Saturday, 12 May 2012

Guest review: Arcadia Awakens by Kai Meyer

Summary from Goodreads:To New Yorker Rosa Alcantara, the exotic world of Sicily, with its network of Mafia families and its reputation for murder and intrigue, is just that—exotic, and wholly unknown. But when tragedy strikes, she must travel there, to her family’s ancestral home, where her sister and aunt have built their lives and where centuries of family secrets await her. Once there, Rosa wastes no time falling head over heels for Alessandro Carnevare, the son of a Sicilian Mafia family, whose handsome looks and savage grace both intrigue and unsettle her. But their families are sworn enemies, and her aunt and sister believe Alessandro is only using Rosa to infiltrate the Alcantara clan. And when Rosa encounters a tiger one night—a tiger with very familiar eyes—she can no longer deny that neither the Carnevares nor the Alcantaras are what they seem.

Ancient myths brought to life in the Sicilian countryside, dangerous beasts roaming the hills, and a long history of familial bloodlust prove to Rosa that she can’t trust anyone—not even her own family. Torn between loyalty to her aunt and love for her family’s mortal enemy, Rosa must make the hardest decision of her life: stay in Sicily with her new love . . . or run as far and as fast as she can.

The setting to this novel is refreshing compared to most YA novels currently out there. The “Romeo and Juliet meets The Godfather and hangs out with Twilight” relation; the mythological Arcadian shape-shifters; the beautiful ruin-covered Sicilian landscape; and menacing age-old rivalries all add up to serve a very appealing story.

Kai Meyer introduces us to the dark underworld of Sicily’s Mafia in a realistic yet mysterious manner. The undying authority of Cosa Nostra and bloodlust between the Alcantara and Carnevare clans hints at an action-packed storyline, however, this wasn’t fully delivered. The majority of this story was predictable and the key points to the plot were revealed very early on without much mystery for us to linger onto beforehand. Regardless of this, the themes of death, loss and violence were handled in an appropriate manner as to not give the reader an uncomfortable reading experience.

The protagonist – Rosa Alcantara – is introduced as a kleptomaniac with a hidden secret. Her snarky comments and sarcastic tone sets her aside from other female protagonists but her rebellious nature seems to gradually shy away when she comes into contact with the desirable Alessandro Carnevare – who just so happens to be the impending capo of an enemy clan. Even though he is the novel’s obvious love-interest, I was relieved to see that the ‘insta-love’ factor was absent at their first meeting but as the story continues there is obviously a strong attraction between the pair. Plus, Alessandro is a somewhat unpredictable character as there were moments when I had no idea what the hell he was going to do next! Talk about keeping me on the edge of my seat.

The element of shape-shifters captivated me, especially because it was derived from ancient Greek mythology which I absolutely adore! The written transition from human to animal form was impeccably done with each clan assuming the form of a different species of animal - the Lamia and Panthera being the novel’s main focus.

Unfortunately, even though the premise for this story completely intrigued me, it did come with its flaws. One aspect that I had a major problem with was the over-description of individual scenes. I felt that Meyer was going too far in his attempt to bring these mystical places to life – the non-stop details made it hard for me to process them all at once and it took me a couple of re-reads to finally piece together what I think it was that Meyer intended for me to visualise. The first handful of chapters also lacked in substance. I understand that they were used to help readers familiarise themselves with the Mafia and Rosa’s background but it was very spread out and seemed to be going forward without much sense of direction.

Despite these flaws, Arcadia Awakens proved to be a very fascinating read, especially considering it was originally published in German. I’m eager to get my hands on the next instalment – Arcadia Burns – which is to be released next year.

3/5 stars.

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