**Copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review.
Nadija Fey is weeks away from graduating college and is eager to escape small city-life. She feels suffocated by her eccentric Slovak family, an abusive ex-boyfriend and a drug addicted childhood friend. To her, life seems empty, lonely and stale. The only consolation she has, is a dream to move to Prague and start a new life. Despite her grandmother’s warnings, and the pleas of friends and family to stay, she embarks on her journey to find herself. But to her dismay, Prague seems to harbor more pain and suffering than she anticipated. She is forced to accept a life she would have never chosen for herself—a life her grandmother fought desperately to shield her from. Nadija quickly finds herself caught in a celestial world struggling to maintain its delicate balance—a balance contingent on her acceptance of her destiny. And though she finds the love she has always desired, it comes with and awful price—her life. In the first of her epic thirteen book series, author Rebekah Armusik captivates the reader with rich language and colorful characters. In Memoirs of a Gothic Soul, Armusik successfully redefines the Gothic novel and resurrects the sensuality, mysticism, and allure of the classic vampire with an unexpected twist.
This is another hard one for me to review. I think what it comes down to is that I liked the story but not necessarily the storytelling. In Armusik’s debut novel, she creates an interesting world and premise: a young woman, tired of feeling out of place and, at one time, powerless, in a small town in Pennsylvania, hops a plane to Prague to start a new life, continue her research on vampire folklore, and, ultimately, fulfill a destiny she never knew she had. With its interesting vampire mythology rooted in biblical legend and a storyline ripe with potential, I had high hopes for Memoirs of a Gothic Soul. Unfortunately, the storytelling kept me at arms length and prevented me from connecting with the characters.
One of the book’s strongest elements is its vampire origin story. Armusik provides biblical roots to the vampire creation myth which points to a very complicated relationship between vampires and God. In traditional Gothic tales, the vampire is a creature of Hell. In Armusik’s world, they are creatures of Heaven banished to Earth to live immortally alongside mankind. There is rich material here for conflict both in terms of physical battle but also in terms of more weighty issues like good vs. evil, faith and belief, and the like. This world is interesting and dynamic. Armusik sets up a fantastic supernatural backstory in which to drop her heroine, Nadija Fey.
Another strong point of the novel is the story arc for Nadija. She goes from powerless to powerful over the course of the book. I connected with the idea of a young woman finding herself in a foreign land, of moving away from the expected and immersing herself in an unfamiliar world only to find both romance and terror there. Great ideas are at play. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t connect with Nadija personally and I felt this way for several reasons. First, Nadija’s voice is very formal. There are quite a few lines like this:
I must have fallen asleep with my book in my hand, for it was resting upon my stomach.
A young woman, barely in her 20s, in a contemporary novel, just doesn’t speak like this. It came across as stiff and forced. Nadijia also rarely spoke in contractions which enhanced this formal voice, making it feel less conversational and more distancing. I get that Nadijia is an old soul but she came across as pretentious and overwritten. For instance,
I feared the staleness that was settling in – the ominous familiarity that brought with it regret and certainty. Although I hated uncertainty – the weakness and frailty that moved one’s mind to the center of an argument – I hated certainty in my future more. I wanted my life to romantically unravel to reveal itself in small portions that were easily digested. My life, if it continued here, would be revealed quickly and with certainty – a most unpalatable dish.
There are great moments in that passage but I needed to read it a couple of times to get to the meat of it.
Also, I felt there was a lot of telling and not a lot of showing. We know Nadija is intelligent mainly because she keeps telling us. Yet she puts herself in several situations that I find lack evidence of deeper thought. I don’t want to give too much away but there is work to be done with Nadija’s great grandmother who has to show her, and prepare her, for her destiny. There should be more scenes where we actually see her learning, training and becoming this new woman. We don’t. The few scenes we have don’t feel central to Nadija’s character development. At a key moment in a pivotal scene when she has to prove herself to a council of supernaturals, Nadija has a surprise. What happens in that scene should not have been a surprise to the reader. Her self-discovery should have been a journey the reader was privy to, where we see her growth and are not told about it.
Finally, the romance in the book is a cornerstone of the story. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the chemistry between the characters. It felt like they were together only because they were prophesied to be soulmates. There was lust, but I didn’t feel any deeper connection than that.
This book has gotten rave reviews on Goodreads so I know it’s been well-received by other reviewers. For myself, I think there are good ideas here. This is the author’s first book and I plan on reading the next in the series to see if the issues I have with it have ironed themselves out. Unfortunately, with Memoirs of a Gothic Soul, I just couldn’t connect enough with the characters or the storytelling to give it a high recommendation.