Right so I apologise in advance, this is a very negative review. I HATE writing negative book reviews – I know how hard writing is and I don’t like tearing apart an author’s hard work, BUT I really felt I had to write it. I wanted to like this book and I was so excited to read it, so much so that it jumped right to the top of my TBR list. This, coupled with the fact that Cecelia Ahern is normally such a good writer, is why I felt cheated after I had read this book. It was hyped up, pegged as a Dystopian novel, and the cover looked great. Shame the actual novel was the biggest disappointment ever.
So where do I start?
The synopsis sounds great:
“Celestine North lives a perfect life. She’s a model daughter and sister, she’s well-liked by her classmates and teachers, and she’s dating the impossibly charming Art Crevan.
But then Celestine encounters a situation where she makes an instinctive decision. She breaks a rule and now faces life-changing repercussions. She could be imprisoned. She could be branded. She could be found flawed.”
It suggests a promising story world, hints of conflict and a suggestion of romance, all of which are great components of great books. In reality though:
- the protagonist was boring, the prose was over-simplified, immature and boring to read.
- the character arc was confusing, if you can even call it a character arc.
- the story world was, no pun intended, pretty flawed.
- certain interesting elements introduced to deepen the plot were not explored to their potential.
- I didn’t feel that the right character was chosen as the protagonist.
- I didn’t really care for the romantic relationships.
- the ending was rubbish and I don’t want to read the next book in the series. As well as this, I don’t think the ending was sufficient as it didn’t tie up loose ends, or answer many of the important questions.
So that’s that. I will now go into more detail:
The protagonist was flat
Celestine North, is Flawed’s protagonist, and quite frankly, her lovely name is perhaps her only redeeming feature. She’s flat, pathetic and your standard ‘Mary Sue’, IE:
A Mary Sue is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character, a young or low-rank person who saves the day through unrealistic abilities. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Sue
As the book is written in first person (my favourite POV and one that is used in many YA novels), we get to experience a lot of her inner monologue. This monologue, instead of subtly characterising her and developing the story line, is in fact just used to painstakingly explain and warrant her random and seemingly unfounded behaviour, thus justify the entire plot. It felt contrived and like Ahern was using the inner monologue just to highlight over and over again that she had attempted a character arc.
Celestine is a ‘logical’ person, which we are told numerous times within the first few chapters. Her inner monologue had a lot of this:
“I’m such a logical person, which is why I’ve just made this entirely logical decision to act in this logical way. This is why this logical thing has happened.”
An inner monologue should not be used to explain every single little action. Your character should be developed enough for us to know why she is acting like that, without the need to explain.
As well as being annoying, the inner monologue and Celestine’s ‘logical’ behaviours and choices made no sense to me. Her decision in the first ‘turning point’ of the novel (helping the Flawed man to the chair) was, in my opinion, based on emotions and not on logic. So her inner monologue wasn’t even doing a good job in justifying her ‘logical’ behaviour anyway!
The character arc was confusing, if you can even call it a character arc
In all fairness I don’t think you can call Celestine’s character development an ‘arc’ at all. More like a character 180. And it all occurred within the first few chapters. After the initial character change, (from someone so obsessed with sticking to rules to a rule-breaker in the biggest sense) she seemed to stagnate.
What got to me as well was the fact that her feelings and beliefs about the Flawed rules and regulations, as well as the Flawed people in general, seemed to change immediately and for no reason. One minute she hates the Flawed, looks down her nose at them and believes they deserve to be mistreated, and the next minute she’s heartbroken at how unfair the Flawed system is, and ends up helping one of the Flawed people. And I still have no idea why. Yet the whole novel was based around this.
Another thing that annoyed me was the vague mention of how Celestine is a ‘Mathematician’. This was brought up a few times at the beginning of the novel only to be abandoned and then re-birthed at the end, just for the sake of it (she’s told to ‘use mathematics’ during the climax. WHY THOUGH?!). It added nothing to her character or the plot and seemed to be there as an attempt to further justify her ‘logicalness’.
The story world was, no pun intended, pretty damn flawed
In Celestine’s world you are branded (both physically and figuratively) Flawed if you make an immoral decision. This is a flawed premise in itself because:
A) morals are subjective.
B) people sin all the time – how can the Guild know all of the people who have sinned?
If the story world had been built sufficiently so as to tell us that there were cameras watching Highland’s inhabitants’ every move, this may have been more believable, but this wasn’t the case. How on earth can you police such a thing anyway?
Another thing that really got to me: in Celestine’s story-world, criminals and Flawed people are DIFFERENT. If you are a criminal, you go to jail, serve your time then are released to live a normal life. If you are Flawed you are branded for life, and have to live a highly controlled, stifling lifestyle. My problem is – surely if you are a criminal you are inherently Flawed? How can you be a criminal yet not be Flawed? This makes no sense.
Also, it is stated that aiding a Flawed person is criminal. Celestine aided a Flawed, so why was she tried as Flawed and not as a criminal? Honestly, I’m so confused by this. As well as this it was also never specified what counts as aiding a Flawed. Celestine’s parents were allowed to tend to her branding wounds, feed her and clothe her. So that doesn’t count as aiding a Flawed? But apparently helping a Flawed person to a seat does count. WHO KNEW?!
Interesting elements introduced to deepen the plot were not explored to their potential
Ahern introduced several interesting elements that she didn’t explore to their potential, the most obvious one of these being the FAB. The FAB stands for “Flawed at Birth’, and one of Celestine’s love interests (she has two, both of them flat and irritating) is a FAB, which she finds out towards the end. The FAB was mentioned briefly, and then abandoned, like a lot of other story elements throughout. I feel like it added nothing, as it was not given enough attention. If it had been developed it would have added so much more depth to the plot. As it was, it could have been omitted and I wouldn’t have even noticed.
One of the redeeming features of the novel was the introduction of the secret ‘sixth brand’. I really liked this and felt that it could have been explored more fully.
I didn’t feel like the right character was chosen as the protagonist
The above said, I do believe this novel could (maybe) have been salvaged had the right character been chosen as the protagonist. Celestine’s sister, Juniper was the sort of girl who WOULD have helped the Flawed man to his seat. She challenged the rules, didn’t blindly follow the masses and was vocal about her opinions and how she felt. Why then did she sit back and watch her boring goody-two-shoes sister break the rules? I liked Juniper as a character and felt she was developed, well rounded and likeable. The whole plot would have made sense to me had she been the protagonist, as she passionately believed that the system was wrong, so was more likely to challenge it.
The relationships were immature and I didn’t really care for them
The fact that I cared so little for Celestine’s relationship with Art or her whatever-you-call-it with Carrick shows how poorly they were written. Art was your standard romantic heart-throb and Carrick was the bog-standard brooding dark love interest. Both were flat and barely mentioned.
I have many questions:
- Celestine ‘LOVED ART SOOOOOO MUCH’ so why didn’t she care when he betrayed her and watched her get branded as Flawed?
- Why did Art disappear?
- Why didn’t Juniper just tell Celestine she was helping Art?
- Why was Carrick even introduced? He was barely mentioned and hardly impacted the plot.
- The Villain, Judge Crevan, could keep an eye on the entirety of America and could tell when someone made an immoral decision but he struggled to find his own son after he went missing. WHY?
Some positive comments
I feel so mean for writing such a negative review so I’ll try and end with a few positive comments:
- Juniper was a great character.
- I really like the overall idea for the story-world.
- I liked Crevan as the villain and did really hate him in the branding chamber, which is a sign of a good villain.
- I liked the character of Pia, the journalist and liked the twist that came with her character.
- I liked the introduction of the 6th brand.
- I like Cecelia Ahern’s other novels and won’t stop reading them.
And that’s it. Sorry for such a long and negative review. I would absolutely love to hear some of your comments?!