I am not the biggest fan of Everless. I enjoyed reading this book, and I wanted to see it through to the end, but there are some real issues with writing style, character development and plot execution. I think it shows that this is Sara Holland’s debut, and it could have benefitted from another run-through by her editor to tighten it up. But that didn’t take away from the fact that Everless is a pleasant read and that’s why it still gets this rating. My opinion probably won’t be popular, because I’ve seen others rave about this book. I think it’s for those who enjoy The Selection (Keira Cass) and Red Queen (Victoria Aveyard) – which I also consider to be books with some execution flaws.
I will adress my biggest problem with it first. The story doesn’t flow naturally from the characters and/or plot development. It was more the other way around. Whenever the story called for Jules to do something, she would explain on the spot where she had acquired the skill / learned the information. It’s understandable for a debut author to not know how to balance a book, but it does mean Everless is not what it can be.
A clear example of Everless scrambling to explain itself instead of letting it flow from the storyline, is the way Jules’ village was used. As the book progressed, I grew increasingly annoyed with Sara Holland starting a sentence with “In my village…”. It undermines Everless in two ways: both character definition and world definition.
The village is often mentioned in tandem with metaphores and sayings about time (which were mostly real world sayings with a timey twist, not too imaginative), lest we forget that this world is built on a time-based magic system. The constant reminders show me that Sarah Holland isn’t confident in her world building ability – or she wouldn’t need to interrupt the story so much by adding in these “forced clever” tidbits.
The village is also used to explain why Jules has a certain skill, at the time she is portraying that skill. Where the time sayings show little confidence in her world building, this shows the author isn’t confident about her main character. Jules’ character is shaped by what’s necessary for the plot to move forward. While this is something all authors do (or you wouldn’t have a story), Sarah Holland doesnt’yet know how to unobtrusively weave it into her story.
Most characters in Everless aren’t well defined, perhaps with the exception of Roan who showed promise of being layered. One example is Liam, who is set up to be one way and then never remotely acts like it. What is the purpose of having us think he is one way, when you are not going to use it? Keeping Jules away from Liam served only the purpose of not falling in love too soon, because the events between them could have happened with them either friends or enemies.
Jules’ father, too, is only being vague about the threats and her heritage because Jules can’t realise the plot too early. It is simply not believable that a father would not sit his child down and tell her everything when he knows either he or she is about to die. His madness might explain some, but then why put the man in at all? It could just have easily been Jules who was starving and needed the money/time after his too-early death. The madness explains some, but he remains an ill-fitting piece.
Another difficulty with the plot is that the story (and your character’s actions) need to hold up both before your big reveal and after. You are in fact shaping two realities: one in which everything you write is true without the plot twist (= what your character thinks), and one in which everything you write is true with the twist. In hindsight, the characters of Everless do some things that are strange, errors in continuity and motives.
I think much of this could have benefitted from letting the story take place over a bigger time span. It’s not really believable that Jules would work her way up from the kitchens to being the confidante of both Ina and Caro. Why do these women instantly trust her? Because the queen threw a knife? It was quite clear what Jules was supposed to do. Ina freely gives Jules personal details of her history that any ill-meaning person could use to destroy her. Growing up with a cruel queen makes it illogical for Ina to trust in a mere week. And if Jules’ life depends on her staying anonymous, then it’s flat out ridiculous that the entire castle knows who she is by day three. Especially because not a single person cares. Bye, suspense.
The quick pace also forces Sara Holland to take the believability out of the plot events. Jules goes on a trip with Ina once, and immediately finds out about her own very significant birth and who she is (also in relation to Ina). Based on a five minute meeting. Briarsmoor and it’s strange time drop out of the sky midway through the book as well, and Jules immediately finds time to go there (doesn’t she have a job?) to get the other half of the story. She gets it straightaway, and understands straightaway while we have just learned of Briarsmoor two chapters ago. Again, I feel that if Everless was better paced, many of its problems would have been solvable.
I have to say that all the reveals in Everless fell flat because I saw them coming. Not because I’m so smart, but because I kept thinking to myself: what would be the most shocking thing we could find out about this person? And that was usually it. From the start, Liam is clearly not who Jules thinks he is, so from there you can assume no one is. I knew who Jules was long before Jules did (although I did not call reincarnation. I mean, how awesome would it be to do a book about her reincarnations while the queen always remains the same, looking for her? Why couldn’t Sara Holland have done thát?).
I did not anticipate Roan at the end, I admit. It should mean I’m happy about a surprise, but I’m actually kind of sad Sara Holland did it. Roan was an untapped character that we now can’t research further. I don’t think she thought through his possibilities. Because a boy who is clearly unfit to rule and just seeks pleasure in life, would have been great trying to make heads or tails of what’s coming next. Much more than Liam, who would handle it capably. Boring! Sara Holland could have made Roan another protagonist, with his own storyline, who would bring a lot of conflict and growth.
In conclusion, I’m not trying to tell you not to read Everless. Although it may seem so. I enjoyed reading it, even if it annoyed me too. I have a strong stance on believability, continuity and genuine flow for both characters and plot. Sara Holland clearly doesn’t have control of these things yet. But she writes pleasantly, and I had no trouble reading Everless. I think that if she works on her issues, she could become a really great YA writer. There is definite potential in Everless. I think that if you don’t care so much about the things I find important, this will be an amazing read for you.