Series: The Devouring Gray
Written by: Christine Lynn Herman
Published: April 2nd, 2019 by Disney-Hyperion
Synopsis: On the edge of town a beast haunts the woods, trapped in the Gray, its bonds loosening…
Uprooted from the city, Violet Saunders doesn’t have much hope of fitting in at her new school in Four Paths, a town almost buried in the woodlands of rural New York. The fact that she’s descended from one of the town’s founders doesn’t help much, either—her new neighbours treat her with distant respect, and something very like fear. When she meets Justin, May, Isaac, and Harper, all children of founder families, and sees the otherworldly destruction they can wreak, she starts to wonder if the townsfolk are right to be afraid.
When bodies start to appear in the woods, the locals become downright hostile. Can the teenagers solve the mystery of Four Paths, and their own part in it, before another calamity strikes?
I was super excited to read this book when I first learned about it. Not only is it pitched as the kind of atmospheric fantasy I usually enjoy but it also takes place is the part of New York where I grew up. So I got a copy from the library and brought it home with me when I was visiting family. And while this was definitely interesting, it didn’t quite blow me away.
One thing I will say about this book is that it had good characterizations. This is a book full of messy and imperfect characters who are trying to figure things out and making lots of mistakes along the way. They are far from perfect and that what made them interesting and realistic. The book alternates perspectives between three main characters and it is one of those books that lends itself well to that kind of format. It gave each of the characters a lot of depth because you got to know them on a more personal level. And while Violet is arguably the main character, I didn’t at all feel like Justin or Harper’s perspectives were unnecessary (and I can’t say that very often in these kinds of books). I think a lot of that can be attributed to the characterization.
However, the format did make for a kind of muddled plot and pacing. The overall concept of definitely a cool one. A sinister force in the woods murdering people, and families with inherited powers are the only ones who can protect the town. It should have been a perfect book for me with the combination of mystery and fantasy, but it never quite delivered on either of those aspects. There was a mystery which I enjoyed but it didn’t feel solvable for the readers. I like being able to figure things out along with the characters not have them just tell me they found the answer. It just felt too simple for me. And that may have also lead to the pacing issues for me. The beginning of the book I loved and was incredibly engaged. I read most of the first half on a train and didn’t want to put it down. But then when I got home the plot seemed to slow down enough that it took me five days to read the rest. The second half should have been the most gripping but it didn’t quite recapture my interest until the last 50 pages. I’m just such a plot-driven reader so this was big for me. One thing I did like however is the fact that this is the first book of the series and it had a clear ending. It set up future books but it had a solid conclusion.
The other thing I liked but didn’t love was the setting. Now granted, this is really a personal problem. I grew up where this book takes place so I am probably way more critical than the average person. But if you are going to try and ground a book in a specific location, you really have to get that place right. And this honestly felt like the kind of book that could have been anywhere. There was only one reference to something from Rochester and then it went and called it “Upstate New York.” Clearly I am nitpicking because I’m from there but it brought up the whole Upstate vs. Western NY debates I haven’t had since college. This is not a problem most people will have with this book, but I just wanted to rant a little bit.
But as far as the other aspects of the world, it was an atmospheric and interesting setting. It’s one of those books that walks a fine line between fantasy and magical realism. The magical system is tied to the family and the location where they are from like magical realism but it is a little bit more of a general fantasy kind of structure. I really liked learning about the powers of the different families and seeing them talk about their rituals. I think we have only scratched the surface with the magic and I am excited for more. I also am excited for more about the Gray and the Beast. The book definitely didn’t overwhelm us with information about either of those things but it did capture my interest. I was honestly expecting this book to be a little bit more creepy and lean more towards horror but instead it was more magical realism. And honestly, I have no complaints about that.
On the whole, this was definitely an enjoyable read. The Devouring Gray was one of my most anticipated debuts of the year and it was a good book. Some aspects didn’t blow me away but the characterizations were great and the setting was intriguing.
I give The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman 8.5 out of 10 stars
Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy/Borrow. Not a perfect book but very entertaining. I would recommend this to fans of magical realism or atmospheric YA fantasy in the vein of Maggie Steifvater.
Have you read The Devouring Gray? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thank for stopping by and HAPPY READING.