Forbidden: Too familiar

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSyrie James ForbiddenForbidden by Syrie James & Ryan M. James

I enjoyed Syrie James’s first two paranormal novels, Dracula, My Love and Nocturne, and so I was happy to try her new young adult paranormal, Forbidden, co-written with her son Ryan James. I enjoyed Forbidden but found that it didn’t quite stack up against the two aforementioned books.

Forbidden centers on Claire, a studious high school girl; and Alec, a Grigori angel who goes AWOL from his job of eliminating fallen Nephilim (human/angel hybrids) and decides to attend high school. It turns out that Claire is not entirely human herself, making their budding romance a violation of angel law. The narrative alternates between their points of view.

The novel is a quick, smooth read, and its main characters are pleasant people to read about. Claire is sympathetic, and her friends are sweet and funny. Alec is a good guy who wants to do the right thing. His rival for Claire’s affections is a decent guy too, and the popular girl also seems genuinely nice even though Claire expects her not to be. Claire’s mother is more involved and supportive than is common in this genre. The enigmatic Helena, once we finally meet her, is awesome! With the obvious exception of the villains, the characters in this book are easy to like. Another nice touch is the genre savvy of Claire and her friends. Before they find out what Alec really is, Claire tosses around the idea that he might be a vampire, or maybe a Slayer.

The trouble is, Forbidden’s plot feels like something I’ve seen before. There’s the shy girl who doesn’t realize she’s gorgeous; the mysterious supernatural guy who goes to high school despite being over 100 years old; angels and Grigori and Nephilim, which are everywhere at the moment; a romance that is against all the universe’s rules; and a love triangle. What I loved best about James’s previous books was that they stood out from the rest of the paranormal field: Dracula, My Love had those fun twists on Bram Stoker’s original Dracula, and Nocturne told a vampire story as a character study and something of a fairy tale retelling and had an unconventional ending. Forbidden is a lot more like the other books out there.

You could do a lot worse than Forbidden. The writing is fine and the story didn’t annoy me with sexism or character stupidity, as some YA paranormal novels have done. The likable characters and smooth prose keep the pages turning. But the familiarity of the plot detracts from the experience, and it needed a little something more to make it stand out from the field.

Forbidden — (2012) Publisher: She should not exist. He should not love her. Claire Brennan has been attending Emerson Academy for two years now (the longest she and her mom have remained anywhere) and she’s desperate to stay put for the rest of high school. So there’s no way she’s going to tell her mom about the psychic visions she’s been having or the creepy warnings that she’s in danger. Alec MacKenzie is fed up with his duties to watch and, when necessary, eliminate the descendants of his angelic forefathers. He chose Emerson as the ideal hiding place where he could be normal for once. He hadn’t factored Claire into his plans… Their love is forbidden, going against everything Alec has been taught to believe. But when the reason behind Claire’s unusual powers is revealed and the threat to her life becomes clear, how far will Alec go to protect her?

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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