Firstlife // Gena Showalter
Overview: In the world that Gena Showalter has created there are two lives that we get to live. The first is called Firstlife that consists of our time spent on earth, and the second is Everlife where our spirits live on after we die our First-death. In the Everlife there are two rivaling realms in power -- Troika and Myriad, light versus dark. During Firstlife, it is crucial to pledge with one realm or another at the risk of being Unsigned upon First-death, and ending up in the hellish Many Ends to endure pain and suffering for the rest of eternity. Tenley "Ten" Lockwood is a seventeen-year-old girl who's spent the last thirteen months of her Firstlife in Prynne Asylum where she endures endless torture because of her refusal to pledge her soul to Myriad against her parents' wishes. While in the asylum, both realms are battling for her loyalty in the Everlife by sending Laborers in the hopes of convincing or manipulating her into recruitment. Soon, Ten finds herself caught between friendship and love while on a perilous journey to save her life, and her right to make her own decision on where her spirit will go after she dies her First-death.
My Thoughts: I'm going to get right to the point and admit that this isn't one of the best books I've ever read. Initially, I bought this book because the concept of two lives, and two unearthly realms was extremely appealing to me. Unfortunately, these concepts in my opinion were poorly explained and represented. Seriously, after reading all 438 pages I'm still not sure which realm is which, or what each one's morals are. Within the first two chapters I was given the impression that this book wasn't going to be an easy read simply because instead of developing the character throughout the novel, the reader is practically told from the get-go how the protagonist Ten is going to act/respond, which made her seem very robotic, unrelatable, and predictable to me. The characters of the Laborers Archer and Killian were also poorly developed in my opinion, and worst-of-all they were cliché. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about they're both supposedly super attractive, badass bad boys that are "secretly" just emotionally wounded. Of course the novel wouldn't have a complete storyline without a developing romance, but I feel as if Showalter abruptly decided one day that Ten and Killian would fall for each other which is clearly represented in the book. I understand that the main plot revolves around Ten and her decision, but if a love story is going to be woven into that main idea that's exactly how it should be -- woven and developed throughout, not just randomly thrown in that these two characters are all of a sudden in deep love. If there's any way to describe all of these thoughts that I had about the book more simply it would be that I felt as if the story was moving WAY too fast. I was constantly needing to reread entire chapters because sometimes the more I read the more things didn't make sense, and I found myself questioning on numerous occasions if I accidentally skipped a few chapters.
Despite all of the things that fell flat for me in this novel there were still several things that I enjoyed and appreciated. One of these things was Showalter's choice to make Ten a non-cliché female protagonist even if she didn't develop her much throughout the book. Too often when authors write from a female's perspective they tend to stick to stereotypical female personality traits such as women focusing on their emotions, and enduring rather than overcoming. Ten is the opposite of all of these because for example, rather than wallowing in how betrayed she feels by her parents she instead focuses on how to use her situation to make herself better/stronger in order to survive. She also demonstrates intelligence, determination, and bravery among many other stereotypical male traits which transformed her into a warrior who could be faced with anything, and still find the strength within herself to overcome and conquer. One last thing that I appreciated about Firstlife, and Showalter's writing style, was that it didn't shy away from graphic imagery. One of my biggest pet-peeves in novels is when there's a war scene, torture scene, death scene, etc. and the words are censored at the expense of creating detailed/accurate imagery withinin the audiences' mind. There aren't too many things that make me uneasy when reading, but Showalter's consistent and driving words about the graphic scenes unfolding were one of the only things that really ever affected me emotionally, or helped me understand what was happening throughout the entire novel. Overall, Firstlife wasn't the best and it wasn't the worst book I've ever read. Perhaps it was my own fault that I had trouble understanding the book, or maybe the concept for the book really was too broad to accurately be depicted in only 438 pages. As of right now, I am still undecided about whether or not I will read the second book in the Everlife series Lifeblood.