When Luce is the only witness to a boy's mysterious death, there's no way she can tell anyone what really happened. It's a dilemma: talk about the dark shadows that have been stalking her since she was a little girl, and look crazy - or keep her mouth shut and look guilty. So she finds herself packed off to Savannah's Sword and Cross, a reform school for delinquent teens.
Immediately, Luce finds herself torn between her attraction to two of her fellow students. On the one hand there's Cam - handsome, straightforward, and clearly into Luce. But then there's the inexplicable connection she feels to brooding Daniel Grigori. Not only that, but the dark shadows are stepping up their game...
Reform school. It's not on my list of ideal settings for a fantasy novel, but something about Fallen called to me from the first time I heard about it. Perhaps it's the downright unexpectedness of a story about fallen angels being populated with... well, delinquent teens. But let's be honest - they're called fallen angels for a reason, right?
First up, let's talk about Luce. I don't know about you, but for a romance to really work in a book, I need more than a super hot love interest. Smouldering exchanges, palpable chemistry, the occasional act of chivalry - that's all well and good. But I need a heroine I actually like. Someone I actually hope does bag the hot guy. I'm happy to say that in Fallen, Luce fills that role perfectly. She's troubled, she's flawed, but she has integrity and she's wholly believable as someone who has been plagued by shadows since she was a small child. After years of medication and psychiatrists, she's learned not to talk about them. There's no point - nobody can help her, she doesn't want to create any more worry for her parents, and she can do without the meds and headshrinks. Something dark has singled her out, and she's alone in the face of it. She's more Bella than Buffy, which may trouble some readers, but she's believable with it. Although she's clearly learned to live with the situation, her life has been marred by it - and this is what makes her so convincing.
It's rare to find a YA title that manages to achieve great chemistry between the romantic leads, and populate the rest of the story with well-drawn, intriguing secondary characters. For me, this is one achievement that sets Fallen apart from a lot of other YA fantasy novels. The intoxicating romantic undercurrent is always there, but Luce, Cam and Daniel don't exist in a vacuum. In an environment like Sword and Cross, Luce is grateful for friendship where she finds it and her connections with female characters like Arianne and Penn are as convincing and engaging as her romantic entanglements. There's a real sense that all of the characters have their own motivations and agendas - even if we don't know what they are yet. Throw the heady Savannah setting into the mix, and reading Fallen becomes an incredibly immersive experience.
As any fantasy novel enthusiast will appreciate, a story ain't got nothing unless it convinces us to suspend our disbelief beyond its normal limits. Fallen achieves this with slow build tactics, drawing the reader in and posing tantalising questions to which the answers can only be supernatural. It's a style I love, and I was hooked from the first chapter. Every time I thought I just couldn't bear the suspense any longer, Lauren Kate would offer a tasty morsel of revelation to draw me in even deeper than before. Slow build, yes. Slow read, not at all - because I'm talking serious page-turning here. While I don't want to drop any spoilers - believe me, you'll want to read those big reveals the way the author intended them - what I will say is that when Luce learns the truth about her connection to Daniel, it's well worth the wait. Although the ending doesn't delve too deeply into the secrets of Daniel's world, we're left with the feeling that alongside Luce we have plenty more to discover in the aptly named sequel, Torment, this time next year.
Fallen is one for readers who like their romance with a side order of supernatural, and their love interests dark and mysterious. If that's you, you'll want to put this one on your wishlist.
Out: 17 December, UK (9 December, US)
Thank you to Random House UK for providing me with a review copy of this book.