Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour

This is clearly a first novel – and after about 30% into the read, it was obvious that the Editor earned her paycheck. For while there are no typos or obvious sentence issues, a sophisticated reader will soon see the problems in the writing’s bigger picture: pacing, world building superficiality, lack of originality in characters, and a LOT of superfluous scenes and paragraphs that don’t add to the story.  With experience, I hope subsequent books tighten the writing.

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It feels like a concept book in many ways: from the writer’s perspective, I could see her saying, “I’ll rewrite a more obscure fable like Tam Lin.” From the editor’s perspective, I can see her saying, “It is a Twilight and Beautiful Creatures’ love child AND retelling a fairy tell (so popular now)! Best of all, it’s got faeries (another popular YA theme!), and a Scooby Gang (go Buffy!).” And so it comes off as less than the sum of its parts: forced and cobbled together.

Story: Finn (Serafina) moves to Vermont from San Francisco after the suicide of her fey older sister. Cue Scooby Gang meet up and then mysterious boy who is clearly supernatural. Can Finn rewrite the tale of Tam Lin by saving her mysterious dark boy from the Fairie Queen?

For me, I was very excited by the writing until 30% into the book – it was looking to be 5 stars all the way. And then the supernatural started to kick in and the story ground to a halt. Choppy, abrupt, and unnecessary character POVs changes derailed a lot of the story and pace. Our intrepid heroine would ask someone directly about the fairy folk (the Fatas) and get a roundabout answer, end POV. Then abrupt change to someone else’s POV – and we’re left wondering why people who know what’s going on never give a straight answer and never get asked more than once?  It became very frustrating and nearly impossible to stay immersed in the story once the POV left Finn.

The characters were very flat – we’ve seen them all before. Finn’s two new friends were pretty much Ron Wesley and Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Love interest Jack was Edward from Twilight. And the murkily evil Fata family were pretty much the evil family from Beautiful Creatures. Other characters were unnecessary – Phouka, for instance, as a love interest for the Ron Wasley character Christie (Chrisopher) could have been excised completely without affecting the story.

I still can’t figure out why the Fata family fairy queen had a Japanese name and why there were Japanese mythological characters in there (kitsune and a tengu, for example). Muddled between that were copious amounts of Shakespeare fairy references with Yeats dropped liberally (and rather incongruously) as well. It was such an odd mash up.

But most frustrating to me was the complete lack of reaction or repercussions to the supernatural world in which the characters suddenly find themselves.  Ghosts, witches, fairies – no one seems to be reacting to them at all other than to think they are suddenly hallucinating.  It didn’t ring true and the book went downhill from that point, bouncing between characters and scenes without a realistic reaction from anyone. As well, the whole point of the Scooby gang seemed to be to get captured so there would be a deus ex machina reaction from main character Finn. The Fatas were pretty stupid.

If I was not well read in the YA genre, I likely would have enjoyed this book a lot more. My rating teetered between 2 and 3 stars but I have decided on 3 because I wasn’t tearing my hair out with annoyance while reading.  I was just, honestly, bored. Too much getting excited about almost learning something and then abrupt dump into someone else’s boring POV.  Over and over again, never progressing with the plot and with everyone seeming to give cryptic answers for no real point.

I hope for future books in the series that the editors tighten up the plot and writing and really hone Harbour’s writing to focus on a few characters and not try to overtell the story so disastrously. No more excessive quoting of Shakespeare and poetry, no more 15+ character POVs, and let scenes unravel organically without abruptly ending them after only a few pages.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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