Unleashing Hell by Kristen Johnson
3 stars – Good book, lacked a little in execution
This is another book from an ARC reading website. It has the “supernatural events at a boarding school” thing I like, so I thought I’d give it a try. I started reading on October 12, 2022
Finished reading on October 21, 2022.
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Survival of the Fittest
After revealing the ability to fly to her best friend, Seraphina and her younger sister must accompany their mother to a new boarding school on an island off the coast of Georgia, where some strange, supernatural events are taking place. They thought it would be a normal school year, albeit without access to technology—a real bummer—but they were wrong. Dark creatures are stirring just beyond the safety of the school, and death is looming
To be warned, the level of gore in this book is highly reminiscent of that first episode of Attack on Titan that I watched with my friend—meaning, graphic description of people being killed and eaten. Along with the gore is heavy swearing and mention of sexual conduct.
The first thing I would like to point out in this book was the unique addition of the main character’s mother. A typical trope in books is for the main character to be an orphan, or for their parents to be missing or not involved. This is so the character can go on their adventure without being held back by an overprotective parent. In this book, I feel like the author has gone out of her way to include the mother, as the characters are sent to a boarding school where it was easy enough not to have the mother there—and yet she is. Her overprotectiveness of Seraphina is a big device throughout the book and generally limits what Seraphina can do in certain situations. That being said, Seraphina is very close with her mother (who is actually her adopted mother) as well as her adopted sister, Eliana.
Sera also forms friendships with two other important characters, Kaden and Alex, who play significant roles in the battle against the creatures on the island. By the end, they both discover Sera’s secret, and I can see their little group being tight-knit in the coming books of the series. I’m also seeing a spark of romantic interest between Sera and Kaden, as if typically for this kind of fiction, and though it is expected, I feel like it could’ve been executed better.
This book is written in first-person point of view, though it switches mainly between Seraphina and a woman named Hope, who is the main antagonist. I would’ve preferred to only have it from Sera’s perspective. The prologue should’ve been in third-person to lead up to the story, and then the rest solely focused on Sera, as it would’ve made the reveal about Hope a lot more impactful at the end—in my personal opinion. I suppose an argument could be made for dramatic irony (the reader knowing that Hope is evil but Sera believing her good) like in Shakespeare’s Othello, but again, the execution left me wanting.
The thing that dragged this book down from a strong 4-star review was solely the execution. It was a great read with good quality writing, but some of the sentences just felt awkward as I was reading them, and I found myself reformulating them in my head, so they made more sense. The last line of the book especially threw me off. Here is the line: “I [censored because of spoilers], but at what cost?” It describes something that Seraphina did upon being given an ultimatum; however, the first part of the sentence is the cost of her action, rather than the action itself, and that really threw me for a loop. I understand what the author was going for with this line, but it’s something that could’ve been corrected before getting to publishing. It’s like if in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it said “Cedric was murdered, but at what cost?” instead of “Cedric and Harry took the Cup at the same time, but at what cost?” (the action being Cedric and Harry deciding to tie in the Triwizard tournament and the cost being Cedric’s death because they were both transported to the graveyard). I know this is sort of nitpicky, but since it was the last line of the book, it’s what stuck with me the most.
Anyway, I think this is a great read for those who enjoy books where the characters are isolated from the outside world and must use what they know to protect themselves from invading forces. The action is well-written, and though I hold a distaste for the level of gore in this book, I still enjoyed reading it.
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