Book Review: The Elements

review-cover-theelements

Title: The Elements

Author: Zhu Hsia

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance

Rating: 2 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Spoiled, beautiful and rich, seventeen-year-old Kayleigh Woodcomb has everything going for her. Or has she? Alienated from her powerful parents, as well as from her friends at school, her life starts to spiral out of control, and when she disgraces herself and her parents at a sophisticated party, she knows she must do something to escape them and get out from under.

After a little research, the name Draker, an exclusive and secluded boarding school, keeps appearing on her screen. It seems just the sort of boring place where her parents wouldn’t think of looking for her, and Kayleigh enrolls.

But Draker is no ordinary school and is far from boring. Kayleigh soon settles in and makes new friends with whom she feels oddly at home. But while almost everyone is friendly and welcoming, Kayleigh is aware that secrets are being kept from her—secrets that appear to be related to the elements, particularly fire and water—secrets that in some way concern her, but what are they?

Her friends are protective of her, but Kayleigh also feels she’s being watched, or tested in some way. They seem to expect something from her but what? There is also something a little eerie about them. Who really is the handsome, enigmatic Reid? And why does Spencer, to whom Kayleigh is deeply attracted, act so strangely—rescuing her from terrifying situations one minute, and then ignoring her the next?

Kayleigh may never find out as her parents discover where she is and force her to return home and to a life that is now alien to her. Her parents’ behavior becomes more and more eccentric, and then, as one secret after another are revealed to her, Kayleigh’s life once again, goes into free fall.

No one seems to be who they are, least of all Kayleigh. Totally out of her depth and with no one to turn to, Kayleigh, who has discovered what the magnetic attraction of opposites really means and struggles to keep her own identity. But can the elements join forces in time to rescue her from an impossible future?

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

This book scored very low for me. I believe this is one of those cases where a book was sent to be published before it was ready. The narrative was… lackluster. There were a lot of junk words (so, really, very), convoluted sentences, and a lack of formatting between time-jumps at certain points. The narrative itself was very informal, which isn’t bad—in fact, at times I think it helped to endear me to the characters—but it did lead the author to make quite a few rhetorical questions, breaks in the fourth-wall, and sometimes inappropriate tense changes. It wasn’t awful, but it should have been cleaned up.

Though the narrative was technically clean (no misspellings, missing words, incorrect grammar etc). It wasn’t written well. Also, on a side note: the cover has nothing to do with the story (except maybe the pendant). The main character has red hair, and none of the characters were Asian.

As for the storytelling… it had some issues. The main character, Kayleigh, had a predisposition towards being a tad over-dramatic, and while I didn’t find it irritating as I would with most stories, at times her personality lead her to make stupid decisions—disregarding all common sense and putting herself in danger. As the narrator, she constantly tried to tell the reader about what an awful person she once was and how she had changed, but as far as I could tell, she hadn’t. She was still selfish, sometimes mean, and a bit whiney. I didn’t believe what she was telling me, and it made it hard to like her. There was an awful lot of “telling” the reader this or that and a whole lot of backstory, but very little evidence to back it up at times. I didn’t feel like I could trust the narrator.

Despite all this, I did enjoy the story to an extent . It was interesting and engaging, but I’ll admit, it was also a bit confusing. At times I had trouble following along with what was happening. There weren’t a lot of descriptions involved (of actions, locations, characters etc), so sometimes I just had to guess. I still don’t know what country the story was placed in, or how close all the locations were to one another. At times the school and nearby village seemed very old-fashioned, but then there’d be a paint-ball park nearby. It was hard to follow along and sort out what was going on. Sometimes the character’s actions didn’t match what seemed to be going on either, and it was distracting.

The lore  of this story was interesting, but again, confusing. I know there was magic and elements involved, but also werewolves—and I have no idea how any of them are related, why some people have these abilities, and why there are matched pairs and opposites. I didn’t feel like I was given enough details about something that seemed to be a big part of the book. Oddly enough, Kayleigh didn’t seem phased by any of this. When she discovered the supernatural aspect of the world, she didn’t even flinch. She took it at face value, hugs were given, and the story moved on. It was a little unsettling and I had a hard time believing the story from that point forward. Why didn’t Kayleigh freak out, or at least question what was going on? I couldn’t suspend my disbelief that far.

I think the biggest jolt I had during the story though, was at about 43% in. It felt as if the book had wrapped up. Kayleigh had learned about the supernatural aspect of her school, she’d reconciled with her friends, and the threat of her parents was looming on the horizon. It would have been a good place to stop (and honestly, the book was beginning to feel long at this point). Instead the story pushed on into even weirder territory. I don’t want to give too much away, but some of the events, particularly the introduction of huge time leaps and an amnesia subplot, threw me for a loop. There was so much going on, and huge gaps in the narrative that left me wondering what I’d missed, that it was hard to enjoy the story after this point. Plot holes galore started to crop up (the fact that Kayleigh’s friends seemed to know about her parents even though she’d never talked about them… or the pregnancy suggestion that was never cleared up…) that made it hard to enjoy the story.

I walked away from The Elements with a feeling of dissatisfaction and confusion. The story started off good (if a bit vague about the details) but after the 40% mark my ability to follow along with the story was compromised. There was too much going on, too many plot holes, too many inconsistencies with the character’s actions, and with the huge time leaps… I just couldn’t enjoy it. Overall, it was entertaining, and I did enjoy the first half of the book—but I think it would have benefitted from a strong team of beta readers and a good editor to help clean it up. I hate to use the word, but the way the story was pieced together felt sloppy and unfinished. I think the author, and this story had a lot of promise, but the potential just wasn’t met this time around.

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