Written by: Mindee Arnett
Published by: Balzer + Bray
Release date: January 21st 2014
Genres: Sci-Fi, Young Adult
Buy: B&N, Amazon, Book Depository
Add on: Goodreads
A ragtag group of teenage mercenaries who crew the spaceship Avalon stumble upon a conspiracy that could threaten the entire galaxy in this fascinating and fast-paced sci-fi adventure from author Mindee Arnett.
Of the various star systems that make up the Confederation, most lie thousands of light-years from First Earth-and out here, no one is free. The agencies that govern the Confederation are as corrupt as the crime bosses who patrol it, and power is held by anyone with enough greed and ruthlessness to claim it. That power is derived from one thing: metatech, the devices that allow people to travel great distances faster than the speed of light.
Jeth Seagrave and his crew of teenage mercenaries have survived in this world by stealing unsecured metatech, and they're damn good at it. Jeth doesn't care about the politics or the law; all he cares about is earning enough money to buy back his parents' ship, Avalon, from his crime-boss employer and getting himself and his sister, Lizzie, the heck out of Dodge. But when Jeth finds himself in possession of information that both the crime bosses and the government are willing to kill for, he is going to have to ask himself how far he'll go to get the freedom he's wanted for so long.
Avalon is the perfect fit for teens new to sci-fi as well as seasoned sci-fi readers looking for more books in the YA space -- and a great match for fans of Joss Whedon's cult hit show Firefly.
Avalon was one of my most anticipated releases of 2014, thanks to the gorgeous cover and the blurb’s comparisons to Firefly, which is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. Unfortunately, dear Firefly fans, you are probably going to want to dramatically lower your expectations of Avalon, because I feel like that’s where my disappointment stems from. I over-hyped this book in my head, and ultimately made it impossible for the book to live up to my expectations.
But I don’t want to start with the bad. I did really like a lot about this book! For one thing, the plot and pacing were fantastic. I know a lot of people have mentioned that there’s a point near the middle where a lot changes, plot-wise, and a lot of people didn’t like where things went, or the pacing after that point, or something… But honestly, even watching out for that, I didn’t see that at all. I really loved everything about the plot – the beginning has fun heists and is a little lighter, but the stakes get higher in the second half, and there are tons of twists and turns and things that I never saw coming, so I actually really enjoyed it.
I also loved Avalon‘s crew and the group dynamics. Admittedly, they weren’t as amazing as Firefly, but I found the larger group interactions really entertaining and realistic. I loved the banter between everyone, and all the characters’ distinct personalities. The dialog especially really stood out to me in places. Though later in the book, there are some definite info-dumps, both from the good guys and from the bad guys, which did annoy me. But for the most part, I thought it was well done.
And of course, being a sci-fi fan, I am also a sucker for a good spacey setting. Avalon takes place mostly in space, with plenty of spaceships, spaceports, and even some spacewalks; so I was a very happy camper in that regard. ;)
However, there were quite a few issues that I really can’t overlook, even though they are mostly results of my super high expectations.
Even though I loved the setting, I still think there could’ve been more description in many regards. I never really got a good feel for what Avalon (the ship, not the book) looks like, and that’s kind of a huge deal. I mean, it’s the title of the book — and does it have anything to do with the (gorgeous, but inexplicable) cover? Is that actually part of the ship? or just random prettiness? Still unclear. But as a fan of Firefly, where the look of the ship is so iconic, I was definitely hoping for more details in that regard. As it is, I wouldn’t even be able to draw a rough sketch of Avalon, even after keeping an eye out for clear descriptions throughout the book.
In addition to expecting a bit more from Avalon herself, I also expected a lot more heart in the characters. Especially as things were revealed about the plot, and the characters’ closer-than-expected ties to it. (Sorry that was vague, but I don’t want to give anything away.) I guess what was lacking, for me, was any sort of deep character attachment or ~feels~. I didn’t get hugely emotionally attached to any of the characters in this book except for Cora (an adorable little girl who ends up tagging along with the crew). Usually, lack of feels is a huge turnoff for me, but my enjoyment of the rest of the book still let me continue on, thankfully. I just had to accept that most of the characters were what they appeared to be at face-value, and consciously stopped myself from getting hung up on lack of deep character development. They were enjoyable and interesting, and that was okay.
One interesting thing about the “let’s take things at face-value” approach, was that I didn’t see many of the twists coming (which was good) but I also feel like I should have, and probably would’ve, if I’d been more invested in the characters. But the story and plot didn’t take much to follow along, and I didn’t really invest much brain-power into trying to figure out what was happening.
There were also a few things in Avalon that I had also noticed in The Nightmare Affair, which was the first book of Mindee Arnett’s that I read. The first thing I noticed was that a lot of the phrases used to describe things, strike me as a little weird. There were a bunch of sentences I highlighted in my eARC, but one of them was, “All the air vaporized from inside Jeth’s lungs,” to show that Jeth is surprised and possibly afraid. I’m not even sure if that use of “vaporized” technically makes any sense, but it definitely strikes me as odd. Obviously this is a quote from an eARC, and it’s just one small example, but I remember thinking the same thing about a lot of the phrasing in The Nightmare Affair, too. So I think there’s something about Arnett’s writing that sometimes hits a little off-key for me.
Also, as with The Nightmare Affair, I felt like the subject and the overall tone of the book was more juvenile, but there are instances of harsher language and violence that otherwise didn’t seem to fit with that lighter tone. It’s really hard to explain, but there just seemed to be something of a disconnect there. I’d expect those things in a more thoroughly gritty novel. I might have even preferred a grittier, more mature feel to this book overall, and then those things wouldn’t have seemed so out of place.
If you’re one of the many people who are just dying to get your hands on this book, and especially if that anticipation has anything to do with the Firefly comparisons, I just have one piece of advice: Lower your expectations. Like, a lot. For me, the best things about Firefly were the heart, the character development, and the absolutely perfect dialog. Okay, and also the fact that it’s a freaking space western, because hello who doesn’t love cowboys in space?
Anyway. I built up my expectations of Avalon to Firefly-standards, and though I enjoyed Avalon overall, I still feel like I would’ve liked it a heck of a lot more if it had never been compared to Firefly in the first place. There are a lot of things to like about Avalon; it’s a fun and fast-paced read. But I never felt a strong connection to any of the characters, and I was never really glued to the pages for the plot alone. I’m still on the fence about how interested I am in the sequel (another familiar feeling, after reading The Nightmare Affair — and I never did pick up TNA’s sequel). But this first book was light and entertaining, and I’m definitely glad I gave it a shot. I just wish I could’ve gotten Firefly out of my head in the process.