Stories about people who come from low points in their lives to triumph and find their passions and will of living again usually strike me at my core. I’ve read many realistic stories that have done this very well. I’ve also read many supernatural and paranormal stories that have done this well.
Emerald City fits into neither one, unfortunately. It’s a novel where I saw what the author was trying to do in the progression of it, but the execution left much to be desired on many different scales. It felt too familiar of a story for me to fully get behind – a sort of alternating take on a story like the movie “City of Angels”, only without necessarily taking the direction that the ending of that movie did.
20-year-old Olivia is a young woman suffering from a deeply rooted depression that consumes her entirely. She nearly succeeds in committing suicide, but is saved by a mysterious man named Jude who claims to have seen her attempt and called for help in sending her to the hospital to get treatment. Olivia knows that he’s lying to protect her. While this may seem all well and good, Olivia doesn’t know what to make of Jude’s mysterious presence and explanation for saving her life. Even more, she begins falling for him, even while he keeps a rather guarded secret (which really isn’t as much of a secret as one would believe). Still, the novel goes forward to establish the tension between them, and as Olivia starts to become whole again, the secret and the forces driving a wedge between them threaten to tear them apart.
Forgive my bluntness, but this feels like an all too familiar scenario, and it’s further complicated by how Leppert chooses to approach the story. I don’t believe this benefited much from being told in alternating perspectives. For the most part, it’s kind of a given after a certain point as to whom Jude’s identity really is and how it would impact Olivia. It actually could’ve been revealed much earlier on and still had the same impact on me as it did when the story went around the 50% mark (which is to say – it didn’t impact me very much at all). I found the shift from first person Olivia’s account to third person Jude’s account jarring. One of the few authors I’ve read that managed to do this well was Sophie Hannah in “Little Face.” While even that story had its share of caveats that were hit or miss depending on how you felt the reveal to be, it still provided a decent amount of tension leading up to what was a story heavily rooted in its genre: mystery.
Here, in Leppert’s work? Not so much. I kept asking what was the point. The wait for that reveal felt like pulling off a bandaid stuck to skin – it wasn’t really a surprise to me. I don’t think it would surprise other people if they knew that “Emerald City” is, in fact, a paranormal romantic story. You don’t get that description from the blurb, but it’s pretty obvious once you get into the heart of the story and realize “Oh crud, I know where this is going to go.” It’s like every cookie cutter YA paranormal romance that starts in the direction of boy saves girl’s life, boy seems to stalk girl, boy has terrible secret that would harm girl if she knew. It’s a familiar troupe. Only I have to give props to Jude for actually being a decent guy. But that presents another issue entirely.
Another consideration: I did appreciate that the author chooses to develop Olivia as a woman coming to terms with her respective issues and depression. Yet, why the heck did her progression have to be so reliant on her relationship with Jude? Jude himself seems like a Gary Stu placed in the alternating measures of this novel (hence why I said him being a decent guy was a problem). He shows up at the right time, he’s charming and funny, he listens to Olivia’s problems and struggles within her depression. He just seems to be there to do all the right things at first. I couldn’t wrap my head around Olivia being so open to him about her problems, let alone I couldn’t see myself thinking that her progression/changes were solely because of Jude. Depression really doesn’t work that way, and the suggestion that this novel makes in having Olivia’s issues being dependent on that relationship made me want to throw my E-reader against the wall. It offended me. Even when you consider the conversations between Olivia and her therapist and Olivia and her boss remarking on the changes she’s made in her life – it all comes back to Jude. It felt really shallow and contrived as a plot device.
Suffice to say, as events came to pass and Jude reveals his secret to Olivia, the novel starts moving along. It actually started moving along a little better than its beginnings – at least until the second major wedge arrives. Jude leaves Olivia by her lonesome without saying goodbye or giving an explanation; we later figure out the reason why through his narrative and through the recap in Olivia’s perspective. Olivia is heavily distraught during his absence and suffers somewhat of a relapse – which I saw coming from a mile away. Ugh – this is far too common a troupe in paranormal romance where the hero disappears, leaves the heroine awash with grief – as if a good heroine can’t fend for herself in a lover’s absence. (Though it’s reasonable to expect this kind of action to make a heroine upset as heck.)
He returns, she’s reasonably distraught, at least until he explains why he was gone. Then things smooth over until certain events come to pass and threaten to tear them apart yet again (which by this point I started drawing the City of Angels comparisons). The ending goes down a little easier than I expected, but it still left me ill at ease at how predictable the plot was and considering all the assertions made through the story.
I appreciate the intent, but I did not like the execution of “Emerald City” when the whole of it was considered. It used too many familiar troupes, trivialized the central issue it focused on AND managed to make it somewhat of a paranormal wish-fulfillment story with characters – while having some charms in tow – that lack enough dimension to really carry the story beyond its cliches. I couldn’t enjoy this for those reasons, I hesitate in recommending it, unless you are a reader that doesn’t mind the familiar paranormal romantic measures of recent considerations. It just felt like it could’ve been a much better story.
Overall score: 2/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Cedar Fort/Sweetwater Books.