NEVERMORE (Nevermore #1)
Getting stuck with black-clad, lip-pierced, goth-infused Varen as a partner for an English presentation is not ideal. For Isobel Lanley, it's downright unfortunate. But from the moment he seizes her hand and presumptuously writes his home phone number down in distinctive purple ink with strict instructions not to call after 9pm, her initial hesitancy begins to fade, replaced instead by a strange curiosity and a mild yearning.
Varen has an unusual way of looking at things, keeping a journal full of fascinating sketches and odd writings with him every moment, and as they work together on their project with Edgar Allen Poe as a subject, Isobel's priorities begin to shift, becoming more attuned to Varen and less interested in her previous popular-girl life.
Though her unexpected attraction to Varen is exciting in a way she doesn't want to admit to anyone, most of all herself, the eerie shadows and voices she's been hearing since spending time with him are decidedly less encouraging. Parallels between the mystery of Poe's death and the strange things now inserting themselves into not only her waking moments, but her sleeping ones as well are only able to be drawn through one person: Varen. Dreams and reality begin to merge, and the more time Isobel spends thinking of Varen and wishing to understand things that seem to hover just beyond her comprehension, the more danger she puts them both in.
Nevermore is a beautifully understated tale that fuses seemingly disparate elements together, blending opposing characters, dual realities, and limitless imagination into a harmonious unification that leaves only a sense of contentment and an acute longing for for more page time in it's wake. Everything is exquisitely balanced, light suffusing a constantly encroaching darkness, humor holding a threatening sense of foreboding at bay, and a delicate romance searing our hearts and providing hope in the face of utter despair. It's a story where we start on page one and in the blink of an eye find ourselves on page three hundred, the entire world having dropped away and sounds of reality silenced so all that remains is our unbreakable tether to the fascinating world that has thoroughly consumed us.
Both Isobel and Varen are fairly stereotypical at first glance, occupying common high school roles, and it would have been so easy for Ms. Creagh to allow them to snuggle into their respective cliches and move forward with a still enjoyable, but typically predictable, story that would leave this book lost in a stack of other stories from which it would be virtually indistinguishable. Fortunately for us, however, the easy route is quickly abandoned in favor of characters who are sumptuously layered and possess qualities that cause the pages on which they exist to slip away, leaving in their place a transparent screen through which we experience the events in multiple dimensions, driven to feel, see, and be touched by their experiences. Both characters are beautiful in their quiet nuances, their stereotypes never ostentatious nor overdone as they certainly could have been; instead they are reserved in a way that is incredibly beseeching, one that implores us to become emotionally involved on a level far deeper than the initial cliche would suggest.
The relationship between Varen and Isobel is perfectly depicted. There is no undefinable paranormal element that propels them together while they seek to seal their fates through desperate, forbidden kisses as their combined conflicts try to rip them asunder. Isobel is instead drawn to Varen out of simple attraction, her feelings and reactions riveting in their realism, and her interactions with him are all the more intimate for their subdued quality. Their passion doesn't ignite instantly, but rather simmers slowly but constantly, and with every page we wish them a happiness free of the darkness we know must be fast approaching.
So much of our focus is concentrated on Varen and Isobel the danger sneaks up on us, tearing us from the relationship we've come to hold dear in a short amount of time, and cleaving us from a reality we recognize to a realm that defies explanation and convention. Here, the limits of the imagination are the only parameters, and no positive outcome, however much we might wish for it, is guaranteed. The challenges Isobel and Varen face are utterly unique, and all the more frightening for their newness. We quickly come to realize we in fact know nothing, and like our hero and heroine, are but pawns awaiting instruction to aid us in our search for answers as we crave knowledge that can only be bestowed upon us by the incredibly inventive Ms. Creagh.
Stunningly tragic and resplendent in its restraint, Nevermore is a story where the quiet romance grabs hold of our emotions and refuses to let go, and one where our minds must stretch to accommodate new and fascinating possibilities. While the end forces our hearts to constrict dangerously, we are given a sliver of hope as Isobel's renewed determination to fight for what she loves takes hold, letting us know she's more than a blond cheerleader, more than a teenager in the throes of first love, and more than her new foes might accredit her. She's made a promise to Varen, and I'm anxiously awaiting book two to see that she keeps it.