Thursday, August 5, 2010

Indie Book Review: Portal, by Imogen Rose

I had high hopes for this one, as there seemed to be a buzz about it, and generally favorable reviews.  The premise was interesting, and I see potential, but overall I have to say this book was a disappointment.

Portal switches back and forth from three character points of view- Arizona Darley/Stevens, her mother Olivia, and a third character not introduced until the very last chapter.  In fact, I think it's the epilogue, which really reads more like a preview for the sequel, Equilibrium.  The novel would have been stronger, in fact, if the epilogue had been rewritten a preview.  Introducing a new character at the end only made the whole thing more confusing.

If I could describe the book in one word, it would be: muddled.  Rose not only switches perspective, but also voice, jumping from a fairly compelling first person narrative to third person without warning or much transition.  The third person character, Olivia, seems flat.  I was left floundering as to whether she was a good or bad person.  The novel tries to set her up as bad, but her selfish, morally questionable actions have no negative consequences whatsoever. 

In fact, the whole novel is based on the idea of one life being switched for another, without the main character's consent.  Arizona supposedly hates her mother and wants to get back to her old life as a hockey playing tomboy with serious anger management issues, but instead she wakes up as a Barbie doll with a perfect life.  Instead of fighting to get to the bottom of things, she settles quite nicely into her new life, tweaking just a few things here and there to make herself more tomboy than Barbie.  Overall, Arizona seems quite happy in the new life she's supposed to hate. 

Her new life in the alternate dimension is so perfect it's disgusting.  Rich, beautiful, a perfect family, cheerleader, a solid member of the 'in-crowd," she has so few enemies and problems you can count them on one hand.  This is yet another muddled point: Rose veers into an entirely different genre.  I felt like I had gone from time travel drama to an episode of Gosssip Girl, then back again.  The entire book's fatal flaw is lack of conflict. 

On the other hand, Arizona is well-written, and deserves center stage.  She has a compelling individualism that shines through the novel's flaws.  Rose does well when she sticks to this first-person character.  Arizona's relationship with Kellan is one of the more intriguing aspects of the novel.  He alone seems to get it that Arizona Darley is actually Arizona Stevens, and he is both confused and attracted to the change.  The idea of falling in love with the fantastic girl who's been right under your nose your whole life is great, and kept my interest throughout the novel.  Their relationship seemed genuine and sweet.  Kellan himself is a strong romantic lead: sensitive, understanding, kind, loves family, and he's smart enough to figure out something's up even before the novel's double Ph.D. does.

Overall, I have to say that Portal is a decent debut, but it needs work.  I really think Imogen Rose has potential, and can only continue to improve as a writer.  I will read her sequel, Equilibrium.  I'm fairly certain it will outshine her debut.

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