Review: ‘As I Descended’ by Robin Talley
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them. Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey.
Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school. But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.
This was the first book that I finished in 2018 but I didn’t want to review it first because I thought that starting my reviewing off by grumbling would set a bit of a gloomy tone! Because disappointingly, grumble I will.
I was really excited about reading As I Descended. I saw it mentioned in a Book Riot article about YA hallowe’en reads and it sounded like just what I fancied at the time – something pacy and sinister. A little while later (after my library reservation had come in and it was stowed safely on my ‘To Read Soon’ pile at home), I discovered that it was a retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (one of my favourite Shakespeare plays) and I picked it up almost immediately.
To begin with, I enjoyed it. The novel is set in a school built in the grounds of an old plantation and the dark and violent history of the site is the perfect backdrop for a ghost story. It opens strongly, with Maria, Lily and Brandon using a ouija board, releasing malevolent spirits in tense scenes that played on the history of the school and really had me hooked. Maria’s hyspanic heritage, the ghost stories she was told as a child and the use of Spanish really add a different feel to the novel and it has a lot of promise.
As events escalated, I sadly became increasingly disengaged. Almost all of the characters come from rich and privileged backgrounds (and that’s not me making me assumptions, we’re actually told), which makes it feel a bit ridiculous that central events revolve around a competition with the prize of a scholarship to the college of their choice. It’s acknowledged more than once that most of the students could go wherever they wanted without the prize so I couldn’t believe that Maria and Lily would drive each other to the lengths that they do all for something that they could have had anyway. Delilah, their nemesis, is also a bit of a caricature of a prima donna teenager (twirling lipgloss and sharp tongue and all) and it’s frustrating. By the end, I pretty much hated all of the central characters and didn’t care what happened to them anyway. I sometimes think that it’s a little bit churlish to intentionally read YA and then complain about the characters being too childish but that’s precisely what I’m going to do! I don’t mind a degree of immaturity but the characters in this are so bloody whiny. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m older than the natural target market but I can’t be persuaded to think that not having the bestest of the best grades is worth killing for.
The subtlety of Macbeth and the main characters’ genuine struggles with guilt and their pain over the loss of control over the events they have set in motion is missing and everything just gets…well, silly if I’m honest. And there are far too many dream sequences! I lost count of the amount of characters relaying dreams of veiled women and horrors from their past. They became eye-rolling-inducingly frequent and I skim read a lot of them.
Ok, last thing, I promise – I just need to get some of this off my chest, unpopular though it might prove. I also struggled with the balance of characters. I obviously appreciate and want diversity in the books I read. I want to read about characters with backgrounds and cultures that are different to mine. What I don’t want is to feel as though an author is forcing diversity in. Of the 8 or so main characters, 5 are LGBT, 3 are people of colour and one is disabled (some have more than one!). In a novel of about 350 pages, it feels a bit much and almost as though the novel is trying too hard to fulfil some unwritten criteria (particularly when the characters don’t feel too distinct).
Overall: If you whip through this in a session or two and don’t pay too much attention, it’s not unentertaining and there are elements of it that are fun so you’ll stand a fair chance of enjoying it. Perhaps if you’re also a little more patient with teenagers being obviously teenage. All in all, though, let’s just say this wasn’t the novel for me. There’s real potential with some of the ghosts and history but it all ended up falling flat. Well, actually I suppose it falls the opposite of flat and spirals into bonkers melodrama but you know what I mean…
Pictured Edition published by Mira INK in May 2014
Date finished: 04 January 2018