This review was originally posted on Medium.
My love for fantasy YA novels knows no bounds, as my Harry Potter addiction can attest, so when I received the opportunity to review a fantasy YA novel with a female protagonist, I jumped on it. A few things that you should know about Unraveling by Sara Ella from the onset:
It’s book two of the Unblemished trilogy
The premise is that there are 7 different worlds that are linked and are variant echos of each other (Reflections) which are governed by two major power sources: the Verity, a source of light, and the Void, a source of darkness
The relative size of each Reflection is roughly the same size of the NYC area (boroughs and all)
Each world includes people with magical abilities, or Callings, but they are only open about their abilities within a few of these Reflections
There are 7 Callings: Amulet, Scribe, Shield, Mask, Mirror, Ever, Magnet
You should definitely read book one, Unblemished first - it would be quite confusing otherwise
Unraveling begins approximately two months after the ending of Unblemished. The lead character, Eliyana, is facing difficulties with her new leadership responsibilities and has conflicting feelings about the guy she’s pined for during the past few years and a guy she’s only recently met. However, the largest obstacle in her newfound role is the frightening changes occurring to people’s Callings, and those plotting to use this to their advantage.
As Eliyana, or El, as she prefers to be named, works to solve why the Callings are disappearing, one by one, we see her revert back to the self-doubt she exhibited in the first book. She has always been a loner and when she feels other’s expectations, she wants to avoid disappointing them. Her journey towards regaining self-confidence is tied to her and people’s diminishing powers but it is also a vehicle for the reader to examine the issues faced by women in leadership positions. El is only one of the leaders that we see in this series and is the leader who has most recently come into power. It is interesting that her male peers have either been trained to lead their whole lives or have taken on responsibility over time so that leadership is familiar to them. Yet, El is constantly comparing herself to their abilities and often doubts whether she has what it takes to fix a problem that she feels is her fault.
El’s plight is a great example of the Imposter syndrome that researchers have explored, especially when it comes to young women who are flexing skills that they are unfamiliar with. Fortunately, her instincts - to go to the library and learn as much as she can directly from experts, even if they are people she has been at odds with in the past, are exactly what’s needed. In fact, it is when El disregards her instincts, especially when she sees red flags, that she or someone she loves ends up in peril. Unraveling does a great job of depicting women’s leadership by showing us women in power in addition to El, in the form of the story’s primary antagonist, the Fairy Queen.
The author’s foreshadowing in the first book, Unblemished, comes into play in this book. These come in the form of the origin of the Verity and the Void, the parentage of one of Eliyana’s love interests, and a few tertiary characters having more to them than meets the eye.
While the author excels in crafting a well-organized plot led by characters’ motivations, I would be remiss if I did not bring up a few issues that I have with the portrayals of people of color in this series. Namely, that one of the few identifiable people of color in the series so far meets their untimely demise pretty early, another character could easily be coded as a ‘Mammy’ stereotype, and one event near the end feels eerily reminiscent of Rue’s death in The Hunger Games.
Despite these issues, I look forward to reading the conclusion of the series and learning the answers to the still unravelled threads to this story. What do we still have left to learn about these worlds? Who will Eliyana choose? Will she come to recognize her true powers on her own? Will we finally meet the dragons that keep being hinted?
Perhaps there is truly more than meets the eye when it comes to the story arcs of the people of color in this series and how the author answers the questions above and more. I anticipate this in the final book of the series, Unbreakable, which is scheduled for release in 2018.