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Sunday, April 22, 2012

'The Calling' Darkness Rising #2 by Kelley Armstrong

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From the BLURB:

Maya Delaney's paw-print birthmark is the sign of what she truly is a skin-walker. She can run faster, climb higher and see better than nearly anyone else. Experiencing intense connections with the animals that roam the woods outside her home, Maya knows it's only a matter of time before she's able to Shift and become one of them. And she believes there may be others in her small town with surprising talents including local bad boy Rafe, with whom she shares a dangerous, powerful secret.

Now, Maya and her friends have been forced to flee from their homes during a forest fire they suspect was deliberately set. After a terrifying helicopter crash, they find themselves stranded in the Vancouver Island wilderness with nothing but their extraordinary abilities to help them get back home.

But can Maya really trust her friends? And can she learn how to control the frightening new gift she has discovered before it controls her?

 This review contains minor SPOILERS from first book 'The Gathering', with spoiler-hints about Armstrong's 'Darkest Powers' trilogy and 'Women of the Otherworld' series.

In just a few weeks, Maya Delaney’s entire world was turned on its head. The arrival of temptingly dangerous new boy, Rafe Martinez sent Maya’s world spiraling. Her small, idyllic town of Salmon Creek was already starting to show a few cracks – after the mysterious drowning death of her best friend, Serena, Maya was already questioning a few things about Salmon Creek, and it’s ties to the St. Clouds drug company that own and populate the town with researchers. Then an out-of-town snooping reporter went missing, and was later found dead.

At the same time, Maya had a run-in with an old witch, and drew closer to Rafe and his funny little sister Annie… eventually gaining their trust, and learning the truth about their appearance in town.

Salmon Creek is not a town of scientists and researchers – it is a town in which the children are the experiment.

Rafe revealed to Maya that they are both shifters – wildcat skin-walkers with healing abilities. The entire town is populated with supernatural kids – born and bred with special powers, for reasons unknown. The town’s youth are in fact a mixture of shifters, demons, witches and God knows what else.

Now the St. Cloud Company are bringing their experiment to an end. Having just set a forest fire surrounding Salmon Creek, their goal now is to flush out Maya and her friends that managed to escape.

Maya and her friends have just leaped out of the fire and into the frying pan, literally.

‘The Calling’ is Kelley Armstrong’s second book in the ‘Darkness Rising’ paranormal YA series, a spin-off of her original ‘Darkest Powers’ trilogy, which in turn is set in her ‘Women of the Otherworld’ universe.

Kelley Armstrong hits the ground running in her second ‘Darkness Rising’ installment. We left Maya and her friends in a helicopter, being airlifted from the middle of a forest fire where they were ambushed by mysterious St. Clouds’ armored men – and after Maya came face-to-face with her biological father.

When ‘Calling’ begins we are back in the helicopter; on-board is Maya’s best friend, Daniel, her loyal dog Kenji, unconscious Rafe and Maya’s old friends and classmates; Sam, Corey, Nicole and Hayley. The mayor of Salmon Creek is also being taken to safety … but it doesn’t take long before it all goes horribly wrong. Maya and Daniel’s suspicions about the danger they experienced on the ground are reignited mid-air, when the pilot starts veering off-course and a tussle ensues. Now Maya and Daniel are convinced that the St. Clouds drug company is out for their blood – and they can trust no one from Salmon Creek. Not even their parents?

The first two chapters of ‘Calling’ concern a helicopter crash with devastating consequences and body-count. It’s an impressive, heart-thumping opener that is sure to leave fans reeling and second-guessing everything they thought about the trajectory of this series. In true Armstrong fashion, she comes out swinging and throws her young protagonists between a rock and a hard place.

After the explosive, helicopter-crashing first chapter though, things take a turn for the slightly more sedate… After surviving the crash, Maya and her remaining friends find themselves in yet another forest, and they are not alone. St. Cloud employees are hunting them – and as their trek to safety unfolds, they discover another group of players – the Nasts are also hot on their trail.

‘The Calling’ is set entirely in the forest, and follows Maya & Co. as they make the long, dangerous trek back to Salmon Creek, with bad guys on their tail. Readers learn a lot about the St. Cloud drug company in this book – and we are privy to recent wheelings and dealings in the ‘Otherworld’ universe. Cluey readers who have made the journey from the first ‘Darkest Powers’ trilogy, by way of ‘Women of the Otherworld’ will know that the Nasts are a cabal of male-witches, who hold a lot of sway in the supernatural world. When we discover that they now have a hand in the Edison Group/Salmon Creek experiments, savvy readers will predict that Ms. Armstrong has a few curveballs up her sleeve … and she might just be setting up for a longer haul in her ‘Women’ universe and young-adult spin off series.

For those readers though, who are coming into ‘Darkness Rising’ completely cold, I do wonder how much of ‘The Calling’ went unknowing overhead. Readers unfamiliar with ‘Women of the Otherworld’ who did read the ‘Darkest Powers’ trilogy will be slightly more clued-in, particularly towards the end… but I still think this is a book where the uninitiated will find themselves lacking. Particularly because this is a book of little character/relationship development; it is almost solely concerned with pushing the larger arcing conspiracy story forward, sometimes at the plot’s expense.

In ‘The Gathering’ Rafe and Maya’s romance was set-up – beginning with loathing and mild flirtation, and progressing to animal magnetism (literally). But the explosive beginning of ‘Calling’ means that Maya and Rafe’s relationship is put on hold. Armstrong tentatively sets up a maybe-kinda-sorta romance between Maya and her best friend, Daniel, but at this point it’s still in the walking-on-eggshells, looks of longing stage and not particularly riveting. And even though Maya is surrounded by a supporting cast of friends, none of them get the same interesting character development that Maya does in this book…

In ‘Calling’ Maya feels her skin changing. She is hearing the call of the wild and succumbing to her shifting instincts. She has also just met her biological father (who happens to be apart of the team hunting her down), not to mention she suffers a great loss early on. ‘The Calling’ really is Maya’s time in the spotlight – but she does tend to hog.

Trekking through the forest with Maya is Daniel, her loyal bestie who is starting to throw her looks of longing. Her frenemy Hayley is quick with the snipes, and party-boy Corey is limping along with a bad knee. Cousins Sam and Nicole are the wildcards – one of them blows hot and cold, while the other seems to know more about the St. Cloud company than she initially let on. This is quite a big bunch of secondary players (especially when you think that ‘Darkest Powers’ concentrated on the main foursome; Chloe, Tori, Simon and Derek). I feel like Armstrong gave us too many minor players, so that by the end of ‘Calling’ I really didn’t feel like I’d gotten to know any of them (save Maya) any better. And, as a result, I wasn’t particularly caught up in their plights or side stories. Sure, the kids are quick and good for a laugh, but Armstrong writes them in such broad brush strokes that I feel we missed out on the minor details that are meant to endear them to us;
"You're cute," Hayley said. "Well, cute enough."
"Fun to be around," I offered.
"So I'm ... a clown?"
"At least you're a cute clown," Hayley said. "Not a scary one."
"You're a good fighter," Daniel said.
"And you're a good drinker," Hayley added. "You can hold your liquor better than anyone I know."
"Uh-huh," Corey said. "So Maya will grow up to be an amazing healer who can change into a killer cat. Daniel and Sam will roam the country hunting criminals and demons. Hayley and Nicole will divide their time between recording platinum albums and winning gold medals in swimming. And me? I'll be the cute, funny guy sitting at the bar, hoping for a good brawl to break out."
"In other words, exactly where you were already headed," Hayley said.

‘The Calling’ really didn’t feel like a book about the characters, it felt far more focused on the BIG story;
"We have the upper hand here," Daniel said. "If you're going to give us some crap about turning ourselves in because we're a danger to society? Don't bother."
"Danger to society?" Moreno pursed his lips as if considering it. "Not really. A danger to yourselves? Absolutely. You're going through a lot right now, but it's nothing compared to what's coming. You need help." He looked at me.

It wasn’t until about page-250 (of this 288-page book) that I felt my heart begin to race and knew my interest had been piqued. Towards the end of the book, sleights-of-hand are revealed and Armstrong beautifully sets up her ‘long game’. The ending is exactly what I, and many fans, have been hoping for since ‘Darkest Powers’ ended. I just wish that ‘The Calling’ had started from that point – when the action and drama coalesce, and the entwining of two stories hints at great things to come.

Even if I wasn’t overly impressed with the majority of ‘The Calling’, Armstrong’s stellar ending has ensured I’ll be anticipating the third book in this series (and crossing my fingers that it’s not the finale!).

3/5

3 comments:

  1. oooooh I so need to start this trilogy! Loved the Darkest powers!

    I might wait for book 3 though LOL

    btw... apparently I can comment form work hehe so I do that =P from home I still cant =(

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    1. @ Larissa - YES! Wait for three books because I can tell you, Ms Armstrong loves a good cliffhanger!

      About commenting - so weird! Must be something with your home server or browser (heh, heh, heh. I don't actually know. I just use these words without knowing what the heck they man - 'browser', 'server' - I may as well be saying 'cupcakes' and 'lions' for all I know about them). Still, great that you can comment again! I have missed you :)

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  2. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete