Up for review this week, we have Unbound, which is the debut work from author Adriane Ceallaigh. It is an older release, so she also has some other novels out as well.
I’m going to start this review by stating up front that I enjoyed this read, and it kept me entertained all the way through. Adriane has set up a very complex and treacherous world for her characters to navigate.
Unbound is set in a dark and gritty contemporary fantasy landscape where the supernatural is always present and accepted. In this world the “things that go bump in the night” are all real, and generations of mages have been captured for their magic. The mages we meet in the opening scene of the book have been bound as slaves for a very long time. The description in the book reminded me of controllable zombies with powers. Even after finishing the book, I am honestly not sure if the controlled mages are actually undead (at least sometimes) and kept moving by their magic, or just extremely filthy and unkempt.
There are two jobs the slaves, often called mage-hunters, appear to be commonly used for. One is to hunt down unbound mages to add to their master’s power base; the other is to act as the hitman/brute squad for their master.
The main character, Kayla Blackstone, is a supernatural bounty hunter and runner. This is different from a mage-hunter, because Kayla relies on a magical sword and potions/items to capture her prey, and only takes on new contracts or work when she wants to. She tries to avoid the mage-hunters and their masters all together, operating on the fringes of the supernatural world.
This staying-under-the-radar plan goes sideways for Kayla when one of the local kingpin creeps, Keaton, notices her efficiency. He decides to offer her a job of the not-so-optional variety. She turns him down anyway, which results in her house being burnt down by his mage-hunters with her daughter and husband inside. Keaton uses her grief at this loss as an opportunity to give her a mind-wiping magical potion, and convinces her she has been working for him all along. This book becomes a tale about her trying to get out from under his influence and find herself again. It’s also about the people she meets during that journey.
Which bring us to my one issue about this story. Basically everything I’ve told you so far happens by the end of the first chapter. The pacing in the book is incredibly fast, and rarely slows down to give the characters, or the reader, time to truly digest and react to what just happened.
For me, the breakneck pace in this book resulted in both a positive and a negative.
On the positive side:
Opening the book to finishing it only took me two hours at most.
The world and story concept definitely drove me forward and kept me turning the pages without thinking of putting the book down, because I wanted to find out what happened next.
But on the negative side:
Because there’s no down time between events (or very rarely), the characters’ reactions sometimes felt rushed or even a little manic. There’s also a few occasions where one character will state a new plot point while another character ignores what was said, since there’s been no time to set up whatever is happening anywhere else. I still enjoyed the read, but that did make suspension of disbelief a little bumpy at times.
I do have to give Adriane props here, that even when I felt the pacing was the most hurried, I still wanted to know what happened next.
Lastly, I’m actually leaving the book with more questions about the world than I had when I started. This may be a result of the sprint-like pacing, or it may be intentional on the author’s part, given that this is book one in a series. Either way, I’m left with the feeling that there’s so much more about this world and these characters that needs to be explored.
Let me be clear: There are already some really cool concepts in this story and it is definitely worth the read; I just feel like the story idea would have popped even more if the book had given the reader a little more to chew on and the time to do that.
This is a debut work, and I felt it shows so much promise along with the things that show there’s some room for growth. I’m looking forward to when the next Kayla Blackstone book comes out, because I really want to see how the author handles the questions she’s left unanswered.
Hopefully we’ll also see a lot more growth from these characters in book 2. All in all, it’s still a good read, and I’m very happy I picked it up.