Review: The Elementals by Saundra Mitchell

The ElementalsTitle: The Elementals

Author: Saundra Mitchell

Genre: YA Contemporary, Paranormal, Coming-of-Age, Historical Fiction

Publication Date: June 4, 2013

Source: Amazon Vine-provided ARC

Summary: Kate Witherspoon has lived a bohemian life with her artist parents. In 1917, the new art form of the motion picture is changing entertainment—and Kate is determined to become a director.

Meanwhile, midwestern farm boy Julian Birch has inherited the wanderlust that fueled his parents’ adventures. A childhood bout with polio has left him crippled, but he refuses to let his disability define him.

Strangers driven by a shared vision, Kate and Julian set out separately for Los Angeles, the city of dreams. There, they each struggle to find their independence. When they finally meet, the teenage runaways realize their true magical legacy: the ability to triumph over death, and over time. But as their powerful parents before them learned, all magic comes with a price.

☆: 2.5/5 stars – …I don’t know what to say, especially concerning the ending.

Neither The Vespertine nor The Springsweet were perfect novels, but they numbed my brain for a while and I enjoyed them for the most part. The Elementals, which focuses on the children of the heroines from each of the past two books, is in an entirely different ballpark compared to the two novels that preceded it in the trilogy. It’s got an ending you won’t easily forget, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

The Elementals is almost everything its predecessors aren’t; it’s told in third-person and moves among multiple people instead of being told in static first-person. The main characters struggle with abilities that allow them to control death and time instead of discovering powers tied to the elements like their parents’ were. Where the previous two novels had some semblance of a plot, The Elementals is sadly bereft of a focus. All they have in common is the length and Mitchell’s lovely prose. The switch to third-person seemed odd at first, but it’s easy to adjust to.

The narration moves between about five people/groups: Kate, Julian, Kate’s parents, Julian’s parents, and Caleb (if you remember who he is and his role, you are better than me because I forgot). It gives us a wider scope of their world, their gifts, their struggles, and where the characters we followed through books one and two went, but it seems to mainly serve to fluff up the book. So little is going on that this should be a novella focused solely on Kate and Julian, not a novel. There’s not enough going on to justify a novel.

Also? Kate is bisexual. Don’t you dare try to tell me otherwise even if you’re Saundra Mitchell herself! (Kidding! Maybe.) Her fascination with Mollie seems to go a little beyond a director’s fascination with her muse and there’s also one paragraph in particular I’d use as evidence. Whether this is just a case of imprecise writing or genuine, it’s difficult to ignore this passage:

“Two black-eyed twins in Cyprus witched water together: the girl leaned toward heat and steam, the boy toward cold and ice. They taught Kate to ice-skate on a white-sand beach and to kiss beneath an olive tree, which made for a lovely summer indeed (ARC p. 111).”

Considering the times and how one woman loudly complains when Kate (everyone thinks she’s a man because of how she dresses) talks about kissing boys, that there’s no solid confirmation of her bisexuality, but I follow the subtext and the subtext says yes yes yes.

It takes about 200 pages for our two leads to finally meet and once they do, there are only 90 to 100 pages left in the novel. The ending is just… Weird. You’ll remember it because it’s just that weird, but it’s not a good ending. I needed to read it twice to understand what was going on and after that, I simply stared at it. Very… anticlimactic, I want to say? It’s difficult to find the right words to describe it without spoiling it for anyone. Big fans of the series won’t want to miss this, but they might want to go in with their expectations adjusted.


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