Book Review: Toward a Secret Sky, an Alright Read
We’re doing a lot better this week, now that we know for sure Jonah doesn’t have a brain tumor. We have yet to get the official diagnosis of vestibular neuritis as the cause of his traumatic hospitalization a couple of weeks ago and his ongoing dizziness, but will probably get it later this week and begin his treatment. I’m confident that the treatment will be effective, as I’ve seen it work before, and that Jonah will completely recover. In the meantime, I’ve been busy catching up, working, spending time with family celebrating the 4th of July holiday, and reading. I’m reading two books (Claudia Gray’s Defy the Stars audiobook, and K.B. Wager’s After the Crown, which is the sequel to Behind the Throne, which I reviewed last week), and I just finished a third: Heather MacLean’s Toward a Secret Sky. It was a relatively fun, imaginative read that reminded me somewhat of Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones and Laine Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. But I had a hard time really getting into it.
What It’s About
Shortly after 17-year-old Maren Hamilton is orphaned and sent to live with grandparents she’s never met in Scotland, she receives an encrypted journal from her dead mother that makes her and everyone around her a target. She finds out she’s been assigned a guardian angel named Gavin, who happens to be a very handsome “teenage” boy, and struggles with her attraction toward him (and he her) while unwittingly becoming involved in a fight between demons and angels that victimizes the friends she makes at the local high school. All she wants is a normal life with parents, but the more she tries to save her friends, not fall in love with Gavin, and stay alive, the more she realizes that the parents she once had weren’t who they appeared to be and that “normal” might not ever be something she can ever return to.
What I Thought
It’s a fun exploration of Scottish and British culture, as seen from a teenager’s perspective, with touches of Indiana Jones-like puzzle-solving. MacLean’s writing is, at times, quite illustrative. Consider this description:
“The last bubbles burped over the butter’s muddy grave.”
Or this one, of the house of one of her rich classmates:
“Hundreds of rose bushes hugged the hedge bottoms. I marveled at the luscious fruit trees, their branches heavy with the weight of snowball-sized blossoms, and the carved marble benches, their seats held high by miniature gargoyles. In the middle, a fountain corralled life-sized granite horses swimming among arcs of shooting water.”
“My first breaths in England’s capital were heavy with anticipation.”
The story is generally well-paced, perhaps even briskly so, with events unfolding when they should.
But ultimately, this story didn’t pull me as much as other similar ones I’ve read (mentioned above), for various reasons. The main one is that some of the characters’ actions and reactions seemed premature. Gavin reveals that he’s an angel, and that he’s tasked with protecting her, which makes him feel conflicted, pretty early in the tale. His and Maren’s mutual attraction seems a bit rushed to me, as does Maren’s willingness to risk her life for people she’s barely met. Additionally, various instances of “telling” instead of “showing,” pronoun slips, and out-of-the-blue or “off” details threw me out of the story a little bit.
For instance, when Maren goes to a party at her rich classmate’s mansion, she says: “We learned that aside from the staff, there wasn’t an adult anywhere in the building.” It would have been stronger, more in-the-moment, for her to say something like: “I looked around for adults with uniforms or hawkish expressions, but saw none.”
This sentence (at location 102) contains an example of a pronoun slip: “I discovered via an almost-accident that you had to pay money to unlock public restroom stalls, like a vending machine for pee.” Not a big deal, but it would have been stronger, more in-Maren’s-head if she’d said something like: “All of the restroom stall doors were locked, but coin slots next to each of their latches seemed to indicate that I had to pay to unlock one of them and pee.”
And at location 1081, Maren talks about being in a forest just outside the angel village where Gavin lives, and a few paragraphs after, she’s back in the village without having walked there.
Overall, though, I would still recommend it for young teenage girls looking for a “swoony” read.
I got a free copy of Toward a Secret Sky from NetGalley. All opinions contained herein are my own, and would be the same if I’d paid for my copy.