Initial reaction: I have a feeling I'm being very (scratch that: EXTREMELY) generous with this rating. At a certain point, in the second half of the book, the book started flowing more smoothly and once I got into it, I couldn't stop reading. But that was over 70% into the novel, and that vexed me to no end. That was too long, and half of the questions I had about the (read: very, VERY vague) worldbuilding and realm this book established weren't even halfway answered. Timelines and style of dialogues kept jumping every which way but loose, and the characters were thinly drawn up to a certain point. It was terribly convoluted, more than it had to be, and I have a feeling that people with less patience than I will not see this book through until the end. It's a shame, because there are some good moments to be had here, even if it's peppered with really problematic stuff (which made me cringe).
Game of Thrones meets Hunger Games, though, this is not. High fantasy this is definitely not. Terribly false advertising and more of a measure that people need to stop making high expectation comparisons like this when they don't even halfway meet the book's actual establishment. I will actually tell you what this book is about when I have the chance to write the full review.
But it was something of a decent read in its better moments. I just hope the next book isn't so darned hard to get through.
So this reflection took more than a day for me to think about writing a review about. More like a week (two weeks?) Oy vey.
Dayton's novel has to be one of the most convoluted written debuts of a YA fantasy novel I've ever read. I'm not going to say it didn't have some genuine moments of interest for me, but they were far and few between, not to mention the read was a long slog that frequently frustrated me. (I can only imagine what it might be like for a teenager picking up this book).
If a novel can't even answer the basic thematic of/question posed by its title, there's a SERIOUS problem there. The question posed by this novel in particular: What is a Seeker? That simple. You would be surprised by how long it actually takes to get to something close to resembling a true answer for that. Even then, the question isn't really addressed.
The story revolves (primarily) around three trainees: Quin, Shinobu, and John. These three are in training to become "Seekers." The very vague definition given is that Seekers are meant to defend those who are weak. It's classified as a very honorable position. That I could work with because at least there's a promise to develop what those roles are. Quin and Shinobu are on their respective track to fulfilling this role, training with swords and magic in the midst of Scotland. John is considered the elder and one who will not fulfill the role he's supposed to play because of his age and distractions. Yet Quin and John are in a secret (well...not so secret) relationship, and Shinobu is the cousin (who's claimed to not really be that close) that pines for Quin in this proposed love triangle.
The blatant love triangle angle made me wince because of its implications, but I figured I'd follow the read to see where it lead. I think the very first sign of problems I had with the novel happened when Shinobu and Quin discover the "truth" about what their Seeker role is supposed to entail.
Apparently they are aware of some grave situation attached to their role that's supposed to be earth shattering, mind blowing, and completely making them question everything they know about the people around them. Unfortunately, the reader is never made aware of what this horrible thing is.
I kept reading this actively thinking: "I'm missing something huge here, what happened?" Even hoped I wasn't the only person who felt like chunks of the story were missing.
It then becomes this odd venture of students turning against their teacher/trainer (Briac, who is Quin's father) and then becoming separated by time and place for different reasons: Quin, Shinobu and John all go different paths. My understanding of the story (even though this wasn't made all that clear) was that Seekers had the ability to wield a weapon called an athame, and that there were several different types of athame throughout the world. John became preoccupied with wanting to learn how to wield it and spent all this time trying to find Quin in order for her to show him how to use it (which, dude, really? And while he doesn't want to use force and urges people not to hurt her, somehow he has people trying to find her and attacking her in order to restrain her? And he claims he loves her in a really creepy way? In case it isn't clear, I hated John's character. At least what little flesh was there to pinch of him.)
Quin wants nothing to do with her respective role of wielding the athame. During a fallout and escape in which she's wounded, she loses her memory and it isn't until she finds herself in the crosshairs of people trying to find and use her for her abilities that she begins to put he pieces together and stand up and fight/use what abilities she has. Except it feels hollow, because you're not really 100% certain what she's fighting for or against.
Shinobu was the character I liked the most in this novel because 1. he was humored well in some spaces of the novel and 2. He had a more palpable backstory (between hearing the story about his conflicts with family and his feelings of helplessness, I was like - okay, I can identify with him a little, but the development comes so late in the novel, I don't know if many people will latch on to him. Plus there's the whole odd insinuation that he really likes Quin even though they're supposed to be related down the line...even a really distant line as cousins? It's weird. Just weird.)
There's a fourth character in this novel named Maud who has a destiny to fulfill herself, something like a soothsayer or some concious being that has to do with the Seeker roles, but it's so threadbare that I had a hard time connecting exactly what her role was to the overarching conflict.
The story has some decent action sequences and moments of peril. I will give it that much. It worked much better in the latter part of the novel than it did in the first. But it's hard to connect to the characters when their roles are so thin in definition (even to the point where by the end of the novel, a Seeker's role is still quite undefined for overarching scope).
I won't spoil the rest of the events of the novel for anyone who wants to read it, but I am going to summarize what I think the biggest problems with this novel were - and it was progressive throughout the entire novel despite harrowing action sequences and moments where the characters clashed and confronted each other.
This book did not have a strong central sense of time, place, or conflict. At all.
You would think this story was high fantasy with the amount of sword training and prophecy recitations within it, but the moment guns came into the weaponry for fighting, I became really confused (so what was the point of those characters training with swords and daggers again?)
You would think this story took place (at first) in a place in the past, but when televisions among other technologies are mentioned, that also threw the time measure out the window. Is this some sort of alternate dimension? When is this taking place? This is never really answered through the novel at all. Even if it's a dimension that's parallel and unlike our own, the development of this world is so threadbare that it's hard to put your foot in it and become immersed. Mostly because it's very convoluted and confusing for descriptors.
You would think this novel would have a very cultural backdrop given that it takes place in areas like Scotland and Hong Kong, but the development there is threadbare too. Some characters who had accents later didn't have them, the environment was thinly drawn - there was very little tying it together for place or even transitions from place to place. I think the environment of Hong Kong was a little more palpable than the drawing of Scotland in the beginning, but my biggest question was HOW DID THEY GET THERE? There were so many gaps of time span that were unexplained or unvetted that it really didn't do a good job of sequencing with the story.
This story sequenced itself through four different characters in a third-person omniscent perspective. I found that I moved through the POVs fine, but the vague descriptors and establishment of the characters made it hard to connect, so the cast was never really defined enough to make their perspectives pop more. I could very well see people getting lost in this novel because of the POV switches, though, and for the way it was done.
And we're not even going to talk about the comparison to Hunger Games and Game of Thrones. There's none to be had, I think the story had interesting threads, but there was really no direction or linking that would suggest it was anything like the aforementioned stories.
In other words, this book had a lot of misdirection and false advertisement. It had some great ideas, but felt like they needed to be vetted out and smoothed for transition. It's a novel with a lot of bark, but not a whole lot of bite.
I'll give the sequel a chance, but it's gotta step it up from this point. Because what I saw here were some interesting moments that never had any measure of direction or structure to help them, and that had me in the role of playing "Seeker" for answers that were never provided than following the journeys of the Seekers.
Overall score: 2.5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Random House Delacorte BFYR.