Oh Sarah Rees Brennan, you wily little fox, you. Here I thought reading Untold would be safe. Because I had waited. Waited until I also had Unmade in my hands and could reasonably expect to forgo the emotional torture that was sure to come at the end of such a book if I had to wait for the third, but nooooo.
No, you couldn’t let me have that solace. Instead you had to wring my heart out like the emotional equivalent of a Brawny paper towel throughout the entirety of Untold. It’s a miracle my heart’s not full of holes yet. The truly frightening thing is that you still have plenty of time to torture me further.
Fair Warning: I’ll be mentioning the ending of the previous book in the series, Unspoken, here, so don’t read on unless you don’t mind the spoilers.
Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is, as deliciously full of angsty teen torture as Untold was, I couldn’t help but feel that SRB was hiding a bit behind lots of (excellent) kissing scenes and Kami/Jared drama. Untold lacked that extra spark of hilarity, wit, and charm that so captivated me in Unspoken, and I want it back. Was this a bit of second book slump? Will the awesomeness return in Unmade? Or has that initial flair of emotion died and left me still very much wanting to go on, but still perfectly able to sleep at night? Needless to say, there was no false advertising from SRB about what to expect here:
“I love a trilogy: the setup of all trilogies is book one: set up, book two: make out, book three: defeat evil. All trilogies, including The Lord of the Rings (hello sexy maids of Rohan and the romantic complications thereof!) conform to these rules.”
–Sarah Rees Brennan, Tor.com’s Sleeps With Monsters column.
If you left Unspoken completely wrecked over the emotional turmoil of having Jared and Kami’s most unimaginably intimate relations completely sundered and cauterized with cruel words (and let’s face it, we all did), Untold will be filled with angst driven tidbits to keep you burning through the pages. As a whole, that’s what Untold is about, Jared and Kami coming to terms with who they are as people without the other. Or at least it’s about Kami. SRB cleverly locks us away from Jared’s perspective that we were previously privy to, creating a heart achingly accurate reflection of what it is like for Kami to be locked away from the mind that has always been there to lend her support and comfort.
For the first time in her life, Kami truly feels those emotions the rest of us have learned to cope with from the time we were babes. Uncertainty, loneliness, and the unbearable weight of loss. She wrestles with the idea that the one person who she knew without a doubt loved her unconditionally could now despise her, and has to work out how she really feels about him in return.
As an emotional petri dish, Untold is fascinating. SRB explores intimacy in a way none of us could truly grasp or imagine but to look on it with horror. And for Kami and Jared, their connection was both wonderful and terrible. A relationship that was previously unimaginable suddenly becomes possible (if still frightening and far-fetched), but it also becomes increasingly clear that these two teens are really FUBAR when it comes to the ability to have ‘normal’ relations with anyone. They are a category unto themselves and that will be their own victory as well as their demise.
So yes, SRB completely won in the emotional torture of her readers department with Untold, something we all know she takes absolute glee in (along with eating babies and ritual animal sacrifice I’m sure), but as stated, the book was sorely lacking in other areas. The emotional eccentricities of Kami and Jared that were so charming and subtle in Unspoken are now all encompassing, and the rest of the cast suffers as a result.
Angela and Holly, are still there, but have definitely been pushed to the background along with the rest of Kami’s family. The charming Rusty (who, let’s face it, I still think is the best and healthiest relationship option open to Kami even if she doesn’t see it at all) remains present, as does the cowardly Lynburn cousin, Ash, but it’s clear they’ve all become props rather than continued to be major players. We are given new perspectives through the eyes of Ash and Holly, though this seems to perform the function of showing us what is happening when Kami isn’t present rather than really roping our hearts in to care about other characters. And the emotional potential for us to care about Holly and Ash is really there—I mean just look at their family lives—and yet SRB fails to really grab us here.
By the same token, while the plot isn’t precisely what I would call boring (I mean, I tore through this book like it was a bag of Red Vines and the diet starts tomorrow), it’s also not the strange and beautifully alluring world that drew us into Unspoken. We always know a second book won’t hold the same magic of being introduced to a world, but Untold seemed to have far too much planning for action and too little taking it. I love that the threat of Rob Lynburn and his sorcerers is utterly real and so far beyond the grasp of this rag-tag bunch of ambitious teens, but I wanted more utter fear from the townspeople and kids alike. I wanted more from Kami’s mother (though I have hopes for more in Unmade). I missed the feeling of a town and wood that were truly alive, the only hint of this we received being glimpses of Jared.
Sarah Rees Brennan is a master when it comes to playing the mamba on a reader’s heartstrings, but Untold suffered from too much emotional turmoil and not enough get up and go. I’m frightened for and oh so anticipating what she will do to us in Unmade, but my mind isn’t embroiled in emotional wreckage as after Unspoken as I just don’t feel the former connection to that cast I loved. I hope she brings it back. I hope she gives us Jared back (even if I totally understand why we weren’t allowed to have him in Untold). I hope she brings the pain in a serious way, because Sorry-in-the-Vale needs some serious badassery at the moment, and I think Kami can deliver.