Sourcebooks Fire: 400 pp., $16.99, ages 12 and up
If angels are the new vampires, then "Embrace" is a worthy follow-up to "The Twilight Saga." The kickoff to a new young adult series from debut author Jessica Shirvington has many of the same strengths — and flaws — as the Stephenie Meyer blockbuster with a heroine who doesn't understand her own strengths and becomes entangled in a complicated, steamy, love triangle.
"Embrace" opens on the eve of Violet's 17th birthday — a bittersweet occasion that overlaps with the anniversary of her mother's death. Violet knew her mom had died during childbirth. What she didn't understand was that her mother knew she would die and had prepared a gift and a cryptic, premonitory letter for Violet to open 17 years later, warning her of a "big decision" and encouraging her to "believe in the unbelievable" and "choose with [her] heart."
Violet, it soon becomes clear, is an angel of exceptional power. She just needs to embrace that destiny to fully realize it. And to do that, she must literally jump off a cliff.
Unbeknownst to Violet, her pairing with the self-defense expert with whom she was training, and falling in love, for two years wasn't accidental. The ridiculously gorgeous Lincoln had sought her out to complete a partnership deigned by the angels' ruling body, the Seraphim. Lincoln hadn't told Violet they were destined to be angel partners — or that consummating their attraction for one another was forbidden. She finds out by accident, and, as a result, becomes angry at Lincoln for his betrayal.
Violet's anger toward Lincoln is relentless but tinged with desire. It's also overblown since his reasons for secrecy were reasonable. This romantic meltdown is a critical plot point that propels Violet into the arms of another exceptionally desirable male who may or may not be good for her, but it also reveals the fatal flaw of "Embrace" — that Violet, who tells the story from her perspective, is somewhat unlikable.
Prone to swooning at the many smolderingly attractive male angels she meets, Violet is petulant, reactionary and overly emotional, which could very well endear "Embrace" to its intended young adult audience, but this is somewhat off-putting for more mature readers otherwise likely to enjoy this story about a young woman choosing her future in such a fantastical manner.
Shirvington has a terrific story to tell, and she does a great job of slowly unspooling a complicated plot involving angels at war, but her writing style lacks grace. Her description of an exiled angel named Phoenix as "pretty damn close to a perfect brooding hottie" demonstrates her lead character's liberal use of base, if modern, language and further undermines the book's literary aspirations.
Shirvington is at her creative best when detailing Violet's experiences as an angel. Whenever she senses the presence of Phoenix, she tastes apples and hears flapping wings. It's too bad that the flip side of her extrasensory powers creates the impression that Violet can barely control herself, least of all around angel men, all of whom are, like the vampires in "Twilight," significantly older than they appear.
There's quite a bit of scantily clad clubbing and some sexual content in "Embrace," but the descriptions are mostly PG. There are also some fairly grisly murder scenes, as dark angels attempt to establish their dominance by offing other angels, including those in Violet's circle.
"Embrace" isn't without its issues, but it's an interesting enough story that many readers will want to continue with the next installment to see how the intriguing love triangle evolves.