Toward a Secret Sky by Heather Maclean
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
Shortly after 17-year-old Maren Hamilton is orphaned and sent to live with grandparents she’s never met in Scotland, she receives an encrypted journal from her dead mother that makes her and everyone around her a target. It confirms that her parents were employed by a secret, international organization that’s now intent on recruiting her. As Maren works to unravel the clues left behind by her mother, a murderous madness sweeps through the local population, terrorizing her small town. Maren must decide if she’ll continue her parents’ fight or stay behind to save her friends.
With the help of Gavin, an otherworldly mercenary she’s not supposed to fall in love with, and Graham, a charming aristocrat who is entranced with her, Maren races against the clock and around the country from palatial estates with twisted labyrinths to famous cathedrals with booby-trapped subterranean crypts to stay ahead of the enemy and find a cure. Along the way, she discovers the great truth of love: that laying down your life for another isn’t as hard as watching them sacrifice everything for you.
What I Liked:
It's been quite some time since I read a YA angels/demons type of story. Years ago, there were plenty of them, and I read many of those books/series, and I got sick of them. I'm honestly not into the whole angels theme. But sometimes an author will surprise me. I'm going to be honest - this book surprised me. I didn't realize that it was an angels/demons type of paranormal story until after I received a galley, so my expectations fell a little, when discovering that. But I found that I enjoyed the book! I really hope there will be at least one more to follow.
Maren Hamilton never thought she'd meet her father's parents, let alone live with them. She never knew her father, and her mother recently died, and Maren has no one else to turn to. Moving to Aviemore, Scotland is a huge adjustment... especially when Maren discovers that both her mother and her father worked for a secret organization tasked with fighting demons. Demons are real, and so are humans who fight them - and angels are real too, which Maren pleasantly discovers. But things aren't quite pleasant in Aviemore, with demons poisoning humans with something deadly. Maren and her handsome Gaelic tutor Gavin must find the antidote, following Maren's mother's clues, before someone dies.
I'm going to start off by addressing the elephant in the synopsis - there is NO love triangle in this book. The synopsis does a pretty slick job of implying the presence of one, right? Well, it is overkill. Gavin is the one love interest. In fact, I think Maren physically interacts (like, talks to) Graham maybe twice? There is nothing remotely triangular about the romance. If anything, the romance is extremely insta-love-y and soul-mate-y, between Gavin and Maren. They fall in love with each other really, really quickly. In any case, there is no love triangle.
It took me a bit to actually feel something towards Maren. She seemed very flat at first. But eventually she grew on me. She is stubborn and insistent and tough, but often a little misguided and irrational. She thinks she can look out for herself, but she definitely can't. She doesn't handle the grief of losing her mother well (totally understandable), and she is so lonely in Scotland. But she grew on me, as she started to interact with others (especially Gavin).
I didn't completely love Gavin - he's a great love interest and an interesting supporting character, but he also came off as a little flat. Maren describes as super hot and dreamy and honestly, she is obsessed with him. But he is a genuinely good guy, and I liked his protectiveness and loyalty. He's definitely someone I'd want on my side, and theoretically, a very swoony love interest.
I love the setting! The setting is probably one of the best aspects of this story. You don't find many YA books set in Scotland, especially with some sort of permanence. I've read plenty of adult Scottish romances, which are awesome. The author has done a very good job of writing the Scottish setting but also crafting this fantasy world within the setting. The world-building is well-written too. This is a very paranormal/fantasy type of story - with angels, demons, dimensions, and something very different about Maren herself...
The first half of the book seemed to deal more with Maren and her grief, her adjustment to moving to Scotland, and her acclimatization to all of the information about angels and demons and The Abbey. The second half of the book picks up the pace, dealing with demons poisoning humans, and Maren trying to find this mysterious place that holds the antidote. Maren and Gavin go to find the antidote in London, in hopes of their hunch being correct.
There is a lot that I'm leaving out (like who Gavin is, who Graham is, what The Abbey is), and I'm doing it intentionally! You'd have to read the book to find out everything. The ending is very heartbreaking and cliffhanger-y, and I really hope there is a second book to follow. Currently there is no sequel listed on Goodreads, but I'm holding onto hope.
What I Did Not Like:
I already mentioned how I thought both Maren and Gavin were somewhat flat, one-dimensional characters. Like, I didn't feel particularly passionate about them? I wasn't 100% rooting for Maren (sometimes I just didn't care), and I wasn't swooning over Gavin. He's cool, but I think there was more "tell" than "show". We keep reading over and over how Maren thinks he is so hot and wonderful and perfect... I would have preferred more swoony scenes between them, or some steamy scenes. There is like, one kissy scene! ONE!
Insta-love, ah! I don't hate insta-love, but this novel is rife in it. Maren and Gavin meet once, and Maren is practically in love with him from that point on. Not lust, not a crush, but love. Which is odd to me? It seemed too rushed and more like an obsession, but it wasn't one-sided. Overall, the romance is cute and I like them together, but the insta-love is so strong in this book.
Also, the synopsis really could drop out Graham. Graham appears a grand total of TWO times in the book (before the climax), and he plays NO part in finding the antidote, or anything. That implied love triangle doesn't exist, and it kind of pisses me off that the author (or publisher) is specifically trying to deceive readers like that. Thank goodness there is no actual love triangle!
The ending! It is so heartbreaking. I'm not a fan, but I can see the author making up for the ending in a second book. It's very "fixable"!
Also, I understand that this book is set in Scotland. But there is no diversity in this book. Write what you want, write what you know, whatever - but this book has no type of diversity in it.
Would I Recommend It:
Yes, but also no. I do recommend this book if you like fantasy/paranormal novels set in modern times in a European country. The author clearly did her research in terms of Scotland and language and history and whatnot. However, do bear in mind that I have no idea if there will be a book two (and the ending is really heartbreaking). This book is perfect for fans of Lauren Kate's Fallen series, or Becca Fitzpatrick's Hush, Hush series. Though again - no love triangle. But, this isn't a new favorite and it's not a must-read. I could recommend a slew of other paranormal or fantasy YA novels that are "better" (in my opinion). But this novel was refreshing, cute, and interesting.
3.5 stars. I'm rounding up for now. This wasn't a bad novel and I'm glad I decided to read it, even after discovering that it's about angels and demons (which aren't my thing)! I'm hoping this is the first book of a duology or something, because I am completely unsatisfied with the ending, for several reasons. I'd love to see Maren kick some serious butt!
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