My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Initial reaction: I haven’t read a book that made me this upset in a while. It wasn’t so much for the premise itself as much as the execution of so many things, and honestly, I don’t think Jefford writes characters of color and their experiences well AT ALL. This book was not funny, not engaging, and ultimately did not improve as the story went on. Hopefully I can explain in more objective terms what went wrong in my full review.
I’ve had a night to sleep on my reactions to Nikki Jefford’s first book in her Spellbound series, “Entangled,” so while the tone of this review probably would’ve been heated if I’d written this right on the heels of finishing it, I’m a little more in tune to try to point out exactly what went wrong here, but that’s not to say I’m not still very upset at this book, and I’m surprised in the measure that no one else picked up on its many respective problems.
For as many titles as I’ve read in the YA paranormal romance department this year, the premise to this excited me initially. I’m definitely not knocking the premise because first off: witches and warlocks – you can’t go wrong with that potential because it provides the opportunity to show some wicked magic skills and battles. Second, I get a little thrill whenever I read about twins in a work because I’m a fraternal twin myself. If you include twins in a work, chances are I’m likely to read it. Personal quirk, sure, but I regret nothing.
Third, the premise of having a young woman die mysteriously and end up stuck in the body of her twin, with that twin possibly having something to do with the situation is really…awesome. Having the main character try to figure out how she died and got stuck in her sister’s body provides an interesting mystery to try to unravel the layers, giving an unspoken promise that this story would actually be different from the massive influx of other stories in the same genre. And get this – it actually features a POC as a main character/LI and a warlock – how cool is that? (I’ve always personally liked the name Raj as well.) I was all ready to jump into all the intrigue that this had to offer.
For all its promises, “Entangled” was a complete and utter, even quite offensive, mess. I can only think of a few times that I’ve actually been uber upset after reading a book this year and this was one of them, and it’s not just for the lack of delivery compared to the promise of the storyline. Oh no, no, no. If it were just that, I’d say so and just say it didn’t live up to its potential (which might’ve merited me rating this at a 1-star or 2-star level depending on how I thought about it). But this work is quite a bit more problematic than that, and I’m appalled that Jefford wasn’t aware enough to pick up on the way this came across in spurts.
One of the things I want you guys to keep in mind as I’m presenting this review: details matter. Details matter. No matter their size or scope, details can provide a level of intimacy to a story that gives it more meaning in the experience of those that are reading it. Details are important in establishing character, place, attitudes, events, cultures, so many different elements that make a story well rounded. If you’re not aware of how those details come across, it can be the difference between a reader immersing themselves in the work, being thrown from it, or some measure between. Now sometimes a reader can enjoy a story and not be too bothered by how some of those details come across, but when they call attention to themselves and aren’t expounded upon or put into context – it’s much more difficult to swallow.
Again, details matter. Simply stated, and I’ll come back to that more than a few times in this review.
Here are just a few of the problems I found in “Entangled”: slut shaming, fat shaming, cultural misappropriations, stereotypes against an entire race/country (India), instalove, casual treatment of suicide/suicidal tendencies, among others.
Some of you are probably thinking “Are you serious, where is all this?!” and I’ll give citations as to where all these issues arise, but with that many problems in addition to a lack of worldbuilding, poor narrative flow, and flat characters whose actions don’t make any kind of sense, you can understand where I had problems with this story.
So where do I begin? Well, for starters, this story doesn’t quite start off on the foot of the premise, actually begins a bit before. That’s fine because at the very least, it allows us to get to know Graylee Perez, her sister Charlene, and her mother.
I realized I was going to be in for a rough read when the main character kind of scoffs/brushes off her sister’s attempts to 1. kill herself because of events in her school life (although it seems to be made in jest), and 2. kill someone else for trying to steal “her” man. The fact that Charlene renames the character she wants to kill “Stacey Whorehouse” (as opposed to her real name Morehouse) really doesn’t leave much to the imagination, now does it? *groans*
But that was far from the most offensive aspects of this book, it was mostly just the start to where things are problematic. I was able to swallow the banter between Graylee and Charlene, but truth be told, I never really came to know who these girls were, and they irritated me more often than not. Charlene turns out to be an “evil” twin of sorts when something major’s revealed about her relation to Graylee’s slow development of her powers, and it causes a really sharp divide between them. I could understand Graylee’s hurt from the betrayal, but…there were moments of this that I still just didn’t get anything as far as motivation was concerned. It didn’t feel connected enough to have an impact on me.
I started raging a bit inside when Raj came into the picture, because for all intents and purposes, Raj is a jerk. I did NOT like him. He starts insta-crushing on Graylee by the third chapter (and this comes after she liked to have choked him with a shoelace after sneaking into his car, payback for humiliating her.) Among his many acts of meanness had to do with using his powers to burst open his female teacher’s shirt, revealing her bra and sending the poor woman running out the classroom. Not just to humiliate the teacher after she called him out on not paying attention in class but also TO GET GRAYLEE’S ATTENTION!
Yeah, I wasn’t happy about that, understatement. Graylee wasn’t either, to her credit, but it still didn’t wash the foul taste in my mouth after that whole event. And when Raj makes a comment shortly after that event to Graylee that he “won’t be needing magic to get [her] shirt off” – I was creeped out.
Why do all these YA paranormal romance LIs have to be jerks? There are ways to write bad boys who are likable (See Tom MacKee in Melina Marchetta’s “The Piper’s Son” as per example – which I was glad to be reading that alongside this book to help me contain my upset) and have them as LIs without making them desirable for their obvious offending qualities. The one good thing, I guess, is that Raj was able to remove a tumor from a woman’s brain and that was a display of his power for good, but even that wasn’t enough to offset the rage I had regarding him on other matters through the work.
Raj’s mother is Indian and his father’s American (never specified his background). Both are separated. Kaj has a pranic healing ability that was taught to him by his mother, which is kind of touched upon here, but never delved into. I remember learning about pranic healing briefly through my Medical Anthropology classes, when we were discussing medicine as applied to chakara and qi (or chi) and the body’s natural energies and how it’s perceived in Eastern practices. It’s really a fascinating subject to look into. Jefford touches on it, but she doesn’t do a good job explaining it, and even then it’s kind of dropped before there’s really a chance to really know what it means. So it was an opportunity to worldbuild wasted, to be frank.
I really had a problem with such stereotypical passages as this when it came to the presentation of Kaj’s background:
“Raj didn’t want to live in India. He liked America. And he had no desire to become some spiritual woo-woo witch doctor who most likely meditated eight hours a day.” (This somewhat speaks for itself, but I didn’t find this amusing at all.)
“Men and women were forever staring at Raj’s mother. She was no blond next door and certainly hadn’t adopted the friendly American smile.” (The odd thing about this passage was that it had described Kaj’s mother as being very beautiful, but then follows up with this statement which is…really odd and could be read so many different ways, and my mind automatically went on a more offensive context because this wasn’t followed up. Sense this does not make. What’s meant by “friendly American smile” here? Because the way I read it, and I sincerely hope that I’m wrong, it’s a bit of a backhanded comment. Just because she’s not blond, the girl next door, or have the so called “American smile” doesn’t make her any less beautiful or American. Matter in point, I don’t see how any of that relates here to warrant that description.)
Those were just a few examples of the depictions of POCs in this work that bothered me, though there were more than a few that were awkward in portrayal and wording that just came across as awkward and quick to assumption. That distracted me in several notes as far as the narrative was concerned.
Other issues in the execution of the story include the employment of humor, which, for the most part in this book – falls completely flat. If Jefford was going for dark humor with the numerous references of Graylee’s sister killing/harming herself over certain things, it was completely misplaced. Joking about someone being suicidal/having suicidal tendencies isn’t right. Neither was using one’s warlock powers to shrink someone’s penis (which was a joke here that went on longer than it should’ve, tbh.) I think for the most part, it came across like the humor was too forced and awkward for the setting. There wasn’t a natural flow to it and the fact that it was difficult to connect to any specific character here made it that much more difficult to digest.
It may seem like I’m nitpicking on some details that were included (or not included, but were essential pieces) in this work, but again – details matter. By following the familiar and neglecting key pieces of the narrative, it not only misrepresents what the author chooses to showcase, it also sells the overarching story short.
I’ve digressed a little so I’ll steer the focus to the unraveling of the plot, which is so derivative and unimaginative that it’s hard to put a single point on what’s wrong with it. My answer would be that there are many things, but I’ll try to sum it up as best I can. Graylee suddenly wakes up to discover it’s two months later and that she’s dead and buried. All the while, she’s inhabiting her sister’s body in a sort of wonky “Groundhog’s Day” scenario (this is the comparison given in the book, not mine). Graylee inhabits Charlene’s body and Charlene proceeds to dictate to her sister what she should do to act as “normal” while sharing the same body. This led to many irritating exchanges which included Graylee slut shaming her own sister for choices of clothes, for Graylee getting groped by Charlene’s current boyfriend
Graylee actually didn’t have a significant cause to her death (it was a sudden death syndrome, so basically she died because she…died. No stakes whatsoever.) Yet, Raj discovers that Graylee’s back and tries to help her unravel the mystery as to what exactly happened, and why another young woman (who just so happens to be Charlene’s enemy from before: Stacey Morehouse) lies in a coma.
Only…there’s no mystery or expansions that make sense here. For all the explanations given (of which there were some, but none that made any kind of sense), Graylee believes it’s her sister’s doing and declares battle lines. In the meantime, Raj and Graylee team up to try to bring Graylee back to some kind of form, and end up falling in love.
Love? Really? I didn’t get any romantic vibes from these two characters AT ALL. Mostly their sentiments were told rather than shown, although the physical dimensions of their intimacy were described in detail. It didn’t make sense to me.
In the end, I guess there is some form of a happy ending/resolution that’s meant to lend into another work, but the terms of Graylee being brought “back to life” are really sketchy at best, and doesn’t really have any conclusive resolutions at all. If this is intended to be a start of a series, it did nothing to make me want to read on to see what happens to the characters and what’s in store for them. I did try to care for some of the secondary characters (i.e. Raj’s little sister), but they’re either only a small piece of the story or underdeveloped that it’s difficult to care.
I wouldn’t recommend this, unfortunately.
Overall score: 1/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, self published by the author. I also purchased a copy of this from Amazon.com.