The sci-fi/paranormal romance genre has been glutted with a number of new novels in the past few years which have been enjoyed by a whole generation of young readers. While these books have often divided the opinion of critics it is fair to say that they have all enjoyed large fanbases, and Amalie Howard’s new novel The Almost Girl is set to weave its own spell over a whole new generation.
Riven is a seventeen year-old girl who is on the hunt for a young man. While this might seem like the preamble for any number of teenage romance stories, Riven is not like any number of girls her age. Riven is in fact a visitor from another dimension and a general in service to the reigning monarch of the city of Neopses. She is on a mission from her master to seek out his brother who was taken to our world many years before and return him to safeguard their city, or risk it falling into the hands of his tyrannical uncle. However, Riven now finds herself involved in a battle with her own sister, who is trying to stop her from returning to her own world with her charge. What is more, the first flutterings of desire begin to take hold and Riven gets in touch with her humanity through her affection for the young man she has been ordered to capture.
Howard’s prose is exciting and she employs this to great affect by presenting a terrific cavalcade of action to pull her readers in. Indeed her very first scene sees Riven escaping the Vectors, a kind of cyber-organism used to resurrect the bodies of the dead, and travelling to our world. While this is good as an immediate launch into her narrative some readers may be a little concerned about the lack of explanation on the narrator’s part. This is a small consideration in some ways, but to those who are not familiar with the sci-fi genre it could prove to be overly complicated. That being said, as the story begins to rev up and accelerate you’ll soon pick up enough of the jargon to understand the setting and find yourself enjoying the resultant story much more.
One thing that works well is the blend between the romantic and fantastical story elements. When that blend is off, a book may fit neither category and subsequently suffer as a result. However, the balance is right here, with Howard making the main element of the story about Riven and her personal journey between dimensions a priority, while the romance element takes a much needed back seat. It’s easy to be cynical about teen romance, but when the stakes are so high in the story it’s a relief to see that things were being handled with at least the smallest modicum of reality. There are one or two supposed plot twists that we saw coming a mile off, but by and large we enjoyed how Howard constructed her world, so we let these small matters slide.
One area where the story did suffer somewhat was in the amount of things that seemed to be left out, in particular during the latter parts of the story. A great deal of time is spent in our world and in introductions of cast members, but the finale in Neopses seemed rushed by comparison, with one of the much needed final confrontations, between Riven and her father, being sidelined for a potential sequel. This would not have been a bad thing, had it not been for the lack of interaction between the pair this time, and after such a strong lead it left us wanting a little. Similarly there are a few plot holes that creep in when the story begins to pick up the pace, such as the shadowy interdimensional organisation that is meant to prevent travel between the worlds. This organisation is alluded to rarely but ends up playing a large part in the conclusion, leaving the impression the author had simply run out of steam and needed a convenient plot twist to bring out the desired outcome. These points could be addressed in a sequel, but then it does make this instalment lose strength as a standalone novel.
Looking at The Almost Girl as a whole, the reader is undeniably pulled into the narrative and at times unable to pull ourselves away. It is, in short, a compelling story with more than enough here to keep readers hooked time and again. An essential pick up for 2014.