Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Sixteen year old Taylor Oh is cursed: if she is touched by the ghost of a murder victim then they pass a mark beneath her skin. She has three weeks to find their murderer and pass the mark to them – letting justice take place and sending them into the Darkness. And if she doesn’t make it in time? The Darkness will come for her…
She spends her life trying to avoid ghosts, make it through school where she’s bullied by popular Justin and his cronies, keep her one remaining friend, and persuade her father that this is real and that she’s not going crazy.
But then Justin is murdered and everything gets a whole lot worse. Justin doesn’t know who killed him, so there’s no obvious person for Taylor to go after. The clues she has lead her to the V Club, a vicious secret society at her school where no one is allowed to leave… and where Justin was dared to do the stunt which led to his death.
Can she find out who was responsible for his murder before the Darkness comes for her? Can she put aside her hatred for her former bully to truly help him?
And what happens if she starts to fall for him?
Thoughts: Bryony Pearce takes a concept that has done many times before and takes it in some interesting directions. Taylor Oh is cursed to avenge the dead, inflicting death and darkness upon those who cause the demise of others. A heavy destiny for a 16 year old. Especially when your mother, who also could see the dead and was charged to avenge them, is dead and your father believes that you’re suffering from hallucinations and is desperate to cure you.
Unlike many novels involving teens with special powers, I was pleased to see that Taylor suffers greatly when it comes to social interactions. Some books attempt to show some conflict in this area but often it’s a token attempt and either friends accept everything instantly and pledge to help, or else there’s a single argument and then characters make up. But Taylor is unpopular and picked up, and her one and only friends gets awfully tired of constantly being dumped with no explanation, to the point where the friendship does break off completely for a time. It was quite realistic, and the first-person viewpoint makes it easy for the reader to empathize with Taylor’s pain and anxiety over the situation.
Also realistic was the expressed racism that peppered the book. Most of the racist comments and epithets were not extremely offensive on their own, but instead were the stupid comments of teenagers who think they’re being witty in their insults. That doesn’t mean they weren’t insulting or offensive, but they were the kind of comments that are just at the right level that they can sting, but most adults will just tell a teenager to brush off and won’t actually step in to combat. It was an impressive balance to strike, and did a lot to make the characters real instead of just players in a morality tale.
While Pearce’s take on mythology and the history behind the Oh family curse was interesting, there were an awful lot of infodumps, through Taylor’s reading of The Tale of Oh-Fa, the memoir of her ancestor who first received the Anubis’s curse. Especially because it didn’t feel like those infodumps actually added much to the novel. They were interspersed through the story fairly evenly, little steps back from the action of the moment when Taylor had some downtime, but aside from explaining how the curse first occurred (which had already been explained, though not in as much detail), it mostly just ate up words and took the reader away from the immediacy of the story. It was interesting to a small degree, but mostly unnecessary.
The science that Taylor’s father was clinging to was sketchy at best, and I’m not sure if that was the desperate hope of a father or just poor fact-checking. His obsession with proving that the curse was curable led him to transfer Taylor’s mitochondrial DNA into a sample of his own cells, and that part makes sense in that both mitochondrial DNA and the Oh family curse were passed through the female side of the family. But his insistence that his blood being infected meant that it was a disease that could be cured was seriously less based in science, given all the incurable genetic conditions that exist. And as I said, that could just be the hope of a desperate parent, but it wasn’t presented as such, so I’m hesitant to just pass it off as that. It could go either way.
And as always, something does have to be said about the romantic aspects of the novel. I’m happy to say that romance, for the most part, was not actually a big thing throughout the story, which long-time readers of my reviews will know is my preferred method of expressing romance in fiction. Don’t beat me over the head with it, don’t make it obsessive, and I’ll probably like it. And it certainly was interesting to see a developping relationship involving a ghost, since that isn’t too often done unless the plot involves time travel and a relationship with a person before they became a ghost in the first place. But there still wasn’t much chemistry between Taylor and Justin, even after they had grown to understand each other more, and it seemed that a lot of it was handwaved as part of Anubis’s promise. “Oh, Aubis promised the cursed ones a great love in their life, and I kinda like this guy, and he likes me, so wow, maybe he’s that great love!” I didn’t feel it. I can see wondering, but I don’t feel much of a connection between Taylor and Justin that goes beyond a teenage crush, so I’m very much hoping that he either isn’t Taylor’s great love, or else they actually spend some time growing closer in a non-emergency situation later on. Which, given my opinions on romance in fiction, will have to be something pretty spectacular to make me not feel like it’s too much.
Ultimately, what we’ve got here is a strong novel with an interesting concept and a twisty-turny supernatural murder mystery. The ending was a little cheesy and had an obvious hook in its cliffhanger, and there are still the other issues I had with plot and characters that I mentioned earlier, but I can forgive the novel that much because the rest was so much fun to read. The pacing was very good, except for those backstory interludes. As far as YA genre novels go, this is one of the better ones that I’ve read this year, and I’m curious as to what else Pearce will do in the future.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)