In the Way of All Flesh

In the Way of All Flesh was written by Caitlin Alise Donovan and first published in 2019. It is an urban fantasy story that focuses on a teenage girl as she tries to cope with a frightening and isolating power. The novel stands alone, although does have the potential to form the first instalment of a longer series.

Manee Srikwan has a good reason to avoid her classmates. She wears gloves and long-sleeved clothing at all times as it is the only way to control her horrifying power. Whenever Manee makes physical contact with a person, even if it is just for a second, she has a vision of the way that person will eventually die. She also has a terrible fear that perhaps she is somehow the one that causes these messy and inescapable fates.

However, things start to change when she makes friends with Stephanie Pierce. Stephanie is confident, beautiful and out-going, and Manee quickly grows attracted to her. She also starts to grow more comfortable with her abilities as the two work together to prevent the death of one of her classmates. However, Manee’s happiness unfortunately can’t last.

When Manee accidentally touches Stephanie, she learns that her beloved will soon be murdered. Worse still, Manee sees that she will be the killer. Desperate to prevent this terrible fate, she breaks off their friendship and puts as much distance between her and Stephanie as she can. However, she has not counted on the fact that Stephanie also has skeletons in her closet, and will stop at nothing to get Manee back…

Before I begin, a word of warning. In the Way of All Flesh does contain a number of themes that sensitive readers may find distressing. Over the course of the novel there are frequent portrayals and references to suicide, mental illness, violence against women and child abuse. Some of these scenes can also be a little gruesome, so if these things do upset you, I would strongly recommend giving this book a miss.

I also kind of want to apologise to both the author of this novel, and the friend that recommended this book to me. Despite how it may seem at times, I tend to avoid reading novels that I think that I will not enjoy because I hate giving negative reviews. This is especially true for independently published novels, as I appreciate how hard it is to get recognised in such a competitive market. If the blurb above makes you curious at all, I would still strongly recommend seeking this book out and giving it a try for yourself.

However, unfortunately, I did have some fairly major issues with this novel. Let me tell you why.

I was initially drawn to In the Way of All Flesh by its premise. I do truly love the idea of a protagonist who is afraid to get close to the people that she loves due to the fact that she fears learning the way that they will die. The traumatic effect that this has had on Manee is made clear early in the novel, as it is revealed how this knowledge haunts her whenever she looks at her father. There is just something wholly compelling about this idea, and it provides a lot of potential. However, I felt that the book let itself down in its execution.

For the first 25% of the Kindle edition, the story held my interest but I already had the sense that there was something a little off about it. While Donovan clearly does have technical skill as a writer, there were frequently small things in the text that took me out of the action. Manee’s first-person narrative is heartfelt and understandably melancholic, but some of the dialogue between her and the other characters felt too long winded. Both Manee and her friends had a tendency to make drawn-out speeches, which never feel natural in conversational dialogue.

I also had an issue with the way certain key events in the novel unfolded. This is probably a personal gripe, but it just felt as thought that the novel was often too over-the-top to feel realistic. I’m struggling to give a good example of this without spoiling the novel for you, but there were times when it felt like unlikeliest of things seemed to happen purely because the author was trying to make the novel more original. In may of these instances, I did feel that a lower key event would have perhaps been less memorable but would have held more gravitas.

While In the Way of All Flesh was rather fast paced, it also had a bit of a strange structure. There were two time-jumps within the story, forcing Donovan to exposit a lot of detail to fill in the gaps. There was also a fair bit of repetition, particularly early in the story when everyone seemed to be on Manee’s back while she constantly tried to push them away (more on that shortly).

While the actual ending of the story did feel a little weak due to the time-jump and the fact that that fate of the villain was brushed under the carpet, the thing that I enjoyed most was the twist in Stephanie’s backstory that was revealed about 60% of the way through the novel. This was actually really quite clever and I certainly did not see it coming. However, I unfortunately have serious issues with the way that this came about.

This really leads into my biggest problem with the story – the way in which the relationship between Manee and Stephanie is presented. I must admit that I was torn about the two from their initial introduction. While they are wonderfully diverse, as both were half-Thai and LGBT, they were also quite generic. Manee was introverted and nerdy, uncomfortable with social situations and happiest when drawing manga or reading. Stephanie, on the other hand, was her confident and outgoing counterpart. However, the thing that I really couldn’t get behind was just how toxic their relationship was.

While the complex backstories for both characters are slowly revealed as the story progresses, detailing just how their past experiences and upbringings have damaged them, this did not change the fact that Stephanie just came across as being controlling and manipulative. Although she claims to be acting on Manee’s best interest, she goes out of her way to prevent her from having other friends, makes light of her fears and even goes so far as to cut off Manee’s hair (without her consent or any forewarning) to get her attention.

The tip of the iceberg for me was the point where Stephanie attempts suicide due to the fact that Manee does not accept her. While the novel does eventually reveal that there is more to this act then it first seems, Stephanie faces no repercussions for this behaviour and it only seems to make Manee want her more, even after spiralling into crippling guilt and depression over this. I really do not like the message that this gives out, as it almost seems to portray Stephanie’s actions as being heroic.

The supporting cast also had their problems. While they largely grew on me as the novel progressed, I found a lot of their earlier behaviour to be baffling. I’m not sure why Manee’s sister seemed convinced that she was attention-seeking when it’s clear that she is clinically depressed, or why their father did not do more to mediate this hostile relationship. At least the two of them do come to an understanding over the final part of the story.

More confusing still was the way that a majority of characters seemed to put responsibilities on Manee that should not have had. For example, when Manee’s tutor suffers a terrible ordeal and spirals into depression, Manee is berated by several characters for not being there for the tutor. Despite the fact that Manee’s only relation to her is a student-teacher relationship. Despite the fact that she hasn’t even had the tutor for very long. Despite the fact that Manee is not very stable herself. Despite the fact that the teacher even tells Manee that seeing her just makes things worse. Perhaps my relationship with my teachers was a bit different to Manee’s, because I just don’t understand this mentality at all.

I think I’ve made my point. All in all, In the Way of All Flesh was not for me. I liked the concept of this story but had serious issues with its message and execution. Unfortunately, it’s not a novel that I would recommend.

In the Way of All Flesh can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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