Sep 25, 2013

Finding Angel by Kat Heckenbach: A Review

            The first time I met Kat, she was wearing more rings and ear cuffs than I could count, a headband that barely kept back a mass of curly reddish hair, and a black shirt with red letters that read ‘vampires don’t sparkle.’
            “Are you Kat?” I asked, eyeing the stacks of Finding Angel she was plunking down on a long table in the conference bookstore.
            “Yes!” she exclaimed, dropped her last stack, came round the end of the table, and enfolded me in a hug.
            Needless to say, we hit it off.
            To be fair, we had actually hit it off a few months before on Facebook when she asked for character Pinterest boards and I showed her my treasure trove. Our newfound friendship was sorely tested, however, when she began keeping a running count of days until the conference on my Facebook wall when I really didn’t want to be reminded. Becky Minor kept the peace by assuring me she would have smelling salts handy at the conference, which assuaged my fears. (Well, not really, but it at least made me realize I wasn’t the only nervous one.)
            Finding Angel was one of the few books written by conference attendees that I managed to finish before the actual conference rolled around. (I had a half-read copy of Merlin’s Blade in my dorm room the whole time. Sorry, Mr. Treskillard.) When I saw Kat’s disappointed status recently, saying she’d had a dream that Finding Angel got another review, I decided to surprise her. (Are you surprised? Well are ya?)

Overall: 3.5 stars
Finding Angel is the story of a girl separated from her magical heritage. She lives a normal life, until pieces of her past begin to catch up with her. A beetle, a charm bracelet, a boy with silver eyes…they all lead her back to Toch Island, the place of her birth, and her strange powers, which may help Angel solve the mysterious disappearances around the island – or reveal her to the evil man who desperately wants to find her.

This was a light, fun read with unique settings, new twists on the old fantasy elements, and a sojourn into a world where worldviews have consequences.

Concept: 4 stars
On the surface, this is your ordinary science-justified magic story. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find such delightful creatures as fractal chameleons, modern-day unicorns, and elves with their own rock bands. During my mentoring session with Kat (though it felt more like a chance for us to sit down alone and fangirl about – well, everything) I reflected that when you meet creative people, you rarely fit them with their work on the first try. Perhaps it’s the preponderance of introverted authors, but usually it takes a little while for you to see their creativity shining through. Not so with Kat. When she started talking, I immediately saw through to the mind that created Toch Island – a flamboyant, colorful, I-don’t-care-what-you-think kind of mind.

Plot: 3 stars
Unfortunately, this book suffered from a case of SMS, or Sagging Middle Syndrome. The first third was good. The last third was great. The middle – not so much. For all that it was neatly paced, with things speeding up toward the climax (as they should), I felt Angel spent a little too much time socializing, training, and playing with animals. Of course, this may be due to my allergic reaction anything approaching relaxation or warm fuzzy feelings. Give me TRAGEDEHHH!

That said, I loved the way the clues to the mystery were sprinkled through the story. It was one of those “aw, shoulda seen that coming,” moments.

Characters: 2.5 stars
My favorite books are usually the ones where I can tell you what the characters would do months later. Few live up to that hope – Incarceron, and Outlander, and The Restorer. The trouble with Finding Angel was that I wanted to love the characters – they were unpredictable, they were human, and they drove the story well. However, I had trouble telling their personalities apart, especially the main characters. This is something I suffer from myself. Besides a few overarching characteristics, my FMC often plays hard-to-get and I end up having to make her behave the way she needs to for the sake of the plot. (Odd thing, actually wishing the characters would take the scene and run with it.) But oh well; that’s what development and rewrites are for.

Technical: 3.5 stars
Technical details are not something I pay a great deal of attention to unless there is a profusion of mistakes. I have a rather different method of dealing with them than most. Some people claim to throw the books, or yell, or write the author nasty letters. I sigh. If it’s really bad, it earns a closed-eyed sigh. Woe to the book that elicits such a response! Since I don’t recall any sighing for the duration of this book, I think it was clean of any glaring errors. (This, folks, is why you don’t write a book review months after reading the book.)

Execution: 3 stars
While not the most vivid writing I’ve ever read, the style of Finding Angel is clean, uncluttered work full of unique elements. In future works, greater attention could be paid to expanding the scenes and adding more action – not necessarily swashbuckling action, as I don’t think that would fit – but more action by the characters instead of so much summary. Still, it was a bold, admirable endeavor. Also, the author is delightful. Can I add extra points for the fractal chameleons? Thank you.


Kat Heckenbach said...

Ok, ok...for the record, the running day count was actually to let you know someone was happy you were coming :). And I had a great time fan-girling with you at RM, too!

I appreciate the well thought-out review. You have quite the system here--not that it surprises me after meeting you! Methinks someone has the makings of an English professor ;).

I am grateful for the positive comments, and for the honesty. I will not try to refute or justify the SMS diagnosis, but will say that I am one of those readers who enjoys a book that allows me to "play with the animals" and one in which tragedehhh and danger-danger-danger aren't necessarily around every corner, so I was writing toward other readers like me. I am glad to see that despite the SMS you found much to enjoy. I do hope you give Seeking Unseen a try--the pacing is quicker in that one, since so much world building was done in this one, and Melinda...well, let's just say she attracts tragedy a bit more than Angel :).

Again--thank you! And YES, I was surprised!

ElizabethLiberty said...

I know. xD I was just playing. My review usually contain heavy doses of sarcasm so they're not just another book review. I want to make them interesting. ;)

Aw, thank you! I like to think I cover most of what is needed. The point of the reviews is not only to recommend good reading material but to help writers who might be reading learn from the authors' strengths and weaknesses. I'm hoping I serve that purpose. :D

I had a feeling it was mostly difference in reading preferences. ;) (I was also hoping it didn't offend you. :P But I figured when I met you, that you didn't look like someone easily offended.) I plan to, if I can get it through my library!

Welcome! *hug*

Kat Heckenbach said...

I am not offended. I give honest reviews of books, and ask for honest reviews. I know that not every reader is going to fall in love with my writing, not every one will connect completely with my characters, etc. And absolutely, reviews are for readers and other interested in the books--not for ego-stroking an author. And I agree, differences in reading preferences can come into play.

Your library sounds like my library...

Victoria Grace Howell said...

Sounds interesting. :) I like new looks on fantasy.

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