Thursday, September 5, 2013

Review: "Elusion" by Claudia Gabel and Cheryl Klam.

Authors: Claudia Gabel and Cheryl Klam. 
Pages: 384. 
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (this ARC came courtest of Edelweiss.)
Release date: March 18th 2014.

Summary (taken from Goodreads): Soon, Elusion® will change the world and life as we know it.

A new technology called Elusion is sweeping the country. An app, visor and wristband will virtually transport you to an exotic destination where adventure can be pursued without the complications—or consequences—of real life.

Regan is an Elusion insider. Or at least she used to be. Her father invented the program, and her best friend, Patrick, heir to the tech giant Orexis, is about to release it nationwide. But ever since her father’s unexpected death, Regan can’t bear to Escape, especially since waking up from the dream means crashing back to her grim reality.
Still, when there are rumors of trouble in Elusion—accusations that it’s addictive and dangerous— Regan is determined to defend it. But the critics of Elusion come from surprising sources, including Josh, the handsome skeptic with his own personal stakes. As Regan investigates the claims, she discovers a disturbing web of secrets. She will soon have to choose between love and loyalty…a decision that will affect the lives of millions.
Suspense, thrills, and romance fuel this near-future story about the seductive nature of a perfect virtual world, and how far one girl will go to uncover the truth behind the illusions.
Ah, science fiction YA. Remember that brief period when it was supposed to be the new big thing in the wake of dystopia? I must admit that while I enjoy a good sci-fi now and then (Wars over Trek), it’s not a genre I’m wholly in love with. In the same way that I find hardcore fantasy literature to be a little overwhelming, sometimes the jargon of sci-fi can leave me more exhausted than I like to be when reading a novel. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed some sci-fi YA (I particularly enjoyed Beth Revis’s “Across the Universe” but had no desire to read the other two books), and this is an example of a synopsis that grabbed me. One can’t help but think of “Inception” with its promises of technology leading to wonderful new fantasy worlds that are darker than they seem.

My biggest complaint with “Elusion” is for something I tend to fear with such genre reads. There is a lot of exposition dumping going on throughout this novel, especially the first quarter of the story. You’re given basically every minute detail you could possibly need to know about Elusion itself as well as the technological explanations of how everything works. It drags down the pacing quite a bit but overall it’s tolerable. Think of it as the scrolling screen at the beginning of the “Star Wars” movies: Get it out of the way then get on with the rest.

Once the plot gets moving, it’s a fun sci-fi mystery with enough red herrings and little twists to keep you intrigued. The hook of this story is in Elusion itself: A device that allows the user to enter beautiful and euphoric fantasy worlds, a welcome distraction from the overpopulated and polluted urban districts that have become the USA (the story is set in futuristic Detroit). The brief moments where Regan enters Elusion are certainly some of the stand-out moments of the book, full of gorgeous imagery that left me wanting more. If the story spent more time in Elusion and less time using exposition to advance from point to point then it would have been a more satisfying read.

Character-wise, I genuinely liked Regan, a young woman struggling with grief and a disconnected mother and desperate to cling to the shreds of her father’s legacy as it crumbles before her eyes. She’s got a brain in her head and even when she makes questionable decisions, they’re understandable from her point of view. Besides, it’s practically law for science-fiction protagonists to be a little bit stupid to forward the action. Unfortunately, the novel is also sort of guilty of one of my most hated tropes: the dreaded love triangle!

Okay, to be fair to the novel, it’s not exactly a love triangle. Basically, there’s the love interest, a rather stock handsome male character with the expected dark secret in his past and just enough angst, and then there’s the childhood friend who clearly loves the heroine but she doesn’t reciprocate, but his love for her is there to show how special the heroine is. All romantic elements within “Elusion” are completely unnecessary; especially when you remember that the action of the story takes place over one week. That’s a long term relationship by some YA romance standards but it’s still a strain on my tolerance levels.

Unfortunately, “Elusion” ends with something of a cheap shot. The cliff-hanger ending isn’t so much a cliff-hanger as it is a sudden stop, as if the editor took the longer manuscript and just separated it into halves. It hammers home some of the novel’s weaknesses in terms of plotting and pacing and ends the novel overall with a whimper rather than the bang it’s clearly aiming for. Even if it’s the first in a series, it needs to be able to stand on its own two feet.

Overall, “Elusion” is the standard 3 star read. That sounds like damning with faint praise but it’s not meant in a negative manner. I genuinely enjoyed the novel, despite its faults. It’s damn good fun and has great potential, but it just doesn’t pack the necessary spark to take it to 4 stars and more. Still, if you don’t mind a bit of info-dumping and are interested in some strong world-building and a solid central mystery, give it a go.


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