Post Mortem: The Devouring Gray - Christine Lynn Herman
Post Mortem: A thourough investigation of a book after its passing. May be used to help determine cause and manner of death, and prevent repeat events in the future.
Subject: The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman, Published by Titan Books
Primary Cause of Death: Incoherence Cause for re-examination: Reviewers error Be advised: my Post-Mortems almost always include plot-spoilers for the novel in question.
It took me a long time to write this post mortem, and for the past almost 7 months this book has haunted the back of my mind. I gave this book 2.5 stars and a “review to come” in my May Wrap-up, only to never know what to word said review. The truth is that I made a rookie mistake with that initial rating: allowed my opinion of the author as a person to influence my opinion of the content of the novel. In this Post Mortem, I’m going to set that right by giving it the rating it deserves based on my true enjoyment of this novel: 1 star.
The Devouring Gray is basically Stranger Things meets The Raven Boys in book-form (yet not as well executed as either of those). The story takes place in a remote town surrounded by woods, and the thread of a monster hiding within. Throughout the novel we discover the history of the town: how it was founded by four supernaturally gifted families, that are still revered to this day for their extraordinary feat of locking the monster in an alternate dimension, so they can live in peace in the forest. However, recently, the borders between dimensions have started to fray, and the beast is slowly making its way back into Four Paths. The only hope lies with the four descendants of the founding families, our four teenage protagonists, who hold the magical power to stop the beast.
Cause of Death: incoherence My major problem with this novel is that it makes 0 sense. I’m not talking about suspension of disbelieve here: I was perfectly fine with putting up with the idea of alternate dimensions, supernatural monsters and magical teens. I’m talking about the internal logic, magic-system, tows history and character motiviations making absolutely no sense, and on more than one occasion even contradicting themselves. Some examples:
The Founding Fathers founded the town of Four Paths and started the Church that, until this day, worships them for defeating the monster. Yet they were also killed in the battle with the monster, so when exactly in that timeline could they have founded a town, let alone procreated to lead to a line of descendants? Not to mention: why would you found a town on the single location where you know a monster to live? Are you trying to get everybody killed?
The descendants inherit magical powers, but must perform a ritual/trial in order to be able to access it. If they don’t perform this ritual, their magic will manifest on its own and be uncontrollable. So… which is it? Do they not have any magic, or can’t they control it before the ritual? The author herself doesn’t seem to know, because either happen, dependant on what the plot needs at that moment.
The beast abides by the same rules: it does whatever it wants, whenever it’s convenient to the plot. Supposedly still contained within the Gray, the thing shows up whenever it wants to attack people, yet never goes through with it when it concerns a member of the founding families. The reason why is never explained.
Lastly, there are many generation-wide conflicts between the Founding Families, that are bases around absolutely nothing. If this feud is strong enough to put the lives of an entire village at stake to avoid working together, than I at least want to know why this is so important to them.
The short and sweet of it all is that I felt like the author had an idea for a sequence of events and wrote a book based on that. Than an editor came around and went: great, but what about these plot-holes. Than the author went back in and tried to fill these holes, but unfortunately did a poor job of that. I could be totally wrong, but that’s the impression I got from this story.
On top of the senseless plot, I didn’t care for any of the characters. Part of that was because their motivation and history made no sense to me, so therefore I couldn’t relate to any of their decisions. They were also very archetypical, and didn’t distinguish themselves from the millions of YA-hero’s already out there. The most interesting character, honestly, was Orpheus, and he’s an undead cat, so…
Exposition… Lots an lots of it. New-to-town-Violet is used as an excuse for butler-dialogue, as the other characters explain the history of the town to her in long monologue. Additionally, this book fell into another pet peeve of mine, of telling me a million times how powerful and fearsome some of the characters are… Yet never showing me them doing anything to merit that reputation.
Ham-fisted diversity… Again: it felt like this was something an editor suggested to make the book more marketable, yet the implementation was clumsy and felt ingenuine. I’ve said it before, but I’m tired of a YA-characters only distinguishable feature being a sexuality or skin-color. Feel free to disagree, but that to me defeats the entire purpose of diversity.
Lastly, there is the elephant in the room that everybody has already mentioned: this book is very similar to The Ravenboys with a hint of Stranger Things mixed into it. I’d personally be able to get past that, but on top of all the other problems, it’s just another swig of fuel to the flame.
Reviewers Error: So why did I initially give this novel 2.5 stars, if I disliked it so much? It’s because of a few interviews and essays I read with and by the author, after finishing the book. Christine Lynn Herman is a young debut author, who from what I could tell, had genuine ambition with this book. Herman talks about her battles with depression and grief in the past, and how the entire story of The Gray was a metaphor for that, and gave her the strength to carry on. The way she spoke of her characters, and what they meant to her: I wanted them to mean the same to me. Her story was inspiring, and I could tell that the author has some experiences that she wanted to share, from which other young readers could benefit. But great intention, do not equal great result. As much as I wanted to see in what she described, it was in Hermans mind, but didn’t translate to the page. It was my fault as a reviewer, for initially seeing what I wanted to see, and letting myself be (unintentionally!) emotionally manipulated.
Preventable death? This is the part that pains me so much about this novel: yes, I think this was a perfectly preventable death. Like I mentioned before, this novel had all the right ideas, yet the execution wasn’t there. Christine Lynn Herman has talent and a strong heart, which is why I feel bad (even now) for giving her debut 1 star. With maybe an extra year of experience or a more critical editor that didn’t just want to sell this book ASAP, this could have been great. I will be keeping an eye on the author in the future, and although I have no interest in continuing this series, if she decides to write anything else, I might be interested to check it out.