[An old review. This was an ARC I picked up at a conference.]
This is the first book of what is going to be a trilogy. Since I knew nothing about this book before I started reading it, I didn't realize this and, for some reason, thought it was a standalone novel. I expected an actual ending and was disappointed when I didn't really get one. So, now you're forewarned.
It always seems to take me a while to warm up to one of Meg Cabot's books, and this one was no exception. I spent the first half of this book annoyed with the enormous amount of foreshadowing. Pierce goes on and on about her death and the terrible things that happened after her death, and it just got to the point where I wanted her to finally, finally stop being vague and just say what happened. I actually found myself thinking, "I know dying must have been tough and all, but just get over it and get on with the story."
There are so many flashbacks and references to past events that it's easy to forget that the story has an actual present that is a whole two years after Pierce's death. Nearly the entire first half of the book deals with Pierce's past, and it wasn't until after all that, during a scene in which Pierce is at an assembly at her new school, that the book really grabbed my interest. Like Pierce, I wanted to know what the big deal was with Coffin Night. I wanted to know what was going on at her school, what various people were hiding from her, and how things worked at her school in general.
Notice how I haven't said anything about wanting to know more about her and John? Usually, I automatically glom onto the slightest hint of romance in a book, but something about Pierce and John's relationship didn't grab me that way. Now, that's not to say I was completely uninterested in the romantic aspects of this book or in John as the love interest. It's just that, considering how excited I was when I read that the book was based on the myth of Persephone and Hades, I was surprised that the romance didn't resonate with me more.
I've liked a lot of dark, broody, suffering heroes in the past. Some that come to mind are Thierry in L.J. Smith's Soulmate, the Beast in the Beauty and the Beast story (and just about anything based on the story), and Eiri Yuki in Maki Murakami's Gravitation. These kinds of romantic heroes can have a scary, possibly almost insane edge to them at times, but there's usually also something about them, something about the way they interact with the "heroine" (oh, poor Shuichi - sorry, I couldn't think of a better word) that makes a romantic relationship seem like a viable option. Although John and Pierce definitely had their moments, I didn't really feel the romance for a large portion of the book. That changed a bit near the end of the book, but I wanted the romance to be stronger throughout the entire book, not just near the end of it.
Part of the problem, I think, was that so much of the focus of the book was on Pierce that it was hard to see John as more than just the scary, violent surface he presented. There were hints that John was lonely, he had a super protective streak (which really only added to his scariness), and Cabot gave readers a bit of his history maybe two thirds of the way into the book, but none of it was enough, not for me at least. Pierce's reaction to John didn't manage to drum up any anticipation in me, either - although it was clear that part of her was attracted to him, even though she seemed unwilling to recognize it, the larger part of her was just worried about what he might end up doing to those around her, whether they deserved it on some level or not.
Even if I had decided to just accept that John was the romantic hero of the book and was worth falling for, I had one other hurdle: I couldn't quite believe that John would fall for Pierce. Supposedly, he falls for her because, of all the people he's ever met, she's completely selfless. She thinks about others before herself. At the point in the book where this first came up, I couldn't really believe it, because Pierce didn't seem so much selfless to me as she seemed completely clueless that the things that could hurt and bring discomfort to others could also do the same to her.
I did eventually come to accept the reason given for why John fell for Pierce, and Pierce did grow on me. This book had some things that appealed to me and hints of things that I could come to like better later on, enough so that I do want to read the next book in the trilogy but...I can't shake the feeling that this book could have been much better than it was.
(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)