Holy #$%^! Where has this book been in my indie author wanderings? V.J. Chambers pushes YA to the absolute edge. The sweet, delicious edge. This is one of those books that crosses over- paranormal, urban fantasy, thriller, YA, adult, romance, horror, apocalypse, conspiracy, adventure, and more. Wow. I don't even know how to categorize this. Other than brilliant. It's definitely that. Brilliant. Tell your friends. Tell total strangers. This book rocks.
What begins as a sweet but compelling YA romance morphs, midway through, into something dark but even more romantic and, at the same time, sickly humorous. I cannot count the times I found myself laughing out loud then looking over my shoulder a little nervously because Chambers manages to make the inappropriate and the forbidden approachable and even funny. If it shouldn't and can't be happening, it will and does. This is not a book for the faint of heart. Chambers tackles teenage sexuality in plain language. Characters make disturbing, sometimes even illegal, life choices, but Chambers follows through by showing the consequences of their actions. High school is well-rendered in all its insular pettiness. However, she also lets moments of greatness we can all relate to poke through and shine, like the one teacher who encourages free-thinking or the maddening, magical moment when you realize you would throw it all away because of one single electric kiss.
Azazel and Jason both make compelling leads. Both are strong, intriguing, and have great chemistry. Jason is spot-on as the strong, mysterious, but oddly vulnerable boy who defends Azazel from bullies and even relatively mild insults with militaristic fervor. His intelligence and logical arguments are refreshing in a YA romance. Azazel is bewitching as the center of her offbeat hurricane of a family. A little hitch here for me: Jason's longing for normality is understandable, but Azazel? Hmm. Beyond that, though, they are brilliantly polymoral characters. They aren't meant to be entirely likeable. They are... complex, and therein lies their charm. Azazel and Jason do not move in a good v. evil, black v. white world, although everyone around them behaves as if they do. They are continuously forced to make black and white choices in a shades of gray world.
Chambers hits some pretty deep themes hard and heavy almost from page one: the nature of good and evil, and how young people can best construct their own moral identities in a world that constantly lies, fails, and uses them. Jason and Azazel are both blessed and cursed in this regard. They are at the center of relentless, pervasive violence and betrayal, but Chambers gives them the gift of each other: their deepening love becomes an unwavering moral compass that guides them through the madness of their worlds turned upside down and shaken sideways. This drives them closer together, but it also forces them into choices that mark and scar them. Chambers leaves us with the hope that together, there is not only healing, but destiny as well. However, she leaves us hanging as to whether that destiny will be a happy one, or a further descent into chaos and destruction.
Thank goodness for book two. And no waiting, either.