Series: Amber House Trilogy
Published by Author A. Levine on January 7, 2014
Genres: gothic, paranormal
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"I was sixteen the second time I had my first kiss...."
At the end of AMBER HOUSE, Sarah made a choice that transformed everything--and now she must choose it all again.
Things are very different--better--for Sarah and her family: her Aunt Maggie grew up; her parents are happily married; her grandmother died after a long, productive and respected life. But other things are different too, and not for the better.
After growing up in the free country of the Pacific Northwest, Sarah Parsons has settled in at Amber House, the stately Maryland home that's been in her family for generations. But the world surrounding the House feels deeply wrong to Sarah. It's a place where the colonists lost the 1776 Insurrection, where the American Confederation of States still struggles with segregation, and where Sarah is haunted by echoes of a better world that she knows never existed.
Her friend Jackson shares these visions of a different world--and together, they manage both to remember the way things ought to be, and to plan a daring mission that will reset the universe once again. Sarah must figure out what has changed, and why, and how she can fix it--how she can find her way to another otherwhen.
Neverwas is the highly anticipated second installment in the Amber House trilogy. This book starts off on quite a spin. At the end of Amber House, Sarah rescues both her little brother Sam and her aunt Maggie from the dream world which changes the course of the future. Neverwas is consequently based on an alternate present — a time when the Nazis won WWII; when the world continents are divided under the oppressive commands of the German and Japanese empires; and when racial segregation is still routine.
In comparison, Neverwas is a departure from its predecessor. It is bigger and more ambitious in scale, moving away from domestic drama into an all-out, no holds barred, twilight zone-esque fight to save the “real” world. It is still frightening, still mysterious and still gripping — only that the source of these fears and mysteries have slightly changed along with history. In other words, it is still creepy but for other reasons.
Since the setting and atmosphere is in a way distinctly different to the one established in Amber House — which was more Gothic, more Romantic — the challenge is to write an alternate universe while still maintaining the essence readers grew to love in the previous novel; a little bit like the supernatural device used in the books…a different shell but containing the same soul. This is impeccably done by the writers. All three women are in sync with their vision and the language they are using to tell it.
And the environment in Neverwas is quite different. Sarah, for one, is changed from the first book. Having saved Maggie, Sarah’s entire lifetime is altered — not only by the sudden change in her family life but also by the change in history, which changes the status of women. She grows up into someone a little more sheltered, a little more cautious, a little more proper. But the growth in her, her journey into finding and becoming the “old” Sarah, is worth witnessing.
Maggie and Sam also play a lesser role — which I found unexpected considering so much of the first book centered on Maggie’s absence, Maggie’s death and later, Maggie’s rescue. Sam on the other hand is just complete pleasure, so missing him was a little disappointing. Richard, oh Richard. I think we might discover some converts after this second book, that’s all I’ll say. Claire, Richard’s mom, plays a new and intriguing part, one that I hope to see very well explored in the third installment. As for Sarah’s relationship with her own mother — which in the first book is such an integral factor to Sarah’s nature — it has shifted into a different kind of tension. And Jackson, still perfection. And that’s all I’ll say.
While the house and Sarah’s ancestors are still at the heart of the story, there is a heavy addition of social and political issues that Sarah must come to understand and inevitably fight against. Her family is involved in political election, racial discrimination layers tension between Sarah and Jackson. This slight shift in focus, along with the missing sentimental pull of Maggie and Sam, the drama between Sarah and her mother, and the romantic question between Sarah and Jackson, might be the reason for the narrowed emotional impact of Neverwas. Don’t get me wrong, its punches will still make readers’ faces crease and their eyes water, but compared to Amber House, this second installment feels less intimate.
Though slower-paced, Neverwas remains a success. Its ambition is impressive and the social and political topics tackled is a testament to the breadth of the writers’ talents. As mentioned, it is different. But it is still Amber House.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.
Be sure to visit us tomorrow, when the official Neverwas tour stops by The Midnight Garden! We’ll have guest posts by the three authors, as well as a giveaway for this lovely book.