The Lantern’s Ember, by Colleen Houck
Publish Date: September 11, 2018
Published by: Delacorte Press
Genre: YA Fantasy
My Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ (1 out of 5 stars)
**I received this as an egalley from the publisher through Edelweiss in return for an honest review.**
Welcome to a world where nightmarish creatures reign supreme.
Five hundred years ago, Jack made a deal with the devil. It’s difficult for him to remember much about his mortal days. So, he focuses on fulfilling his sentence as a Lantern—one of the watchmen who guard the portals to the Otherworld, a realm crawling with every nightmarish creature imaginable. Jack has spent centuries jumping from town to town, ensuring that nary a mortal—or not-so-mortal—soul slips past him. That is, until he meets beautiful Ember O’Dare.
Seventeen, stubborn, and a natural-born witch, Ember feels a strong pull to the Otherworld. Undeterred by Jack’s warnings, she crosses into the forbidden plane with the help of a mysterious and debonair vampire—and the chase through a dazzling, dangerous world is on. Jack must do everything in his power to get Ember back where she belongs before both the earthly and unearthly worlds descend into chaos.
I kind of don’t know where to start with this one. I really thought, based on the description, that I was going to really enjoy this book. It sounded like it would be perfect for the upcoming fall season, full of adventure and magic and creatures that go bump in the night. And while those elements were there, everything in it fell short of being even a decent sort of read. This was a book that I should have DNF’ed, but for some reason I could not stop reading this train wreck of a story. I guess I hoped it was going to get better at some point, but somehow it never did.
To start, Ember O’Dare is a Mary Sue. No doubt about it – she is small and pretty and has an hourglass figure, is exceptionally powerful for some unknown reason, and all the boys love her. Literally. (And of course she is completely oblivious about it unless they tell her point blankly.) One of them even fell in love with her over the course of less than a day. And her only redeeming qualities is that she is kind and stubborn, but she also is too trusting sometimes and allows people to do things to her that she really shouldn’t, because she doesn’t bother thinking about what the consequences might be.
As for the men, while Jack and Finney were at least decent beings, despite being a little mediocre in the character department, Dev was probably the worst ever. He was basically Toxic Male Syndrome personified. He was constantly jealous, thought that he could force Ember to fall for him, arrogant, and just downright annoying. And he was the one I mentioned before, who fell for her after knowing her less than a day. I swear, half the time any one of these men were making googly eyes at Ember I was mentally yelling “Gag me” at them. The best part, though, had to be when they actually took the time to ignore the more pressing matters at hand to actually have a physical brawl over her.
The writing itself is what really made me dislike this story. It is quite honestly, horrendous. The perspectives are all in third person, and Houck changes the characters literally in the middle of paragraphs. If one could get motion sickness from all the shifting perspectives, then this book should come equipped with Bonine or Dramamine. She uses far too many unnecessarily difficult words to mean something that could have been said more simply, as if she had a thesaurus open and picked out the most difficult word she could find to mean things like “proximity” or “gift.” These words, such as “lagniappe,” aren’t even words that might make the time feel more pre-Revolutionary War (which is when I think it takes place? I’m not actually sure), they just make the characters sound conceited. Houck also did that thing where characters will tell a story or describe a memory and do it in such a way that did not sound like how a person actually speaks out loud. They would tell their stories with elaborate detail, describing things in ways that one might if they were writing a book, and not someone sitting at a dinner table relaying how they were betrayed by the man they loved. There was actually too much detail in these moments, especially when some of those details should have been long forgotten due to the age of the memory or the importance of their presence to the person’s story.
The plot itself was all over the place. In the beginning I thought that things were just a little muddled at first while the world was still being built and that eventually everything would smooth out and the story would start making sense. Only it almost never did. The world-building was slow and confusing, with vague descriptions that took a while to make sense of, and there were too many characters with their own agenda. Most of them wanted Ember for some reason (usually her power), but because some of the revealing moments were vague, it was difficult to pinpoint who was actually evil or what they really wanted Ember for. Even leading up to the end I felt like I didn’t have a clear idea of what was going on. And seriously what was that ending? Evil doctor wants to rid all humans of their souls just because he got the bad end of a bargain some centuries ago, but when he realizes he has a daughter he decides to be good instead and all is forgiven?.
The journey through the Otherworld itself was actually more than a little disappointing. Going into this I thought it was going to be a little bit more spooky and supernatural, with lots of magic and Halloween-type monsters to creep me out. Instead, what I got was more like steampunk, with the power coming from witchlight rather than steam, and even a skyship scene that felt like it came right fromStardust. Houck spent far too much time describing useless bits of the setting, all to create the idea of this mechanical world of magic, but these moments were not important to the story and did not really do much in terms of building the world. And other than the mentions of Dev’s vampire abilities, some werewolf fur, and ghosts, there was just not that big of a supernatural presence in this Otherworld that is supposed to be full of these ghoulish creatures, making it feel a lot less otherworldly than it should have.
Mostly, it just felt like so much was forced into this plot in order to create a story about the origins of Halloween and all the different creatures and symbols associated with it. I thought it was cute at first, with Jack being a “lantern” with a glowing pumpkin, and there being werewolves and vampires and such, but in the end it all just felt so cheesy and forced, an elaborate story that was overdone until it lost all sense of what it was meant to be. I really can’t believe I bothered to finish reading this book, because it was seriously quite a train wreck.