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Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Obsidian Mirror (Chronoptika #1) by Catherine Fisher

Jake's father disappears while working on mysterious experiments with the obsessive, reclusive Oberon Venn. Jake is convinced Venn has murdered him. But the truth he finds at the snow-bound Wintercombe Abbey is far stranger ... The experiments concerned a black mirror, which is a portal to both the past and the future. Venn is not alone in wanting to use its powers. Strangers begin gathering in and around Venn's estate: Sarah - a runaway, who appears out of nowhere and is clearly not what she says, Maskelyne - who claims the mirror was stolen from him in some past century. There are others, a product of the mirror's power to twist time. And a tribe of elemental beings surround this isolated estate, fey, cold, untrustworthy, and filled with hate for humans. But of them all, Jake is hell-bent on using the mirror to get to the truth. Whatever the cost, he must learn what really happened to his father.

Released: May 1st 2013               Pages: 400
Publisher: Thorndike Press         Source: Library
First Look: ****This had a lot of things going for it right away.  I loved Catherine Fisher's Incarceron and its sequel.  I love time travel books (though lately I haven't been doing well with them), and it looked vaguely steampunkish because there are gears on the cover.  Speaking of the bugs me.  That bracelet thing is clearly not an obsidian mirror, and I'm annoyed by that.  There should be an obsidian mirror on the cover.  Would you call a book The Red Sword and then put a golden crown on the cover?  Well, at least, I wouldn't.  (I'm looking at you, The Crimson Crown.)

Setting: ***** 
Was this set in England?  I'm not even sure anymore.  Probably.  I thought it might be, because of some of the terminology used, but the more I think about it, the more I have no idea where this book actually took place.

And then, we're back to Victorian London.  Again?  I'm fond of this place and time period, but is late-1800s London the only place we can travel to?  Out of the last three time travel books I've read, all three have gone to this time.  Can we have some variety?

Time travel places/periods I'd like to see (at least, in the past): Revolutionary War era New England, Ancient Rome/Greece/Egypt/China, medieval or Renaissance anyplace, the Crusades, WWII anywhere, 1990s America (I'm not kidding.  There are books celebrating the long before we start on the 90s?  I'm talking all-out war between fangirls of the Backstreet Boys vs. N*Sync.), Paris during the French Revolution, and so on.

 Characters: ***** 
At the beginning, Jake was interesting.  He had motives, and a personality, and I was never sure what stunt he'd pull next.  It was compelling.  After he got to the home of Oberon Venn, though, he fell flat and I lost any and all interest I had before.  He didn't really do much; he just let things happen to him.  I didn't care about him one bit.  This may have something to do with the fact that the chapter sections were so short I barely had time to even think of caring--more on this later.

I feel pretty much the same way about Sarah.  It took way too long to reveal her secret and her past.  I don't like it when POV characters hide information from readers--it feels like cheating, like pulling a reveal out of the hat as an extra, free way to spice things up. 

Plot: ***** 
I spent about 90% of this book sitting here like this:

The whole thing read like one giant prologue.  In prologues, often, a reader only gets half the story.  Not much is explained, or revealed.  You're privy to conversations about things you don't know about yet, but will later in the story.  It doesn't all make sense right away.  Done right, it's a mysterious experience.

In this book, though, I just couldn't grasp anything that was happening.  I felt like I was skimming over the top of something, never really digging in.  I didn't skim the book, though--I read it thoroughly.  For some reason, the understanding never reached my brain.  I'm not sure why this is, but it didn't contribute anything good to my reading.  Instead, it just made me bored and confused.

 Uniqueness: ***** The methods of time travel were different, but traveling to Victorian London has been done over and over and over.

Writing: *****  
Again, for some reason, nothing that happened in this book ever really sank in.  I'm not sure if I was just distracted the entire time I was reading, or what.  This is unusual for me, so probably not. 

Part of my disconnection with the story has to do with the chapter and point-of-view sections.  They were too short for my liking.  I barely had time to grasp what was happening before it switched again.  In Incarceron, this style added suspense to the book, but here it just got on my nerves.

 Likes: ...

Not-so-great: Nothing I haven't already mentioned.

Overall: The Obsidian Mirror left me feeling confused and disappointed.  I didn't care about the characters.  Plot-wise, I felt like I was skimming along the top of the story, never really getting into or understanding anything.  The POV sections jumped around too often for my liking.  Overall, I didn't care much for this book.

Similar Books: It has some weird and convoluted time travel methods like The Obsidian Blade (incidentally, both have obsidian in the title, and both left me feeling much the same way).  Its genre-bending and short chapter style is much like Incarceron, by the same author.  It has modern-day high tech time travel like  The Reluctant Assassin or even Found.

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