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Review: Embrace by Jessica Shirvington

embrace jessica shirvington Review: Embrace by Jessica Shirvington

Most teenagers see each birthday as a rite of passage placing them further ahead on the track to adulthood. For Violet Eden, however, birthdays are a time of regret and mourning: Violet remains haunted by the loss of her mother, who died during childbirth. But seventeen years have passed since that day, and this birthday is destined to bring more than the requisite remorse and loneliness. Having turned seventeen, Violet is now a member of the Grigori, a part-human, part-angel consort whose job it is to keep the peace between these two races. Because angels arent quite the harps-and-halos lovelies theyre generally made out to be. And Violet is suddenly faced with a decision that will change her life forever

My thoughts

Angels are the new succubi are the new vamps, it seems. Fortunately Ive managed to steer clear of the vast majority of the mediocre paramundane stuff being pedalled by publishers far and wide, so while I did greet this one with a touch of scepticism, I didnt bring years of angelphobic baggage with me when I sat down to read it. Im not sure whether this had any bearing on this review, but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this debut. Yes, it ticks all of the YA paranormal boxes: drawn-out love triangle, brooding bad boy versus clean cut good boy, criminally negligent parent, chosen one in denial, ditzy-genius best friend, war between our world and another, and a good heaping of angst and (literally) self-sacrifice. Yes, its Twilight meets Buffy meets The Night Watch. But despite this, and despite the irritations upon which Ill extrapolate in a moment, its a highly enjoyable read.

Embrace is Jessica Shirvingtons debut, and its a commendable one. Shirvingtons writing is clean and assured, and occasionally beautifully vivid. Often first person books suffer from treating the reader in an overfamiliar manner, but Embrace doesnt suffer from this tendency in the slightest. In fact, while the teen voice comes through in the dialogue between characters such as Violet and her best friend Steph, its blessedly restrained, and generally utterly believable. Shirvington does take a slow-burn approach, though, and the result is a lot of beauty and not much plot. In fact, it takes a good quarter of the book for Violet to realise her status as a Grigori (derived from the Greek for Watcher, but very hard not to read as a Russian variant of Gregory, which makes for a giggle very now and then), and when all the prettiness is peeled back to expose the bones of the plot, well, needless to say that theres not that much on display. Still, other than the first quarter, the book doesnt feel slow, even though the journey being taken is largely an internal one (with the occasional angel slaughtering taking up a few pages here and there). One area where the prose-level sheen does feel ersatz, though, is in the setting: Shirvingtons characters live in some unnamed city in an unnamed (presumably western) country. This is a frustratingly common problem in paranormal YA, and Australian paranormal YA in particular. I know that publishers are worried about the perceived parochialism of heavily Australian works and how this will affect territorial sales, but its unsatisfying and awkward for the reader to have no grounding in terms of setting (for a YA paranormal that draws admirably on an Australian setting, see Van Badhams Burnt Snow).

The novel does involve some significant suspension of disbelief, and given that Im not a civil engineer, suspension isnt really my thing. There are a number of elements that I struggled with and couldnt quite reconcile, and while they didnt prevent me from enjoying what is, on the whole, a zippy and inconsequential read, they did cause me some hesitation. These elements ranged from plot points to whole characters, and were varyingly problematic. Perhaps the most hilarious of these is the fact that Violet tells her friend Steph about being a half-angel in a food court. Stephs response? Unquestioning belief. (Another gripe: the fact that someone born after 1990 is named Steph. All Stephs are 80s children) In terms of characters, Violets father was perhaps the weakest element, being little more than a walk-on character who parroted a few lines here and there. While were told that hes given himself over to his work in part to the grief he feels over his wifes death, his reported absence throughout Violets life is somewhat alarming. Then theres the strangely contradictory way in which he conducts himself when he is around: glaring at Violets male guest, who is innocently sipping coffee in the kitchen, but then happily leaving her in a drunken and rather wretched state with a stranger on a night club dance floor. The dazed way in which he schedules a solitary dinner with his daughter for the following week just feels awkward, as though his character is being stretched to fit the needs of the book. I cant help but wonder whether this situation might have worked better if Violet were a couple of years older and living on her own rather than being a teen shackled by the constraints of adolescence.

The male leads are problematic, too, and not least because they diametrically opposed. Good guy Lincoln is bland and uninspiring, and Violets adoration of him is difficult to comprehend. Bad boy Phoenix, on the other hand, is frankly a terrifyingly manipulative stalker who is not above a bit of sexual assault and emotional rape (literally). As a reader I find it hugely frustrating to keep coming across these sorts of characters, and to find that the female lead so inevitably falls for them. While Phoenix is revealed as a baddie in the end, his behaviour throughout the book is scarcely questioned, and I find this deeply concerning. And lets not even get started on the whole sacrificing oneself for a guy thing

The last area in which the book flails a little is in the heavy-handed use of symbolism (no doubt the name Violet Eden has tipped you off already). Violet, of course, has a sort of spectral persuasion, being able to engage all of her senses in a particular, unusual manner, and of course her surname has a biblical meaning. Phoenix is all about rebirth and renaissance, and (rather wincingly for the reader) apparently has the same beguiling taste of the forbidden apple. Biblical references abound, and the myriad epigraphs regularly skate over this territory (or I assume that they do, because I have a naughty tendency to skip them).


Personal gripes and narrative issues aside, Embrace is a surprisingly strong and eminently enjoyable read, and I whizzed through it despite my reservations. The fact that all of the above didnt destroy my enjoyment of the book says something about Shirvingtons ability to craft a neatly written and interesting tale, and Im curious to see where she takes the trilogy (hopefully Ill find out soon, as the lovely Hachette marketing department has informed me that the sequel is about to be released). While its not a perfect read by any means, its good enough to stand apart from the greasy buffet of the paranormal dogs breakfast, and theres a freshness and liveliness to it that makes it stick with the reader.

Rating: star Review: Embrace by Jessica Shirvingtonstar Review: Embrace by Jessica Shirvingtonstar Review: Embrace by Jessica Shirvingtonhalfstar Review: Embrace by Jessica Shirvingtonblankstar Review: Embrace by Jessica Shirvington (very good)

With thanks to Hachette Australia for the review copy

Purchase Embrace from Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA


  1. Angel-centric books are hit or miss for me. I think I read a few mediocre ones early on and kind of gave up on the genre, but this sounds interesting. Ill have to give the genre another try. Nice review!

  2. Stephanie /

    Thanks, Erin. The whole paranormal genre can be very hit or miss for meI find that the romance elements typically overshadow the rest of the book. It happens here, but theres enough interesting stuff going on that I think its possible to ignore it a bit. :)