Immortal Beloved: A light but promising new start to a supernatural trilogy

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Cate Tiernan Immortal BelovedImmortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan

Nastasya is a burned-out immortal who has spent hundreds of years trying to avoid any sort of real emotion. With her equally jaded friends, she spends all her time in endless, meaningless carousing. She’s not very likable at first, but that’s the whole point. When her friend Incy’s casual cruelty gives Nastasya a wake-up call about what her life has become, she doesn’t like herself much either.

Horrified with herself, afraid of Incy, Nastasya does the only thing she can think of. She turns to River, a woman who offered her help many decades ago. River runs River’s Edge, a halfway house for immortals that serves as part rehab, part magic school. Troubled immortals go there to relearn an appreciation for life and to study positive spellcraft. Nastasya doesn’t quite fit in at first but eventually comes to enjoy her stay at River’s Edge, though her attraction to standoffish “Viking god” Reyn unsettles her, as does a rivalry with a catty female immortal. Sometimes the characters seem more like 16-year-olds than the decades- or centuries-old beings they really are. Again, though, I think that’s the point. It’s why they needed River’s Edge in the first place. Despite their age, some of these characters have never had to mature.

I expected to find the rehab/life lessons aspect preachy or cloying, but instead it’s surprisingly heartwarming. Nastasya has a compelling, believable journey as she tries to become a better person and figure out what she really wants out of her life. Cate Tiernan does a great job with her character arc, for the most part.

Less successful is Nastasya’s brief flight from River’s Edge. I can see the narrative reasons why Cate Tiernan wanted Nastasya to go to Boston; she learns a valuable lesson there, and the reader gets another vivid glimpse (the scene with Incy at the beginning provides the first) of the negative magic practiced by unscrupulous immortals. However, I can’t see why Nastasya, the character, would choose to go there. It doesn’t make sense logically or emotionally. She’s afraid of Incy and doesn’t want him to know where she is, so she runs away to hang out with mutual friends she and Incy share? It seems out of character.

I also had trouble getting into the romance aspect; Reyn is too cold throughout most of the book. This is a trope that shows up in a lot of young adult romance but that rarely works for me as a reader. Maybe I’m just too old for the “he’s being a jerk because he likes you” thing. Then, when more of Nastasya’s past is revealed, the potential relationship takes on some overtones I found disturbing.

Finally, while I realize Immortal Beloved is the first book in a projected trilogy, I’d hoped to see a little more plot development in this installment, especially as it’s 400 pages long. There’s a ton of development in Nastasya’s character — and the book is well worth reading for that — but not a lot of movement on the Incy front.

Nonetheless, I’m definitely intrigued enough to keep reading the Immortal Beloved series. Tiernan seeds some tantalizing clues into the story, and I want to see if my guesses are right! That, and I look forward to seeing what Nastasya is capable of, now that she knows who she is and what she wants.

~Kelly Lasiter


fantasy book reviews Cate Tiernan Immortal BelovedThe first book in Cate Tiernan‘s new trilogy, Immortal Beloved is the story of Nastasya, a girl born in 1551 who has barely aged a day since her sixteenth birthday nearly 500 years ago. There are plenty of advantages to being an immortal: accelerated healing, immunity to the long-term effects of drugs and alcohol, and of course — eternal youth. But there is a price as well — after such a long existence, life has lost some of its lustre.

After her gang of immortal friends causes serious injuries to a cab driver, Nastasya is stunned by the lack of empathy they display toward him — especially her closest friend Innocencio. Though they’ve been together for almst a century, she knows she has to break free.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsA chance meeting with another immortal in 1929 gave her knowledge of a place in which she might hide: River’s Edge retreat in Massachusetts, a place which can only be described as “immortal rehab.” It’s there she immerses herself with the day-to-day requirements of growing her own food and tending to her own needs, gradually making friends and rivals alike within the old homestead.

Among them is Reyn, a handsome Nordic man who Nastasya tries to avoid because he reminds her of the Vikings that murdered her family so many years ago — though I doubt you’ll be surprised to learn she’s also irresistibly attracted to him.

In many ways Immortal Beloved is a story of self-knowledge, one in which Nastasya must accept her past and become a better person by being a willing and active part of the community around her. Though Nastasya understands little about the hows and whys of her immortality, Tiernan captures some of the strangeness of her existence: that she’s not so much living a life as being a tourist to other peoples’.

It’s not quite as sharp a portrayal of immortality as (for example) Highlander‘s tragic Conner/Heather romance, or Anne Rice‘s description of the disengagement vampires feel in Interview with the Vampire when their historical context inevitably slips away from them — but hey, this is a fairly light YA novel after all.

Tiernan has always had a strong narrative voice with which to characterize her protagonists, though this time around, Nastasya sounds less like a five hundred year old woman and more like a petulant teenager. Granted, this provides more opportunity for character development, but it’s still difficult to reconcile Nastasya’s voice with that of an immortal. The supporting characters are little more than stock characters: the Wise Mentor, the Alpha Bitch, the Aloof Superhunk, but the plot moves at a brisk pace, revealing secrets concerning the strange scar on the back of Nastasya’s neck and supernatural occurrences that suggest an upcoming battle between good and evil.

If you’ve read other Tiernan novels, that last sentence may ring a bell. There are plenty of ideas here involving Nastasya’s family legacy and an inevitable light/dark conflict that were also prevalent in other Tiernan series (such as SWEEP and BALEFIRE), not to mention the inevitable cliff-hanger that finishes the book.

I realize this review may sound a little critical, which belies the fact that I quite enjoyed Immortal Beloved. The pace is quick, the protagonist is engaging and it all serves as a diverting read on a summer afternoon. There are enough intriguing questions raised here that’ll ensure I track down the second in the trilogy: Darkness Falls.

~Rebecca Fisher

Publication date: September 7, 2010. Nastasya has spent the last century living as a spoiled, drugged-out party girl. She feels nothing and cares for no one. But when she witnesses her best friend, a Dark Immortal, torture a human, she realizes something’s got to change. She seeks refuge at a rehab for wayward immortals, where she meets the gorgeous, undeniably sexy Reyn, who seems inexplicably linked to her past. Nastasya finally begins to deal with life, and even feels safe–until the night she learns that someone wants her dead. Cate Tiernan, author of the popular Sweep series, returns with an engaging story of a timeless struggle and inescapable romance, the first book in a stunning new fantasy trilogy.

 


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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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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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