Saturday, June 8, 2013

Nightingale (David Farland)

(The Nightingale series, Book 1)
David Farland
East India Press
Fiction, YA Fantasy
*+ (Terrible/Bad)

DESCRIPTION: For sixteen-year-old foster child Bron Jones, life is all about disappointment. He was abandoned by his birth mother when he was only a few days old; since then, he's bounced from home to home, family to family. He gets good grades, doesn't break the law, and works harder than most adults, but everyone seems to think there's something wrong with him. Bron's starting to wonder if they're right.
Olivia Hernandez teaches at a private school in Saint George, a small Utah town. She's devoted her life to fostering creativity in her gifted students, but still wants a child of her own... and she can't conceive with her husband Mike, but not for the reasons he thinks. She is a masaak, an ancient offshoot of humanity, blessed with long life and special psionic gifts. They've long ago split into two races: the Aels, who live in hiding and continue their efforts to protect and promote the best in their sister species, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, and the Draghouls, who treat humans as just another natural resource to be exploited for their personal gain.
From the moment Olivia sees Bron, she knows he's one of her kind. She even knows he's likely a Draghoul, her own people's sworn enemies. At his age, it's only a matter of time before he's "harvested" and brainwashed with Draghoul propaganda, becoming just another heartless minion of their Shadow Lord. If she's caught with him, she'll be brainwashed, too, her memories hollowed out and used to hunt down her fellow Aels. Bron doesn't even know what he truly is, but he already shows signs of the innate coldness of his kind. Despite the dangers, Olivia cannot give up on saving Bron - not even when he's ready to give up on himself.

REVIEW: This was the first Kindle book I ever paid for, as part of a fundraiser. I can only hope the money went to a good cause. But money can be replaced. My time, unfortunately, cannot... and I lost too much of it here.
The first half of Nightingale isn't so much a story as a filibuster, from the chapter-starting quotes (by the characters themselves, most of which are eminently forgettable) to the wandering plot. Nobody will tell Bron who or what he is, despite imminent threats to his life and the lives of others... and despite most of Olivia's inner dialog focusing on how tragic it is that the boy doesn't know he's a masaak. There are reasons, Bron is told (as is the reader), very good reasons for why nobody tells anyone anything they need to know to save their own skins. So, it's not just manufacturing false tension or stretching drama past the breaking point. It's for Reasons.
Olivia is a memory merchant, capable of sharing (or altering, or erasing) memories, simply by touching a person's forehead; she even uses this ability on Bron in his sleep, to figure out how much of a threat he is and if he's too screwed up to save. While in there, it would be so easy to plant a seed of the truth, a hint - if not the full truth, then at least something to help keep Bron safe and ease his growing anxiety. Instead, Olivia decides it would be a better use of her time and effort to give him nocturnal guitar lessons. Yes, apparently learning to play a killer riff so you'll be popular in school is far, far more important than finding out what species you are or why people with guns are chasing you. Of course, a boy like Bron shouldn't need musical skills to be popular. He's described as little short of a Greek god, with ripped abs and perfect skin; not one full week into his stay at Saint George, he has two of the hottest girls in town throwing themselves at him. (But, then, the whole book is infused with a not-so-subtle sexist air; masaak women are helpless to control themselves faced with a breeding male's scent, females are popular toys used as rewards for Draghouls, in crisis situations grown women look to a teenage boy for guidance...) Bron doesn't know how to deal with this, as he's never so much as kissed a girl before. He's poor, you see, so the fact that he's a teen god has been completely overlooked until now. Yeah, right...
Aside from the teen girls, Saint George is populated entirely with stock characters. There's the petty, corrupt sheriff who doesn't like Bron on first sight, because them foster kids is always trouble. There's the sheriff's son, a chip off the old stereotypical block, so shallow and stupid that one wonders how he ended up at a school for gifted artists. There are the rich neighbors who don't approve of their daughter's crush on the new boy. Even Olivia's husband, Mike, mostly exists to fill space; Olivia keeps him clueless about her true nature with her mind-altering skills, so he has no role whatsoever in the brewing Ael/Draghoul war.
Between stock characters, Olivia's fretting, and Bron's brooding, Farland litters the narrative with enough pop culture references to fill a teen magazine, apparently to convince the target audience that this is a Hip, Cool tale that they can relate to - and not, as increasingly becomes apparent, a work of thinly-veiled Christian fiction starring a too-perfect protagonist fighting a villain who is, quite literally, Lucifer himself. And then it all ends by being the first part of a series. With ads. Yes, there is an ad break in this book, pitching the "enhanced edition," which comes with a guitar soundtrack. So... what, I paid good money for the stripped-down junk version? Or are books now marketing themselves like video games, with expansion packs to enhance the experience? What's next - books you can only read while connected to the internet, that require a monthly subscription fee and valid credit card for access, and which vanish as soon as the author decides it's time to push the sequel? (Hey, people tolerate it in gaming...)
I liked one or two of the ideas presented here; the memory merchants could've been a book on their own. The masaak race itself, despite a disturbing reliance on Vulcans as a framework (the "mind meld" of memory transfer, the six-odd year rut cycle of the males, the longer lifespan, the general air of intellectual superiority), had potential. But the rest... the rest I can't forget soon enough.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Forbidden Mind (Kimberly Kinrade) - My Review
Pendragon: Merchant of Death (D.J. MacHale) - My Review
Witch and Wizard (James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet) - My Review

No comments:

Post a Comment