Release Date: January 31, 2012
Read it in: 3 days
Source: ARC provided by publisher
Honestly, I am still reeling over how gorgeous the cover of this book is! When I got it in the mail, it pretty much took my breath away when I saw it...
Incarnate was one of those books that had both things I liked and disliked about it. However, the greatest thing about it by far was it's daring creativity, and the author's ability to write something unlike anything else in the YA genre. All in all, it was a very interesting, creative story, and I thought that the writing was done very well-- there were parts that I definitely savored. Sometimes, it just seems like there are so many YA books out there, and they can all run together, so when you find a plot premise like the one in Incarnate, it really stands out from the rest!
What I noticed while reading this book, is that it is really difficult to put in one specific box-- it's partly YA utopian, partly fantasy, partly romance... I'm not quite sure what label to put on it. But you know, that's a good thing. I sort of liked that this book had me guessing the entire way through, and like I said, that it was so different from anything else I have read so far in the YA genre.
Incarnate starts off on the edges of a world called "Range." Range has exactly one million souls, and all of them have been reincarnated over and over again for the past 5,000 years or so. Until Ana is born-- she is a "Newsoul," one who has never lived before. At the start of the story, Ana is 18 years old, and she lives a secluded life in the forest with Li, her unloving mother. The people of Range fear Ana, because not only is she a "Newsoul," she also replaced one of the million souls, named Ciana, when she was born-- and Ciana never returned. What if more newsouls are born, while older souls disappear forever??
In the first chapter, Ana leaves her horrible mother and the only home she's ever known to go to the city of Heart. Throughout the book, Ana is basically on a quest to figure out who she really is, where she came from and why, and what will happen to her after she dies-- questions we probably all wonder about ourselves to some extent. When she nearly drowns in a lake at the beginning, she is saved by a boy named Sam, who subsequently saves her again from a Sylph attack-- Sam takes care of Ana until she's well enough to make the rest of the trip to Heart and face head-on a society that doesn't understand her.
Ana was a bit of a complicated main character, and I found at times that it was difficult to like her. However, I completely understood why she acted and thought the way she did, after spending her entire life under the tyranny of a mother who brainwashed her into thinking she was a "Nosoul"-- something that couldn't think or feel, and wasn't even worthy of life. Ana was a mix of being strong and independent but also vulnerable, hurt and distrusting. You could see in her thoughts, words, and actions just how cynical, and quick to judge others she was-- especially when it came to Sam.
Thank goodness Ana found Sam! He was such a sweet and caring person. He cares about Ana when everyone else treats her like an outcast. He saves her life in the beginning, and then takes care of her, even though she tries to push him away. The reason I loved Sam is because he accepts Ana for who she is, and their relationship isn't the typical YA version of love-- AKA "we-have-no-clue-why-we're-inexplicably-obsessed-with-each-other-after-four-pages" love. He doesn't question why she exists or what she's doing in Range, he simply loves her unconditionally, and this really made me fall for him!
The world building of Range and the city of Heart was brilliant for the simple fact that it was so different. It was like part fantasy world, part dystopian world-- there were sylphs, dragons, centaurs, and trolls but then there were also laser pistols, futuristic technology and a society built over thousands of years from souls who have been around for millennia-- isn't that such an awesome idea? At first, it took a little getting used to, I wasn't exactly sure how to picture Range and Heart, but in the end, I thought it was so cool that Jodi stepped outside the box to create something so totally unique!
So now, I have to get into the things about Incarnate that I was not completely a fan of. As you know, I keep my reviews as honest as possible, so it's only fair that I give my opinion about what didn't work for me...
First of all, while reincarnation is an interesting idea for a fictional book, it leaves a lot of possibilities for plot holes-- sort of like time travel. It's an interesting idea, but it also leads to a lot of questions that aren't easy to explain away. I have to hand it to Jodi Meadows in taking on such an ambitious plot and making it work without leaving her readers super confused. But I did still have questions throughout the story.
Such as-- and this was probably the most confusing for me-- every soul can be reincarnated into either a man or a woman, and they never know from one lifetime to the next which gender they will be. Um, OK... so, Ana loves Sam in THIS lifetime-- what if he's a woman in his next lifetime?? Is he even really a "he"?? Is Ana really a "she"? This whole concept was completely lost on me, it was just too weird. I think the idea was that "true love" transcends gender, and two souls will love each other in every lifetime, whether they're male or female. That's a great New Age-y kind of ideal, but I don't think it would translate in the real world. This issue was kind-of, sort-of addressed, but we never really got an answer to how it would work with Ana and Sam.
Also, I did not like the idea of soul mates killing themselves or each other so that they could wind up together at the same age in the next lifetime-- this just didn't sit right with me, and I definitely don't think it's romantic. I was disappointed that suicide and killing off your lover so that you can be born again at the same time in the next life was passed off as being "romantic." For me, this was just a turn-off.
I've already talked a little about the main character Ana, but I need to elaborate a little on her, because as I said, she wasn't always the easiest person to like. Even though I did like her for the most part, I thought that at times she got to be overbearing-- her pessimism, cynicism, and bitterness didn't always mix well, especially since she could also be arrogant and downright mean to Sam. Some of this made sense since she had such a horrible upbringing with Li, but at some points I just got tired of her poor attitude. I am hoping that as the series goes on, we see Ana's character develop more, as she overcomes all the hurt of her past.
Finally, I'm not going to say too much about the ending, except that, I'm not sure what it was setting us up for as far as the rest of the series goes-- I pretty much have no idea what's going to happen next, even though there are still so many questions that need to be answered. The last few chapters just had so much going on, and the action along with the explanations left me slightly confused. I feel like it's important to set up some expectations for your readers, so they have some idea of what is going to happen in the next book-- but there wasn't much to go on in the last few pages.
Overall I did like this book, and I think that the majority of YA readers will enjoy it as well. It really was a unique and creative story with awesome world-building and some great characters. Despite some flaws, I give Jodi Meadows a lot of credit for being creative and ambitious in writing a story so unlike any others in the YA genre. Definitely be on the look-out for Incarnate when it's released in January!