The Almost Girl, by Amalie Howard

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Publication date – January 7, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Seventeen-year-old Riven is as tough as they come. Coming from a world ravaged by a devastating android war, she has to be. There’s no room for softness, no room for emotion, no room for mistakes. A Legion General, she is the right hand of the young Prince of Neospes, a parallel universe to Earth. In Neospes, she has everything: rank, responsibility and respect. But when Prince Cale sends her away to find his long-lost brother, Caden, who has been spirited back to modern day Earth, Riven finds herself in uncharted territory.

Thrown out of her comfort zone but with the mindset of a soldier, Riven has to learn how to be a girl in a realm that is the opposite of what she knows. Riven isn’t prepared for the beauty of a world that is unlike her own in so many ways. Nor is she prepared to feel something more than indifference for the very target she seeks. Caden is nothing like Cale, but he makes something in her come alive, igniting a spark deep down that goes against every cell in her body. For the first time in her life, Riven isn’t sure about her purpose, about her calling. Torn between duty and desire, she must decide whether Caden is simply a target or whether he is something more.

Faced with hideous reanimated Vector soldiers from her own world with agendas of their own, as well as an unexpected reunion with a sister who despises her, it is a race against time to bring Caden back to Neospes. But things aren’t always as they seem, and Riven will have to search for truth. Family betrayals and royal coups are only the tip of the iceberg. Will Riven be able to find the strength to defy her very nature? Or will she become the monstrous soldier she was designed to be?

Thoughts: Riven, soldier of an alternate world known as Neospes, has been sent to this world on a mission: to find Caden and bring him across worlds and back to Neospes at the request of Caden’s brother, Prince Cale. Not as easy a mission as it sounds, given that Riven mostly has no idea where Caden is, and she’s being hampered in her efforts by the arrival of reanimated soldiers from her own world, intent on interfering with her plan for reasons she suspects have much to do with her father, a power-mad scientist from Neospes. Throw in a romantic subplot and a strong dash of mistaken identities, and you have the makings of an action-packed piece of YA sci-fi that’s well worth reading.

The writing is almost cinematic in its clarity, written as though the author had perfectly clear images in mind for each scene she wrote, or possibly wrote it with a cinematic adaptation in mind. This makes for easy visualization and good pacing, though it does suffer from the predictable and clichéd moments that tend to come along with teen sci-fi movies. This is particularly evident in the romantic development between Riven and Caden. It can be summed up in the following way: “I don’t like you. Okay, I guess you’re attractive. Stop being nice to me, it’s making my job difficult. Kind of attractive… Hey, let’s make out in a tense situation! Oh no, you’re in danger, things are chaotic, and my focus in life has shifted to primarily feature you and how we can be together.” Admittedly, Riven did keep more of her priorities straight than a number of YA heroines I’ve seen when romance is involved, and Caden was very central to the more urgent and important issues going on around her, so it didn’t feel as tacky as it could have, but it was still pretty formulaic in terms of development.

In spite of the writing style, ease of reading, and tight pacing, the book is far from perfect, and I’m not just talking about the romantic subplot above. One thing that bothered me frequently through the book was how Riven seemed situationally ignorant. She’s not a stupid person. She’s presented as being very physically capable, strong, quick, fast-thinking, and by this world’s standard, a scientific genius. Yet she slips up often enough, in spite of training and a supposed dedication to her mission, that it’s no wonder she gets discovered. Large hints get dropped about many things that seem to fly over her head. And either Cale is the greatest actor across both universes or else he had an utter shift in personality, because the Cale in Riven’s flashbacks and the cruel evil Cale we see at the end of the book bear no resemblance to each other, and I wondered how Riven could have missed what should have been demonstrated. I could chalk it up to an unreliable narrator, but the book isn’t written in such a way that this would be a logical train of thought.

Really, as far as plot goes, it’s a pretty standard sci-fi adventure with a romantic subplot along the way. It’s predictable but fun, mixing the disturbing elements of reanimated corpses and oppressive post-apocalyptic worlds with fluffy high school drama elements, keeping the two largely separate but still allowing for some overlap. Where the book truly shines is in the writing style, and the ease of which I can see a film adaptation being developed. It’s surprising how much good writing can actually cover up plot or character-development flaws, when you get right down to it.

It’s a series I probably will continue, since while the high school drama aspects were mostly uninteresting, the post-apocalyptic world of Neospes holds a large amount of fascination and potential, and I want to see that developed and expanded upon. Neospes itself featured very prominently in the second half of the book, and that was where my attention was really caught. Wild wastelands surrounding small pockets of civilization, a sort of alternate timeline divergence leading to a different world developing, banished outlaws with (unsurprisingly) the truth behind what the Neospes monarchy is up to.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced read and don’t mind a lot of clichés or a large setting change halfway through, then this might be a YA novel that will keep you on your toes and entertain you very well. Worth at least giving a chance, even if it doesn’t turn out to be your cup of tea when all is said and done. Even if it doesn’t make you think much, it will give you some good slick visuals and is high on the entertainment value.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

2 comments on “The Almost Girl, by Amalie Howard

  1. Wow, a middle of the road review. Everything I have seen for this book has either been glowing with praise or trashed it.

    And I agree, the single most important thing is often how real these fantastical elements are made.

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