The Tombs [Review]

The Tombs

In the dark industrial city of 1882 New York, Avery Kohl is a girl trying to get by. She works at an IronWorks factory to support she and her father who are still reeling from the institutionalization of her mother in the notorious Tombs, an aptly named prison and asylum.

But Avery has a secret. She keeps her head down fearing that she’s suffering from the same madness that took her mother when she starts seeing visions. She buries this secret down until it presents itself in a workplace explosion that reveals her secret powers. Now she must hide in the city to avoid the Crows that run the Tombs.

I must state up front that I had high expectations for this book. It was a historical fiction with a brilliant premise full of intrigue, madness, and the spiritual supernatural. But I was greatly disappointed. Actually, disappointment is not a strong enough word for how I felt about this book in the end. I kinda hated it but I really hate to use that word but it’s how I feel.

Every time I picked up The Tombs, I felt like I was reading a series of events, not an actual story. The story is a historical fiction with some slight steampunk leanings. There’ are airships and advanced clockwork robotics but that’s not really delved into. (This is a theme, by the way)

The book reads like a cookie-cutter historical fiction. It’s obvious that Deborah Schaumberg did some research into the times but the history isn’t integrated that well.

Take, for instance, the rise of unions in response to unreasonable work conditions. Avery works as a welder in an IronWorks factory. She’s apparently so good that despite the obvious sexism that would arise in such a profession of the era, she’s kept on the force. But the narrative really never explores her position in an all-male profession or how she dealt with some the sexism that naturally comes with that. The narrative never shows why she’s passionate about her job and it doesn’t help that she frames the job as a burden to support her alcoholic father. More egregious is the narrative’s treatment of the history of unions and the reductiveness it takes to both sides of the conflict. Avery never personally gets herself involved. She’s let in on the secret union meetings but she never takes part in them and the narrative never thoughtfully delves into the nuances of the issue. Instead, we get mustache twisting industrialists and rioting protestors to push through a message that “We are all people so why can’t we get along?”

A lot of the historical detail is treated this way. It’s referenced but not thoughtfully explored. Sexism, racism, lingering civil war tension, and the horrible conditions in mental health institutions are paid some lip service but before we really delve into those topics we’re skipping to the next thing. The history is just window dressing to a weak narrative of personal growth, self-acceptance, and a surface level screed on human compassion.

disappointed
My face when I got to the ultimate “They’re fighting but why can’t we all get along. If only they could see we’re human and…[insert reductive reason that never discusses nuances here]” climax
I don’t think that the characters were entirely fleshed out either. The cast in this is huge and juggling all those people around is a huge effort. But you never know how important a character is. Minor characters are given more of a spotlight. Major characters are shoved into the background. A random love triangle is shoehorned in just because and obvious dumb mistakes were made by the main character a little too much for my liking.

I guess I’ve made no secret of my dislike of this book. I’m very big on my historical in my fiction. I’m rather sensitive to it. If you’re curious, I say pick it up. One critic did say it was a good cross between the Gangs of New York and Cassandra Clare. If you like either of those…maybe go for it. I mean, I don’t see it but okay.

My Rating:

 

1 star

Yesterday [Review]

17264080The Skinny: Amanda is trying to get her life back on track after experiencing a recent tragedy. While making her way to her job, she runs into a Mark Callahan, a mounted policeman of the Chicago force. After their dramatic meeting, they feel drawn to each other. Almost as if they’ve known each other in a former life. Their discovery of what ties them together takes them from the battlefields of the Civil War to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

You know those novels where the premise just sounds so perfect. Where it seems to have the perfect blend of action, psychology, history with the right smatterings of a romance to make for a compelling narrative? Ever had all these hopes dashed?

Okay, that might be a bit harsh. While reading this book, I just couldn’t help but feel so disillusioned with everything: the characters, the structure, the romance (oh the romance!). But let me take a step back.

Of course, there were narrative elements I really did like about the story. The opening chapters are full of action and quirky character details were instantly engaging. Every step back in time was beautifully written with rich historical detail. I looked forward to the sections where we were seeing the Civil War through a child’s eyes and the devastation wrought by the Chicago Fire of 1871. Samyann’s clear love of Chicago, past and present, really comes through. These were the parts where I thought the book truly shined.

Let me just preface the next section by stating that I know that this book wasn’t written for me. For a mystery, horror, and nonfiction enthusiast, romance ends up being a really hit or miss genre. I more enjoy romance as a piece of greater narrative, not the point of the narrative. Whether two people get together can’t be the only stake. Despite the many elements in Yesterday, it is essentially a romance story with that one stake. More frustratingly, however, is that it’s a romance novel where I didn’t even care if the leads got together.

I really disliked the characters, particularly the leads. Amanda has suffered many tragic losses throughout her life and finds that these tragic incidents define her life. She refuses to get close to any other person. When she feels that she might lose someone, she completely breaks down. This is not too bad by itself but how it was executed grated on my nerves. She has obvious coping issues but the narrative posits love instead of therapy as her ultimate cure.

The psychological therapy where she regresses into her past life was supposed to reveal a trend of trauma and to figure out how she knows Mark, the other main lead. The story continually posits Mark as the fix to her trauma. That being together will ultimately fix Amanda’s mindset and I wasn’t here for it. Something about it rubbed me the wrong way and it was really difficult for me to root for them as a couple because of it. There’s no growth that naturally springs from the narrative. The solution is that they should be together and the narrative more hinges on that question than any personal development.

I also had a problem with how the story was structured. Most of the plot happens while the characters are sitting down talking and drinking their favorite beverage (be it wine, beer, coffee, what have you). Important plot points are referenced in the past tense. Scenes outside of these that I would’ve much rather seen like Mark’s discussion with the antique store owner are skipped over so the characters can talk about it in Amanda’s apartment. This structure becomes quite trying. Even in past scenes, I would’ve more liked to see how Bonnie’s (Amanda’s past life) family lived through the Civil War before ultimately making the decision to go North. Or how I would’ve loved to see Bonnie and Daniel first meeting in the past rather than just dropping into that story at a much later date–skipping right past their first meeting to their courting.

Unfortunately, this is why I could hardly enjoy the book. I really, really wanted to love it but I couldn’t.

 

My Rating:

1 star