Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Underworld by Meg Cabot

Title: Underworld
Author: Meg Cabot
Publisher: Point
Release Date: May 8, 2012
Pages: 336 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC from the publisher
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon; Barnes & Noble; Book Depository

Seventeen-year-old Pierce Oliviera isn't dead. Not this time.

But she's been taken by John Hayden, lord of the Underworld, to the dim, twilight place between heaven and hell, where the spirits of the deceased wait before embarking upon their final journey.

John claims it's for her own safety, to protect her from the Furies who yearn for vengeance against him. But John may have reasons of his own for wanting to keep Pierce close...

And soon she learns that while she might be safe from the wrath of the Furies in the Underworld, the people she loves back on earth are not. Can Pierce convince John to release her in order to save the life of someone in her family--or will the price he asks her to pay for her freedom be too high?


Going into Underworld, the second book of Cabot's Abandon trilogy, I had my fingers crossed so tightly that it hurt. Would I like it more than Abandon, which underwhelmed me? Would it be just as disappointing or even worse? I was prepared for the best and the worst and I ended up feeling as similarly satisfied yet slightly disappointed with the second book as I felt with the first.

I did see improvement on some of the points I disliked Abandon for. The repetition of evil tassels and the phrase "check yourself before you wreck yourself" disappeared. Pierce's cousin Alex emerged as a dark horse sort of character I didn't expect to love but did anyway. He was flat-out wrong, but the complexity he demonstrated when Pierce confronted him invested me more in his character with that one scene than two books have invested me in Pierce's struggles. A more present plot gave Underworld a greater direction and purpose than I remember from the first book.

My past experience with Cabot's Mediator series, an enduring favorite of mine, has shown me that she knows how to write a fun heroine with a solid head on her shoulders. That may be why I find Pierce more disappointing as a main character. She is generally more introverted and I like it, but she tends to be a blind dreamer too, acting without thinking and ignoring what is plainly there.

Pierce's personality type kept Cabot's usual humor out of Abandon, but I saw more of it shining through this time. I haven't been able to check it against the final copy of the book, but this quote was so winning that I couldn't resist sharing it:

"Oh, no." My heart filling with dread, I took the paper from Mr. Smith's hands. "Couldn't they have found a better picture of me?"

Mr. Smith looked at me sharply. "Miss Oliviera," he said, his gray eyebrows lowered. "I realize it's all the rage with you young people today to toss off flippant one-liners so you can get your own reality television shows. But I highly doubt MTV will be coming down to Isla Huesos to film you in the Underworld. So that can't be all you have to say about this."

Unfortunately, each one of those great moments in writing seems to be followed by at least two descriptions that come with cringeworthy mental images. As much as Pierce loved it, a man's muscles pumping up to the size of grapefruits as he rips apart chains with his bare hands doesn't seem attractive to me.

Pierce and John's relationship troubles me--no, disturbs me. It's a more powerful and accurate word choice. I see exactly one quality in him she could plausibly like: how he took her suggestions for the Underworld and put a few of them in practice. That is something I thought was fantastic. Otherwise, I don't see why she loves him so much and forgives his behavior (lying, clearly evident violence streak, secret-keeping) so easily. In a step above some more problematic YA novels, John often admits that what he does is wrong and Pierce recognizes it as wrong. Her forgiving almost all of it or pretending an issue is a non-issue takes it back down that step, but I suppose it's progress. Better one forward and one back than two steps back.

My newfound fondness for Alex and genuine curiosity is sure to bring me and other readers back for Awaken, the final book of the trilogy. Readers who fell in love with Abandon will surely love this installment too, but figuring out whether or not critics of the first book will enjoy Underworld is a little more difficult. Of the multiple Hades/Persephone retellings in bookstores at the moment, this is definitely my preferred series.

3 stars!

What am I reading next?: Ditched by Robin Mellom