. It’d take a LOT more than 50% for that to happen. Not to mention that within only 1-2 generations, they have genetically mutated to stop talking and now communicate telepathically, shed all body hair, and more. I could see biologists ripping out their hair after reading this first part of the book – I’d be scared to see what gems are later. Let’s not mention that no one seems interested in studying the harpies for 100 years despite their 50% human appearance.
And don’t get me started about her plantation on planet Dora (the explorer (?) having a Mexican maid (named Maria, of course) calling her “Miss Kari” and a Native American helper (named Charlie, of course) spouting mysticism about nature. Perhaps later there is a black stable boy (named blackie, of course,), too, so we have all the offensive cliches there.
So yes, I had a hard time with quite a bit (read: all) of this book. An immature Mary Sue to Brad Pitt, with boring stilted dialogue, overly heavy environmental message, insta luv, illogical science, unlikeable sanctimonious heroine, and gross inconsistencies.
Reviewed from an ARC.