Friday, October 12, 2012

Lost Boys, Halflings, Outcasts

Book 1

By Heather Burch
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

After being inexplicably targeted by an evil intent on harming her at any cost, seventeen-year-old Nikki finds herself under the watchful guardianship of three mysterious young men who call themselves Halflings. Sworn to defend her, misfits Mace, Raven, and Vine battle to keep Nikki safe while hiding their deepest secret—and the wings that come with.

A growing attraction between Nikki and two of her protectors presents a whole other danger. While she risks a broken heart, Mace and Raven could lose everything, including their souls. As the mysteries behind the boys’ powers, as well as her role in a scientist’s dark plan, unfold, Nikki is faced with choices that will affect the future of an entire race of heavenly beings, as well as the precarious equilibrium of the earthly world.

Halflings has me a bit torn. You could say I'm half-and-half with this one. On the one hand there were characters I loved, mysteries and questions that had me hooked, and twists I never saw coming. Unfortunately there were also cliché situations, demeaning language, and parts that felt religiously preachy. So I guess I'll just start at the beginning and see what you think.

There are a lot of characters to go over, but the main focus is only on three: our narrators and points of the love-triangle, Nikki, Mace, and Raven.

Nikki is arguably the main character, seeing as the majority of the book is in her perspective. She's your typical pretty but doesn't know it, strong but unsure, karate master and artist, 'normal' female teenager. In other words, she can handle herself in normal situations but once the paranormal shows up she needs to learn how to be taken care of.

Which is where Mace and Raven come in. Both are half-angel, half-human, but as far as attitude is concerned, they're on opposite sides of the spectrum. Mace is the by-the-book guy. He's given orders, he follows them to the letter. Raven is the cliché bad boy with the heartbreaking backstory. Both think they have Nikki's best interests in mind, and both go about their separate ways of trying to protect her.

Now, to the author's credit, Nikki isn't completely helpless for the entirety of the book. I'll admit I had my doubts, starting with the quote leading in to the first chapter:
The sons of God saw that the daughters
of humans were beautiful, and they married
any of them they chose.

Genesis 6:2
...Okay then. I'll go more into the religious points later, but this was Follow that gem up with Nikki passing out what seemed like ten times in the first five chapters, continually being hunted/stalked (not only by bad guys), and never playing an active role in her plot (a lot happens, but none of it stems from her choices), and I really had my doubts.

On the other hand, Nikki did have her moments of strength. She does manage to fight on her own at a couple critical points, she decides to take control in her romantic relationships, and the final choice in the book does ultimately come down to her.

Unfortunately, in the larger scheme of things, these moments were fairly insignificant, so I can't really call Nikki a heroine as much as a damsel. I think she has potential in later books (at least I hope so) to become more of an active role in her own story, but as far as Book 1 is concerned, not so much.

In fact, I'd say the more interesting stories of the book were about Mace and Raven. Even the tag on the front cover is about them:
What if following your heart
meant losing your soul?

Being Halflings, they are bound to an EXTREMELY strict and arguably unfair code of conduct. Halflings are decendants of fallen angels mating with humans in the hopes of tainting all human blood lines. Not good in the eyes of Heaven. So they're not only outcasts of Heaven, but Earth as well. They're offered these missions to fight the forces of evil as a sort of penance for existing. If they die while carrying out their duties, they might be accepted into Heaven. However, if their souls become too blackened, aka if they partake in sin, they eventually start working for the other team. And in their case, sin also includes falling in love (and acting upon it) with a human.

This is the crux of both Mace and Raven's issues. Mace, the straight-laced, golden boy of this team of Halflings, suddenly finds himself in love with Nikki. Sure, it's one of those cheesy love-at-first-sight deals, but at least it's still interesting to watch him struggle with his temptation. As much as he wants to protect her and make her happy, allowing himself to love (and be loved) would doom them both.

Raven, on the other hand, has a different issue altogether. He's already discovered the futility of their situation and is teetering on the edge of destruction. When he meets Nikki, he's suddenly intrigued. There's something special about her, and he's determined to find out what, even if it does mean fighting off the darkness a little longer. I don't know if his interest ever really turns as romantic as we're led to believe, but I hope he and his story continues to be riveting. (Can you tell he's my favorite?)

Now, if you'll excuse me a moment, I feel like I have to give one of the minor characters some MAJOR props. Krissy is Nikki's best friend. You wouldn't know it from the time they spend together in this book, but they've apparently been besties for quite a while. At first, I hated Krissy for pushing the super-girly route on Nikki, because, please, you're only pretty if you dress the part. But when Nikki started getting the attention of these three (or at least two) super hawt guys, Krissy never once became a vindictive witch. A small feat? Not in YA lit these days. So thank you, Krissy. More minor BFFs should aspire to be like you. But I digress.

I mentioned earlier that I found some of the writing to be a bit preachy. This was mostly in terms of religion. I know that when dealing with Heaven, Hell, angels, demons and whatnot, you have to explain your world and all the rules therein. But more times than not, I felt talked down to. Whether it was because of my own beliefs, or because I'm female, I continually had a hard time feeling accepted in this world.

For example, going deeper into the mythology behind the Halflings, they mention that all angels are male, such that very, very few Halflings are female. Wait, why are there no female angels? Is it because females are impure, or just because having love & reproduction among angels would be too complex?

Furthermore, because of the whole temptation/falling to evil thing among the Halflings, love is seen as a bad thing, an inconvenience, a torture.

Um...what?! does that even work?! I mean, we're dealing with angels, God, and holy beings here—so how does Love equal bad? I get the difference between Love and Lust, I do, but Lust is NEVER mentioned. Not once. So that's not the fear factor here.

Again, according to the mythology, Halflings are forbidden from perpetuating the tainting of the human bloodline through mating. What this says to me is in this world, Love automatically equals having offspring. Not having babies? You're not in love. No same-sex couples, no impotent couples, no couples using birth control. Love equals babies, no ifs ands or buts.

And despite all that...I'm going to keep reading this series. I feel like, because all the characters see the fallacies and unfairness of the system, they have no choice but to fix it. I honestly can't see any of these characters, including Nikki, lying down and being happy with how things are. I just can't. And since rebellion is brought up multiple times in the course of the story, I can only hope that means a change in the future. I'll let you know next week when I finish book two, Guardian.

So, overall I'd say I enjoyed Halflings as a start to a series. As with most books about angels, sin and such, it's going to be polarizing, so I can see a lot of people being put off on that front. It has a few other issues here and there, but on the whole I found the potential to outweigh the flaws. No language or sex to worry about, but it does get rather graphic in some of the fight scenes. Based on the violence and the nature of some situations, I'd recommend it for high school and above. At the very least an interesting character study, join the war of Good vs Evil and those caught in between in Halflings.

Approximate Reading Time: 5.5 Hours