Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book Review: "Highborn" by Yvonne Navarro

I noticed last year that angels and demons seem to be a trend that's gaining traction in the paranormal fiction genre. Sure enough, I've been getting more than a few books in this style added to my TBR list and I'm so intrigued with the various interpretations of the theme that I can't help but dig in.

Highborn by Yvonne Navarro is the story of Brynna, a fallen angel who begins to wonder if redemption is possible even for a depraved soul that chose to leave service in Heaven for power in Hell. Acting on her desire to return to Heaven, Brynna escapes Hell and starts her journey in the human world. Brynna discovers that hiding from demons sent to bring her back to Hell are the least of her problems as she quickly becomes entangled in an investigation into a series of high profile murders-- and the detective in charge of the investigation.

The Good: There are many things I like about Navarro's style as a writer. She's not afraid to go for it when it comes to violent encounters or gruesome descriptions of Hell. Violent encounters might not be everyone's cup of tea, but if the story goes in a direction that calls for it, I like an author that doesn't hold back-- and Navarro doesn't. I also appreciate the integrity she brings to the character of Brynna. "Highborn" is the kind of book that could be a typical fish-out-of-water story littered with cute malapropisms, but that would get old really fast. In Navarro's hands Brynna never loses her sense of being different. There's no attempt to smooth out the feeling that Brynna is alien to this world. No rapid adaptations to modern slang or anything else that fits the character into a cookie-cutter mold of any kind. There are some really nice character interactions in "Highborn" too. Brynna, for all her strangeness, forges connections with others through her protective nature and the people she takes under her wing add a lot to the story.

Needs Work: I need to know where a character comes from before I can appreciate where they are; so the back-story is key to my enjoyment of a book. We know Brynna is a fallen angel whose real name is Astarte, but there isn't a whole lot more to her background. She was a favorite of Lucifer and, as the title suggests, a highborn one at that. But after a tantalizing glimpse into Hell at the very beginning of the book, we're not really shown any more of her previous life. And that killed me because I really wanted more. Navarro seemed like just the author to deliver an honest-to-goodness hellish vision of Hell. I've read so many books that fall short of letting their view of Hell be as dark as it should and I was sure Navarro would give us that but, to my disappointment, it never came. Unfortunately the character development follows the same basic pattern throughout; an enticing tidbit here and there, but not enough to really satisfy the reader.

"Highborn" is an interesting book for me. In some respects I think it's much better than your standard paranormal fare because the personality of Brynna stays true throughout. It's great that there isn't some stereotypical shift in her perspective that puts her in-sync with everyone else. I liked that she stood out from beginning to end. At the same time it's the elements I liked that highlighted the elements I felt were lacking. I wanted the book to live up to its potential, but I never quite felt that it got there. I kept reading, waiting for the payoff-- some kind of big reveal-- but was left with feeling that the story was incomplete. I will, however, definitely read the next book Navarro writes in this series. I like the overall story, the characters and the author's style-- so I'll be back. But if the next book doesn't prove to be more fleshed-out, I wouldn't be encouraged to continue further than that.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Charles Gramlich said...

I've not read a lot by Navarro but have enjoyed her short stories. I have generally been a bit put off by the angel surge we've been getting.

SQT said...

Charles-- Not a fan of angelic fiction huh? I like it. I like seeing what interpretations pop up. But I put it in the same category as genre fiction that explores Greek or Nordic myth. It's all gods and devils when you get right down to it and I just like stories.