Incarnate

Incarnate - Jodi Meadows I have been meaning to read this book for a ridiculously long time, and when you anticipate something for too long, you inevitably begin to imagine what it will be like, and nothing is ever exactly what you expected it to be. Following that logic, Incarnate was not at all what I was expecting, but, in almost every way, that was a good thing.

Although I knew going in that Incarnate centered on an unusual and incredibly interesting idea (a world where souls are repeatedly reincarnated, and a girl who had never lived before), my brain somehow never fully grasped what that would mean, or what a world created that way would look like. An entire cast of people who have known each other for five thousand years and who have repeatedly come back to life after dying, sometimes with a new gender and often to different parents, who have no real responsibility to raise their children because the children are already thousands of years old in their own right is a mind-melting thing. For most of this book, my head was spinning, because the concept was so unique, and so cool, and so creepy, and SO MUCH. If you've never paused to think about what it would be like if there were a finite number of souls and everyone kept getting reincarnated, do yourself a favor and think about it.

While I'm not always a fan of book-worlds that freak me out (and this one did, a little bit) the originality of this book was enough to hook me, even if the characters didn't. And for a while, I thought maybe I would have to rely on the world to keep me interested, because the characters weren't doing much for me...and then I got to know Ana.

Ana is a character who has led a breathtakingly difficult life, and still manages to be open, curious, interested in the world around her, and nice to the people she meets, even when most of the people she has met wish she had never been born. At first, her insecurity and awkwardness around other human beings bothered me (I like my heroines tough and strong) but then I began to realize the depths of neglect and abuse she had suffered at the hands of her mother Li, and suddenly she wasn't a character filled with weaknesses, she was a character with unmatched strengths. This is a girl who lived for 18 years never being told anything or taught anything or meeting human beings other than her abusive mother, and who still decided to go out into the world on her own in other to find the truth of her existence. This is a girl who didn't know how to read, or how to do math, or how the human body developed, because the only people around to teach it to her had lived for five thousand years and didn't understand someone who didn't already know it all (see, I told you it was mind-melting). So for her to come through all that still trying, and still learning, and still growing, I can forgive some insecurities along the way.

Like Ana, Sam grew on me after a while, but although he is a breathtakingly nice human being and I love him the way I love pretty much all adorable romantic leads, he still stayed very two-dimensional for me for most of this book, and I hope he gets flushed out more in the second two books of the trilogy. We know a lot about his past by the end of the novel, but I find myself wishing I knew more about HIM. Likewise, there is a very weak supporting cast, made up of characters who seem evil and are, characters who seem mean but aren't, characters who seem nice but aren't, and characters who seem nice and are. Most of the characters fall somewhere in the fuzzy middle ground, where you can't really decide whether you like them or not and you haven't been given enough information to go on to finalize your decision. While I'm all for shades of grey, most of the characters beyond Ana and Sam were vanilla and bland, and I hope to see a more interesting background cast in the sequels, especially when this world and this plot lends itself so much to having a slew of interesting, well-thought-out characters.

Finally, my biggest pet peeve about this book was the lack of world-building at the beginning. While everything began to fit together about a quarter of the way through, names and terms and creatures and facts were being hurled out in the first few chapters, and the reader had no way of knowing what anything meant, which was frustrating. Perhaps the author's goal was for the reader to feel as confused and uncertain as Ana must have, but it took a little while for things to begin to make sense, and consequently a little while for me to settle into the novel. Still, once the author began to explain the world, things became much clearer, and I never felt as though the book became info-dumpy, so the beginning only takes off minimal preference points from my overall opinion of the novel.

All of the above said (and if you made it this far through my review, congrats! It's much longer than I thought it would be) this is a fantastic book in what promises to be a fantastic trilogy. If you're a YA fan looking for something unique and original, or a traditionalist looking to see standard themes used in new ways, I don't think you'll be disappointed by Incarnate.