Series: Sea of Ink and Gold, #1
Publisher: Putnam, September 2016
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Once there was, and one day there will be. This is the beginning of every story.
Sefia lives her life on the run. After her father is viciously murdered, she flees to the forest with her aunt Nin, the only person left she can trust. They survive in the wilderness together, hunting and stealing what they need, forever looking over their shoulders for new threats. But when Nin is kidnapped, Sefia is suddenly on her own, with no way to know who’s taken Nin or where she is. Her only clue is a strange rectangular object that once belonged to her father left behind, something she comes to realize is a book.
Though reading is unheard of in Sefia’s world, she slowly learns, unearthing the book’s closely guarded secrets, which may be the key to Nin’s disappearance and discovering what really happened the day her father was killed. With no time to lose, and the unexpected help of swashbuckling pirates and an enigmatic stranger, Sefia sets out on a dangerous journey to rescue her aunt, using the book as her guide. In the end, she discovers what the book had been trying to tell her all along: Nothing is as it seems, and the end of her story is only the beginning.
I wanted so badly to love The Reader. I always want to like debut novels, since I can only imagine the heart and soul that goes into each word. But Chee’s debut wasn’t for me,
Why? I was bored. The flashbacks were fun reads, but the action in the present didn’t grab me. I felt my mind wandering when Sefia’s aunt Nin was kidnapped, when she follows her trail on a rescue mission, even as she starts to learn to read. There wasn’t enough of Sefia to grab my attention.
I mentioned the flashbacks: those are the winners in the first pages. The heartbreaking narrative as Sefia discovers she’s an orphan, the numbness as she moves through the predetermined route to safety. It was stunning, but not enough to make up for the lack of character in the present Sefia.
I loved the introductory pages as Chee weaves a mythical, almost hypnotic description of a world without books, without readers. It felt engaging, fascinating. But The Reader didn’t live up to this narrative promise. It didn’t have that vibrancy, that urgency Sefia must have felt when she took off after her aunt. It didn’t leave my heart pounding, my mind frantic to find out just what the hell was going on.
The Reader isn’t bad, per se…it just isn’t all the way there. Without the urgency, the emotions, or a powerful protagonist, it fell flat. And after 50 pages, I didn’t want to go on.