‘Unearthly’ is the first book in a trilogy from debut YA author, Cynthia Hand.
Clara isn’t your typical sixteen-year-old. She may have a secret journal, an annoying younger brother and enjoy the odd shopping expedition. But Clara also has a divine destiny. Because Clara is Quartarius – a quarter angel. Her mother is a one-hundred-year-old Nephilim (product of a human/angel pairing), while Clara and her
brother Jeffrey have more diluted, quarter angel-blood running through their veins.
Being Quartarius means that Clara will eventually find her ‘glory’ – an inner light that will make her shine, literally. It also means that her angel wings will sprout and she will soon have to have flying lessons. But the most important part of Clara’s Quartarius life will be her purpose. Whether guardian or messenger, Clara will be given a Heavenly direction that she must follow.
Clara’s purpose comes one night in a dream. And then in flashbacks. And then blackouts during the day. The same scene over and over again – the middle of a fire, a boy she is supposed to save.
Clara’s ‘purpose’ and the visions that accompany it have her and her family moving to Wyoming. To a rocky mountain town and a boy called Christian.
But uprooting your entire life is never easy, not even for the divine. And although Clara is drawn to the enigmatic and handsome Christian, he already has a life (and a girlfriend) and Clara is finding it difficult to get close to her ‘purpose’. In the meantime Clara slowly forges a place for herself in the town, and with a certain boy called Tucker. What starts out as a car park rivalry quickly turning to friendship and then something more . . . but Tucker is not Clara’s destiny. Christian is. And in the end, she will have to make the ultimate sacrifice for one of them.
Occasionally a book and author come along who move me. I don’t just mean that I get inspired to write a flattering review and award them five-stars. I'm talking about becoming a little bit consumed and infatuated upon reading. When you discover a new talent who is destined to a spot on your all-time favourite’s list. Someone who you feel obligated to spread the word about – sing their praises and beseech your friends and family to give them a read. Cynthia Hand is such an author, and ‘Unearthly’ is exactly that sort of consuming book.
I know that the angel storyline is fast becoming a trite trademark in the young adult genre. I understand, but I would implore you to forget everything you think you know about angels. Put aside your bias and give Cynthia Hand’s novel a try – because her angel storyline is a tornado of fresh air.
When we first meet Clara she is aware of her angel-status. Her mother sat her down when she was fourteen and revealed her true nature. Ever since then Clara has been anticipating her ‘purpose’ – and when the book opens she is sixteen when her destiny is revealed to her. I love the fact that Hand jumps right into the thick of action – she doesn’t waste time backtracking and writing about Clara’s angel-self-discovery. The book literally kicks into high-gear from page one as Clara quickly realizes her purpose and deduces that Wyoming is where her fate lies.
. . . I'm struck with the sudden urge to document this moment, so I’ll be able to look back and say, this was the beginning. Part one of Clara’s purpose. My chest swells with emotion at the thought. A new beginning for us all.
Yes, this is an angel book. No, the novel isn’t overly preachy or pious. Clara is still unsure about her divinity and the whole God question. She has never come face-to-face with the man upstairs, and Heaven is explained rather scientifically as being an alternate dimension. There is still a lot Clara doesn’t know about herself and where her religion lies. In fact, Clara’s mother hasn’t taken the family to church since Clara and her brother were small children. I appreciated the fact that Hand is writing about angels in the absence of certainty – she acknowledges their Biblical origins, but leaves it up to readers to figure out whether or not they believe in divinity and God. And it certainly seems like Clara is struggling with her beliefs – no doubt that will be an over-arching theme of
I also really liked the fact that Clara’s mother plays a big role in her daughter’s life. It does annoy me when young adult novels sweep parents under the rug – it’s convenient and unreal. In ‘Unearthly’ Clara relies a lot on her mother – both her angelic guidance, and her parental wisdom. They have many a heartfelt conversation that never came across as overtly schmaltzy (or Lifetime channel) but were just written as genuine mother-daughter respect. I liked the focus of family in this book; it was a nice counterpoint to all the upheavals in Clara’s life.
The romance is perfection. I do love a good love triangle, and Hand offers up a particularly tangled one. Clara has to choose between Christian, her ‘destiny’, and Tucker, the boy she slowly but surely comes to care for. While reading the book I did think that Tucker was the clear winner in the romantic stakes – it doesn’t help that Christian has a girlfriend and is firmly apart of the ‘popular’ crowd, whereas Tucker is liked by everyone and is the all-round nice guy. But just when I thought the romance had a sure winner, Hand throws a total cliff-hanger jaw-dropper into the works.
That being said, Tucker is my favourite. He was so sweet and I loved the fact that he and Clara started out with a love/hate relationship that quickly progressed into a deep bond and affection;
“I'm looking at you. Why are you always trying to hide how pretty you are?”
He seems to gaze right into me, like he’s seeing me for who I truly am. And in that moment, I want to tell him the truth. Crazy, I know. Stupid. Wrong.
Clara was a surprisingly great leading-lady. It’s mentioned early on that she is quite the stunner, and when coupled with her angelic powers she could have been a total Mary-Sue, sugary sweet pain in the ***. But Hand has written Clara with a wry and self-deprecating humour. There’s also the fact that before coming to Wyoming Clara is forced to dye her blonde locks bright orange (to hide their glow) . . . gaining her the nickname of ‘Bozo’ from her new classmates. I know it’s awful, but her being bullied made her relatable and human, cancelling out her angelic benevolence.
I loved ‘Unearthly’. This is the first book in a trilogy; the second book will be ‘Hallowed’ and is tentatively scheduled for a January 2012 release. Now, that is a long wait, especially so because ‘Unearthly’ does end on a slightly steep cliff-hanger. But honestly, I'm not fussed by the long wait . . . because I know it will be worth it. I have the utmost confidence in Cynthia Hand.
‘Unearthly’ is magnificent. Angels, fires and love triangles . . . this is young adult paranormal romance perfection – to read it is to love!