I am going to review these three books as one story, since each book is very short and flows into the other seamlessly.
These books follow the story of our young teenage protagonist Arelia as she accepts her powers as a voodoo queen and struggles to fight against dark powers and curses at the stately Darkwood Plantation set just outside New Orleans. There’s love, spirits and magic, and one very annoying blonde best friend.
This book has a very teenage voice, which I suppose is appropriate considering that it’s written from the first person point of view of a teenager. While I tried to adjust to this voice, it often made me feel like I was trapped inside of a car with a gaggle of teenage girls who just won’t stop talking. This feeling can be, as you might guess, rather annoying. Each book reads as if a girl is sitting right next to you telling the story, which leaves little to the imagination and takes away from the plot considerably. I also wasn’t happy to see the immense amount of pop culture references, from Lady Gaga to The Nightmare Before Christmas. Each reference took me out of the story and made me feel disappointed in the author.
I didn’t care for the two female characters, Arelia the protagonist and Sabrina her vapid blonde friend. Both have their interesting life details, yet they are stuck with one-dimensional personalities with a flair for the annoying. Sabrina is a self-obsessed rich girl with abandonment issues and Arelia is a self-deprecating poor girl with self-esteem issues. If you didn’t pick up on these things naturally through character development, the author helps out by telling you outright.
Not only does she talk outright about her many “issues”, but Saito has Arelia explaining everything to us rather than letting the story play out:
“Whatever you say,” I said reluctantly.
I knew I was more anxious than usual tonight because I wanted to look good. I wanted to be noticed, and I knew by exactly who. Although I felt beyond guilty for wanting what or who I did, I couldn’t help the way I felt. I wanted Lucus, and I wasn’t afraid to admit that anymore.
Okay, so theoretically I was trying to be all confident, but I knew that when I actually saw him, I’d probably say something stupid. – Excerpt from Punished
Saito needs to learn the great art of subtlety—not everything needs to be blatantly told to the readers and she needs to learn that we are smart enough to follow along without her hand-holding. As I read this book one of the first rules of writing rang in my head over and over: Show, Don’t Tell.
That said, I read all three books and genuinely enjoyed them. I even found them somewhat addicting. While Saito’s pace is incredibly fast (Arelia is always in conversation with someone and something dramatic is always happening) it does keep the story moving and kept my attention throughout all three. She’s good at leaving cliff hangers and I was always left wanting more of the story.
Which brings me to what I liked: the story. Saito’s characters may be flat, annoying, and unlikable, but her story is incredible. She dabbles with mythology and magic while setting her story in (obviously fictionalized) history. Much of the story involves Haitian voodoo spirits, which Saito did her homework on instead of making up (I was happy to find) and slavery.
She also has a great way with sensory details, focusing primarily on food, which always captures my attention and praise. After reading these books all I wanted to do was go straight to New Orleans and eat everything Saito mentions in her books.
The fourth book in this series (Oppressed) is not yet available, but I can tell you that I will read it and probably the rest of the series. I do wish she wrote this series as a trilogy, however, and that she get herself a better editor. I believe these books, given more time and editing, could be something really impressive.