Sunday, June 24, 2012

Answering Review Request: "Talented" by Sophie Davis

I read Talented as part of a GoodReads group. It's marketed as a science fiction intrigue but the main focus is a love triangle. My review will be split into five categories: plot, characters, world building, polish, and overall. Following will be my bottom line and recommendation. Be warned that there may be spoilers but I will do my best to avoid them.

1. Plot
The start is good: an attack on Elite Headquarters that turns out to be a mere hazing to the pledge hunters carried out by the full fledged hunters. Its dramatic and exciting and it pulled me in. The next scene is a tender moment for Natalia (the protagonist) and Donavon (her boyfriend). This is also good because it transitions nicely from the reveal and allows for teasing from her teammates, setting up a sibling-like dynamic with them.
The first seven chapters are great. There's swift character develop, plenty of non-intrusive world building, some romance between Natalia and Donavon, and comedy relief from Erik. The next seven chapters drag. There is no more world building, Natalia's relationship with Donavon takes up more screen time, and a lot of nothing goes on before the first mission begins.
The first mission itself wasn't bad. A new team with a pledge team member isn't going to get the most exciting mission. This is realistic and reasonable; a good choice. Erik's actions at the end are surprising and provide a Chekhov's gun for later use.
It's after the first mission that I have issues with this book. The plot dissolves into relationship drama and anything involving The Coalition ( the bad guys) slips into the background. Their next missions aren't developed in the slightest. 'went off without a hitch' is their entirety. It is at this point that the reader will notice the lack of a driving conflict.
The Coalition is scantly developed: anti-talented group that took over seven states in the backstory. There's nothing else about them. The Agency, for its world building, is sparse about its activities. Hunters 'hunt' information and people but what kind of information is ambiguous and what kind of people is implied to be protestors.  Though this DOES serve a purpose in the plot it doesn't help the lack of direction in this area which contributes to the over exposure of the relationship drama. The following chapters see this trend continue;  hunter missions becomes subordinated to set up more relationship conflict. I feel Miss. Davis was bored by the stable Natalia/Donavon and exploited it for conflict.
Chapter twenty four is a breath of fresh air. It has a detailed mission with suspense and hints at a dark side of The Agency. However, as soon as the mission is over, the relationship conflict resumes dominance. It's like the start except Natalia is cuddling with someone besides Donavon.
The final arc I really like.
For starters the stakes are high: it's a mission that determines whether or Natalia can graduate from the hunter academy and become a full fledged hunter. Since she is a telepaths and telepaths don't normally become hunters her reputation and that of her team captain and her adoptive father/boss are riding on her performing well.
There's plenty of detail in her actions and what she has to do to succeed. She makes mistakes but is able to improvise. She feels guilt over using mind manipulation. There's suspense and a clash with the Big Bad of the Coalition, Mr. Crane. It has the excitement of a climax but it doesn't resolve anything. I would have liked to see Natalia go back to Elite Headquarters for her graduation because that was how the book started; her starting her pledge year.

2. Characters

Like the plot, the characters start off great. Natalia is a Nice Girl who takes her missions seriously but not obsessively and makes time for non-hunter related things like dates with Donavon. Eric is established as a funny charmer who girls swoon over and Henri as their Reasonable Authority Figure captain. Later, Penny is brought in as a quirky sociable friend for Natalia and works well as her foil. Like the plot, it sours.
Natalia comes off as schizophrenic because in one scene she's 100 percent focused on being a hunter and avenging her parents and then in the next she's pining after Erik or feeling guilty about pinning after Erik because her boyfriend is Donavon.
Erik shifts from being a funny charmer to a jealous angst guy that clashes with Donavon. At the start he goes to the city every other night for a one night stand and then after the first mission he's serious about Natalia and no mention of him looking for chicks is ever made again.
Henri is pushed to the sidelines because he doesn't have relationship trouble. Penny's purpose (until the climax) is reduced to teasing/pushing Natalia toward Erik. Donavon goes from a Nice Guy to a jerkass to borderline evil.
From chapter seventeen to twenty four the sole focus is a love triangle of Erik/Natalia/Donavon and triggered by Erik bandaging the wounds Natalia received on the first mission. She's lived with him for an extended period of time and yet suddenly she's distracted by his eyes and chest, etc. I wouldn't mind if the conflict weren't so generic. Donavon is her childhood friend that she feels safe with and Erik is a ladykiller that excites her with good looks. It's 'comfortable vs thrilling'.

3. World Building

This part is my favorite. Miss. Davis obviously put a lot of thought in this world and how it would work. Entire chapters early on are dedicated to explaining the source of Talents or how The Agency works or the origin of The Coalition. Best of all, the exposition is slotted into its own, brief, chapters; no 'as you know' between Natalia and someone else.
My personal favorite is the Mandatory Testing Act, more broadly known in fiction as a 'Superhuman Registration Act'. Unlike many examples this one has been in effect for one hundred years and become a fundamental part of society.
However, there is one problem. The origin of talents is explained by nuclear waste leaking into oceans and soil and thereby mutating it, yet scientists in the same chapter claim the can't find a mutation that could cause talents. Unless the true origin of talents or finding the specific mutation is a plot point then there is a contradiction in her premise.

4. Polish

The book looks unpolished. Words are missing semi-frequently. Commas are overused. Sentence structure is bland and could use trimming.

5. Overall

After completing the book I feel Miss Davis wanted to write a romance but wanted to rope in a Periphery Demographic by including super powers and CIA-like missions. There's nothing wrong with that but you have to deliver. About 80 percent of the story is Natalia's relationship problems. Only three missions receive any development and the first two are completed in pages.  Romance might like it but everyone else should stay far away.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Talented" an F.

Click here for the next review request: Be Paranoid, Be Prepared

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