***Warning: There might be spoilers in this review. Read at your own risk!***
The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong
published by Harpercollins in April 2011
Sixteen-year-old Maya is just an ordinary teen in an ordinary town. Sure, she doesn't know much about her background - the only thing she really has to cling to is an odd paw-print birthmark on her hip - but she never really put much thought into who her parents were or how she ended up with her adopted parents in this tiny medical-research community on Vancouver Island.Genre: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy
Strange things have been happening in this claustrophobic town - from the mountain lions that have been approaching Maya to her best friend's hidden talent for "feeling" out people and situations, to the sexy new bad boy who makes Maya feel... different. Combine that with a few unexplained deaths and a mystery involving Maya's biological parents and it's easy to suspect that this town might have more than its share of skeletons in its closet.
Series: Darkness Rising trilogy, Book #1
The Story: Hmmm, I've been trying to write a synopsis for The Gathering for weeks now and it's just not coming together ^_^; I think that the blurb has it right for the first half, but the second half is a bit melodramatic. That's why I'm going to give it another try, but don't expect too much ^_^;
Maya has lived in the little town of Salmon Creek on Vancouver Island with her adoptive parents since the age of five. Her father being the park warden, she grew up in the nature, surrounded by wilderness, and loving it. Maya definitively has an affinity with the animals, which comes in handy when taking care of them when they are injured.
Maya is about to celebrate her 16th birthday and is looking forward to it after a difficult year. She's still trying to figure out how her best friend, Serena, captain of the swimming team, drowned and what she could have done to save her. When a reporter comes into town asking questions about the teenagers and their hobbies, Maya starts to wonder if what happened to Serena didn't involve foul play... Then, there is Rafe Santiago, the newbie, who's been flirting with one girl after another and it seems Maya's number is up. Maya's determined not to get involved, but that's before she sees the cracks in Rafe's bad boy imagine... Finally, the cougars seem more agitated than usual and Maya seems to have developed some unusual abilities... What on earth is happening?
My Opinion: It's not a secret on this blog that I'm a big fan of Ms Armstrong and the Women of the Otherworld series. When Ms Armstrong jumped on the YA bandwagon, I followed and it was really worth it as I enjoyed the Darkest Powers trilogy a lot. I liked the idea and how it was connected to the Women of the Otherworld series... The Gathering is the start a new trilogy and I was quite disappointed that we'd start all over again with new characters and a slightly similar plot, i.e. the Genesis project where they are trying to "breed" superiors supernaturals. Still, it's Kelley Armstrong right? So I went ahead and picked it up :)
It's hard for me to describe my feelings concerning The Gathering, because I'm not exactly sure how I feel ^_^; But let me try, otherwise, why write this review, right? :P From the get-go, what I can say is The Gathering was not a wowzer to me. It didn't keep me on the edge of my seat, didn't make me jump up and down or bemoan the fact that the next book is only coming out next year. However, it isn't without merits. As usual, I enjoyed Ms Armstrong's writing and I liked the characters. I think Ms Armstrong did a good job developing them, especially Maya as she's the heroine. I like that Maya's voice is very different from Chloe's - I think that's really important when the books are first person POV. Maya was very confident and knew what she wanted and where she was going. I also liked the friendship between Maya and Daniel, as they have known each other since they were kids. They definitively know each other well and have each other's back and trust each other. I'm already rooting for their romance and really am crossing my fingers! I like the cast of secondary characters and am wondering how they will come into play.
For me, the downfall of The Gathering was the pacing and the storyline. The storyline was actually quite interesting, but things started to happen too late in the book for me to get engaged. I feel Ms Armstrong spent too much time introducing the characters and the environment to the readers through the characters' daily routines. This translated into a slow pacing and a lack of action that's quite uncommon to Ms Armstrong.
Something else that bothered me was the lack of connection between The Gathering and the world of the Women of the Otherworld series, or at least to me. I think the main reason for the disconnection feeling is that all the important characters were unaware of the supernaturals, but as a reader, I wasn't. While reading The Gathering, I kept looking for clues, mentions of the world that I know. The St. Clouds, the Nasts, the Cabals, etc. Anything I could get and I wonder if that didn't detract me from the story even more ^_^; Also, throughout the book, I kept wondering what supernatural beings Maya and her friends were. I was disappointed that we didn't find out about Daniel and cie, although I have a few guesses... At least, we found out what Maya was... and I have to say, I was quite disappointed at it too. It turns out that Maya is a skinwalker... I'm not thrilled at this turn of events because it increases the disconnection feeling as this race of supernaturals has never been mentioned in her books before. I know that Ms Armstrong likes to introduce and play with those rare races, so it doesn't come too much as a surprise, but it still burst my bubble a little... because I was really looking forward to something more related to what we've known. Something else that bothers me is that the skinwalkers will always make me think of the Mercy Thompson series by Ms Briggs ^_^; So it makes me a little uncomfortable.
Overall, I think The Gathering was an okay book. It had nice characters and set the trilogy up quite well, especially near the end when the action finally picked up. The last quarter of the book was quite exciting and it feels like anything could happen in the second book! However, beware those who don't like cliffhangers!
My Grade: I was hesitating between a B- and C+ and in the end, I have to go with the lower grade, C+. The Gathering was just not engaging enough for me. Still, if Ms Armstrong plays her cards right, with the elements she put in place at the end of The Gathering, the next book could really be awesome!
Also, I'm throwing this out for those who have read the book... Do you think that the adults in Salmon Creek are all in on the project? Obviously, Daniel's "father" is... but what about Maya's parents, the director, the sheriff?