Thrills and chills

Past paced ac­tion, creepy at­mos­phere ... pity about the char­ac­ters.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - Un­break­able (The Le­gion #1) Kami Gar­cia Lit­tle, brown, 305 pages, fic­tion Re­view by TASHNY SUKU­MARAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

THE glut of young adult (YA) fic­tion nowa­days can be wear­ing, es­pe­cially when tal­ent is thin on the ground. You’ll end up with bor­ing, tired sto­ries fea­tur­ing pre­dictably per­fect ro­man­tic in­ter­ests and awk­ward but some­how “spe­cial” pro­tag­o­nists.

Un­for­tu­nately, I found Un­break­able, the first in The Le­gion sto­ries, painfully de­riv­a­tive. Kami Gar­cia made her name with the Beau­ti­ful Crea­tures se­ries, which blends witchcraft and high school angst, but her foray into ball­sto-the-wall su­per­nat­u­ral ac­tion falls short of orig­i­nal­ity.

Thank­fully, though, that doesn’t make it an en­tirely un­read­able novel.

The premise is not only pre­dictable but tired: teenage Kennedy Waters finds her mother dead from a para­nor­mal at­tack. She is res­cued from a venge­ful spirit by two gor­geous (but of course) brothers, iden­ti­cal twins Jared and Lukas Lock­hart. The brothers re­veal that her mother was part of a five-mem­ber se­cret so­ci­ety sworn to pro­tect the world from a de­mon – a so­ci­ety whose mem­bers have all been re­cently mur­dered.

Kennedy, Lukas, Jared and two oth­ers – Pri­est and Alara – are forced to take their par­ents’ places in the so­ci­ety and, armed with their in­di­vid­ual, unique skills, find a weapon that could help them de­feat the de­mon.

While a story about a group of peo­ple is a nice change from the para­nor­mal ro­mances where boy meets girl and weird stuff goes down, Un­break­able shame­lessly bor­rows from other es­tab­lished horror fran­chises – the big­gest ex­am­ple be­ing Amer­i­can su­per­nat­u­ral TV se­ries, Su­per­nat­u­ral.

Those who fol­low the se­ries fea­tur­ing two brothers who hunt all the things that go bump in the night will recog­nise in Gar­cia’s book sim­i­lar ghosts, sim­i­lar meth­ods of dis­patch­ing them (salt, holy wa­ter, Devil’s traps), and, of course, gor­geous brothers with di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed tem­per­a­ments, dead moth­ers, EMF de­tec­tors, the end of the world, and a gen­er­ous dose of angst.

While Gar­cia could have cre­ated a bril­liant new book se­ries while play­ing off es­tab­lished fic­tional nar­ra­tives, she dis­ap­pointed me by just bor­row­ing, and in such an ob­vi­ous fash­ion I felt al­most in­sulted.

On the plus side, Un­break­able has one thing go­ing for it: it is un­de­ni­ably, hair­rais­ingly creepy. Play­ing on ar­che­typal horror mo­tifs – or­phan­ages, pris­ons, wells – Gar­cia does a bril­liant job of send­ing chills up your spine. The story is def­i­nitely well-paced, fast and ex­cit­ing enough.

Al­though Gar­cia sac­ri­fices solid char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion in lieu of thrills and spills (it’s never quite es­tab­lished why, for in­stance, Alara dis- likes Kennedy – She Just Does), for the ca­sual reader it works well.

Sadly, I felt that all five of the main char­ac­ters are shal­low, su­per­fi­cial and poorly fleshed out.

The big emo­tional re­veals lacked panache or pas­sion, and the rudi­men­tary love tri­an­gle (but of course!) be­tween Lukas, Jared and Kennedy came across as pre-pack­aged, stale. It is un­clear why Kennedy picks the an­gry twin over the smi­ley one, un­less we as­sume she has a lik­ing for dis­tant, stand-off­ish men (and hey, who doesn’t?).

The con­clu­sion to Un­break­able (the sec­ond in­stal­ment is due some­time this year) was re­fresh­ingly harsh and bru­tal. There’s enough of a cliffhanger and a twist to keep you hooked, and when you con­sider the ques­tions left unan­swered (the mys­te­ri­ous mur­ders at the start re­main just that) it’s clear Gar­cia has set the stage for a tale that might just pick up as you go along.

Scary but slightly stale, Un­break­able is an easy read and def­i­nitely some­thing that will shiver your bones dur­ing our warm trop­i­cal nights.

If you’re search­ing for well-planned char­ac­ters and proper emo­tional de­vel­op­ment you’ll prob­a­bly be dis­ap­pointed, but there are thrills and chills aplenty in this heart-rac­ing read.

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