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REVIEW: Raven by Allison Van Diepen

Dear Ms. Van Diepen,

I can’t remember exactly where I first stumbled across your work. I think it might have been through a string of random link hopping that originated from a list of future Harlequin Teen authors. While your first book from Harlequin Teen won’t be coming out until next year, it turns out that you’ve already published a couple young adult novels. This one, in particular, caught my eye because it featured breakdancers.

Nicole’s family life is in shambles. Her brilliant older brother crashed and burned during his first year of college and has taken to the streets as a meth addict. Despite knowing what has happened, their parents enable him — giving him money in order to keep a roof over his head even though it’s more likely he’ll use the funds to keep up his drug addiction.

To escape the turmoil that is her home life, Nicole has thrown herself into the life of a breakdancer. It wasn’t something she thought she’d ever do before her brother left. But one night, she saw a dancer named Zin at a club and it was love at first sight. Originally she thought to use breakdancing as a way to get closer to Zin, a way to set herself apart from the other groupies, but she soon realized she actually had a talent for it. Now Nicole’s life consists of being a member of a dance crew and working weekends as a waitress at Evermore, the very club in which she first met Zin.

Unfortunately, her relationship with Zin is at a standstill. It’s frustrating for her, to say the least, because she doesn’t understand why he won’t pursue a relationship when it’s obvious that he reciprocates her feelings. Then one night, Nicole is attacked while walking home from work and in that moment, she learns Zin’s secret. He’s no longer human. He’s not even mortal.

I really enjoyed reading the dancing sections of the book. I know some people might find those portions hard to follow and heavy on the slang, but anyone who’s ever enjoyed watching America’s Best Dance Crew will definitely like those parts and can easily visualize what the dancers are doing and feeling. It brought a fresh angle to what otherwise would be a very familiar storyline.

I do wish the book description would make more obvious what the paranormal aspect is. In fact, it wasn’t until I learned what exactly Zin that I wanted to hunt down and pick up this book. It turns out that Zin is a jiang shi, or a Chinese undead. I’m always up for books that feature supernatural creatures that aren’t the ones we’ve grown familiar with, overly so some would say, and when those supernatural creatures come from a non-Western culture? Sign me up.

That’s another thing I enjoyed about this book. The cast of characters is diverse, which is good since the book is set in New York City. I liked the fact that the characters were multicultural without there being a central focus on their respective ethnicities. It was a part of who they were but didn’t make up the entirety of what they were. That was nice.

On the other hand, I thought the ending was very rushed. The book proceeds at an easy-going, almost dreamlike pace for much of the story, which I thought suited it. But then it’s almost as if the book remembered it needed an exciting climax so it was crunched into the final few chapters.

In some respects, I also wish we would have gotten a closer glimpse into the Chinese warrior-scholars that hunt Zin’s kind. That seemed like a missed opportunity to showcase more of this unique and different mythos that we don’t see very often.

In addition, I also felt like Carlo’s motivations were not entirely believable. In fact, I suppose you could say I thought they were contrived. Why does everything have to boil down to visions and prophecies? I’m also not entirely clear as to Nicole’s connection to the raven. I know what the raven traditionally means in folklore, but why her? Why then? That aspect of the plot left me with more questions than answers.

While the book wrapped up Nicole and Zin’s story, I thought it left some loose threads that leave room for another book or two in this world. I’m not sure if there are plans for any more. I certainly think it’s fine to leave it to a single, standalone novel but I definitely wouldn’t complain. It’s nice to read about a different sort of supernatural creature — even though the mythos has been modified a bit from traditional lore — in a genre filled with the same old, same old werewolves and vampires. At any rate, I’ll be on the look-out for your forthcoming book from Harlequin Teen. C+

My regards,

Jia

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

8 Comments

  1. grim_neander
    Aug 27, 2009 @ 06:47:32

    ****This comment discusses the hidden spoilers!****

    hahaha…Chinese zombies? I’m no expert on Chinese mythology, but all the film and tv portrayals of Chinese zombies I’ve seen involve pasty-white dudes in Manchu official uniforms, their arms sticking straight out as they hop after you to eat you. The hopping is key. The hopping prevents them from following you into a house that has a raised step, because they don’t have the coordination to walk over the step. Much less break dance.

    But hey, that still is a very different take, and I’m all for diversifying the supernatural. Will try to check it out…

  2. Jia
    Aug 27, 2009 @ 07:06:43

    @grim_neander: Well, to be 100% honest, they’d prettified the Chinese zombies. They’re more like soul stealers than hopping zombies. Not unexpected because as you said, the hopping can be hard to take seriously in anything other than a B-movie. Still, it was different and that gets points from me.

  3. Eirin
    Aug 27, 2009 @ 07:16:22

    …but all the film and tv portrayals of Chinese zombies I've seen…

    *Perks up*

    Chinese zombies? This sounds very interesting. You wouldn’t happen to have any titles or links handy, would you?

    I’m in a kind of zombie phase* right now, having just reread World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide. Chinese zombies would cap it off nicely, I think.

    *Okay, that doesn’t sound healthy. At least I can navigate stairs.

  4. Jia
    Aug 27, 2009 @ 07:29:48

    I’ve never seen jiang shi in anything other than Hong Kong movies and maybe the occasional video game (and in the fox Google theme) but here’s a link: http://www.pennyblood.com/chinesevampires.html

    I really do want to point out that the jiang shi in this book are nothing like those. It’s explained but to be certain there’s no misled expectations (disappointment), there was no hopping in this book. Other than in the breakdancing but everyone did that, so that doesn’t count.

  5. Vanessa Kelly
    Aug 27, 2009 @ 07:56:27

    I loved this book, and I love Allison’s writing style – very spare but evocative. Her earlier books like Snitch and Street Pharm are different from Raven in that they don’t have the supernatural element, but I thought they were wonderful, too. Very gritty, but you love the characters.

  6. bakerchica
    Aug 27, 2009 @ 17:04:05

    I’ll give the author credit for using meth as the drug of choice for the heroine’s brother, because meth is still a very small community in New York City, and it’s refreshing that the use of meth is exposed as an NYC problem, even if it is “smaller” than crack, powder cocaine and heroin addictions (“smaller” meaning population, definitely NOT addiction power or rehab efforts!). Jia didn’t mention the time frame of the story setting(decade), but it’s very cute to bring breakdancing back into vogue! I remember being a teen myself and wishing I could break! The fact that she wrote a breakdancing club where a teen can get a job as a waitress brings back all the memories of the great club kids of the 80’s, the sneaking into clubs underage and the music of the time. The Chinese zombies is a refreshing take on the genre! This also leads me to think its set in the late 80’s-early 90’s as the most namechecked jiang shi movies of the time were made then. The true power of the Chinese zombie must be watered down for Western palates!

  7. Pai
    Aug 27, 2009 @ 23:54:48

    The only other Chinese Zombie I’ve ever been familiar with is Hsien-ko (Lei-Lei), from the videogame Darkstalkers. No hopping from her, either, just a lot of ass-kicking. =)

  8. Taryn
    Jul 13, 2010 @ 00:53:21

    IS THIS BOOK A MOVIE??? I HAVE BEEN LOOKING ALL OVER AND IRDK!!!! PLEASE HELP BEACAUSE I REALLY LIKED THE BOOk! :) THNKS

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