Sunday, July 07, 2013

Avery by Charlotte McConaghy

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Avery is about what love hath wrought, for good and ill. The people of Kaya are love-matched in pairs and when one soulmate dies, the other also does. Ava, a young woman, loses her mate, Avery, but somehow eludes death. Feared and rejected by her people as a freak, she devotes herself to avenging Avery's murder by the bloodthirsty Queen of Pirenti. Kaya and Pirenti have been at war for years with no end in sight. The Pirentis are a warrior people in a harsh, hateful society and the Kayans are in every way opposite to them. When Ava is captured by a Pirenti prince, she is sentenced to a island gulag known for its prisoners' drastically shortened life expectancies. En route, the ship sinks and Ava and one of her captors, Ambrose, wash up on the island. Annnnnd cue the boy hates girl, girl hates boy storyline.

Or not. This story could have gone many ways. Fantasy romances have an endless grab bag with which to play with plot and tone, so I often think of them as light reading. Avery is certainly not that. It is a surprisingly epic, tautly paced, and beautifully realized story that went far, far beyond expectations. The synopsis is appealing in its simplicity, but the layers unfold and unfold and unfold until the very end. Avery is literally ALL about love - of country, of parent, of brother, of spouse, of child, of memory. Lost love and new love, first love and only love, fated love and chosen love. It's a testament to this author that all of this makes sense, feels true, and breaks your heart. The only thing that might give a reader pause is that none of this is pretty. The Kayans and Pirentis are at war and McConaghy has taken to heart the adage that all's fair in love and war. The faint of heart need to go read another book. Avery is actually shot through with plenty of hope and the overall mood isn't dark/dystopian at all, but it can be brutal at times.

Four main characters narrate chapters in turn, which exposes another honest perspective to the events and subtly adds history/background. The characters are so well-drawn that each narrator is both distinct from the other voices and familiar when they resume. There is a lot at work here and McConaghy makes interesting use of personalities to show strength and equality in some unexpected places. It could have been easy to write off two of the narrators (the secondary leads, Thorne and Roselyn) if they didn't have such a direct say in the story. In the end, they are as interesting and endearing as Ava and Ambrose. Totally looking forward to the next book!

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