ARCADIA AWAKENS (Arkadien #1)
Paranormal Young Adult
Balzer + Bray
Available February 14th
Received from publisher for review
THE STORY (from Goodreads)
To Rosa Alcantara, the exotic world of Sicily, with its network of Mafia families and its reputation for murder and intrigue, is just that—exotic and wholly unknown. But when her life in Brooklyn begins to fall apart, she must travel there, to her family’s ancestral home, where centuries of family secrets await her.
Once there, Rosa falls head over heels for Alessandro Carnevare, the son of a Sicilian Mafia family, whose handsome looks and savage grace both fascinate and unsettle her. But their families are sworn enemies, and her aunt and sister believe Alessandro is only using Rosa to infiltrate the Alcantara clan. And when Rosa encounters a tiger one night—a tiger with very familiar eyes—she can no longer deny that neither the Carnevares nor the Alcantaras are what they seem.
Hidden caves, dangerous beasts roaming the hills, and a history of familial bloodlust mean that Rosa can’t trust anyone. Torn between loyalty to her family and love for their mortal enemy, Rosa must make the hardest decision of her life: stay in Sicily with her new love…or run as far and as fast as she can.
Arcadia Awakens is an unusual story, one where the strangeness of it is both a positive in that it stands out amidst the masses of paranormal young adult fiction, and a negative in that it leaves us a bit unsure as to exactly how we feel about what we’ve read. On the plus side we have the richly atmospheric setting of Sicily, a place where light and dark exist in equal measures and where the beauty of the landscape is in contrast with the nefarious deeds committed by the Cosa Nostra as they defend to the death their political and financial empires. We are also given a fascinating paranormal entity to pique our curiosity, however, there are so many branches to overall plot tree that it’s difficult for us to focus–our bodies so close to the trunk that we’re unable to look up and take in the entire tree as a whole, instead we're left with eyes darting side to side and up and down trying to decipher the tangle of limbs.
Rosa is a hard young woman, events of her recent past fundamentally altering the girl she used to be and transforming her into someone who relies on small acts of rebellion–whether it’s stealing small items or using her bad attitude as a defense mechanism–to win back some of the control over her life that was stripped from her the year before. Even understanding the pain and loss she experienced doesn’t entirely warm us to her, and her cold treatment of Alessandro makes it difficult for us to believe in their budding forbidden attraction. Without even the slight warmth from a romantic spark, the other prevalent dangers and family secrets are a bit overwhelming, and we find ourselves floundering alone in a world where honor has a rather dubious definition and loyalty is as much an item for sale as any product in one of the many Sicilian markets.
Though the synopsis suggests that Alessandro and Rosa’s love (though this term is used loosely when applied to their relationship) is of the epic Romeo and Juliet variety, it actually proves to be somewhat of a non-issue given that neither family seems overly bothered at the idea of them together. We then spend a good deal of our time trying to figure out if one of the other multiple conflicts is going to become the center around which the other elements revolve, but our search for one predominant issue is in vain. No single conflict is given more attention than the others to help direct our gaze, instead we’re simply readers with poor eyesight denied our prescription glasses to bring us clarity, awash in a blur of images we want so badly to blink into focus.
By the time we reach the end of this story of not inconsiderable length, a few of the aforementioned plot tree branches have been shorn, leading us to believe that perhaps the next installment might be more streamlined than this first one. Due to certain events in the concluding pages, the forbidden aspect of Rosa and Alessandro’s relationship is elevated to a whole new level, serving as the piece of flint we’ve been waiting for to help ignite this story’s tinder; the only problem is it seems we’ll have to wait to see if that spark takes hold in the second book or if it’s smothered again by an overabundance of other elements.