What if martyrs and saints lived among us? And what if you were told you were one of them?
Meet Agnes, Cecilia, and Lucy. Three lost girls, each searching for something. But what they find is Beyond Belief.
Pulseit is running a pretty cool promotion this month. They're offering 31 different YA books, one per day, to read on their site for free. You can also enter a drawing for each book, as well as the entire pack of 31. They have some interesting books on the list, as well as some bestsellers including Rot & Ruin, Wither, Uglies, and Clockwork Angel, so you may want to check out the list and free up your schedule a bit this month.
Yesterday's offering was this little gem called Precious Blood, accompanied only by the cover, 2-line description, and video seen above. Not much going for it, but it was free, the cover didn't look bad, and I had the time so I dusted off my Kindle and booted up the site. To Pulseit's credit, the website software ran exceptionally well on my Kindle Fire, giving me only a couple hiccups when I tried to highlight or go full-screen. Still, word-size, bookmarking, and page turning operated exactly like a normal e-book would, so I look forward to reading more e-books there this month.
On the downside, I absolutely hated this book.
Let's start with the characters. Agnes is a hopeless romantic who can't seem to agree with her mom on anything. She seeks true love, not love based on sex or beauty, but none of the guys she's dated seem to get that. Her mom, meanwhile, seems determined to set her up with a nice guy with financial security, but Agnes refuses to let money or safety play any factor into her true love. Geez, Mom, stop strangling her with concern for her future, why don't ya?
Lucy is a teenage pop superstar because...she's on all the blogs? Think Kardashian without any family, hardly any money, and no TV-show backing her. And yet she remains a pop sensation because she spills juicy secrets of the rich and famous to an independent blogger, who in turn makes sure she stays in the news. She has no family, no friends, and uses people to gain notoriety and fame, because that's what's really important.
Cecelia, sometimes known as CeCe, is a homeless rockstar runaway living hand to mouth. She's a hard rocker singer/songwriter guitarist who wants to put her message out there. She doesn't really care about fans or followers, just that her message and music gets heard. Also, she regularly buys food and alcohol for a homeless druggie writer friend that she found and took pity on. Random? Sure, but at least she's got something likeable about her.
All three girls each enter the picture after suffering near-death experiences: Agnes slits her wrists after a break-up; Cecelia drowns lying face-down in the street; and Lucy overdoses in the bathroom at a nightclub. You would think that nearly dying might mark a change in these girls lives, might set them on a path of self-improvement. Nope. This is how we are introduced to these selfishly awful characters (except for Cecelia). It's only after the three get drawn to a church and trapped there by a hurricane (and tornado?!) that they can undergo life-bettering changes.
But only because a guy helped them.
But putting aside that irksome plot point, I must say it was never the characters who had me invested, it was what or who they were going to become. And I'm sorry to say, I was never impressed with who they became. They went from self-centered, non-empathizing, downright bitchy teenage girls to bland, directionless husks. I guess they do change again at the very end of the book, but I'll get down to my gripes with that a bit later. For a book that has its whole plot resting on these characters, they were completely underwhelming.
I actually liked the three supporting male characters better than the main three girls. Sebastian is set up as a mysterious and troubled boy who may or may not have the best of intentions for the girls. Dr. Frey ends up being more important than he first appears, and for a time is the most interesting aspect in the story. Unfortunately, predetermined plot steps in and robs him of most of his intrigue. Jesse, the all-star blogger who works with Lucy, is a Class-A douchebag at first, but actually ends up gaining some redeeming qualities as the story progresses. He is by far the most normal and (in my opinion) realistically inspiring character in the entire book. Yes, even more than the titular Precious Bloods.
To make matters worse, writing was completely unpolished and stilted. You know how teachers, critics, and such harp continuously on "Show, don't tell"? Apparently that advice never made it to this manuscript. Characters are continuously having their emotions stated instead of acted out, blocks and blocks of dialog take place with absolutely no character actions accompanying them, and setting and character descriptions are presented at the beginning of each scene instead of as characters interact with them.
Take this scene at the very beginning of the book. Agnes has just been wheeled in to the ER following a failed suicide attempt:
"You're not allowed back in the trauma rooms," the nurse said to Martha, thinking it might be a good idea for her to cool off. "There's nothing you can do right now, so why don't you go home and get some fresh clothes for her?"Why do we need to know Martha's physical build as she watches her suicidal daughter get wheeled out of sight? Why are we told the nurse's inner thoughts one second, and then completely ignore her when it comes to noticing Martha's absence of tears? For that matter, how can the T-shirt be drenched but have 'some of it still wet' with blood and yet another part have dry blood?
Martha, a rail-thin woman with short black hair, nodded, eyes glazed over, as she watched her daughter disappear down the harshly bright hallway. The nurse stayed behind and handed Martha Agnes's drenched teal T-shirt. Some of it was still wet with bright red ooze, and part was already dried black and cracking as Martha folded it and crunched it in her arms.
There were no tears shed.
I don't expect every book to be perfect, but when problems repeat themselves consistently, I have to call sloppiness on the author/editors. The entire book is written in 3rd person, and is mostly limited to one character perspective per scene, and yet there are constant intrusions of other characters' private thoughts and observations into the narrative. We'll be focused on Agnes for the majority of a chapter, and then suddenly, in the middle of a paragraph, we'll get a sentence from Dr. Frey's perspective, then switch back instantly. Not only does this interrupt the intimacy we might have had with our main cast, but it throws out any mystery we might have had about other characters.
Truthfully, between the uninspired writing and the boring characters, I considered putting this book down multiple times. The main thing that kept me going was the thought, Perhaps if even these detestable girls can change for the better, it will make the religious message all that more poignant and universal. But the further and further I got, the more it felt like I was watching a train wreck. Which is possibly the best description of the religious actions in this book.
I can put aside the transgressions of the early-book versions of the characters. I figured that the farther they fell, the more glorious their forgiveness and change would be. But rather than being transformed through God's grace and forgiveness, these girls are literally burned, impaled, and blinded by the power of God/souls of saints. But if paranormal violence wasn't bad enough, there's loads of self-inflicted torture, threats of violence/death, and finally a Grindhouse-style deathmatch performed by our hero and heroines.
I kid you not. These three SAINTS, reincarnations of martyred women, go to town on a group of men at the end of this book. Decapitation, impaling on a guitar, blinding with boiling wax, strangulation with hair, stilettos in the groin, bashing an aspergillum through a man's teeth and drowning him by pouring three buckets of water down his throat. But it's okay, guys, cause they're fighting EVIL. Okay, I'll admit that I don't completely begrudge the girls for kicking some ass in self-defense—it's not like the men weren't trying to rape and kill them, after all—but seriously, what kind of message was the author trying to send here? And even if the message was a great one (which I'm not saying it was), how the hell did we switch to Grindhouse-gore at the 90% mark, after absolutely, positively NO lead-up whatsoever?????
Also, enjoy this NSFW passage that had me cracking up and disturbed all at the same time:
He grabbed her wrist.You really want the context? Fine. Sebastian is trying to clean Agnes's wrist wounds left from her attempted suicide. Was any of that necessary?
Held it firmly.
She tensed up.
"Relax," he said. "Trust me."
"I'm afraid," she said.
"Close your eyes."
Agnes closed her eyes slowly and took a deep breath.
She surrendered completely to him. She was at his mercy.
Sebastian wiped the oil from his fingers onto her wound.
He was inside of her.
Agnes quietly moaned.
He caressed her milky soft skin and held her hand while he worked on her. She was so delicate and...touchable.
"No," she blurted out, pulling away slightly.
"It's okay," he said, trying to calm her.
Overall, Precious Blood disappointed, agitated, and ultimately made me glad of all the other books I have at my disposal. If you're looking for a religiously-themed YA novel with kickass female protagonists and lots of violence, I'd recommend skimming the majority of the book and skipping to the last two chapters. Besides the ultra-violence and attempted rape at the end, it also contains attempted suicide, a few f-bombs, alcohol and drug references as well as the sexually charged passage above, so I'd say high school and up could probably tolerate this best. If this book was an attempt to make religion 'look cool', I'm either too square to get the message or the book simply failed in its mission. In either case, I will not be returning to Precious Blood or its series in any foreseeable future, and I highly suggest giving it a try only in cases of extreme curiosity or boredom.
Approximate Reading Time: 6 hours
Disclaimer: I read an e-copy of this book for free via Simon & Schuster Inc./SimonTeen's 31 Days of Reading promotion on their website, PulseIt.com. I received nothing in exchange for this review.