Monday, 9 November 2015

Reviewed by Arianne: Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis.

Product details:  
Publisher: Chicken House.
Paperback, 368 pages.
Release date: September 3rd 2015.
Rating: 3½ out of 5.
Ages: 14+
Reviewed by: Arianne.

A sweeping tale of love, legacy, and wilderness set between the present day and 1866 in the dramatic landscape of modern-day and territorial Montana.

While on a trip to Montana with her mom, British teen Hope meets local boy Cal Crow, a ranch hand. Caught in a freak accident, Hope and Cal take shelter in a cabin, where Hope makes a strange discovery in an abandoned diary. More than a hundred years earlier, another British girl -- Emily -- met a similar fate. Her rescuer, a horse trader named Nate. In this wild place, both girls learn what it means to survive and to fall in love, neither knowing that their fates are intimately entwined.

 If there’s one thing I’ve really loved about YA this year, it’s the sheer wealth of originality and unexpected stories which have taken the book world by storm – and surprise. From Sarah Crossan’s One to Moira Fowley-Doyle’s The Accident Season, fans of young adult fiction are all about embracing stories that feel a little different.

Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis certainly has the unexpected part of that trend down: full of cowboys and catastrophes, tradition and tragedy, it is a far cry from the magic and monsters of Inglis’ urban fantasy début, City of Halves, which took us deep into the world of the Eldritche and even saw a dragon set up on shop on top of the Bank of England.

Yet for British teenager Hope, being swept off to Montana for her mother’s work is like being swept into a world she never knew existed. Her entanglements with mysterious local boy Cal Crow are dramatic enough, but with the discovery that more than a hundred years before, a similar fate befell a recently-arrived English girl named Emily and a boy named Nate, it looks like there’s much more to what’s drawn her to Montana than meets the eye. For her, Montana is stunning wilderness and desolation wrapped in whispers and bitter histories. This history, however, may be more closely tied with own future than she thinks.

I’m still campaigning for a sequel to the hugely enjoyable City of Halves, but in the meantime there is a lot to like about Crow Mountain. It has a fantastic setting, bags of drama and one of the most beautiful young adult covers I’ve seen all year, with its clever nods to the story amid a lush sweep of silver, purple and orange-gold. It’s a straightforward, easy read, and that ending! Crow Mountain’s emphasis on a time in history which doesn’t crop up as often as you’d think in UKYA is also fantastic, and I loved the strong presence of horses in both sections of the alternate narration. Emily’s story is written in second person – addressed directly to love interest Nate – which was both surprising and intriguing, but unfortunately I couldn’t root for either of the romances at the heart of the book.

Like many other readers I want to see more chemistry and healthy relationships in YA, but here both romances have more than their fair share of problematic moments. There are issues and backstories which could have been handled better, and the attitudes of some characters seem very out of place in modern young adult fiction. Many readers won’t appreciate the way Hope’s mother’s feminism is made a recurring joke by the story and the undercurrents of misogyny – internalised and beyond - are particularly insidious. Even in the narrative as a whole there’s an occasional tendency to cliché and it doesn’t really spring to life.

I didn’t like the characters as much as I’d hoped – with the exception of Hope’s character arc, which sees her grow more confident in herself and her dreams, and Margaret Redfeather, who is brilliant and bad-ass. That said, the book is well-researched and I loved the mystery which ties the novel together. Readers will be racing to discover how both stories intertwine.

In short: Crow Mountain is far from perfect, but it has drama, a wonderfully unusual setting, and a great story for fans who loved True Grit and The Next Together.


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