Title: Illuminated Darkness
Author: Joanne Efendi
Published by: Self-published on 1 December 2013
Genre: YA, romance, fantasy
Rating: 1 star (DNF)
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I really wanted to like this book. Haitian Voodoo is not something you hear about very often. Ashlyn is almost 18 when her boyfriend suddenly breaks up with her. She wallows in self-pity for a few days, but it doesn’t take her long to move on when she meets Wren, a mysterious guy she has every right to consider a stalker. All goes well, until Wren reveals that he’s a vampire charged with protecting Ashlyn, a Haitian voodoo deity under threat from voodoo priests.
It’s a new take on an old cliché, but it had the potential to be such an exciting story. Unfortunately it never delivered, at least not in the first third, which was all I could stand to read before declaring it a DNF. The prologue grabbed me right away. It was dark, mysterious and a great introduction to the story. If the author had stayed with this style, perhaps the novel would have turned out better. As it was, Efendi steered the novel away from this darkness and attempted to create a young adult romance. However this is one of those books that made me question whether she remembered anything at all about being a teenager. The characters’ dialogue was stiff and formal, and Ashlyn herself lacked any semblance of a personality. Her life revolved around boys – either her first boyfriend or the new-found Wren. It reminded me of Twilight.
“Earlier, I was so angry with him for following me [note recurring stalker behaviour], but now here I was sitting and admiring his beauty [because controlling, stalker behaviour is okay if the boy’s pretty]. How very shallow of me.”
The writing style leaned closer to telling than showing. I knew how the scenes looked or how Ashlyn was feeling, but I never got a sense of the details that really capture the imagination – a soft breeze, Ashlyn’s heart racing, or her stomach dropping. It was very stiff.
“I wanted to go with him. I was drawn to him.”
I got the impression that the author is fairly inexperienced in creative writing, and as her debut novel this is no surprise, but it could have done with some professional editing. I did research and the manuscript went to an editor, but it makes me wonder whether it was a superficial edit that didn’t go into the structure of the story deep enough to delete unnecessary scenes or characters. Illuminated Darkness read like a promising first draft. Unfortunately it’s already published and for sale.
I generally don’t dislike books. Even if they’re flawed, I always find value in them. However, I could not find the value in Illuminated Darkness. Getting through 33% was generous for me. I was doubting it from the first chapter, but I has such hope that it would get better, that the story would begin. I still believe that it does indeed get better, but at 33%, when something finally happened, it felt like such an unrealistic time and place for the event, I gave up.
I don’t discourage you from picking up a copy – opinions differ and maybe you’ll find something in this novel that I didn’t – but approach with caution. Low expectations encourage pleasant surprises.