Everless was first published in 2018 and is Sara Holland’s debut novel. It is a fantasy story about a girl trying to find out about her past in a world where time really is money. The book forms the first part of a planned series, though at the time of writing no future instalments have been announced.

For over five hundred years, time in the land of Sempera has been bound to blood. Coins are made from blood iron, and the process of extracting it comes at the cost of a person’s remaining life span. The result is that the rich can live for centuries, but the poor are forced to bleed themselves to death to afford their rent.

Realising that her father will soon run out of time, Jules Ember accepts a job as a maid at Everless – the sprawling estate of the Gerling family. The Gerling heir, Roan, is due to be wed to Ina Gold – the adopted daughter of the Queen – and so extra staff are needed to prepare for the big event. Yet for Jules, Everless is filled with danger. As a child, she witnessed Roan’s brother Liam commit an unforgivable crime and, if he recognises her, Jules knows that he will stop at nothing to ensure her silence.

However, Jules learns that there is also a great secret hidden within the city’s walls. The Lords and Ladies who live there can be cruel and unpredictable, but the Queen herself may be the worst of them all. Jules does not know if the rumours about her unnatural longevity are true, but slowly comes to realise that she might not be the only one in danger. The Queen’s previous heirs have all died in mysterious circumstances. Will Ina live long enough to take her place on the throne?

My opinions of Everless are a little mixed but I did think that it certainly showed a lot of promise for a debut novel. But, before I begin, perhaps I should address the one point that a lot of reviewers seem to be making. Yes, this book does share some core themes with the 2011 science fiction film, In Time. Both share the same enticing concept of lifespan as currency but, personally, I think that’s about where the similarities end. Beyond this, Everless is a very different story and certainly didn’t feel as though it was trying to emulate In Time. And, let’s be honest, this particular plot device wasn’t invented by In Time either.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the story. I personally felt that Everless’s strongest point was its ability to sustain a mystery. The novel was a bit of a slow-burner, especially over its middle section, but I found that I was never bored because I was so curious to see how the story was going to unfold. For everything that Jules uncovered about her past, she seemed to unearth more mysteries. Why does her father warn her to stay away from the Queen? What exactly happened to necessitate leaving Everless? Why does time sometimes slow down around her? Holland certainly knew how to stoke my curiosity and keep me turning the pages.

The concept of time as money was also used in a very interesting way. I really did like the idea that the currency was still a physical thing, forcing people to actually be bled by a trained person who could then create a pocket full of iron coins for them. However, beyond this, the system could also be abused in a number of interesting ways. Wandering bands of thieves would bleed their victims for their time, punishments would be dolled out by bleeding months from the guilty and the rich would dissolve coins into their tea in order to ingest more years. These were all really striking ideas that Holland used to great effect over the course of the novel.

However, I could not escape the fact that there was something off about the story. While the world building was interesting, I don’t think that Holland always expressed herself that well. A lot of details were delivered early in the novel by dense passages of exposition. While this is never the best way to furnish a reader with information, in this case it also didn’t seem to entirely make sense. The legend of the Sorceress and the Alchemist and the initial binding of blood to iron was particularly hard to follow. While I understand how the blood magic works, I still don’t feel 100% sure that I understand why (or how) the spell was cast in the first place.

I also didn’t feel that the novel had a very satisfying ending. The pace of Everless really picks up over the final fifty pages and ended in a brutal climax. I have to say that I found this ending particularly shocking – no spoilers here, but I did not really expect the author to go there – but after this moment passed it ended on a very sudden cliffhanger. While this isn’t the most jarring cliffhanger that I’ve ever grumbled about, I still didn’t think it was great. It felt almost as though the story just lost steam as Holland hastily tried to ensure that everything was wrapped up.

Yet my biggest issue with Everless was its characters. I found that I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Jules. In the first half of the novel, she went out of her way to avoid the typical young adult protagonist tropes, but unfortunately, she became more atypical over the second half of the story. Ultimately, she wound up as a bit of a snowflake – your typical orphaned nobody who turns out to be at the centre of everything – which is something that I find to be a little tiresome.

I also found Jules’s relationship with Roan to be incredibly frustrating. She knew him when she was seven and hadn’t seen him in ten years, but was still head-over-heels in love with him and fiercely jealous of poor, oblivious Ina. I personally found that her inability to see his flaws and endless fawning got irritating very quickly.

Jules also had a thoroughly annoying habit of asking for trouble. She belongs to the Bride of Bluebeard school of heroines – the ones that can’t take a hint and will blatantly ignore any warnings that they are given. The biggest shock of Everless was that she managed not to have been killed ten times over before the final chapter. If she makes it out of the sequel with all limbs intact, it will be a miracle.

Beyond Jules, the rest of the cast are bit variable. While I liked that fast that most of the key players are very strong female characters, it was disappointing that many only existed to serve a set purpose before they dropped out of the story. As Jules becomes one of Ina’s handmaidens, she leaves behind all of her friends in the kitchen and they never really get mentioned again. We also never see enough of the two young Gerlings. While Jules describes Roan as being a saint and Liam as a villain, they don’t get enough page time for the reader to determine how accurate this assessment is.

I think I’ve probably made my point. In all, Everless is far that perfect and suffers from some issues with structure and characterisation, but it’s important to remember that it is Holland’s first novel. I personally felt that it was a very strong debut with enough twists and turns to keep my attention throughout. I am very curious to see where Holland will take Jules’s story in the sequel.

Everless can be purchased as a Hardback, eBook or Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Raging Ones | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: Evermore | Arkham Reviews

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