Firstlife by Gena Showalter
Series: Everlife #1
Published by Harlequin Teen
Published on February 23rd 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction, Young Adult
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ONE CHOICE.TWO REALMS.NO SECOND CHANCE.
Tenley “Ten” Lockwood is an average seventeen-year-old girl…who has spent the past thirteen months locked inside the Prynne Asylum. The reason? Not her obsession with numbers, but her refusal to let her parents choose where she’ll live—after she dies.
There is an eternal truth most of the world has come to accept: Firstlife is merely a dress rehearsal, and real life begins after death.
In the Everlife, two realms are in power: Troika and Myriad, longtime enemies and deadly rivals. Both will do anything to recruit Ten, including sending their top Laborers to lure her to their side. Soon, Ten finds herself on the run, caught in a wild tug-of-war between the two realms who will do anything to win the right to her soul. Who can she trust? And what if the realm she’s drawn to isn’t home to the boy she’s falling for? She just has to stay alive long enough to make a decision…
When I heard I was getting an ARC for this book, I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty excited. If I didn’t already think the summary sounded awesome on its own, this cover lovin’ post convinced me. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but who actually doesn’t do that?!
Anyway, all this is to say, Firstlife didn’t disappoint. It was a high-concept albeit simple sci-fi book with a lot of action and character development, and a dish of romance on the side.
We follow the life of Ten, a compassionate girl who’s been thoroughly mistreated and unloved in her life…who also happens to be really important to both realms of the Everlife, the life you live after you die in your Firstlife. Ten has a lot of attitude, which I really resonated with. Throughout the book, everyone’s always trying to force choices on her, and she’s having none of it. Not afraid to do what she has to do to survival, and certainly not afraid of saying no, Ten is my definition of a strong female protagonist. Sure, she mopes a quite bit, but that makes the parts when she overcomes her circumstances that much stronger.
Then we have our two male leads: Archer and Killian. I’m not going to lie, both those names have a lot of fangirling already associated with them (Fire by Kristin Cashore and Once Upon A Time, anyone?!). But Showalter managed to recreate their personas for me, moulding them into their own people.
The corners of his lips twitch. “Are you playing hard to get, lass? It’s never happened to me before, so I need clarification.”
Though at first they seem like the clear-cut light and dark in Ten’s life, we eventually come to realise that not everything in Ten’s world is as black and white as it seems. I learned to love both of them for both their virtues and their faults. The best part, though? The romance was not the main plotline, and Ten definitely remained her own independent person with her own goals and ideals. When I started reading this, I was worried she would be another “Ooh~ Hot guy! I’m going to sacrifice everything because this guy makes me horny all the time and I think it’s love!” Fret not, this was not the case.
Speaking of characters, I actually really liked Sloan. Out of everyone in this book (aside from Ten), I felt like she was the realest character. She wasn’t always just a plot point, but rather a living, breathing teenager who had her own wants, needs, attitude, and agenda. She didn’t act like a saint or a demon (I’m looking at you, Archer and Killian), but like a human. Which I guess is what she was, but compared to everyone else, she was much more believable in her execution. I think characters like Sloan are indispensable, especially these days when YA can sometimes be too main-character–centric.
Actually Sloan, though.
The other thing I liked about Firstlife was that there was a lot of action—escaping prisons, flying planes, fighting pursuers, escaping from monsters and “humans” alike—but I never found myself lost or confused. Showalter did a good job of keeping the pace. While I got really anxious as to the direction of the book in various places throughout, I think this was more of a “I just want to see what happens” rather than boring interludes. Something is always happening in Firstlife.
Now, for the cons.
The first thing that comes to my mind is that, it really bothered me that there were no POC in this book aside from the two that were introduced halfway through the story and were hardly ever more than side characters. If the kids in Prynne Asylum are from all over the world, why is everyone white?! I’m not asking for this to be a POC topic book, but some representation would be nice, especially given that this book is presumably set in the future.
On another note, this isn’t a real complaint, but can we talk about the fact that everyone in this book is beautiful? Were there no unattractive people that weren’t enemies in this whole plot line? A little too unbelievable, but I’m willing to make an exception…because let’s be real, my shallow sentiments enjoyed it anyway.
The one thing that wasn’t necessarily a con, but that could have been better, was Ten’s character development and the general hashing of her character. Throughout the book, she kept telling us “I see merits in both Myriad and Troika,” or “I feel like I can belong to both/either,” but I had to do a lot of work as a reader to see exactly what points she was thinking of. Sure, there were very definite points (View Spoiler »like when Ten kills people, or when Ten tries to save people « Hide Spoiler), but I didn’t feel like that was reason enough for her to undergo torture for months. It was only later in the book that she really came out and said that the reason she hadn’t chosen a side was because she wanted the freedom to decide—she didn’t want to be pressured into picking. Her reasoning for all of her decisions would have been a lot stronger and made a lot more sense if I had known this earlier. I think this was the main reason I never felt like I could truly connect to Ten, and that made me sad because I really, really wanted to. I also felt like the realization she came to towards the end re: Myriad felt a little too rushed. (View Spoiler »We knew Myriad was bad, we knew she didn’t like it deep down inside, but « Hide Spoiler) We didn’t see her thought process coming to her conclusions herself, which I think was necessary given the book’s in first-person.
All in all, I’d give this one a 4. It was a fun read with an interesting concept that was pretty well-executed. It could’ve been more relatable on a character level, but maybe we’ll see that in the next installment!
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