Seeker (Book #1) by Arwen Elys Dayton

Seeker

Quin, together with her cousin, Shinobu, and John, the boy she loves, has spent her childhood training for her birthright under the tutelage of her cruel father. The three of them come from a long line of Seekers, sworn to help humankind with special training and unique tools that allow them to travel the world in the blink of an eye. But there is a lot Quin doesn’t know about the Seekers  and her family’s past. When she finally takes her oath to become a Seeker, she discovers that much of what she believed about the Seekers and John are untrue. She is forced to commit terrible acts. When an attack on her home enables her to escape, she must come to terms with her actions, the Seekers, and the boy she loves, and find a way to reclaim the noble purpose that the Seekers were intended for.

There are some strong elements to the story that make it engaging and interesting:

  • an ancient order that has been corrupted because of its power (two ancient orders, in fact, but the Seekers are the primary group)
  • a complicated dynamic between Quin and her mother, who washed out of Seeker training and seems to have a miserable marriage that leads her to incessant drinking
  • a dangerous weapon called a disruptor that drives a person into a permanent, torturous coma that all Seekers fear but must learn to stand against
  • a whipsword that the Seekers use, which can reshape itself into any weapon
  • the process of globe hopping via an athame that takes them into a sort of hole in the fabric of the world where they can lose themselves if they aren’t careful

Despite these things, I had a number of issues with the book, including its structure (it felt like two books forced into one), a lack of character development (their actions often felt like “this helps the plot or conflict progress but doesn’t really make sense in regards to what’s been established by their character or even just in general), and a lack of focus (there is a secondary plot about an order called the Dreads that is introduced halfway through the book that competes with the main story but feels superfluous).

The structure of the book seemed like one of the more unnecessary problems . Considering that this is the first book in a series, it seems like making this two separate books would have made more sense. The first half, designated “Part One,” focusing on the time when Quin is training, taking her oath, discovering her father’s lies, and has her home more or less destroyed are one story that could have filled its own book. The second half, “Part Two,” taking place after the attack, when Quin and her cousin and fellow Seeker Shinobu have escaped and established new lives for themselves only to have their old lives catch up with them feels like it should have been its own story. Both parts of this story don’t seem to get the development and attention they deserve, making it feel like we are missing something. Some of the mysteries of the story (like why the athame is so all-important) feel more like there just wasn’t time to explain them, not that they are being strategically being kept for a big reveal later.

The lack of character development is due to a few different elements. We are told that Quin’s father Briac is cruel and overly-harsh, but much of this is relayed to us via the characters discussing how mean he can be, not by showing him being mean. (Later we discover that he has corrupted the legacy of the Seekers and uses it for his own purposes, but this revelation comes very late and isn’t really clear until almost the end of the book.) The prime example of his cruelty is that he does not seem to want John to become a Seeker, for reasons unclear. But one of the first things we are shown is that John cannot overcome his fear in the face of the disruptor. This seems like a very real and very clear reason for him not to be a made a Seeker, even if the bias were not a factor. If the book had been split into two books, with the first one spending more time on their training and interactions with Briac, as well as more about Shinobu’s relationship with his father Mariko, who is also a Seeker, we would have had the time to get to know everyone better. We also would have gotten to know John and Quin’s relationship more, because it did not seem very developed or realistic.

The lack of focus is in part the disjointed first a second half, but it is also the introduction of the Dreads. In the first half, they are essentially a couple mysterious people who are there to swear in new Seekers and enforce certain rules of the order. It is clear they have incredible abilities such as moving at super speed. Suddenly in the second half of the book we start getting Maud’s perspective. She is the youngest of the Dreads–there are three, the Old Dread, Middle Dread, and Young Dread–and questions much of what she sees. The Dreads, who lives for hundreds of years, are meant to be impartial, but Maud questions where they fulfill this requirement. She questions who she should be aligned with and who she should obey. She is perhaps the most interesting element of the story, but it also doesn’t feel like a true part of the story. Instead it feels like it was added in order to make it easier for other things to happen for the main characters. If anything, it felt like it could have (maybe should have) been a companion novel.

I don’t feel like I know the characters well enough to really root for them. I’m not sure if I will be picking up book two.

Project ELE by Rebecca Gober and Courtney Nuckels

Project ELE tells about a time when a virus has wiped out a large number of the population and the Earth’s temperature is rising to uninhabitable temperatures. Fifteen-year-old Willow Mosby must leave her life (and much of her family) behind and go into a F.E.M.A. shelter to survive. What she finds there are friends, love, amazing new abilities, and unexpected danger.

I was surprisingly disappointed by this book, which is the first in a series. There is a lot of promise in the idea (as someone who likes dystopian novels and stories about people with “powers”), but the execution was lacking:

– The story is told from Willow’s perspective. I tend to find first person narratives difficult in the best of times (the characters are too in their own heads and they tend to whine a bit too much), but here it was particularly problematic because Willow is perfectly bland. She’s a sweet girl with no real defining traits. Reading the story from her perspective didn’t make me feel closer to the action and it didn’t add to the experience. She didn’t have unique insights (by contrast, Cia from The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau had unique observations about the people around her and what their behavior might indicate, which was why I found it so enjoyable) and her thought process was never clear enough for me to relate to why she did some of the things she did.

– Considering that half of Willow’s family will likely die while she is in the relative safety of the shelter, she does not think about these family members very often. I could believe this more in a third person narrative where we don’t have the character’s inner thoughts and don’t know what she is thinking at all times, but with first person, we should see her thoughts occasionally drift in their direction every so often, even if she pushes them away and doesn’t want to dwell on it.

– It takes too long to get to the point in the story where Willow and her friends discover amazing new abilities. It feels like we spend 2/3 of the book in a standard dystopian novel and then suddenly we are in a superhero story. The shift is disorienting. The special abilities elements needed to be integrated into the story earlier (even with hints and clues) and some of the details before that could have been shortened or cut out to make the story feel more cohesive.

It is very rare for me not to want to finisha book, if only because I like to know what happened, but in this case, I don’t intend to pick up book 2.