Book: The Devouring Gray (The Devouring Gray #1)
Author: Christine Lynn Herman
BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Augusta and May discuss the town in their card reading.
Content Warnings: Loss of a loved one, death, murder, depictions of grief and trauma, violence, abandonment, talk of rituals and self-sacrifice, assault, attempted filicide, kidnapping, emotional/abuse neglect, animal death (though resurrected after), gore, depictions of a cult
This one is another book that I wasn’t initially intending on reading this year, but after not feeling in the mood for Sherwood in September, and swapping it out for Tunnel of Bones, I needed a new book for my October #RockMyTBR read and it seemed like the perfect time of year for this one. Sadly it wasn’t quite as creepy as I’d hoped, and the incredibly slow pace meant I felt quite bogged down by it for most of the month, and didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d have liked. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
Branches and stones, daggers and bones,
They locked the Beast away.
After the death of her sister, seventeen-year-old Violet Saunders finds herself dragged to Four Paths, New York. Violet may be a newcomer, but she soon learns her mother isn’t: They belong to one of the revered founding families of the town, where stone bells hang above every doorway and danger lurks in the depths of the woods.
Justin Hawthorne’s bloodline has protected Four Paths for generations from the Gray—a lifeless dimension that imprisons a brutal monster. After Justin fails to inherit his family’s powers, his mother is determined to keep this humiliation a secret. But Justin can’t let go of the future he was promised and the town he swore to protect.
Ever since Harper Carlisle lost her hand to an accident that left her stranded in the Gray for days, she has vowed revenge on the person who abandoned her: Justin Hawthorne. There are ripples of dissent in Four Paths, and Harper seizes an opportunity to take down the Hawthornes and change her destiny-to what extent, even she doesn’t yet know.
The Gray is growing stronger every day, and its victims are piling up. When Violet accidentally unleashes the monster, all three must band together with the other Founders to unearth the dark truths behind their families’ abilities—before the Gray devours them all.
I should start with my biggest issue with this book, which seems to be an ongoing issue from this year, which is PACING. THIS BOOK WAS SO SLOW, EVERYTHING MOVED AT A SNAILS PACE. Plus you had my own personal nemesis, lengthy chapters so between the action moving so slowly and the chapters being like 30 pages long, it took me like a day each to get through one chapter! A slow buildup is fine, but not when it takes most of the book for any real action to happen.
The constant POV changes within chapters was also pretty jarring. I mean this might be largely a personal thing, but I generally prefer when multiple POVS keep to one character per chapter. I have liked books that have done POV switches mid-chapter in the past sometimes, but it just felt very clumsily done here and I found it a little tricky to follow whose perspective it was all the time.
I was expecting it to be creepier? The concept is super cool, the founder powers are super cool, I was expecting this really great atmospheric read. However, I didn’t find that the author really created that eerie atmosphere and I have to put that down to the writing style. Herman’s writing is very straightforward and to the point and it didn’t really seem to fit the tone she was going for with the book? Had there been more eerie descriptions, then I think I would have maybe felt the atmosphere a bit more but it all felt a little bland to me.
The characters are also somewhere where the book fell down a little for me. Had the characters been super memorable, even though the book itself was slow I probably would have enjoyed this one a little more. As it is, it felt like none of the characters really expanded much beyond one or two characteristics: Justin is the hometown hero, Violet is the goth new girl who plays piano, Isaac is moody and reads books and Harper likes swordfighting. I didn’t feel like any of them were really developed enough for me to root for them. Augusta Hawthorne, Justin’s mother, actually seemed like the most interesting of the bunch, I would totally have read a whole book about her.
This book does okay for some representation and not so much for others. There is a lot of bisexual representation in here, with Violet, Isaac, Augusta Hawthorne (Justin’s mother) and Juniper Saunders, Violet’s mother all being bisexual which I thought was great. It’s also really cool that Augusta and Juniper had a past relationship as you don’t often get to hear about adults in previous f/f relationships in books. Harper also has a missing limb, and whilst I can’t speak to the quality of the disabled representation, there was nothing that stuck out as obviously offensive or hurtful.
Then we get to where this book falls down: POC. Near everyone in this book is painfully white. And we know this because Herman takes pains to point out everyone’s skin colour when they’re introduced. There’s nothing wrong with this, I appreciate authors tackling the assumption of whiteness on page, but it’s very clumsily done as she only tells you the character’s skin colour and nothing else about them and also it really highlights the lack of diversity in this book. It’s 2019 and just because it’s a small town, doesn’t mean all the main characters have to be white?
There’s a lot of clumsy exposition when it comes to the town’s history, and even then there was a lot that I still didn’t get. Like why are the Sullivans known as “daggers”? Their power seems to be reducing things to ash, surely it would make more sense if they were ashes? I also didn’t really get how the Founders protected the town, the patrols didn’t really seem to be doing anything, and their powers didn’t seem like they were massively helpful for protection. We never find out how exactly the Beast came to Four Paths in the first place either. I also don’t understand why the people in Four Paths don’t just leave? I mean as far as I’m aware, there’s nothing stopping them from leaving town, and if I knew there was a Beast in my town that could kill me, then I would definitely go! Do the Founders have extended family that live elsewhere? Things like the rituals and the Deck of Omens were super cool but there were a lot of aspects of the worldbuilding that didn’t seem massively well thought out.
I was glad that the romance in this was limited, but it did seem awfully convenient that all four of the main characters have their pairs. JUST FOR ONCE COULD WE PLEASE HAVE A YA BOOK WHERE ONE OF THE CHARACTERS IS SINGLE AND DOESN’T HAVE A LOVE INTEREST??? I mean I could kind of see Isaac and Violet bonding given their shared understanding of grief (though it’s so freaking obvious that he likes Justin) but Harper and Justin? They have way too many communication issues and given their history it seems unlikely that they would ever be able to have a healthy relationship.
I think Herman was trying to establish a “squad goals” dynamic, but it didn’t really work because the four main characters spend most of the book apart, working on their own issues, so when they come together at the end, it doesn’t really feel earned because we haven’t been able to see the building of their friendship.
There were a lot of kind of contrived conveniences about Stephen Saunders and the resolution to Augusta’s memory wiping towards the end of the book that seemed to be mostly there as plot devices.
All of the founders seemed to live in some kind of manor except Harper (well and I guess Isaac, but I’m imagining that his family had a large house when they were alive) which seemed a little odd to me, is everyone in this town super rich?
I had to look up the whole Garbage Plate thing as well as it’s not something I’d heard of before, and it sounds gross! Why anyone would want to eat macaroni with chips, baked beans, meat and bread together is beyond me but then it’s not something we tend to eat in the UK.
The parents in this book are all pretty terrible, Augusta is controlling, Juniper is emotionally distant & Harper’s dad is part of a creepy cult (how no one could tell that cult was up to no good is beyond me), none of them are examples as model parents, though I can’t remember the last time I read a YA book where parents were so integral to the plot so I guess props for that even if they are awful?
Darn that ending, I was pretty certain I probably wouldn’t read the sequel to this book until the end. Now I really need to know what happens because that ending was mean!
My Rating: 3/5
My next review will be of Jodi Picoult’s latest release, The Book Of Two Ways.