Harbinger Hardcover – 2 Feb 2012
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Top Customer Reviews
As the plot develops, the pace picks up & the characters start to develop & grow. The whole plot is surrounded by several sinister elements that come to the fore & create plenty of peril for the Protagonist; Faye. The reader is shoved into the plot straight away, with the world's oil supply in crisis & communities forced to become co-operatives to survive, while dead-weight is shipped away, in this case to a 'school' for disturbed teenagers. Characterisation is aided by 'flashbacks' that occur when Faye comes into physical contact with people.
The description isn't the most vivid I've encountered, but it is competent & accurate, Sara Wilson Etienne doesn't waste pages with aimless description just to make the required page count & because the author has a well-developed image of her world, this is communicated to the reader, allowing you to share the world Sara Wilson Etienne has created.
The Characters are interesting & are given strong personalities, although several support characters fall backwards slightly as the plot reaches towards its conclusion, allowing the author to focus full attention on the primary characters.
The pacing is good, the story moves at a decent rate, keeping the reader interested with new events. As the plot reaches towards the ending, the pace changes noticeably, becoming more frantic & moves at speed, while the tone of the plot moves much closer to a supernatural element.
The book is written in First Person, from the view of Faye, the primary character.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
A gripping, psychological thriller that's hard to put down. This debut is as terrifying as it is fascinating. Sara did a masterful job at creating a story that will make the reader feel just as insane as her main character Faye. Getting inside the head of Faye made it hard to distinguish what was real and what was an figment of her imagination. I have to say, that really made for an interesting read, because it was impossible for me to figure out what was really going on. This is one of those story's that similar to the writings of Nova Ren Suma and Michelle Hodkin's where you spend the entire time trying to piece everything that's going on together, only to get to the end of the book and realize that it was an impossible task to do.
Faye is one of those characters you root for when they become rebellious. How could I not? She basically gets dumped at Holbrook Academy, is forced to take pills to "feel normal", has to deal with the crocked Dr. Mordoch, deal with takers who treat her like an animal and the rest of the residents there, and essential have her individuality taken away from her. I give Faye props for trying to escape. Shoot, I would have done the same thing. Even solitary confinement can't break her spirit, but some of the strange things going on at the Academy can. There's plenty of secrets, betrayals and plot twists that keep on coming until the very end. Not to mention a hot little romance on the side.
Faye's story is a bit confusing at times, but that's what kept me reading. I know that sounds weird and there's very few authors who have been able to hold my attention during a confusing plot, but there's something about Sara's writing that captures your attention. Really, there's so much that's going that it was hard to put the book down. The characters, and the setting really help paint the picture of the disturbing things that happen. Like Faye, I had a hard time trying to figure out what were lies, who I could really trust and what was really the reasoning behind Faye's terrifying visions. When the plot twists unravel and Faye's secrets are revealed all I can say is hold on tight for one wild crazy ending that I never saw coming. It's during this time that I had my "oh that totally makes sense" moment.
Again, Sara's writing is crafted so well that by the end of the book when she unravels everything neatly, I was able to look back and see the hints she had dropped, but with out knowing the outcome there is no way I would have been able to pick up on them. Sounds confusing doesn't it? Believe me when you read it you'll know what I mean by that. The other thing that I was fascinated by is Sara's notes at the end of the book (ARC), where she talks about her inspiration for the story. I loved how she was able to take a little bit of fact and history and create a whole fictional story around that. Overall I felt this was a Good Read. There's nothing I can pin point that I didn't like, it's just not a book I fell in love with like I wanted to, but it's one I liked reading it. There is some mild language, and darker undertones in the book making it one I'd recommend to older YA readers.
Etienne had me hooked from the first chapter. Faye's waking visions felt so real, and her controlled panic was so heartbreaking - knowing she's tried to keep her fear in check, so as not to seem like she's losing her mind in front of her loved ones - that I couldn't have put Harbinger down even if I had wanted to. As the water started dripping under the windowpane, trickling in through the cracks in the door, consuming her until she couldn't see or hear anything but the "whoosh whoosh whoosh" of the tide, I truly felt like those around her were going to have a sudden moment of clarity, and be able to experience it all with her. Even though Faye was terrified she was losing her mind, a part of me didn't doubt her - I believed she was actually experiencing these waking visions; the way they were written, their vividness and detailedness, was too rich to be mere fantasies.
I think my favourite part about reading a psychological thriller is trying to determine if what's happening is something everyone can see, or something only the protagonist is experiencing. The following scene is one of those delicious moments.
"My hands. My hands were covered in red. Not a bright stop-sign red or an orangey clown red. It was the terrible brown red of blood. The whorls of my fingerprints stood bold against the deep crimson. I'd fallen out of bed before, lots of times, but this? This was new. What's going on?
I looked over at Maya's bed, but she wasn't in it. Instead, she was sprawled, unmoving, on the floor on the other side of the room. The same red smudged and streaked the floor between us.
I stared down at my red hands.
No. I couldn't have. I crawled toward her, trying to make out the rise and fall of her chest. Daring myself to touch her foot. To wake her up. But I couldn't make myself."
So disturbingly creepy, made even more terrifying by the underlying doubt - is this really happening, or is Faye hallucinating again? Harbinger is full of tantalizingly teasing moments like this, adding a layer of suspense to the already all-encompasing mystery that surrounds the strange events that seem to be increasing in frequency. Statues positioned in a circle, frozen in silent screams. A hidden library, hiding a rusty iron talisman. A forgotten diary, bookmarked with ominous tarot cards that held pieces of a prophesy foreshadowing the end of the world.
"But that wasn't what made the entry unsettling. And it wasn't just creepy descriptions either. It was that every word, every line, had been written in blood."
Clues, uncovered by Faye and Kel, all pointing to one person - the Harbinger.
All this mystery and intrigue is fostered by some well thought-out characters. Faye isn't oblivious - she knows something strange is going on, something that involves her specifically, and the ties she feels to Holbrook. She terrified to her core, but she's also determined to figure out exactly what's going on.
"The answers teased at me. Dangerous and exhilarating. Even though I was scared, I needed to understand."
Her relationship with Kel is literally sizzling, as she is jolted with memories every time their fingers touch - but their romance definitely takes a backseat to everything else that's going on around them. Kel is full of his own secrets, and his mysteriousness had me turning the pages in an effort to figure him out. I loved watching Faye's ability to see other people's thoughts strengthen, and her confusion and feelings of betrayal when she sees a secret Kel has been keeping from her only added to my growing need to understand what was happening!
My only real issue with Harbinger was the world-building. Harbinger is set in a futuristic Earth, where oil shortages have led to riots and the formations of different Cooperatives. Each Cooperative has it's own values, and you have to apply to become a member. Being a member of a Cooperative provides you with rations for food, medical supplies, and other necessities. For those unfortunates left to survive on their own, resources are scarce - there's no food, no clean drinking water, and any trees have been cut down to use for fuel. While all of this made sense, I didn't understand why people would bother to allow a facility like Holbrook to exist, with the world in its state of chaos. This might sound terrible - but it seems to be the general consensus in other apocalyptic/dystopian novels - but why would anyone bother to waste precious resources on rehabilitating dysfunctional youth? With the world in a state of turmoil, why waste the time and energy on a bunch of rebellious teens, when those same resources could be used to help foster the Cooperatives that are working towards a solution, or used to bribe more people to join the army in an effort to bolster their numbers and give them a better chance at winning the war? I guess I just didn't see the point.
World-building aside however, I loved Harbinger. The pacing starts off slow, increasing as strange events being happening, and culminating in an explosive finale that dates back thousands of years. The prison-asylumlike boarding school gives the entire setting an ominously shuddersome atmosphere, and the constant reveal of clues builds the suspension until it peaks and cascades into a wholly satisfying conclusion, where all of your questions are answered in an awe-inspiring final scene.
It's not exactly easy to summarize the plot of this one because the plot is just plain crazy. I literally had no idea where the author was going with this until the end. I had no guesses! I was completely lost in my feeling of uncertainty, and I loved every moment of it. Sometimes being lost was hard. What is real? What is Faye hallucinating? The main character is anything but reliable. She's constantly seeing things like a never-ending ocean swallowing her up. She's hearing drum beats and having nightmares that make her wake up screaming. And then there's all the stuff she can't remember, which reminded a little bit of The Maze Runner.
Okay, I'm backing stuff up a bit and hopefully making more sense now. The book is about Faye, a girl abandoned by a family who pretty much gives up on her. Her dad leaves her at a boarding school. And while at the school, she is getting fed three times a day and "educated," while the rest of the planet seems to be dying off. There have been oil wars. And oil has hit an all time low, so people have been rationing off any lingering supplies. But, while the school is meant to make Faye better, it is just run so horrifically that I can't possibly see how it could help anyone with mental illness at all, no matter what the circumstances of the world are.
There's barbed wire fences, guards patrolling the grounds at all times, guards who are trained to use tazor guns and pepper spray on any rebellious teens, and punishments that go far darker and more painful than even pepper spray in the eyes. Her first day, Faye is put in solitary confinement, locked up in a dark room. Other times she is forced to squat on her legs for long periods of time. There's even one scene that reminded me of the beginning of Jane Eyre where Jane has to stand in front of her whole school and be publicly humiliated. Well, at Faye's school, she has to stand in front of everyone, be humiliated, take loud, angry insults from fellow students at the encouragement of the head of school, and then suffer through things being thrown at her. Seriously, this school was so messed up that I found myself physically shaking in anger at certain parts.
But the real story revolves around the mystery. Every night, Faye and her new friends wake up with red hands. And in Faye's room there are red pictures on her floor of strange designs and people. Eventually you learn that the characters are digging. But, you don't know for what. It's clear that others know something is happening. There's secret passageways, hidden diaries, tarot cards predicting a terrible future, friends who all hear the same drumbeats, and the ever-present dream of the ocean.
I was confused for a lot of the story because Faye was so confused. But this was actually okay. I was okay being confused because I just needed to know what on earth was happening. And somehow Etienne pulled off the crazy, suspenseful, and confusing writing style really well.
I remember being about ¾ of the way through the book and I was on my break at work, trying to explain to a co-worker just how crazy and confusing, yet awesome this book was, and I'm not sure if I ever was able to adequately explain how much I was on the edge of my seat here. I couldn't guess the outcome yet, and I loved that about this book.
I loved the main character, and how rebellious she sometimes was. I loved all of her sayings she kept telling herself about fear and illusions. I love how much the truth was something she needed to find. And I definitely loved that the main character's beliefs and needs overshadowed the whole love thing. I loved reading about the side characters, though I would have loved a little more development for them. I only really felt like I got to know her roommate, but all of the school "family" was rather mysterious, and definitely interesting.
What I didn't like: the end! Okay, I'm not being completely honest. I was still shocked all the way to the last pages. And I loved that. But, once everything made sense I really think the book should have gone a different direction. It kind of had that sugar-coated, let's make everything sunny kind of ending, which just did not fit with the rest of the incredibly dark book at all. Does it sound bad that I was kind of hoping for the sad ending? I never really want the world to end in books; I just felt like this could have happened here and I would definitely have accepted it better.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book. I loved being surprised. I loved the mystery. I loved the characters. I was disappointed in the very end of the ending, but I was still mostly just impressed. I would look forward to reading more from this author, and I hope she writes more soon.
I hate to say it, but I was disappointed with Harbinger. Difficult and a bit confusing, I felt that there were too many plot points jumbled up and trying to soar, but they just didn't work for me.
The thing that I had the most problems with about Harbinger was simply that this book had too many elements of YA trying to mix together. Dystopian, mystery, a little bit paranormal romance, it felt forced and too messy. I couldn't keep track for the majority of the book of what the plot line actually was. I think that if only there had been one genre-element instead of a mixed group, this novel would have definitely appealed more to me.
But I did enjoy our main character, Faye. She seemed funny and quick-witted, and overall, I found her to be my favorite part of the book. I always looked forward to seeing what she was going to be getting herself into and what the author would do to her character. Harbinger had a really, really unique synopsis from the jacket and book trailer. But unfortunately, it just wasn't for my taste.
But another quality of Harbinger I enjoyed was Holbrook Academy, minus all of the jumbled up genres floating around it in. Just the Academy itself spooked me -- it seemed super eerie and creepy, and if the novel had revolved more around the scariness of Holbrook Academy, I think the novel could have been a lot better.
Overall, Harbinger disappointed me, but since it has lots of genres I would classify in it, I can see how it will appeal to YA lovers.
Sara Wilson Etienne has crafted an incredible, phenomenal, and radically unique debut that will mess with your mind and open your eyes. It's part disturbing - it takes place in some future world where cities are full of savagery and scarcity runs rampant - part sexy - Kel is mysterious and dangerous, but definitely has a side of yummy to him - and all-absorbing. Etienne's storytelling has fast-paced moments, character depth, and a history that is as unpredictable as it is complex.
From the very first page, readers will be taken by Faye, curious about Holbrook, and fearful of what the future holds. The creepy undertones, the nightmares, and looming unknown add this tension to the book that made me furiously turn the pages, desperate for more. The mystery behind Faye and her new Family's blood-stained hands is ever evolving. One answer only leads to more questions and I was eager to know more.
Harbinger is a bold debut from a hugely talented author. Each and every character has a purpose in the story and wow, is it quite the story! The twists are unexpected and the mystery ever-evolving. Readers will eat it up.