Unspoken

Unspoken was written by Sarah Rees Brennan and was first published in 2012. It is a paranormal romance novel about a teenage girl who learns that her imaginary friend is real. The novel forms the first part of The Lyburn Legacy series and is followed by Untold (2013) and Unmade (2014), as well as a couple of short-stories that further expand the world.

As long as Kami Glass can remember, she has had Jared. Although the other kids at school thought that she was weird, she has always talked to the strange boy in her head as though he was there with her. While she’s never really doubted his existence, he’s never quite felt real to her either. Yet that is before the Lyburn family returned to her small hometown of Sorry-in-the-Vale.

The Lyburn family have been gone for years but never forgotten. They are the founding family of the town and are revered by almost everyone, yet no one seems to want to talk about why. As a budding journalist, Kami is determined to get a scoop about them despite the wall of silence. The best way to do so seems to be through the two teenage Lyburn boys. It’s not long before she runs into charming Ash at school, yet it is his brooding cousin that she finds more intriguing. Especially when she learns that his name is Jared.

Yet, at the same time that the Lyburns return, strange things begin to happen in Sorry-in-the-Vale. Kami stumbles across what seems to be the site of a dark ritual in the woods and soon after is attacked herself. Rallying a small group of friends, Kami makes it her mission to discover the secret of the mysterious family. Yet it soon becomes clear that this investigation could risk both her bond with Jared and her life…

While paranormal romance is far from being my favourite genre, I still tried to approach this novel with an open mind. After all, for every Hush, Hush that I have reviewed on this blog there has also been a Shiver. Yet, there was something about Unspoken that just rubbed me the wrong way. I think that my biggest problem with the book is that, despite the fact that the author is clearly consciously aware of the typical tropes of the genre, she still seems to fall foul of almost every single one of them.

Unspoken tries its hardest to create an anti-paranormal romance novel. Sadly, I don’t mean that it is another masterpiece like Awoken. The author is a little heavy handed in the way that she draws attention to the usual young adult tropes, as if to emphasise that she is not conforming to them. A lot of this can be found in Kami’s attitude towards Jared, such as when she responds to an early attempt of his to push her away by smashing the window of his room to get his attention. However, it very quickly becomes clear that even though Brennan tries to break outside of the box, she still remains pressed up against the outside.

Unspoken contains a really obvious love triangle between Kami, Ash and Jared. Of these two suitors, one of these is a confident and charming golden boy, while the other is brooding and troubled. At least, we are constantly told that Jared is a bad boy. He wears a leather jacket and rides a motorbike, but otherwise doesn’t seem that rough. Worst of all is how generic Kami is. It is a truth universally acknowledged that all paranormal romance heroines claim to be unlike the other girls. Kami is bubbly, bookish and cute but not considered beautiful, which does not really set her apart in this genre.

Yet the biggest problem that I had with Unspoken was the way that it was written. More than anything, the novel just felt unpolished. The plot was a sugar rush, completely lacking focus as it skipped from one scene to the next. It did not feel as though it progressed naturally as the protagonists were very easily sidetracked. Although they do occasionally stumble across clues (more through luck than actual detective work), Kami is prone to ignoring these for chapters at a time. A mysterious hotel key is never used, while a trip to London to meet a potential witness is called off on the man’s doorstep because Jared conveniently falls ill.

Due to this, the novel just feels clumsy. It is an awkwardly written supernatural story that takes over three quarters of its page count to find its feet. This is certainly not helped by the somewhat odd tone that the narrative takes. While serious things certainly do happen within the story, it almost felt as though the third person narrative made light of them. The characters constantly fling jokes and quips at each other, each of them witty in a way that does not feel natural in real life. Even when standing over the body of a murdered teenager, they somehow are able to keep up the snappy remarks. This grated on me very quickly.

Although things do finally start to draw together towards the climax, we learn next to nothing about the Lyburn family and how their powers work. While it is obvious that they do have magic, there is no real indication of its limitations or why the Lyburns are so much more powerful than everyone else. The ending of the story also set my teeth on edge. Not only does it break off on a very abrupt cliff-hanger, but also on an unnecessarily bitter note that left me with a bad taste in my mouth. While the character responsible for this had started to grow on me over the course of the novel, their behaviour in the final chapters was deplorable and certainly gave me no incentive to continue with the series.

In fact, it the cast of Unspoken gave me lots of problems. The main characters felt like caricatures, each seeming to possess one positive and one negative trait (for example, Jared is sullen and loyal). The novel seemed at first to have a quite unique premise. It centred on two people who fell in love with each other on a mental level, rather than physically. However, this quickly proved to be an exercise in frustration for me. A lot of the dialogue was given over to Kami judging Jared based on his appearance. Although she describes him as being rather attractive – blonde, tall and muscular – for some reason she seems to find this is repulsive. It’s a reversal of the standard “attractive man is ugly inside” trope and comes across as equally shallow.

I also felt that the identity of the villain was a bit too easy to guess. As Unspoken drew towards its climax, it became far too obvious who the killer was purely as there was no one else that it could possibly be. I was also disappointed by the lack of gravitas that this character commanded. Despite the power that he possessed, he was nearly beaten to a pulp by an ordinary teenage girl. Lord Voldemort would never have stood for this.

Anyhow, I’m starting to ramble so I guess I will wrap this up. While Unspoken isn’t the worst paranormal romance story that I’ve ever read, I still found reading it to be an exercise in frustration. There were multiple issues throughout, ranging from structure to pacing to characterisation. It’s certainly not a novel that I would recommend and I’m in no hurry to continue with this series any time soon.

Unspoken can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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