So, I’ll be the first to tell you that I have really dropped the ball lately, not making a single post on this blog in about two months. In fact, I’ve done terribly, and I feel no small amount of guilt about it. I can assure you that I definitely have a list of very good excuses, and they are all true (a serious plus!), but I won’t bore you with those details right now. Instead, I will just say “I’m sorry,” and get on with the review.
Two weeks ago, R.F. Dunham and I reviewed the book Kingsley by another Virginia author,
Ms. Carolyn O’Neal of Charlottesville. Overall, it was a fantastic read, and you can get R.F.’s take on it HERE, and you can listen to our review on episode 6 of The Wrambling Writers Podcast. Now to my take…
(Final Grade is mean average of each category)
Storyline: Let’s just say that when I read the back cover of the book, I was intrigued. When I dove in, I was hooked. The story starts off just a tad bit slow with the protagonist (who the book is named after), Kingsley Smith, helping his crush, Amanda, and her father to examine wildlife specimens in the tidewater region of Virginia. For a plot driven by environmental science, this is the place where the science “hits you over the head” the most. To be perfectly honest, I was deeply worried by the end of the first chapter that I had gotten myself into a sermon in which the virtues of being “environmentally conscious” would be preached from atop a soapbox.
Boy, was I wrong, and pleased to be so.
Once I got through the first chapter, the plot moves forward at a steady clip, and Ms. O’Neal’s pacing throughout was flawless. Some things happen, caused by the pollution of the environment, and a disease progresses from reptiles and amphibians to mammals. Eventually, the entire male sex is threatened, including Kingsley, and it becomes a race against time (and technology) to save the fourteen-year-old boy’s life.
Needless to say, the storyline was fantastic. Overall, I’d have to give it five stars for the storyline.
Characters: Again, Ms. O’Neal’s talent shines through. There are multiple characters who were fantastically developed, and each one feel’s real. From Kingsley’s whining to Amanda saying “My name is Amanda Santos Sutherland, so my initials are A.S.S., and don’t you forget it!,” every character seems to be jumping off the page to sit right beside me.
Admittedly, I found Kingsley to be a bit childish for a fourteen-year-old, which I consider a bit of a draw-back. However, this is a rare thing and may have been caused by “the Collapse,” the disease that killed men at a fantastical rate.
I’m tempted to give the characters a 3, simply because Kingsley’s childishness turned me off that badly, but the entire supporting cast was so phenomenal (Joyce, Amanda, and Charlotte specifically) that it pulls it back up to 4 stars.
Setting: If you are familiar with my review style, I am sure that you have noted that I am picky about settings and am notoriously difficult to please. That being said, it’s been a while since I read a book that is set in my home state, and the previous one (Wish You Well by David Baldacci) sets a pretty high standard for Ms. O’Neal to live up to. That being said, I feel that she delivered very well.
I never lost track of where the story was taking place and the way she described the world in which Kingsley lives was definitely sufficient. That being said, I did not see the things that I look for in “5-star” settings. The setting did not “come alive” in the way that I strive for because the characters were interacting more with one another than their surroundings. The one time that stands out, in my mind, is when Kingsley and Charlotte are fleeing from the antagonist late in the book. They enter the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge Tunnel. The bridge was in disrepair, but I don’t recall there being a moment where this really affects their flight, which illustrates perfectly what I’m trying to say. Sure, I knew that the tunnel was dilapidated, but this did not negatively impede their travel in any way.
Finally, there are a few instances where Ms. O’Neal doesn’t quite hit the mark with her descriptions of the surroundings. Sure, I know that the house is a mansion, but I have no clue what it looks like.
In short, I was pleased with the setting overall, but the things I have mentioned here bring the grade down to about a 4 for me.
Plot: This is the one section where you will find my most serious critique for this novel: I didn’t care for the way the plot unfolded. Admittedly, it kept my attention when I picked the book back up (I put it down in the middle, because of a flashback scene…I despise flashbacks, personally), but the way the plot was structured just seemed off to me. Now, that being said, what Carolyn did was not wrong, it’s just that my taste as a reader did not match what Ms. O’Neal did.
Basically, I’m not a fan of introducing major characters halfway through a book. I was slightly confused when Charlotte came into the picture, to be honest. Plus, when you have a character as well developed as her, I would personally want her to shine through throughout the story. Now, R.F. and I kicked this idea back and forth on the podcast, so I won’t talk too much about it now.
However, the plot functioned as a cohesive whole (minus the flashback, which I saw as unnecessary), so criticism aside, I can’t give it any less than 2.5 stars.
Resolution: The resolution was quite possibly the best part of the book. Everything that happens from the climax to the final word functions well. It tied up the loose ends of the main conflict and gave me a sense of motion moving forward. To be perfectly honest, Carolyn could make this a stand-alone book and never write a sequel, and it would be perfectly okay with me. However, she did leave herself a window to further pursue this world, if she so chooses. That being said, it did feel just the tiniest bit rushed, the only place in the entire novel that I feel the pacing was off. I give the resolution 4.5 stars.
Final Grade: With scores of 5, 4, 4, 2.5, and 4.5, Kingsley by Carolyn O’Neal earned 20 points for a final grade of:
My take: Solid book. You should click this LINK and buy it now.