If you had one chance to choose how you would live a second life after you die, what would you do? That’s the dilemma brought forth in best-selling author Gena Showalter’s new series starter, Firstlife. The book soundly creates an embattled world worth exploring but sometimes gets a bit distracted along the way.
Tenley Lockwood, better known as Ten, is a resident of Prynne Asylum. She’s not mentally ill, by our standards, but Ten is dangerous in her world because at seventeen, she still hasn’t decided how she’ll live… after she dies. See, people in Ten’s world get two lives– one on Earth, one in either Myriad or Troika, the two warring factions of everyone’s second life known as Everlife. Ten’s loyal Myriadian parents expected her to choose their way of life when she was asked on her sixteenth birthday, but she refused to commit to either side. For that, she is hidden away from society, mistreated and abused on a daily basis.
Thankfully, Ten is not completely alone. Both Troika and Myriad have sent undercover laborers to Prynne in hopes of turning Tenley to their side. Archer is a goofy, irreverent Troikan guy with a razor sharp wit and fighting skills to boot, casually placed inside a woman’s body for his mission, posing as Ten’s roommate and quickly becoming her hilarious ally. Killain is a Myriadian heartthrob who’s a little more brutal and straight-forward, willing to do anything to get Ten on his side. Both have good intentions despite their longstanding rivalry. They truly believe that their side is the righteous choice and the other is a dangerous choice. They also want to save Ten from Many Ends, the vicious purgatory where the undecided go when they die. However, their means for guarding over Ten unleash a whole new chaos on Earth.
Showalter’s concept for the Everlife is smart and effective. Like many religions, Troika and Myriad consider themselves very different and at odds with one another despite being the same in many key aspects. With light versus dark elements, they may also compare to heaven and hell . The story offers up a clever take on the importance of decision-making, indoctrination versus free-thinking, and living on your own terms. It’s a fascinating dilemma, but one that requires a careful balance. At times, Firstlife loses that balance. Ten’s refusal to make a decision between two reasonable choices moves past caution and into self-sabotaging stubbornness for the sake of stubbornness, particularly when her inability to decide endangers her personal safety and the safety of the people she loves. This got especially frustrating because Ten’s Everlife choice seemed fairly obvious from the beginning of the novel.
Indecisiveness aside, Ten is a likable character with a well-built background and an intriguing trajectory. Her adventure is a wild one, but she handles it well without becoming a sad sap or a warrior trope. The story avoids involving her in a love triangle, but still maintains the feel of a love triangle with the two boys competing to woo her to their side. We really liked Archer as a character. He brings the fun to the story and truly wants to help others. Perhaps that’s part of the reason we struggled with Killian. He’s very much the alpha male trope: A hottie who could get any girl and has used many girls in the past, but is inexplicably dedicated to winning the love of the protagonist. This type of character can work in stories, but it just didn’t here. His advances were meant to be swoony, but it made Ten look shallow; more concerned with a cute guy than the chaos around her or life choices with huge implications.
While the story has plenty of solid, plot-driving action in the beginning and end, we did feel a significant slump in the middle. At 480 pages, the story, particularly a journey between its two major locations, definitely could have been streamlined to create a tighter, more mesmerizing adventure. Instead, Showalter used a lot of that time on a plot point involving the Everlife that was used so much, it got a little unrealistic by the end. Added in with Ten’s refusal to make a decision, the mid-section of the book felt tedious at times. Thankfully, you’re able to forgive Showalter for most of it when the action and tension really builds up toward the end. We’re talking battles, people!
Though there were a few rocky moments in the start, there may be hope for us yet in the Everlife series.
Firstlife (Everlife #1) hits shelves on February 23, 2016. You can pre-order it now!