Last month, I won an ARC of this book from the Book Network and I was pretty excited. I’m not normally a YA fantasy kind of person but this sounded really interesting. I love fantasy that also situates itself in the real world, so this sounded like it could be perfect for me. Of course, my super busy schedule meant that I didn’t get around to reading it until the end of end of last month and it took me a lot longer to read it than I’d expected. Mostly because I’ve been feeling pretty bad lately. Thankfully, I managed to push through it this weekend and finally got it finished.
I’m not someone who believes in the idea of soul mates, so I was quite sceptical when it became apparent that they were going to be a big part of this book. However, Becky James has managed to include the idea with a bit of a twist. Instead of two souls coming together in an act of romantic love, the bond is actually platonic. It takes inspiration from an aspect of Greek mythology that suggests humans were split apart and spend their lives searching for their other halves. That’s the idea in the world we are introduced to. Everyone is waiting to find their soul: the person who bonds to them and makes them whole. This isn’t the person that they end up marrying and starting a family with. Instead, it just forms an unbreakable bond that provides comfort, affection and strength.
It’s a big moment in a person’s life and Thornn, our narrator, has been desperately waiting to find his soul. As a member of the King’s Guard, Thornn needs to find his soul to be fully initiated into the ranks. It’s hoped that Thornn will bond with the daughter of the King’s own soul, Rose. He has dreamed of meeting her for ages but, when the moment finally arrives, the young man is underwhelmed with Evyn. She just doesn’t fit his idea of what his soul should be. In fact, she doesn’t seem to fit into this world at all. It turns out Rose and Evyn are actually humans with the ability to pop between Earth and Thornn’s world. A very dangerous thing to do considering how rare and powerful human blood is. When a usurper takes the throne, Thornn must choose between his loyalties as a soldier or his loyalty to his new soul companion.
I think it’s fair to say that the most important part of a successful fantasy series is world-building. How is the world-building in The Tenets in the Tattoos? Well, the fact that I finished it a few hours ago and I can’t remember the name of the world should be some indication. It’s not that the society that James has created isn’t interesting. It’s just that there is no time to ever get to know it. This is a fast-paced novel that tries to cram in so many things at once. It all gets caught up within itself. The things we do find out only raise further questions. We know that the people of Thornn’s world know about humans but we don’t know how they know. We don’t know the history of this world. We also don’t get a good grip of the geography itself. I just wish that I’d come out this knowing more about the world I’d been inhabiting.
Of course, it might not be such a bad thing if the story was super gripping but it takes a long time to get going. So much time is spent setting up the story. It means that all of the dramatic bits are kind of rushed and the final showdown is a bit of a “blink and you’ll miss it kind” of affair. The relationships are also pretty rushed. Thornn and Evyn have some difficulties at the start, but it all seems to become okay again after a few pages. Even though they don’t have great chemistry. That’s why Thornn has to keep repeating how close he feels to his soul. This is tell don’t show kind of relationship. And don’t even get me started on the romance here. It just seems to come from nowhere and I was not a fan of it.
Still, there are some fun ideas and I think the main trio have some fun moments together. As you often find with these types of books, the most interesting characters aren’t the protagonist but the people they work with. I’d have loved to have got some chapters from a different point of view. I think both Aubin and Tuniel deserved more attention. And maybe it’s just my age but I’d have loved to spend more time with the adult characters. Even so, there is a lot to enjoy about this and James does raise some good points. There is plenty about grief and self-acceptance. It discusses themes of mental health which sees the soul bond really come into play. I loved the message about sharing your struggles and lightening the load. There is also some decent character development here. The characters have flaws and learn from their mistakes. All in all, there is some very positive message here. So, it’s a shame that it ends up feeling a tad messy.
It’s not that any of the ideas in this novel are bad but that there are just too many of them. There are just one too many ideas stuffed into a story that should have been spent longer setting the scene. Characters are introduced with barely any information. Then there’s the fact that so much time is spent in the human world. It’s mainly done for a few moments of forced comedy about “car beasts” and televisions. All of the humour that is forced out of the fish out of water set up is stuff we’ve seen done countless times before and done better. I would have much preferred to save the Earth stuff for a future novel and spent more time getting to grips with the fantasy world. I also think the big reveals were too obviously signposted to make them very effective. There was very little unexpected here. But, if you’re a fan of YA high concept fantasy, this will definitely be your street.