Engaging and complex concepts marred by some significant flaws in characterization and believability
Before the Broken Star by Emily R. King was a bit of a mixed bag for me. There are some incredibly engaging and complex concepts in this one. I particularly enjoyed the clockwork heart that the main character has and the way in which that has repercussions on the way she lives her life and moves through the plotline of the story. Unfortunately, this is marred by some significant flaws in characterization and believability at points.
As I already mentioned, the MC in this story, Everley, has a clockwork heart. This has several practical implications. One of those is that she is particularly susceptible to strong emotion. Too much anger or fear can cause the gears of her heart to seize. Water could damage her clockwork heart. And, when she lies, a bell rings on a device that regulates her heart rate. It’s almost a built-in lie detector, but it’s quite inconvenient when one is plotting revenge. This was another aspect of the story that I thought was very well done. Everley is bent on having her revenge on the man who murdered her family. This singular focus largely defines her character. At times that can make her seem a little one dimensional, but on the whole King uses Everley’s need for revenge to engage the reader and draw them into the story. I was invested in Everley’s personal goals almost from the first page. She’s a character that we ache for and we’re drawn into her perspective to such an extent that we long for her to achieve revenge even if - at some level - we understand that vengeance is never actually as sweet as a character imagines it should be when they’re plotting it. King also weaves in a couple reveals that are surprising but also foreshadowed well. There is also an element of isolation that the MC experiences, by her own choice, that is just gut-wrenching. All well done.
Unfortunately, there are an almost equal number of weaknesses or problems with the novel. The first and most striking is poor characterization, or perhaps poor character consistency, that plagues the side characters and even Everley at times during the second half of the book. One of the most egregious examples of this is when Everley is attempting to convince one character that the Big Bad Guy is a bad guy. A character listens to Big Bad Guy threaten to allow a twelve-year-old girl to be married unwillingly to the “basest convict in the camp.” Then, not three paragraphs later tells Everley, “I cannot imagine him massacring a family or stabbing a child.” I cannot conceive of how a character could think someone willing to force a twelve-year-old into a sexual relationship with a man two or three times her age could not stab that same child. It simply strains credulity and seems quite out of character for the character in question. Another issue is that each of the characters appears to have a single motivation that entirely defines their character. For Everley it’s revenge. For another character it’s making their way to a location. For another it’s finding and saving a particular individual. This causes nearly all the character to feel one dimensional, just on this side of caricatures.
In the end, there are elements that really shine in this one, from a main character we can root for to an interesting and well-integrated plot device in her clockwork heart. Unfortunately, there are also several elements that had a significant and negative impact on my enjoyment of the read. If you’re looking for a read that has some interesting and unique elements that are well integrated and the character issues are unlikely to bother you, this may appeal.
Review by Calvin Park
5/10 from 1 reviews
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