At about 45% through this book, I realized I would have to be a mean person to rate this lower than four stars. That said, however, a book about self absorbed, unpleasant, beautiful people in a codependent relationship was always going to be a hard sell for me. Perhaps even more so since I grew up in LA and know the reality beyond the facade seen by visitors.
This is, by far, Stiefvater’s most grounded and also perhaps most personal novel. There is very little fantasy in this urban fantasy, where the only supernatural element, changing to a werewolf, is used only as a metaphor for drugs / a coping mechanism. Rather, what we get is an observation of the hollow core of a City that is all about connections yet the loneliest place on the planet. And that’s the irony for me; Stiefvater’s most realistic novel never really struck a cord of truth. It’s a picture of LA from the outside rather than the inside – a retelling of the Indian fable of the blind men and the elephant with each so sure they know what an elephant is while only holding one small part of it.
I think the problem I had with the story is that it really isn’t about Cole and Isabel. Stiefvater notes in the beginning that she decided to write Sinner while visiting LA and based upon one sentence: “a werewolf in LA.” That really does sum up the book since it’s not “Cole and Isabel conquer LA.” Most of the characters are just there to describe or inhabit the main character of the book: the city, and not to give us much of a story. I can feel Stiefvater’s loneliness when she was there in nearly every page; much more so than I felt for any of Isabel’s or Cole’s story.
If Cole and Isabel had been more interesting, I might have been able to get past the ‘ode to foreigners in LA.’ Perhaps to her credit, Stiefvater doesn’t try to turn either character into something likeable. They are rude, obnoxious, self possessed, quick tempered, and two little satellites that sometimes meet but for the most part hate everyone and themselves. The only basis of their desire for each other that can be found in the book is, ironically, NOT in the book. It is from the previous novels. Those coming into this book without having read the previous novels will likely be baffled at why anyone would care about what is, in effect, two selfish brats. Or why those brats have any interest in each other when they are so busy with their own importances.
The book is well written in a very LA stream-of-consciousness type of way, complete with West Coast language and idiosyncrasies. And yet – nothing really happens despite all the witty banter. The character of Leon the chauffer is completely wasted; even as a reflection of a better person that Cole cannot be or the everyman living beyond the glitz of Hollywood, he’s uninteresting and underdrawn. Other side characters such as Isabel’s cousin, Rachel, could be of interest but ultimately too obvious a metaphor for, yes, the City (she’s always trying to please, just like our glittery LA woman).
Oddly enough, I never felt this story needed to be set in the Shiver universe. Being constricted by two very self absorbed souls in Isabel and Cole never really gave us a chance to see LA as anything other than a hollow pretty shell. I would have loved to see depths plumbed in both the characters and the City, finding the hidden solid world that really does exist underneath.
So yes, this is a beautifully written and very immersive story. Stiefvater really is a very good writer and she builds a world so beautifully. Just in this instance, the fantasy rings false – a view of fish swimming in a pond and not realizing there is an ocean right next to it.
Reviewed from an ARC.