Review: “Unknown,” Rachel Caine

Pros: Impressive job of conveying a character that isn’t really human
Cons: Couldn’t get a good sense of the villain’s limitations & abilities
Rating: 4 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group

 

Full disclosure: this is the first of Rachel Caine’s books that I’ve read. I haven’t read Undone (the first book in the Outcast Season series), nor the related Weather Warden novels. (My series books rant covers why I think it can be useful to review a mid-series novel without the series background.) For the most part I was able to follow along quite well—nicely done on Ms. Caine’s part—although of course I would have gotten more out of Unknown if I had the background.

Unknown (Outcast Season, Book 2) is the story of Cassiel, a once-powerful Djinn who has been cast out into human form. She has teamed up with the Wardens, whose children have been going missing one by one. As Cassiel and her Earth Warden partner Luis search they become targets—even as a human, Cassiel has powerful enemies. Before long they’re fighting for their lives, unsure of whom to trust, and Cassiel faces the darkest choice of all: will she have to destroy humanity in order to prevent an even greater catastrophe?

Cassiel is a fantastic character. She’s fundamentally alien without being randomly weird or boringly wooden. One of the more skillful things Ms. Caine has done is depict the very gradual changes Cassiel is going through as she adjusts to her humanity. Cassiel makes sense. This is all the more impressive given that the book is told in the first person from Cassiel’s perspective. I also very much enjoyed the interplay between her and Luis, and the ways in which their relationship adapts and changes.

Unknown is fast-paced and filled with danger and tragedy. The plot is intriguing, and the villain is interesting. That does lead to my one negative, though: I had a hard time getting a handle on the logic of the villain’s abilities vs. weaknesses. Thus, some of the events during the most heated times of conflict seemed somewhat arbitrary. I think if I’d had a better handle on the logic of the villain’s existence, hopefully what she did and didn’t do would make more sense. Unfortunately that sense of arbitrariness robbed the climax of the story of some of its tension and power.

The “Outcast Season” story is intriguing, unusual, and filled with action and danger. The characters are wonderful, and the world-building is delightful. I look forward to reading the first book in the series, as well as following along with later installments.

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