May 17, 2012

Review: Unraveling

Book Cover By Elizabeth Norris
Available now from Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Review copy

I am suffering from paranormal fatigue.  I doubt this condition will last forever as I always return to the supernatural in the end.  Heck, I'm currently reading and enjoying two different urban fantasy novels.  But what I've been craving is straight-up science fiction and traditional fantasy, with a side of contemporary.

Now, when I began UNRAVELING, I thought it was an urban fantasy.  Purple, black, and red cover scheme, mysterious boy with powers, romance with mysterious boy with powers . . . but nope, UNRAVELING is soft sci-fi.  (Thank you, Elizabeth Norris.)

UNRAVELING opens with Janelle Tenner's impromptu death by truck upon leaving a party.  Fortunately, Ben Michaels - a guy from school who she has pretty much never interacted with - stumbles upon her and saves her life, somehow.  Please forgive me for going all FYA on you for a moment, but I have to give UNRAVELING a Roswell bonus.  I loved that show and UNRAVELING's opening reminded me so much of the pilot.

Soon after, Janelle snoops into her FBI agent father's work and discovers he's working to stop a countdown somehow related to gruesome deaths throughout their community.  She and her best friend Alex work on unraveling the mystery, because she knows it's somehow related to what Ben did.  But UNRAVELING is not content to be a straightforward action-adventure SF.

Janelle instantly trusts Alex with her discoveries because he's been helping her care for her little brother.  Her father is rarely around and her mother is bipolar and either off her meds or not responding to them.  She's also recovering, emotionally, from being drugged at a party a year ago and waking up in a strange car with no pants.  Sexual assault tends to show up in issue books or as a generic angsty backstory.  It was a nice change to see it show up and be dealt with respectfully in a genre novel. 

Combining an issue novel with science fiction is ambitions, but Norris pulls it off.  The darker truths of Janelle's life round out her character, as well as the side characters, without stopping the plot dead.  And considering UNRAVELING is centered around a countdown, it's in the novel's best interest to keep things moving quickly.  The second reason it works is because Norris doesn't pull her punches.  This may be soft sci-fi, but it sure ain't nice sci-fi.

UNRAVELING is a terrific debut and I look forward to reading more from Norris in the future.


  1. Glad you enjoyed it!
    Unfortunately, I had trouble warming to UNRAVELING (I reviewed it on my blog recently).

    I love how you define it as soft sci-fi though, it totally fits! :)

    1. I can see why, from your review - there is a lot of sadness. It just happened to be what I needed at the time, I suppose. Normally I would be more upset by certain events at the end.

  2. Interesting review. It sounds like an intriguing book. I don't know if it's quite for me or not, but I'm curious.



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