Review: “Promise: The Scarred Girl,” Maya Shepherd

Pros: Could be worse
Cons: So many details (large and small) don’t make sense; unlikable characters
Rating: 2 out of 5

Note: as I understand it what I read was a translation of a book that was originally published in German.

Promise: The Scarred Girl, by Maya Shepherd, is a post-apocalyptic tale. There was a plague that killed large numbers of people and rearranged borders; we come in six years after the plague, following a young woman named Nea. Nea has heard of a place called Promise, where life is good and there’s even electricity. She sets out to reach Promise, but ends up in a very untenable place as she tries to pass through Dementia, an area controlled by Ereb and the Carris–it’s dedicated to chaos and the Carris take slaves. There she meets up with various characters who continually make her trip to Promise much more difficult than it should have been.

 

Many wordings in this book are awkward: one passage actually mentions a woman having “tears shoot out of her eyes”. The mental image! Yikes! Two people “look at each other interrogatively”. There are a number of self-contradictory moments, or scenes where there must be something missing. One moment it’s so dark Nea can’t see her own hand; in the next moment, people from across a river see her, despite being close enough to a fire that I’d expect their night vision to be blown. Dialogue has similar problems; one moment everyone’s speaking very properly (which seems to be the default despite the fact that it’s only been six years since the apocalypse) and then someone will jump into idiomatic English. It’s very inconsistent. Of course, I have no idea how much of this is due to the original German, and how much due to translation.

At one point Nea decides to steal one of the very obvious red robes that the Carris wear so she can pass for one of them. However, she doesn’t try watching and listening to them first. If this is supposed to be a religious area, then there will almost certainly be ritualistic phrases, gestures, or actions she’ll be expected to know. She makes up everything on the spot, and thus it’s highly unlikely that the people she talks to would believe her to be one of them.

For a cult that supposedly worships chaos, the Carris are very rule-driven and militaristic. It would be nice if at least some of them came off as believing in chaos. I also found that pretty much every character is unlikable. That can work occasionally if you’re a really good writer, but instead I found myself feeling annoyed at most of the characters. They’re all snippy and selfish. The only two really nice characters (a pair of women just older than Nea, from Dementia) act like naive children. This despite the fact that they must have been teenagers already when the plague hit, so they should have had plenty of experiences to shock them out of their too-trusting demeanor. Trying not to give too much away, I also found a particular plot point toward the end to be both unbelievable and disappointing, wrapped up in that whole thing about unlikable characters. It seems like everyone is either an enemy or desperately in need of Nea’s help.

This didn’t read like a post-apocalyptic scenario. It reads more like a fantasy novel, particularly since the past six years seem to have robbed everyone of their worldly knowledge. Also, there are a lot of people left alive; it doesn’t seem like society should have fallen apart so much with that many people left.

 

NOTE: Book provided free for review

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