Brace yourself for another installment of Black Sheep Reviews! This is another new release that has a huge following and high reviews, but not from me. I was completely underwhelmed and disappointed by this story.
(Very) short reap: It is 1942 and Aila and her brother, Miles, are taken in by a family friend. The kids had just lost their mother and their father has been shipped to fight in the war. The Cliffton’s take the children in and welcome them to Sterling. Strange things happen in Sterling… every seven years something big goes missing, like the ability to taste or smell. What causes this?
That blurb alone made me want to read the book! It sounded so intriguing and exciting! Well, it was not. This was a positively boring story that was slow to even get started. The first half of the book is a massive info dump of all things Sterling. But only little bits of info were released at a time so I was left wondering what was happening. This feeling of “what the hell is going on?!” lasted throughout most of the book. These characters were so thick and daft to put simple clues together. I was ready to slap them just so they would move faster. No story should take this long to make its point.
The characters in this story were just okay, certainly nothing to write home about. Almost the entire story is narrated by Aila, until there is a random chapter here and there narrated by Stefen. She pretty much has instalove for the mysterious Stefen. Whatever. I despise instalove anyways so I skimmed over those areas. The information I read about Stefen made me like him and care about him even less. He was going to end his life by jumping from a train and then suddenly decides he wants to see his long lost father that he hasn’t ever met? Get out of here with that nonsense. None of the characters were memorable and I forgot them as soon as the story was over.
Here is the one main thing I have to complain about: When this was over, there were still more questions than answers. Murphy wants me to believe that Dr. Cliffton, who is a scientist and the one who discovered the Variants, cannot explain precisely how these Variants work? There are Variants that will keep the rain off of you, while others will create warmth. How do they work? That is the big thing I wanted to know, not just expecting me to believe that they work because the author said they did. I never read how or even why these Variants work the way they do. Sorry, Murphy, I don’t buy that. You cannot expect me to just accept that Blessed Thistle can bring back someone’s sense of smell without telling me why or how it works. This may seem trivial but it was important to me as a reader to know. These details might have helped make this story a little stronger, but probably not by much.
The absolute biggest disappointment of this story was the ending. What in the ever loving crap was that?! Murphy did her best to wrap everything up in a nice shiney box with a bright bow. It did not work. It was a cluster and made me dislike this story even more. I won’t give away exactly what happened but it was a let down. There were huge gaping holes that Murphy expected me to just overlook. Sorry, but I cannot and would not do that. If Murphy had taken her time to develop the ending by taking out some of the pointless parts of the story (in the earlier part of the book), the ending would have made more sense. Instead, what she did was too easy. The ending was handed to the characters without proof or explanation and they believed it. I was floored. Literally it all just magically worked out. WHATEVER. Go peddle that crap somewhere else because I’m not buying it.
This book is considered both a historical fantasy and magical realism. I don’t believe either of those fit this story. I don’t know what it should be labeled but in the end, regardless, it did not work for me. If Murphy wanted me to buy what she was selling here, she should have gone back and really worked on making this flow better. What she wrote here did not flow and it did not work. It was too much of the author saying, “You will believe what I’m saying without explanations or reasons! JUST DO IT!” and I don’t drink that kool-aid. This really did have a lot of potential but it missed the mark completely.