"Fallen" by Lauren Kate
Release Date: 8th December 2009 (US), 17th December 2009 (UK)
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Doubleday (Random House Children's Books)
If you’re going to judge a book by it’s cover, then "Fallen" is great – a black-haired, pale girl in a black dress stands against a blue-lit forest. Aiming straight for the gothic-at-heart, the large curving font for the title makes it look a lot like an Evanescence cover. That's not a bad thing - it's eyes catching.
Then there's the back cover blurb. If you've just finished that guilt-ridden-but-enjoyable binge of every recent vampire book within reach, searching for a way to fill the hole left by the end of the "Twilight" series, it'll be all you need to read before taking the book to the counter and continuing your paranormal romance spree. The endorsement by P.C. Cast - author of the "House of Night" series - doesn't hurt either.
SOME ANGELS ARE DESTINED TO FALL.
Instant. Intense. Weirdly familiar . . .
The moment Luce looks at Daniel she knows she has never felt like this before. Except that she can’t shake the feeling that she has. And with him – a boy she doesn’t ever remember setting eyes on.
Will her attempt to find out why enlighten her – or destroy her?
Dangerously exciting and darkly romantic, FALLEN is a thrilling story about forbidden love.
"Fallen"'s main girl is Lucinda Price, a mouthful of a name thankfully shortened to simply Luce. A boy mysterious burned to death while with her, so she's been packed off to the fantastically gothic Sword & Cross reform school, complete with ever-present CCTV, barbed wire, overgrown vegetation, a full Olympic swimming pool inside a church and a military graveyard where you get to spend detention cleaning up old marble statues. It's set in the marsh covered side of Savannah, Georgia, but the city itself is never really explored because reform school pupils aren't supposed to just nip to the shops.
Luce focuses her attention on the gorgeous and alluring Daniel Grigori, but as soon as they make eye contact he flips her off. Charming. There to pick up the gauntlet, however, is the smooth-talking and charming Cam.
They are some of the first of "Fallen"'s large cast, including the 'wacky' and rebellious Arriane, a blunt girl with horrible scars across the back of her neck; the much moodier will-break-your-face-with-her-New-Rocks punk kid Molly; chubby Penn, who always wears multiple layers and has access to everyone's confidential files and dreadlocked smuggler Roland who handles getting contraband items into the school.
The teachers are a little bit more negatively portrayed - the kind-hearted, motherly librarian (who classes are so boring); the history teacher who's not too bad a bloke when not lecturing his (bored) class; the manly female teacher and 'warden' Randy and a strict and cold gym teacher.
The first half of the story revolves around Luce adapting to this school and its pupils, having a bad-run in with Molly and feeling inexplicably attracted to Daniel even though his words to her mostly consist of lines like "Go away", "Don't talk to me" and "You are not my friend". Luce's obsession doesn't go away, though, and in typical teenage girl fashion she proceeds to stalk him and have Penn go through his files while she tries to explain to them that she knows she's seen him somewhere before. Wait, did I say typical teenage girl fashion? I meant typical teenage girl in a school full of unstable reform kids behavior. At least nobody's been horribly burnt to death yet.
While my tongue is firmly in-cheek there, despite the slightly creepiness of it, Fallen's target audience knows what it is to be head-over-heels with a guy so Luce's longing will be alien to none of them. For older readers, she's difficult to relate to with her single-minded focus on that one hot guy but as "Twilight" has already shown us, teenage girls just get it. At least she's not climbing in his window to watch him sleep, right?
While she's obsessing over Daniel, Cam is desperately trying to get in Luce's pants and what was once charming and sweet is quickly getting creepy and desperate. As Daniel begins to soften and meet Luce off-campus, still trying to convince her she's being silly and delusional because they've never met, Cam's forced advances become a quick-trigger for a fist-fight.
There's a dramatic rescue that rings true to "Twilight"'s 'saved from death by being crushed by a large object' scene, replacing the car with something a bit more symbolic. There's also another big fire where someone is horribly burnt to death, but they were too undeveloped for me to care very much.
Aside from those above scenes, though, the first half of the book is in need of some editing. Lauren Kate's prose is clean and easy-to-read, but without enough action and conflict the endless repetition of stalking Daniel, being rejected by him, leading Cam on despite being a bit repulsed by him, and then crawling back to Daniel afterwards gets tiring. The long, eventless build-up didn't work in Stephenie Meyer's work and it doesn't work here. As this is an advanced copy I was reading, with a bit of luck the editor will take a harsh hand with it before final release.
Lauren's character development is also flawed - while Arriane, Penn and Cam are both varied and exciting characters, Lucinda and Daniel fall flat. Daniel's constantly mean for no good reason, and despite Luce's swooning over his looks and her mysterious attraction most girls would write him off as an ass and move on.
Luce isn't much better - while she starts off promising with her past as a possible-arsonist-and-manslaughterer, her single-minded fixation on Daniel over any of her friends and cruel leading on of Cam makes her difficult to like. She's better than Bella Swan, but still too passive. At one point she's facing her own death and just lies back and thinks about how pretty Daniel is instead of trying to avoid it.
I think Lauren Kate knows she's far from perfect though - possibly acting as her mouthpiece, one character says about Luce: “you’re nothing more than you appear to be: a stupid, selfish, ignorant, spoiled little girl who thinks the world lives or dies on whether she gets to go out with some good-looking boy at school”
The truth if, whether the distinguished readers among us like it or not, most teenage girls are exactly like that. They are going to love it.
The first book in a four book series, the story ends with some cliffhanger set-up for the second book "Torment", due out September 2010. While its pacing is flawed and it's main character difficult to love, Lauren Kate shows a lot of promise with world-building and her beautiful settings, along with memorable and likeable side-characters. With some work on developing Luce, and an increase in pace now that introductions are over, the series has a definite potential to progress into something very good.
Until then, young girls are going to love it anyway.
Rating: 3/5 - As the start of a series this dark romance has potential.
Other Books By This Author: The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove.
For Fans of: Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight", P.C. Cast's "The House of Night", Becca Fitzpatrick's "Hush, Hush",
An advance copy was provided for this review by Random House. The work may change before final print.