Sixteen-year-old Evangeline “Evie” Greene leads a charmed life, until she begins experiencing horrifying hallucinations. When an apocalyptic event decimates her Louisiana hometown, Evie realizes her hallucinations were actually visions of the future—and they’re still happening. Fighting for her life and desperate for answers, she must turn to her wrong-side-of-the-bayou classmate: Jackson Deveaux.
As Jack and Evie race to find the source of her visions, they meet others who have gotten the same call. An ancient prophesy is being played out, and Evie is not the only one with special powers. A group of twenty-two teens has been chosen to reenact the ultimate battle between good and evil. But it’s not always clear who is on which side
2.75 Stars (Rounded to 3)
I’m finding this book very difficult to review, mainly as I’m not 100% sure how I feel about it myself. I downloaded this onto my phone for free back in January, when it was the iTunes free book of the week. I’d heard about it, and by the ‘free book of the week’ standards, it was a pretty popular choice, so I gave it a go. Here I am, 5 months later, having finally finished it! It certainly took me a long time to get through, and didn’t hold my attention very well, so anything I read back in January/February time may be a bit hazy. Regardless, I’m going to recall as much as possible!
This book is the first book in the ‘Arcana Chronicles’, about a girl who sees supernatural hallucinations and seemingly foresees the apocalypse. The prologue, set 246 days after the apocalypse, was fantastic; told from the point of view of Arthur – a man who cruelly lures young women into a trap by taking advantage of their vulnerability after the disaster – as he tries to charm Evie (our protagonist). This chilling, dark and unsettling introduction creates a suspenseful frame story that captured my attention and got me very excited for where the story was going. Then, Arthur prompts Evie to tell him her story, which was unfortunately where everything goes terribly wrong as Evie begins to recount (in an unrealistic amount of detail) her life not just since the apocalypse, but in the week running up to it, thus plunging us into Evie’s narrative, and the main body of the story. The post-apocalypse setting was one of the things that drew me to this book, but unfortunately to get to the event of the apocalypse, you have to trawl through 100+ pages (this is an estimate; I read the eBook version, where it was 30%) of high-school melodrama, where Evie moans about how her time in a psychiatric hospital will affect her status as ‘Queen Bee’, is judgemental and borderline racist about her new classmates and cries about how she thinks she has to have sex with her boyfriend when she isn’t ready to, as an attempt to stop his eye roving. These first 100 pages, as well as being a bit of a surprise given my expectations of the book and the stunning prologue, are absolutely pathetic. Firstly, the high-school setting made Evie shine as a complete bitch. Whenever she hallucinated, rather than caring about her health, she panicked that if anyone found out she would lose her popularity, even using it as the reason for why she didn’t tell her best friend or boyfriend. I have never read about or met anyone so obsessed with being popular! What’s worse, she paints herself as some martyr who uses her popularity as a way of being lovely to everyone, even at one point having the cheek to say to Jackson (her love interest) that she was “always nice to everyone”. Yet, she was just the stereotypical ‘Queen Bee’ who cared for no-one but herself, and was actually a nasty bit of work where other people were concerned. That brings me onto her treatment of her classmates. There was a group of classmates who were from ‘the other side of town’, of French descent, and were substantially poorer than privileged upper-middle class Evie. Admittedly some members of this group were less than savoury, but Evie immediately begins bad-mouthing them and coming out with endless judgemental insults, then when they retaliated, played the innocent ‘I’ve not done anything wrong’ card. I’m not sure if this was meant to be a showcase of Evie’s innocence or naivety, but to me she just came off as an upper class privileged brat who never opens her eyes to the world outside of her bubble of riches and luxury. It made me very swiftly detest her.
Then we get onto the issue which is prominent both in the first 100+ pages, and later on, because the characters are clearly obsessed with it; sex. Early on, Evie (who is only just 16) is whining about how she isn’t ready to lose her virginity, but is worried that if she doesn’t sleep with her boyfriend, he will leave her for another girl. Of course, the correct response here is to tell your partner you’re not ready, but no, she talks to her best friend Mel, who essentially tells her to have sex with him, and dress up in revealing clothes to “out-slut” the other girl. This is not an acceptable response to promote. Not only does it encourage reckless behaviour, but the notion of trying to “out-slut” other girls as the only way of winning a guy’s attention is disgusting. Furthermore, the whole thing felt very juvenile, as if it were all some massive tournament to see which girl could be the most revealing and inappropriate. I was pretty disgusted by this portion of the book. Way later on, after the apocalypse, the topic of sex returns, when Jackson pressurises Evie into it, and when she freaks out he brands her a slut and accuses her of leading him on. Sex is undeniably (and unnecessarily) a massive issue in this book, and the way in which it is portrayed – promoting losing your virginity just to keep a guy, winning people over in body-baring outfits and being branded a slut for saying no – just screams wrong to me.
The writing and narrative style felt very juvenile to me; the use of unnecessary slang is always a massive turn-off for me, and this book was crammed full of unnecessary, confusing and frankly bizarre slang. No, using slang does not make the characters seem genuine; I am in the same age bracket as these characters and try to use slang as little as possible, and would never in a million years talk like these characters do! So if the author is trying to make them seem like realistic teens, let me say that she’s way off the mark. The way in which the characters talked about sensitive topics such as mental illness and sex all seemed incredibly immature to me, and when teamed with the slang, stuck out like a sore thumb and made it very hard to read.
The biggest issue I had was the characters. Evie, as I’ve already said, came across as a nasty bit of work, and Jackson was even worse. The way he played around with women and talked about them as objects was vile, and the outlook that Evie should pander to his every need (including romance-wise) as a way of ‘returning the favour’ as he was helping keep her alive disgusted me. Selena and Mel were further examples of catty, romance-obsessed cows and Finn (I think that was his name? I forget) was once more only concerned with getting into Selena’s knickers. With the exception of one, the entire youth cast was only concerned with sex and ‘being the most desirable’, which was a pretty shocking message to convey, and I couldn’t relate to any of them. My one exception was Matthew. Matthew acts as Evie’s spiritual ‘guardian angel’ in the early parts of the book, and when we finally meet him, we discover he has autism (it was obvious, and doesn’t come as a surprise). Matthew is an incredibly endearing character, and in my opinion, the only one Cole writes with conviction. The issue, however, is others’ treatment of him. Jackson and Selena treat him as a freak show, a burden who only ever succeeds in holding them up. They do not know that he has autism, but they can’t have not realised he had a mental disorder. Instead of being gentle with him, they refer to him as ‘slow’ and talk about leaving him behind. Evie is no better – in one of her martyr moments, she removes his medical band which states he is autistic, in the hope that ‘no one will judge him for being different’, the only cause of this being that Jackson and Selena do not know of his condition and instead mock him for being ‘slow’. Evie herself gets fed up with him very swiftly, being harsh and snappy with him, and eventually abandoning him in Jackson and Selena’s care, despite previously overhearing how, if it weren’t for Evie’s attachment to him, the pair would have chucked Matthew out miles back. The repulsive treatment of the autistic character only succeeded in distressing me, and added to the list of issues which I feel were inappropriately tackled in this book.
So if I had all of these issues with it, where does my trouble rating it come from? Well, it has to be said that even though I was frequently repulsed, shocked and disapproving of this book, I really want to read on. Despite my better judgement, a part of me greatly enjoyed the story; the use of tarot cards as a supernatural element was fantastic, and the apocalyptic features were well-done. The frame story with Arthur was, on the whole, successful at holding my attention (although the end of it was a bit of a cop-out) and, most surprising of all, I was actually rooting for Evie and Jackson as a couple. Despite their relationship being all kinds of toxic, and detesting them both individually, I really did want to see them together. In fact, I almost went to buy the next two books, left intrigued by the cliffhanger.
So, despite having many, many issues with this book, I do still want to read on, and I think I eventually will! While I cannot say I recommend it, I did end up caught up in the story, and even whilst picking out all the things I hated about the book, I found myself having a fun time reading it.