Lauren Dailey is in break-up hell.
Stuck between moving on and letting go, she puts on a brave face while crying herself to sleep at night. But when a mysterious voice promises escape from her sadness, she is suddenly transported to a new world. And in this place, the slightest touch pulls her out of her tortured emotions into the mind of another - an empath.
The villagers - sweet Aerona and her mischievous twins, wise Siors, and hunky Cefin - welcome her and the blessings her empath powers bring. But this world is not without its dangers. The Anghenfil, a fire-breathing monster, has haunted the village for decades, and has a taste for empaths. And that mysterious voice promising escape from sadness? It's sounding more like a whisper tinged with smoke and embers.
Can Lauren keep the monsters in the mountain and in her head at bay? Or will she succumb to the darkness like the empath before her...
Rating: 3 stars
I received a e-copy of the book from the author as part of a giveaway and I promised a review once I was finished.
Please be aware, there will be SPOILERS or at least POTENTIAL SPOILERS. You have been warned.
The premise of the novel was interesting; dimension traveling usually is. I am also a fan of a character receiving powers and learning how to use them, as you learn something about their character during the process.
While reading this book, and shortly thereafter, however, I found myself feeling unsatisfied with how things went.
Lauren Dailey: At the beginning, the main character is recovering from something that most people have gone through at least once in their lives: a painful breakup. It has been four months since she decided to end things with her boyfriend because she didn't see a future with him. He didn't want to get married, she did. It's a simple situation, except that she's feeling the pain of this breakup rather more heavily than a lot of people would. What you don't find out until the end is that she suffers from depression.
There are hints through the novel, granted, but while reading them I didn't connect it with her illness because she didn't, which leads me to one of the aggravating things about Lauren: she doesn't see what is right in front of her. She refuses to listen to her instincts, especially once she's in this new world. There were moments when I found myself wanting to shout at her for being so simple.
Cefin: I somewhat like Cefin, the love interest in this new world, perhaps a bit more than the MC. After saving Lauren from a "cave in", he entrusts her into the care of his aunt and continues to keep an eye on her, despite her stubborness in returning to the dangerous cave where she was found, home to the Anghenfil, the dragon featured on the cover.
Cefin is good looking, well built, and not overloaded with many other characteristics. He is loyal to his family, somewhat through guilt over an incident involving the death of his father and uncle years previous to Lauren's arrival. He has depth in this guilt and in his devotion to protecting the village from the Anghenfil. However, after the love story plays out, I came to realize that he wasn't the hero of the story that Lauren needed or would typically have received in a fairy tale.
The main antagonist of this story is the Anghenfil, a dragon that lures women from our world and proceeds to suck out their unhappiness, leaving them as empty shells. The description and the way that "he" was able to infiltrate Lauren's mind made him exceptionally creepy. How can you defend yourself against the enemy when he can get into your head and twist your thoughts?
I liked this villain because he was easily identifiable and you could picture it as this looming threat, but you didn't realize how awful he could be until you saw how he dug his claws into Lauren through subtle manipulation and very nearly got what he wanted from her.
The secondary antagonists, the king and the scholar, were somewhat underwhelming. There wasn't enough time to consider them truly evil, although their actions made it seem like the reader was to take it on the word of the author that these were bad dudes. I would have appreciated a bit more fleshing out of these characters other than brief hints about their disreputable behavior and treatment of the last empath.
Trope: Insta Love
This is one of the most annoying tropes that I read in fiction and unfortunately I found it here. I cannot think of a situation where insta love has worked out. Either it isn't believable and you're left wondering how this relationship worked out at all, or it isn't believable and it ends, which you'e actually quite thankful for.
In this instance, Lauren and Cefin fall in love within a fortnight of her appearance in this world and the only thing keeping them apart is her empathic power which causes her to feel and experience thoughts and memories with whomever she is touching. As soon as Lauren discovers a way to make her powers go away, they instantly leap into bed. I understand desire and looking back maybe this act was a symptom or side affect of Lauren's illness, but it was so frustrating because I can't see real people acting like this.
Cefin seemed to genuinely care for Lauren, if not love her as much as he professed. I think that, had Lauren become a permanent fixture in this world, then the relationship could have developed to the point where it was meaningful. As it was, it was not that kind of relationship and I was happy to see at the end that Lauren realized that it wasn't true love. That showed development on her part and was part of her admittance that she wasn't perfect and that she was, in fact, suffering from unacknowledged depression.
The imagery in Empath was good. I really got a sense of Lauren's surroundings once she woke up in the fantasy world, especially the mountains. If I ever wanted to climb a mountain before, I have quickly been stripped of the notion that any of it is easy.
Like I said earlier, the premise of this novel was good. I was excited to read it and to be fair I did finish it fairly quickly because I wanted to know what happened to the characters and where the plot was going.
I thought that the pacing was what took some of the enjoyment out of the story for me, though. It tended to drag in some points, usually when Lauren was pondering whether her bad feeling about the situation at hand was really all that bad, deciding it was, and choosing the wrong course of action anyway.
There are two ways to look at this ending.
1. I am happy that Lauren learned to stand up for herself and she acknowledged her problems, eventually. She is getting the help she needs and unconsciously denied herself for so long. That is great, A+. However!
2. It was a dream. A coma dream. Really? My first thought upon realizing this was that it had a very Wizard of Oz feel to it. I can't stand this, though, when a book, a movie, a tv show, ends and you find out that none of it was actually real. It is annoying because you invest so much in these characters, in the perils they find themselves in, and then it feels like you have the rug pulled out from under you.
There were some hiccups, such as pacing and a somewhat frustrating main character, but she did redeem herself a little in the end and I did want to find out what happened to the characters.
Thinking about Lauren reminded me of a song from my teen years, Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely by the Backstreet Boys. It was heavy with sadness and regret and I thought that she experienced both of those things within the course of her story.
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