Valentine Bell: The Golden Year reads very much like a 5th or 6th book in a series: A prequel of a long established beloved adult character within a very big world.that doesn’t need explaining by the time of the book’s publication. As such, there are tantalizing hints of a very interesting story that will come later – but it isn’t in this book. Rather, we have unexplained ‘magical’ phenomena, world building at a minimum, and a very sparse story of a bratty, impulsive, undisciplined 13 year who inexplicably seems to be loved by everyone.
Story: As the book starts, we are introduced to 12 year old Valentine Bell preparing for her 13th “golden year” birthday. She lives aboard a cruise ship type of interstellar craft taking vacationers to the planet Vala. This will be a watershed year for Valentine when everything will change: she’ll be courted by the hottest guy on the ship, enjoy doing drugs, alcohol, and making out in closets, find out her step father has a history she never dreamed could be real (he is more than just a janitor on the ship), and almost lose her friendship with lifelong buddy Luke. For Valentine has a special ability even she is unaware of – if someone touches the scar-like birthmark on her shoulder, they become incredibly lucky. And there are many people on a casino-type cruise ship who would do shady things to get to that ability.
Author Maness created a 13 year old that is very much like a real tween – a very unpleasant age). In making her so, she creates a nearly unlikeable character in the process. The book is far too mature for readers in that age range due to the drugs, gambling, and hormone induced heavy petting sessions. But older readers may not want to engage with a bratty kid who does really stupid things continually so she can end up getting saved by one of the boys. As well, the morally conflicted message of the bad boy mafia son doing drugs and using her but who really isn’t such a bad guy (because, let’s face it, no super-cute boy you’ve kissed as a 13 year old could be evil, right?) just doesn’t ring very true. Or perhaps too true for hormone raved tweens?
Even though described as being stupid often, there really is no menace from the bad guys, even when there is clear danger. It felt a lot like a keystone cops or Disney Channel adventure. As such, with Valentine’s extremely poor choices and the lack of tension, it really became hard to stay engaged with the story. At times, I wanted to remind myself that the author was making a point about a girl with no parental discipline and so the actions should make sense. But author Maness really needed to engage us more – with more depth in what is a fairy straightforward and easy read. Valentine doesn’t end up as either a heroine or an anti-hero. We would really need someone who does really stupid actions to be one or the other.
Valentine’s strange ability is never explained other than as a hereditary thing. And the planet Vala is full of the usual mystical mysticism hooey that makes one want to roll eyes when reading. And of course, we have misunderstood natives being plundered of their natural resources. It’s almost a cliche sci fi trope these days.
After I finished the book, I couldn’t help but wish the author had told us a later story of Valentine – when she was older and benefited from the life lessons told in this story. There were so many hints of something better to come that never materialized in this particular story. For that reason, I am rating this 3 stars when in reality, this was a 2 star read for me.