May contain a few spoilers, which I felt was unavoidable.
And while I did try to restrain the “harsh” factor in my critique, I didn’t want to not post on it.
The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
Razorbill (Penguin imprint) 2010.
(hardback) 343 pages.
Mackie Doyle seems like everyone else in the perfect little town of Gentry, but he is living with a fatal secret – he is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now the creatures under the hill want him back, and Mackie must decide where he really belongs and what he really wants. –goodreads, paragraph 1.
The good news is that my feelings of meh after reading the first half of Brenna Yovanoff’s The Replacement is not to be solely blamed on having just finished reading Margaret Atwood’s brilliant The Handmaid’s Tale. That is also the bad news. That and the fact the meh morphed into a deep <disappointed> sigh by the time I finished the read.
I was immediately attracted to the cover, and then there is the tag line: “Something’s rotten beneath the town of Gentry.”—great creepiness potential. Foremost, however, is the premise. A male protagonist who is a Changeling! Tantalizing.
The Replacement starts off strong. And then we hit about page 50 and a hysterical and an “I’m being deliberately vague” Tate Stewart. The pace and particulars of the story get a bit rocky from there.
I can get that Tate would believe that Mackie knows all and is holding out on her. He is different and though everyone seems to know, no one seems to say. His difference is the most obvious link to all the shady goings on in Gentry that Tate can think of. However, her continual aggression with Mackie is not only off-putting, it is somewhat problematic. It makes Tate and Mackie’s budding romance (and motivating force) unconvincing. Or maybe it is just the plot that makes the romance unconvincing.
Mackie and Tate aren’t even flirting let alone glowing from a first date when Tate’s sister goes missing/dead. In fact, Mackie is eyeing the beautiful Alice Harms, and she begins to notice him back. Mackie notices the tragic Tate and notes some lovely things about her. But when she keeps getting in his face, she keeps his hormones stimulated as well. One minute they argue and she seemingly despises him, and then they are in her room and her shirt is off.
I didn’t read this YA novel for a Romance. And I admit that I am not the target audience. From what limited YA I’ve read, the competition is fierce for a swoon-worthy male and a his romance with a fiery female. If the checklist of ingredients for a viable YA novel involves an emotional yet troubled male, a loyal best friend, a bad-ass female, and a “sorori-whore” type, this novel has met those requirements.
The romance comes out of no where, and fated never comes to mind. Tate is too abrasive and unstable, and Mackie is just a healthy young male kissing available hot mouths. But why is a romance needed anyway? It wouldn’t be except it is Mackie’s desire to please Tate that he overcomes his fear of interfering with Dark Matters. Mackie is confused and indecisive, there is a lot to take in, and he needs the extra motivation to move him along.
I like Mackie. He is a great character, well developed. He is an enjoyable point-of-view, our third-person-limited. He is supported by a great following. He has loyal friends, a fantastic older sister and interesting and somewhat-interested parents. Even with very little historical knowledge of some of the underground characters, they are fun as well.
Admittedly, my knowledge of the Changeling stories are a scratch, but the entrance of Morrigan into the story threw me off. And Morrigan’s sister, while I have heard she has two (that make up a triad of sorts), I can’t place who the sister is supposed to be. The novel is deliberately vague on the details of Mythological/Lore names and histories. I would have rather the author kept known names out of the story and just created her own version completely, at the very least made the names reminiscent/similar.
Yovanoff creates a terrifying character named Cutter. Or he is supposed to be hideously terrifying. But really, he isn’t so much. Despite being ancient and ruthless, he can’t take down a teenaged girl with a crow-bar. Very disappointing. And while I applaud a plucky heroine who can save herself, there was nothing to suggest she should have beat the hell out of a fearsome demon—it wasn’t a cat-fight with a “sorori-whore.” While I appreciate Mackie reasoning things out at the end, a paring knife and a quick collapse of the enemy, really?
And no one dies (except in abstraction). I really thought one of the twins should’ve…not that I didn’t like them. The threat that would build the suspense peters out very quickly after Mackie and friends are caught in the House of Misery. The dark is robbed of any terror. A lesson in : it may seem scary and threatening but it isn’t really : you’re imagination is what is powering it, an empowered view (bravery) diminishes it? While that response would fit with the whole conversation therein of what feeds the gods/monsters, gives them their power, it doesn’t make for a satisfying ending. I think tension was supposed to hold; why else the grotesque and unflinching talk of tearing out small children’s throats and making meticulous torturous cuts on a woman’s face as a matter of revenge?
Maybe the flaw in a lack of tension is in the non-existent transitions. The seams are everywhere in this story. It’s as if portions were crafted here and there and in the piecing process transitions were forced or abandoned. The moments of brilliance after say Chapter Five are those lovely writings that are embroidered without pretty threads, or left gaping. The revelations about the mother and sister and Morrigan’s role were lovely. The discussions about ”us” and “them,” fear and belonging, about scapegoats, about what gives gods/monsters their powers to exist—jewels. The explanation for Roswell’s charmed existence was necessary—though his unquestioning loyalty, drop-everything-at-a-moment’s-notice behavior was boring.
Many can and will read The Replacement and forgive a poorly told story, an unrefined plot, and still laud the Characterization and the Concepts. While I believe Characterization and Concept can carry a great deal of weight, I’m not sure it measures enough against a disappointing delivery of story.
I’m going to give this a re-read after I catch up on a few other things. An apology may follow, or there may be a more articulated explanation for where it went wrong for me.
A respectable book reviewer Steph Su has a great write-up on the book here.
If you can make a good argument for the plot of The Replacement, please link your review or help me out here, thanks.