Avery Gray is a size twelve university student with a penchant for dry humour, and she’s as normal as they come. Up until now, the biggest choice she’s had to make was glasses or contacts? At the moment, it’s stay and save, or leave and be saved.
One rainy afternoon, Avery had to make a choice: go through the alleyway or around it. Two possible options. One would have had her future continue on as planned, the other would ensure that her future never remained the same again. She unknowingly went with the latter.
But change is not always bad. Avery meets Theodore-James Connors, an enigmatic young man who takes her to Hayven, a city separated from the rest of the world, where only gifters – ordinary people with extra-ordinary gifts – can go. She soon finds herself in a close-knit group of friends she’d never have imagined herself in; friends who are diverse in every possible way, from their ethnic backgrounds, to their personalities, from their gifts, to their life stories. Friends who make her laugh, who make her cry, who make her think and who make her…her.
However, change is not always good. The beautiful, golden city of Hayven has its dark side - Cliders. Gifters turned rogue, aka, Cliders are determined to aid fallen Clider, Madrina, return to rule Hayven. They will stop at nothing to make that happen, including harming those Ava has grown to love. Again, Ava is faced with a choice: spend her days finding a way to inhibit Madrina’s return, or walk away. After all, she isn’t the chosen one. Yet, there exists a third option - rig the future itself and make it work for her.
First off, thank you to J A George for providing me with a free e-copy of Gifted in exchange for an honest review. She was also kind enough to do an author interview, which is one of my favourite things about blogging! I'm always fascinated by the story behind the story, and combined with a free book, I've been looking forward to doing this post. That said, I try and be completely honest in my reviews, so there are no five stars for freebies.
Now that's all out of the way, on to the fun stuff!
The story starts off well, after taking a shortcut home, ordinary girl Avery stumbles upon a dying old woman and learns that she is "Gifted"; someone with a magic power and the ability to flit between the real world and the magical world of Hayven. In Avery's case, her gift is the ability to read minds, as well as the ability given to her by the dying woman of being able to see the future. The opening is intriguing and well-written and Avery is a wonderful character, even if she does feel a little like she's trying to hard to be "relatable" (I don't really need to be told her dress size so many times, if at all to be honest!) and the seeds of the story are sown nicely.
Things get better once Theo (finally!) introduces Avery to her gift and the pair head to Hayven. Hayven is a beautifully described world. There's something magical about the idea of another land hidden beneath the surface, it's very much a Harry Potter vibe which I adore! The idea of people flitting in and out of this world in a flurry of coloured dots, unique to their personality, is vividly imaginative. Avery's "new" friends are a little one-dimensional. Each seems to have one defining characteristics; the mean girl, the womaniser, the standoffish one with a heart of gold, the guide, the one that's just there. Their powers are mentioned and demonstrated, but don't come into play much in the story. With so many characters to juggle though, it's hard to give page time to all of them. I hope they'll come into play more in the rest of the series.
The story did suffer from some pacing issues, and the first half drags a little bit. It's lovely to read about the world of Hayven and meet the characters but, plot-wise, not a lot happens besides some uneccesary conflict between Avery, love interest Theo and his mean-girl girlfriend Summer. There's a definite sense here that the author tried to get away from the insta-love cliche, but unfortunately, Avery and Theo's relationship does read very much insta-love. I just didn't see why she was so interested in him, especially with everything else going on around her, or why Theo didn't just come out with the truth about his relationshp with Summer. It's the kind of plot device that doesn't feel genuine, just of a way of generating conflict.
The crux of the story, the introduction of big bad Madrina and her followers, Cliders, happens very late in the book. As a result, they never come across as a credible threat. It's a really intriguing prospect, and the stories of Madrina's near takeover of Hayven sets her up as a great villain! So I was surprised to see that I was almost 60% through the book and hadn't seen much evidence of the plot the blurb above promises. It's a tricky one, because the first half of the book is so well-written and sets the world and characters so well, it's almost to the detriment of the actual plot.
I had to knock a star of my rating right off the bat for the simple fact that this book doesn't stand alone. It's the first in a series, so by all means end on a hook, but the story just sort of ... stops. It has a beginning, a middle, and - just when I was glancing nervously at the remaining page percentage on my kindle - no real end. It just stops. Just as it was getting going! It's a frustrating trend these days for YA books to end on not so much a cliffhanger as a dead end.
I'll definitely be reading the next book in the series, The Silver Orb, but I can't shake the feeling that this book feels like the set up for a story, not a story in itself. It's a shame, because this leaves a bad taste in my mouth right at the end of what had been a great read. I'll probably round this review up to 4 on Goodreads and Amazon, but since I can half star on my blog, I have to go with my gut and give it 3.5. I really did enjoy the story, and I'd recommend it to contemporary and fantasy YA fans alike, but I just felt that I didn't get the entirety of what I was promised by the blurb. And I'll have to read the next book in the series for that.
All in though, Gifted is a well written book with some fantastic world building and colourful characters, and if it had followed through a little bit further, dropping some early exposition and ramping up to a not too rushed climax, this review would have been raves. Still, this book has me hooked. Bring on the next!
And now, the interview!
1. What inspired you to write Gifted?
I wanted to read it. I wanted to read a contemporary YA fantasy novel that didn’t feature instant-love, that didn’t feature a chosen one and didn’t centre on a girl born into a dystopian society. I just wanted to read about someone normal, someone I could relate to. Someone who worries about the way she looks, but never says it out loud, has a sense of humour, thinks about the small stuff. Then I wanted to take her and place her in a world she never thought existed before adding a dystopian element. I wanted to explore real young adult relationships, friendships and modern-day topics such as, body weight issues and cheating in relationships. Hmm, GIFTED is a lot less sombre than it sounds. It’s actually a fun read, I promise!
2. Have any elements of your life made it in to the story?
Unfortunately not. I don’t have any “supernatural” gifts…yet. I’m patiently waiting on it, though.
3. If you could go back in time and give yourself one bit of advice before you started writing Gifted, what would it be?
Write for yourself. Definitely, without doubt! I spent the first two years of Gifted trying to write a book I thought readers would like. It ended up being a book I wouldn’t read, even if it was given to me for free! And that’s saying something. However, two years later, I decided to write for myself and that decision resulted in the second edition of Gifted, which I can honestly say contains maybe 5% of edition one of Gifted. I’m sure that speaks volumes. It was a lot of time wasted, but at least I now have a book that I would not only read, but pay for. However, I am biased.
4. Is there a place or time that most closely represents Hayven in your mind?
I don’t believe so. Perhaps there is a city in the world that resembles Hayven, but I haven’t visited it yet!
5. Which books/authors inspired you to start writing?
Roald Dahl! I never knew how much Roald Dahl influenced me until I realised his theme of extraordinary things happening to ordinary people is something I’ve been mentally carrying around with me for a long time now.
6. Who would play Avery in the movie version?
Oh, I’m not sure… If I could cast Avery, I’d love the opportunity to give someone new a chance to have their acting dream come true, so most likely someone you haven’t heard of.
7. Sum Gifted up in five words.
Ordinary people with extraordinary gifts.
8. Do you have any writing rituals?
I like to write with a bar of chocolate by my side. Yet, I also like to read with a bar of chocolate by my side. And watch a movie, hang out with friends, bake and study with a bar of chocolate by my side.
9. When did you start writing Gifted?
Late 2013. I was sitting cross-legged on my bed when I suddenly decided to write this novel.
10. How different is this version to the one you sat down to write?
Unrecognisably different. Like I said above, this edition contains about 5% of the edition I sat down to write. But the dramatic change has been for the better!
11. How did Gifted make the journey from your head to print?
It took a lot of notebooks, a lot of computer time and a lot of chocolate. I really appreciate authors now, any author, because writing a book really isn’t easy. When you read a good book, you think it must come effortlessly to the author – I don’t believe it does! It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of effort and a lot of determination.