Title: Crossing Over
Author: Anna Kendall
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Gollancz YA
Publication Date: June 2010
Hardcover: 352 pages
Whether it’s a curse or a blessing the fact remains: whenever Roger is in enough pain he can cross over to the Land of the Dead and speak to the people there. It’s an unexpected gift – and one that, throughout Roger’s life, his violent uncle has taken advantage of. Roger has been hauled from fairground to fairground, and beaten into unconsciousness, in order to bring word of the dead to the recently bereaved. It’s a hard, painful way of life, deceiving the living for a crust of bread. So when Roger has the chance of a new life, it seems a gift. He has a chance at safety and at living a life of his choosing, tucked away in the royal court. But life is unexpected, and when Roger falls in love with the bewitching, willful Lady Cecilia he has no idea what he is letting himself in for. With every step he takes towards her, he is drawn deeper into court intrigue, into politics, and even into war . . . . . . and when Roger’s curious abilities come to the Queen’s attention, everything changes forever. Trapped in courtly politics, bound by secrets, Roger is torn between his own safety and that of his friends. He can save them . . . but only if he can bring himself to perform a deed so unthinkable that the living and the dead shrink from it alike. . .
Stand alone or series: Book one in a planned series
How did we get this book: ARCs from the publisher
Why did we read this book: We are fans of Gollancz and their impressive lineup of SF/F/H, so when we learned they were about to launch a young adult line of speculative fiction titles, we were ecstatic! Crossing Over is the third title from the imprint.
First Thoughts and Impressions:
Thea: At first blush, Crossing Over is a book of solidly awesome ideas – a boy that can walk between the realms of the living and the dead finds himself a valuable gambit in the future of a queendom on the brink of civil war. While I loved the concepts of the book and the general direction of the story, I could not help but feel immensely disappointed with the actual execution of the novel. The writing amateur – at times unintentionally hilarious, at times incredibly repetitive – and the characters ill-defined. To me, Crossing Over is a novel with brilliant promise, marred by its sadly lackluster delivery.
Ana: Once again, unfortunately, I will have to echo Thea’s thoughts. I had a very similar experience with Crossing Over, starting with excitement over its potential based on a great premise and ending in disappointment. The biggest problem for me was not the writing or the plotting (although I had issues with both) but the fact that I did not care for the characters, not even the protagonist.
On the Plot:
Ana: Roger is an orphaned boy living with his aunt and no-good uncle Hartah. Ever since Roger can remember he can cross to the land of the Dead but he is only able to do that when in pain, which works just fine for his abusive uncle. The family travels from faire to faire making their living with Roger communicating with the dead and passing on messages –sometimes made up – to their families. One day, Hartah decides to take part in the wrecking of a ship but this is a fatal decision and in its aftermath, Roger is taken prisoner and then sent to the court of Queendom where he will work for one of the two duelling Queens, who recognises the preciousness of his ability. There Roger will grow up, fall in love whilst getting in the middle of witch hunting, politics and court intrigue. At the centre of it all, the mysterious story of infamous Soulvine Moor, where his mother died and where he has vowed to go one day to search for her soul.
I quite enjoyed the plot of the novel – or rather, the elements of the plot. To start with the idea of the land of the Dead as a place that mimics the location of the living and where souls are restful and soon after death lose touch with previous life. This means, that for example every time Roger crosses he is limited by both time and location – if someone died far away from where he is for example chances are he won’t find that soul unless he crosses over close to that same location. Similarly if someone died months or even days before, that soul would be in peace and not able to converse which adds a very specific time frame for him to cross over and talk to someone; but also it is an interesting piece of information he does not usually share with others that are trying to exploiting it and he uses it to his advantage.
On top of that, I am a sucker for political intrigue such as the one going on in Queendom and the (still unsolved) mystery of Soulvine Moor was very intriguing. However, these are all plotlines that are interesting on their own but they don’t quite work well when all put together or in the way they are executed.
Everything moves way too fast and the author never spends a lot of time examining or exploring these points in depth. When I thought I was going to get the hang of Queendom for example, Roger moves away from the court in a Quest for his One True Love. It also doesn’t help that up until making this one (stupid) decision, Roger stumbles his way around mostly as an observer that is a rant for the next section.
Thea: I love the IDEA of the plot – as Ana says, there are many wonderful threads here, the fate of a queendom, Roger’s past and true abilities/destiny, the mystery of Soulvine Moor, a romance, etc. But while all these ideas sound great and are wonderful in theory, on paper they never lived up to their full potential. No, scratch that – they never even lived up to half of their full potential. My problems with Crossing Over are twofold: the writing/execution of the story and the bland characters (I’ll get to that later).
In terms of writing style, Ms. Kendall’s book feels very much like a first novel – there’s a lot of repetition (“my mother in the lavender dress” was one I found particularly annoying), abrupt story shifts, and hastily “resolved” plot threads. For example, while so much time is spent on Roger’s many trips to the country of the dead, or in reference to clothing on courtiers, the final climactic battle scene is ridiculously rushed, and a certain key revelation about Roger’s mother is given a single sentence. Huh? I cannot tell you how much this bothers me, this lopsided, lack of story prioritization. What’s even more infuriating about the whole thing is that Ms. Kendall has excellent plot elements and story ideas here – the level of writing to convey these ideas simply isn’t there.
On the Characters:
Ana: I read the book in basically one sitting and as aforementioned I enjoyed certain aspects of the story very much but once I closed the book I had the strangest feeling and I thought about it for days after reading and the feeling was: hollowness. I felt hollow after reading this book and the reason behind this feeling is that I was unable to feel any sympathy or connection with its main character which, seeing as how his is the sole point of view in the entire book, is problematic to say the least. I didn’t like his voice or the execution of his arc and I am trying to put my finger on WHY and here are some of the reasons:
I am not sure the character sounds as a 14 year old. His voice was so uneven – at times he sounded way younger sometimes way older. At times he is capable of keen observations about all the intrigue but these are never backed up by a reasonable explanation as to how he reached that opinion other than the ubiquitous “just know”. The “just know” has recently become one of my greatest gripes when reading because to me it reeks of lazy characterisation.
At the same time that he is supposed to be a keen observer, he makes the most idiotic decisions, the greatest one is when he decides he LOVES this girl, Lady Cecilia and then follows her when she flees the court and that is the impetus for the second half of the book. The thing is I am sure we are supposed to feel for Roger and his inappropriate love but it is hard to do so when he himself describes his lady love as a childish girl. His love for her felt extremely artificial and merely an excuse to get the story moving.
And then there are the erections. *sighs*
Roger kept having erections at the sight of girls. I GET that this is a teenage boy but these came at odd times, out of nowhere and felt really jarring, almost as a way to aid establishing that he is a teenage boy. “hey look my character is a boy, he gets erections”.
The secondary characters have a similar fate. Cecilia is hardly more than a childish, flirtatious ninny and Maggie the kitchen maid (YES, another love triangle) was a little bit more interesting but she loves Roger for no reason I can think of (similar to lack of reason for why Roger loves Cecilia.)
I’m sorry, but I have to agree with Ana on all counts. The random erections thing really cracked me up. It should be like a drinking game or something, shouldn’t it? Oh, there Roger’s “member” goes again! SHOTGUN THAT BEER! (and that “member” joke? It’s actually in the book. He refers to his “Little Roger” as his member) I love it when teenagers in novels – YA or otherwise – are written as believable characters, and erections/sexuality is definitely part of this. I hate it when authors gloss over any mention of sex (e.g. the oddly sexless Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl), but to go completely the other way and throw in the random stiffies at very strange places in the plot? This does not a genuine character make. (And if we’re talking about, I found it strange that Roger would get these erections and yet never: 1. Masturbate; 2. Suffer any of the ill effects (embarrassment or physical discomfort) of non-release – in fact, these erections seem to disappear quite suddenly (or else no one can see these boners? I don’t know).
But on a more serious note, the characters were simply…bland. Roger (a weird name choice)’s voice fluctuated and I never got a true feel for his age, as Ana mentions, but what irked me the most about his character is how disinterested he seemed in his singular ability to cross over. Given that it is the single skill that has kept him alive, he doesn’t seem all that interested in what he does or if there is any greater implications to his singular talent.
Beyond that, I, like Ana, also felt frustrated with Roger’s choices in the book – his “love” for Cecila and his strange choice to abandon the queendom in its most desperate hour to follow her (the love didn’t seem very convincing to begin with) being the most egregious of these offenses. Also, at one point in the book I’m not quite clear why Roger chooses to tell the lies he does (to those in the realm of the dead)…it was all very strange and unnecessary.
Even with the other characters in the book, I felt similarly disinterested. Cecilia, Roger’s “love” is quite beautiful, and yet also manipulative…but she’s a simpleton and possibly something else that is never explained fully? I had hopes that Cecilia might be pulling some crazy con on the Queendom, trying to wrest the crown into her own paws and playing at idiocy…and yet, that was sadly not the case. And I still don’t know what was so important about her as the medicine woman kept alluding to in the latter portions of the book.
The only character that broke this malaise was Queen Caroline – the ruthless younger queen with her dreams of taking the throne from her aging mother. But is that one character enough to save the book from its exhausting banality? Not really.
Final Thoughts, Observation and Rating:
Ana: Even though I can’t say that Crossing Over is an entirely bad book, I don’t think I can say that it is a good book either. I finished it feeling underwhelmed and unimpressed, and I don’t think I have enough reasons for picking up the sequel.
Thea: I have to echo Ana’s feelings exactly. I finished Crossing Over, and while there are undeniably wonderful ideas in the book, the execution of the novel itself left me bored and disinterested. I want to believe that the next book will be better…but given how limited my reading time is to begin with, I can’t justify reading the sequel either.
Thea: 5 – Meh
Ana:5 – Meh