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A novel of several great strengths, and a couple annoying weak points
on July 12, 2011
Coexist, the first novel in a planned series, and an outright first novel ever by Julia Crane, is a paranormal romance with an Irish flair. It's a tale of elves and love and destiny, the struggle between light and dark, and the consequences of war. And yes, part of the novel - a very important part, by the way - does take place in Ireland, though the main setting is the US.
The main characters Coexist is concerned with are Keegan, a sixteen-year-old elf, and her intended mate, Rourk, who's a bit older than her. Emphasizing romance, Julia Crane's elves are more human-like than one might expect, appearing normal enough to blend in with human society. Sure, they are shorter than other humans, but they don't have a green skin-tone or twelve-inch-tall pointed ears or anything like that.
Crane's conceit is that elves are unusually attractive, which makes great fodder for a romance novel, of course. And also, Crane's elves share a trait in common with some old-world cultures: their mates are pre-selected for them, almost from birth, and are guaranteed to invoke in each other the proper amount of love and romantic chemistry.
But they aren't allowed to meet until they are eighteen.
Different elves handle this sense of destiny in slightly different ways. Keegan has decided to use her youth to date a few human boys, though never seriously, just for fun and as a way to kill time waiting to meet her intended mate.
Rourk, on the other hand, has done no such dating, preferring to focus himself entirely on waiting for his intended mate. Given that he is a warrior, he uses a fair amount of his "spare energy" in combat training.
An interesting supporting character is Thaddeus, Keegan's young brother, who despite being very, very young, is the most gifted elven seer of the current elven generation. And there's a need for him because... a great battle is coming between the light elves and the dark elves.
And it's coming sooner than anyone can imagine.
Tossing complications into the mix are a couple interesting twists: first, for reasons that are murky, Thaddeus has told Keegan the name of her intended. This complicates the natural flow of elven mating because whenever an elf thinks of the name of his or her intended, the other notices... to the point that they can track them down if it seems they are in danger. And like any teenage elven girl with the opportunity, she turns over the name of her intended, Rourk, in her mind quite often, a disconcerting situation for him.
The other complication is that Thaddeus has had a vision of the coming war, and it's set to happen on Keegan's birthday ... and to end with her death.
I know I was.
Rising above the average level of most entries in the paranormal romance series genre, Crane's novel stands out because, although part of a series, the tale she weaves has a clear and satisfying sense of a complete tale; it has a beginning, an intriguing middle, and a clear sense of resolution to the current circumstances.
While the novel leaves room for new adventures to take place, there's a clear sense that something big happened, there was a cost to it, and the status quo has been affected, by the end of the novel.
Too many novels, especially first novels in general, and particularly first novels in a series, lack that sense of a complete story being told; they spend time setting things up, then end the novel at a certain word length leaving readers hanging... and sometimes frustrated.
But that is not the case with Coexist; Crane's tale is well crafted and delivers a solid standalone story even though it exists as the initial entry in a promised series.
Crane's skill at plotting and character development are admirable, and honestly not as common as one might wish among first novelists. Crane has those things down ... in spades.
Yet there are flaws to Coexist as well. The most notable is the book's uneven editing. While none of the mistakes are big deals, there are enough of them that it can become distracting. The book's credited editor, Cheryl Bradshaw, needed to spend a bit more time nabbing typos, as well as looking for missed words, wrong words, and punctuation use; the simple, copy-editing stuff.
Aside from the state of the proofing job, however, the book only had one other, rather minor, weakness. While the book bubbles along for the first three-quarters of the way, toward then end, and especially when the climactic war sequence between the light and dark elves take place, Crane seems to rush the pace of the novel's most important scenes.
Clocking in at approximately 41,500 words, Coexist veers closer to "novella/short novel" length than to the length of a standard novel. Had the author slowed the pace down and handled the climactic scenes by letting them play out more dramatically and less in summary, the book could easily have swelled to 50,000 words or more and been even more satisfying than it already is.
While a deeply satisfying read with engaging characters and an excellent plot, all of which draw me toward looking forward to the second installment, those are my only areas of hesitation on Coexist. The proofing element is easily fixable; the brevity and summary nature of the climactic scenes, well... those aren't bad, they're just not living up to potential because they're a bit rushed.
Overall, none of this puts me off Crane or the Keegan Chronicles series, which I'll be looking foreword to more installments of. There's more strong points than weak points, and considering it's a first novel, represents a decent, if not quite spectacular, debut.
Considering her strong sense of story and plotting ability, I'll be back for Book 2 when it's released.