Tuesday, December 06, 2011

"The Space Between" by Brenna Yovanoff--Strong Characters, Rushed Ending

I have a taste for dark fiction and when an author takes on the challenge of using Hell as a setting for their story, I'm automatically intrigued-- and Brenna Yovanoff definitely comes up with a unique version of in inferno in The Space Between.

Daphne, as the child of Lucifer and Lilith, has lived her whole life in the timeless landscape of Hell. It might be a place of endless torment to some, but Daphne exists in a kind of endless malaise as her only view of Earth is through a television screen and the trinkets her brother Obie brings back from his travels to the human realm.

Obie is the only resident of Hell who travels to Earth to save people: his half-angelic ancestry makes him far more compassionate than his demonic counterparts. Like all denizens of Hell he is prohibited from living on Earth as there are always avenging-angels ready to destroy any demons caught away from their home. But Obie has fallen in love with a human woman and chooses to risk a life on Earth.

It isn't long before Obie disappears and his mother Lilith, who is chained to her metallic garden in Hell, convinces Daphne to search for her missing brother. Unfortunately Daphne's only lead is Truman, a damaged young man who is more interested in spiraling down into alcoholism to escape his own personal demons.

"The Space Between" is one of those books that I have really mixed feelings about. It has a lot of strengths and it doesn't get bogged down in the usual YA drama, but some clich├ęs and a rushed ending derail an otherwise imaginative story. The setting is broody and atmospheric and, while it doesn't have the traditional fixation on eternal torment, it still evokes visions of the fiery pit in a whole new way. I also think Yovanoff has a real gift at characterization as Daphne is compelling, yet convincingly distant and strange. Truman, the boy she follows to find her brother, is also well drawn as a young man with some unusual secrets of his own.

"The Space Between" is very engaging through the first half of the book. As the characters and the setting are established it's easy to get sucked in with the anticipation of more revelations about Heaven and Hell. But the second half of the book fails to deliver as it gets caught up in a more conventional, action-oriented plot and falls back on the old tropes that question whether the angels really are on the "good" side. I'm all for questioning religion and the foundations upon which it is built but, as far as themes go, it's been done-- a lot. So I was a little disappointed to see a book that had such a unique beginning give up its momentum to something we've seen before.

The ending of the book also fell off the pacing of the rest of the book as the climax and resolution are crammed together when those aspects of the story-- especially the resolution-- should have more time to develop. I think Yovanoff was trying to avoid a sequel (and props for that) but the rush at the end took away a lot of the suspense and I not only found it predictable but something of a let-down as well.

I have no doubt that most fans of paranormal YA fiction will love this book. It has all the right ingredients from a fantastic setting to a nice romance and there are some good twists as well. My quibbles are those of a reviewer who looks at these things with a more critical eye. I would have liked to have seen more development of Daphne's background and perhaps more time fleshing out the environs of Hell as well as her rather unusual family. But for all of my critiques I have to say that "The Space Between" is still a good addition to the genre and Yovanoff is an author to watch.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Michael Offutt, Expert Critic said...

I tend to like dark fiction as well. Setting a novel in Hell though makes me wonder if it will have some kind of religious agenda. Based on your review, I'd say it doesn't and that makes me want to investigate it further.

SQT said...

@Michael-- I didn't catch any religious agenda, and I tend to look for that. It's not too dark. I give it more points for imagination.

Blodeuedd said...

A fan of YA pnr is exactly what I am not, so not for me