REVIEW: Everless by Sara Holland

Everless by Sara Holland

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Length: 368 pages

Release date: 2 January 2018

Amazon UK | Amazon US

In the kingdom of Sempera, time is currency—extracted from blood, bound to iron, and consumed to add time to one’s own lifespan. The rich aristocracy, like the Gerlings, tax the poor to the hilt, extending their own lives by centuries.

No one resents the Gerlings more than Jules Ember. A decade ago, she and her father were servants at Everless, the Gerlings’ palatial estate, until a fateful accident forced them to flee in the dead of night. When Jules discovers that her father is dying, she knows that she must return to Everless to earn more time for him before she loses him forever.

But going back to Everless brings more danger—and temptation—than Jules could have ever imagined. Soon she’s caught in a tangle of violent secrets and finds her heart torn between two people she thought she’d never see again. Her decisions have the power to change her fate—and the fate of time itself.

“No one knows where they came from–two children who wandered Sempera together, before blood-iron, never parting and never growing old. The Alchemist turned earth into lead and lead into gold. The Sorceress made flowers bloom in winter.”

It’s been a while since I finished Everless, and it’s taken me this long to put my finger on what bothers me so much about the book, and why I was so underwhelmed by what promised to be a great read. It feels like Red Queen all over again–a book that everyone seems to love, but no matter how much I try, I’m unable to see the same way. I feel bad for not liking Everless, because it’s clearly well-written if mainstream, but the story just doesn’t resonate with me.

I’ll start with what’s probably Everless‘s strongest suit, the premise. It’s intriguing at first glance, and although the book doesn’t end up realising its full potential, enough is done with the idea of time being used as money to keep it interesting throughout. I should note that the concept isn’t new–it’s been done before in 2011 film In Time, which is a campy but fun ride with little regard for realism or nuance in which everyone uses hours and minutes (or centuries, for the ultra-rich) as currency. That’s where the similarities between the two end. Everless takes itself very, very seriously, describing the various gruesome scenes of life for peasants in Sempera (hint: it’s rough) with exhausting gravitas. For all its focus, though, the book leaves much to be desired when it comes to making the reader care. I got through this gritty, unpredictable story and all I could think was, so what?

So what? Why can I just not bring myself to care about what happens? I’ve come to the conclusion that it begins with, as usual, the characters. They’re simply underdeveloped. Their backstories aren’t compelling enough to be any more than marginally relatable: Jules’s is by far the best fleshed-out, and her background doesn’t really go beyond the typical YA protagonist raised in poverty with a miserable past and a dead parent. Roan is a complete wet noodle of a character, so unremarkable that I can’t remember the first thing about his personality. I do remember, however, his “dusk-blue eyes” and “time-stopping smile.” No points for guessing why, but it’s because Jules spends every other page swooning over them. That might have made more sense if there was actually something to swoon over, but no, I can’t for the life of me fathom what anyone could possibly see in such a nonexistent personality.

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As it happens, that gif sums up my reaction not just to the characters and weird sort-of romance, but also to the plot. Personally, I gravitate towards plots in which there’s a clear objective, where the protagonist knows what she wants to achieve and it’s seeing how she does it that makes up the details. Everless isn’t like this, because Jules Ember has no idea what she wants to do. At first, it’s just to keep her head down and earn enough for her family to survive, but for obvious reasons that isn’t a motive that lends itself well to exciting plot. Later on there are vague allusions to her wanting to better her station in life and of course she’s always trying to get close to Roan, but an engaging plot needs to have some sort of antagonist standing in the way of the main character’s objectives. Everless has no clear antagonist until the last 50 pages.

An unfortunate side effect of this lack of conflict is that the entire middle act feels like a soap opera. Think The Real Housewives of Sempera–there’s a lot of drama and meanness, sure, but that’s not what the blurb’s advertising. The blurb is advertising that Jules’s decisions have the power to change “the fate of time itself,” and that’s what I want to see, not Jules sneaking around the palace admiring Roan from afar. That said, the plot does pick up at the end (hence the 50 pages with an actual antagonist), and the sequel is poised to deliver what the first book couldn’t.

If the next instalment builds on the rather confusing mythology of the Alchemist and the Sorceress and maintains the high stakes we’re given a glimpse of, I have high hopes to enjoy it significantly more. Ultimately, Everless #1 feels like a prologue for the real story to come.

*Thanks to Hachette Children’s Group and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*

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