Sweet Unrest

Sweet Unrest

This is another unplanned review. It turns out that I picked up an ARC of its sequel on Netgalley the other day so figured that it was probably best to take a little look at this one first!

Sweet Unrest was written by Lisa Maxwell and first published in 2014. It’s a Southern Gothic novel which focuses on a teenage girl discovering the source of her strange dreams. The book forms the first part of the Sweet Unrest series and is followed by Gathering Deep (2015).

Lucy Aimes never wanted to move to New Orleans. She had her life pretty much figured out and her parents’ sudden decision to move south to help excavate an old plantation really squashed her dream to become a professional photographer. Lucy only came with her parents on one condition – if she’s good and helpful they will allow her to move back to Chicago after the Summer holiday.

Yet the plantation has a strange effect on Lucy. She has always had strange dreams about drowning but now they are filled with strange places and people that she seems to know, despite having never met. Central to all these dreams is the handsome socialite Alex and his relationship with Armantine, a photographer’s assistant.

When Lucy meets a Voodoo priestess by the name of Mama Legba, she comes to learn that dreams are just memories of previous lives. It is not long before she starts seeing Alex around the plantation and realises that his lingering presence is a mystery that can only be solved in her dreams. Yet focusing on the past is dangerous. By focusing on Armantine’s life, she could put her own and any future existences in jeopardy.

I’ll begin with a short word of warning. Due to a couple of gory scenes, Sweet Unrest may not be suitable for younger teens. While these murders are not shown on page and are not particularly central to the story, they still contain a bit of violent imagery and so you might want to have a flip through this book and judge for yourself before you give it to anyone under the age of fourteen.

With that out of the way, Sweet Unrest is a well written novel that contains a lot of very interesting ideas. Although I wouldn’t strictly call it a horror story, the Southern setting and use of Hoodoo magic give it an atmosphere that is more than a little creepy. This is a world where curses are real; where people line their doors with brick dust to keep out evil gribblies and photographs can be used to capture the soul.

I’ll admit that the story didn’t immediately grab me. The book was a little slow in finding its feet and I struggled to get through the first hundred pages. However, as the story began to focus more on Lucy’s dreams, the plot thickened and I found myself very curious to find out what was really going on. While I did feel that some aspects of the mystery were too well signposted (I’m not entirely sure how it took Lucy 70% of the novel to figure out what her connection to Armentine is when Mama Legba all but tells her this in chapter four), there was enough left in the shadows to make me want to finish the book and discover exactly what became of Alex and Armentine in the past.

While the plot of the novel was largely sound, I did feel that it lost a little cohesion towards the end. There were just a couple of aspects that didn’t seem to come together that well. Most of this problem can just be expressed by the word “why”. I’m not sure exactly why Thisbe took such an interest in Alex. It seems that she could have picked virtually anyone for what she had planned. I just don’t understand why it was him in the end. I’m also not entirely sure how the murders tied in with the plot. I know that they emphasised how bad Thisbe’s magic was – dark stuff which drew its power from sacrifice in contrast to Mama Legba’s Voodoo which was centred in balance – but I’m not entirely sure why the murders had to happen. They didn’t seem to tie in with any particular curses that were laid. They just sort of…occurred.

I also feel that I should talk about the ending a little, though I will do so without spoilers. The conclusion of this novel was a little unexpected. Part of me appreciated this. Paranormal romances have a tendency to end happily ever after. The couple will embrace their differences, break curses, both chose to become vampires or generally find a way that that they can overcome the odds and be together. Sweet Unrest isn’t this kind of story and this was quite a refreshing change. I won’t reveal what happens to you but I’ll just say that it doesn’t end well.

While I did appreciate that the author tried to break the mould here, it just didn’t feel that satisfying. The novel hinged on a romance that transcended life and death. This theme built steadily of the course of the story. When an author spends so much time focusing on a single relationship, “and they lived happily ever after” is really the only satisfying conclusion. To end the novel on a downer just made me feel a little like I’d wasted my time in reading it – that the story was all build up and no pay off. I’m sure that some people will like this bittersweet ending but it just wasn’t for me.

My biggest issue with the story was its characterisation. There were a couple of secondary characters that I did find interesting. Mama Legba is simply fantastic and I appreciate how the author used her to show the positive side of Voodoo. I would have also liked to have learned more about Piers as his sudden appearance in the climax revealed that he has some deeper involvement in the mystery (though perhaps this will be explored in the sequel).

My problem purely lies in the fact that I could not see Lucy and Alex as a couple. From the time that Lucy first sees him, she is instantly in love with him (as you may remember, insta-love is one of my personal pet hates in young adult literature) yet I never really got a feel for why. I know they have their history and it’s a case of the two of them being destined together but I still don’t feel it.

A lot of their romance occurs off-page. There’s no real sense of a passage of time and so I’m not even sure how quickly Alex and Armentine fell in love. It could have been over a number of months or it could have just been days. We never really get to see them talking or doing anything more than sitting by a pond together and then suddenly Alex wishes for them to marry? I’m sorry but I just need a little more than this to become invested in a relationship.

In present day, the situation is a stage worse again. Lucy knows that she’s experiencing Armentine’s feelings in her dream and yet still quickly falls for Alex herself. Lucy, seriously, you know him even less than Armentine does. What is it about this slightly-controlling, hot tempered socialite that just attracts everyone? He doesn’t even really have much of a personality beyond lamenting over his lost love. It just felt to me that there was nothing at all between them and that all aspects of their relationship were utterly forced.

All in all, this wasn’t the novel for me. I was a little disappointed as I really enjoy Gothic settings and felt that the quality of writing and general tone of this novel showed real promise. Unfortunately, the mystery didn’t conclude in a very satisfying way and I just couldn’t buy into the relationship between the two protagonists. I’m vaguely curious to see where this story will go next, so look out for my review of Gathering Deep later this month.

Sweet Unrest can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Vampire Diaries: The Fury / The Reunion | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: Gathering Deep | Arkham Reviews

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