Let’s start with what I did like. Schwab has an incredibly readable writing style. Every time I open one of her books, I feel like I fly through it so quickly. When you get involved in anything written by Schwab, you start to forget that you’re reading a book and feel more like you’re watching a movie. And her pacing, in this book in particular, is spot on.
The idea behind the book was also excellent, and the plot really appealed to me. Near Death Experiences leading to X-Men-like mutant powers was a unique concept. Those powers being in some way influenced by the person’s thoughts as death tried to take them was also a pretty fascinating view into the human psyche, and how we each approach both life and death differently.
Schwab’s characters were both a pro and a con for me. I couldn’t get super invested in the characters, but I will confess that they were interesting. They never felt real to me, but Schwab did a great job building a cast that I could visualize. Going back to my movie comparison above, the characters felt more like movie characters than book characters to me. I could see them vividly in my mind’s eye, but their inner workings, though explained, never clicked for me. But as I said, they were definitely an interesting cast of characters. Especially Victor, Mitch, and Sydney.
Okay, now on to my main issue in the book: the worldview. I understand that many writers don’t share my view of the world, and I read broadly in spite of that. But something I’ve noticed about Schwab is that her writing can be incredibly nihilistic. While I could kind of look past it in the Darker Shade of Magic books because of the more varied and fantastic settings, I had a really hard time reading past it here, in a world that looks so very similar to ours. Nihilism is just a worldview I cannot get behind, and that I struggle to read past. The belief that there is no purpose to life, that everything is meaningless, is the saddest thing in the world to me. Schwab’s characters come to believe that the existence of goodness is a falsehood, a fable we tell ourselves in order to keep hopelessness at bay. I’m aggressively optimistic, and my Christian worldview leads me to believe strongly that life is meaningful, that goodness not only exists but will always triumph in the end. I know there are people who strongly disagree with my outlook on life, just as I disagree with Schwab’s, people who think that I’m naïve. And that’s okay. One of the greatest things about humanity is our freedom to think for ourselves and to hold different opinions. But the hopelessness and refusal to believe in goodness were my main problems here, as well as Eli’s crazy views on God and his assumedly God-given purpose, which made me super uncomfortable.
Overall, I can easily see why this book is appealing. Unique premise and plot packed with intrigue and action and written in a way that sucks readers in; what’s not to love? Unfortunately, it just wasn’t for me. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t for you! And I still think that it would make a pretty great movie.