Incarnate

Incarnate - For all the hype and publicity that publishers and bloggers have thrown behind the dystopian YA craze that I'm convinced never really happened, few books released during this period exceeded expectations, or even met them. Many had strong initial premises that quickly fell apart or began to rely on well worn tropes to keep momentum. With Jodi Meadows's debut, the first in a planned trilogy, we are given a glimpse into a slightly different world, a utopia, with another promising premise. Does she beat the curse? Yes and no.For much of the book, Meadows falls foul of the exposition-dump method of storytelling, especially in the beginning where we are given a quick soap-opera style recap of proceedings before being thrown into the action. Much of the information we receive about the world and the reincarnation element comes from this method, and the lack of solid development becomes grating very quickly. The intriguing premise is given several interesting moments but never enough to feel like a fully constructed concept that stands up to scrutiny. There is plenty of room given for further explanation in the sequels but this feels more frustrating than anything else. For example, since one million souls are reborn over and over again, and it's established very early on that the vast majority, if not all of the people Ana interacts with know each other from many lifetimes, yet issues of possible incest are never explained. What happens if your mother in one lifetime is your lover in another? Each soul can born male or female in different lifetimes but there is a moment where it is insinuated that they are always born heterosexual. One couple are revealed to have been lovers in each of their lifetimes but it is also mentioned that they couldn't bare it if they were born of the same gender and would kill themselves to be reborn the appropriate way. The couple in question are revealed to both be women but one of the characters said their love overcame this, which is all well and good but I found the idea that one million souls are continually born straight a little hard to believe. This may not be the case and may just be an awkwardly worded section that needs correcting, since this is from the ARC, but several points like this emphasised the occasionally sloppy world-building. Like many hyped books of the past few months, the world of “Incarnate” rests on a singular premise rather than a fully developed set of rules. While there are strengths to this world and attention is given to a few key areas, one never fully gauges why this world is governed in the way it is, or the impact a small pool of constant reincarnations has on a society, or how a sudden drastic change to this system – the birth of a new soul, Ana – impacts their beliefs. A god of this world is mentioned occasionally but once again, to no real impact.The summary of the book promises something more akin to a journey of self-discovery, yet this is mostly shoved aside in favour of the romantic element. Although I appreciated the romance getting at least some level of development beyond instantaneous true love, it does follow a very stock pattern, with the romantic hero Sam serving as the typical super-sweet and understanding guy who somehow also manages to be a bit of a jerk, but in a way Ana can't resist. Ana herself would have been much more sympathetic if the book hadn't been told from her point-of-view. Since so much time is dedicated to her growing feelings for Sam, we never fully understand her beyond the brief questions over her origin that are repeated several times throughout the story. While I can understand her passivity to a point, it becomes tiring so quickly. There's also a serious lack of a strong antagonist, with Li, Ana's vindictive mother, never acting as a true threat, seeming more like a de-clawed Lady Tremaine from Cinderella. The supporting cast is equally weak, which makes the story's final few chapters a real disappointment that felt more like a rushed ending and cut-off for the sequel than a true ending. There are enjoyable moments throughout the book but overall it feels like “Incarnate” has no idea what sort of book it wants to be. There's a swirling stew of romance, fantasy, utopia, mystery and a little science-fiction that becomes something of an indistinguishable mush. In many ways, it feels like a first draft, one with huge potential but also in dire need of some tightening up. If you're looking for a romance, you could do a lot worse than “Incarnate”, which at least seems to have genuine affection for its romantic pairing, but the lack of substance beyond the pairing and the resulting barrage of questions I had after finishing the book force me to knock a star off the rating.2/5.“Incarnate” will be released on 31st January 2012. I received my ARC from NetGalley.com.