Sunday, January 2, 2011

Review: The Replacement, by Brenna Yovanoff

From the moment I first heard about the premise of this book I was in love with it. A baby, Mackie, gets stolen from his crib, with a changeling put in his place. This changeling grows up and has to rescue a girl, Tate’s, little sister from the very murky place from whence he came. All of my buttons? They are pushed!

My intrigue at this plot was so strong that even the generic paranormal YA cover wasn’t enough to put me off. (Although the American cover is seven times more awesome...) It did make me a little nervous though, the fact that it was being pretty aggressively marketed as a paranormal, Twilight/Shiver-esque, read. I’m definitely not would you would call a fan of this genre. Girl meets mysterious boy who turns out to be a vampire/werewolf/fairy/leprechaun and they fall in love and save the world, but mostly fall in love. Definitely not my kind of scene.

And the Replacement does seem to tread the same path as it’s paranormal shelf mates, with a notable exception: It’s not told from the POV of the girl who's trying to figure out what’s up with the mysterious boy, it’s the mysterious boy himself who tells the tale.

I have to say this is my favourite aspect of this book. With a simple perspective swap , scenes that are as standard and played out as wacky misunderstandings in a sitcom take on new life. Watching Tate try and figure out what was up with Mackie was a hundred times more enjoyable when I was already in the loop. (Possibly this is why I found Meyer’s unfinished draft of Twilight from Edward’s point of view to be a bazillion times better than the actual published version told from Bella’s.)

There were other things I liked about the book. Unfortunately, what I did like was ultimately outweighed by what I didn’t. My biggest issue is that a lot of things just didn’t seem to add up. Mackie, being from some fey underworld (it's never entirely made clear), is allergic to a great many things. Steel, iron, blood… This I thought was cool. Little details like his mother having to keep the stainless steel knives hidden away, or his sister having to cut his hair with aluminum scissors really worked for me. But I spent the entire book wondering, if Mackie is allergic to blood (and we see several times the strong adverse reaction he has to it), then what the hell is pumping through his veins? It’s not that I wasn’t willing to believe he was running on something other than blood, it’s just the fact that the author never addressed the issue that drove me a little crazy.

So if he has blood, why isn’t he allergic to it? And if he doesn’t have blood, wouldn’t someone have noticed? I mean, wouldn't somebody, anybody, have noticed that this kid was a little odd? This was my second gripe with the book. The human Mackie was stolen from his crib, and the changeling Mackie left in his place. Upon discovering the swap Mackie’s parents decide to love and raise the changeling as their own. Um, ok. I can get on board with that. Even though it is never really made clear I can imagine that losing a child would be so painful that an itty bitty changeling to love would be better than nothing to love. Mackie’s parents raise Mackie to understand that if the townspeople ever learnt what he was they would go all mob justice on his ass and kill him.

Which makes sense, I had no questions about that. But as the book progresses… Well, firstly it becomes quickly clear that this swap-a-baby practice isn’t really that uncommon. So the townspeople are aware that it happens. Given Mackie’s pretty obvious ailments, wouldn’t someone, anyone, have noticed? I guess I just couldn’t believe that, given that the entire town is aware of the very real presence of the fey dudes, no one would think to question Mackie’s many very odd behaviors.

My last main gripe is that Mackie seems to lack any real curiosity about his own origins. He just wants to live his normal human life, which I get, but I just can’t buy that he wouldn’t have questions. He’s not human, he knows he’s not human, and yet he never really wonders about what he actually is. This could have added a really fascinating level to the book, and the whole narrative seems much shallower for its absence. And it turns out to be so easy for Mackie to get in touch with others like him that I have question that he’s never done it before. You might argue that Mackie wants to be human so badly that he has willfully blocked all thoughts of his mysterious origins, but such a stance would at least be an active choice on Mackie’s part. Instead he just comes across as kind apathetic about it, which I just can’t believe.

Which pretty much sums up my thoughts about the whole book; I just can’t believe it. I’ll jump on board with any kind of crazy idea an author wants to throw at me, but it has to make sense in the context of the books world and so much of The Replacement just doesn’t quite fit together.

This wasn’t a terrible read, not by any means. In fact I highly enjoyed the first half or so, but that was mostly because I figured all the things I felt were missing, or didn’t understand, would come into play in the last act. As it became increasingly clear that this wasn’t the case my enjoyment began to fall pretty rapidly. Still, I wouldn’t rule out reading anything else by Brenna Yovanoff, or a sequel to this novel (assuming there is one).

How did I get this book: Bought it (yay for Christmas book vouchers!)

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