Numbers: Promising start, but disappointing in the end

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Rachel Ward NumbersNumbers by Rachel Ward

Numbers is a book that’s hard to categorize. It starts out as urban fantasy, then becomes more of an adventure novel, then seems to be a “teaching life lessons” story toward the end.

The heroine, Jem, has a supernatural “gift” that has caused her no end of grief. She sees numbers when she looks at people. As a little girl, she didn’t know what the numbers meant — not until her mother’s number turned out to be the day she overdosed on drugs. Now a troubled teenager, Jem finds it hard to get close to anyone. How can she get attached to anyone, when she knows the date they will die?

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsEnter Spider. He’s a classmate of Jem’s who is teetering on the edge of big trouble. For personal reasons, it took me a little while to warm up to Spider. In Jem’s narrative voice, Rachel Ward describes him like this: “One of those people who stand too close to you, doesn’t know when to back off.” I’m a pretty big introvert and one of my pet peeves is people who keep prodding you, even when you’ve made it clear you want to be alone. So when Spider does this in Numbers‘ first scene, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to like him as Jem’s love interest. Oh, and he has bad B.O. Thankfully, once he and Jem get to know each other better, he’s a lot less annoying.

She’s not sure she wants to get any closer to him, though, because she can see his number, and she knows he only has a few weeks.

Meanwhile, as Jem and Spider’s relationship is developing, their futures seem to be disintegrating. Each gets into hot water at school, and Spider is drawn toward a dangerous crowd. And while all this is going on, Jem is wondering about her “gift.” Can the numbers she sees be changed, or are they predestined?

The plot switches gears when Jem and Spider become suspects in a terrorist bombing. The two flee London and travel through the countryside, trying to evade both the police and a gangster that Spider has angered. This section is a complete departure from what came before, but it’s interesting. We get to see these two city kids try to survive in the country, and there is further development of the relationship.

Unfortunately, it all descends into implausibility and unanswered questions in the end. [IF YOU’D LIKE TO SEE SOME EXAMPLES, HIGHLIGHT THE FOLLOWING SPOILERS WITH YOUR MOUSE:]

I doubt that Britney would have been willing to shelter Jem in her room. Also, I sure hope Jem’s vomiting was just because she was unaccustomed to hearty eating after her time spent roughing it. Because if it was meant as a sign of her pregnancy? It was way too soon for morning sickness.

But what I really can’t wrap my mind around is… what happened to the police/terrorism plotline? Am I missing pages, or was it just never resolved? Why do the cops stop suspecting Jem of the bombing? She uses her gift to explain why she ran from the scene, but then she claims she lied, and then after the events of the climax, we never hear anything more about the police.

I have other questions too, like whether Jem sees numbers when she looks at a photograph. She looks at some photos for the police and gives dates, but I wasn’t sure if she was making them up or not. (It doesn’t work with mirrors, or else she’d know her own number.)

[END OF SPOILERS] The final chapters seem to be preaching a lesson about appreciating life while you have it, and then there’s a “twist ending” that isn’t all that surprising.

Numbershad a promising start and a suspenseful middle. I appreciated that Ward chose to tell the story through the eyes of a disadvantaged teen, which is unusual in this type of book, and that she touched on some of the classism and racism in Jem’s environment. However, the later chapters of the book were disappointing.


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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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