Review: The Tombs

Posted: May 15, 2018 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Deborah Schaumberg, Alternate Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Teenage Avery’s life changed the day her mother was committed to the Tombs, a ‘hospital’ for the insane. In an effort to hide their disgrace–and out of necessity as their middle-class standing is ruined–Avery and her father change their names and move to a less desirable part of town, where her father opens a clockwork shop and she begins working as a welder at a local factory. It’s not the life she lived before, where she went to school, wore nice clothes, and was friends with girls her age–and when her father didn’t drink himself into a stupor every night. But not everything is bleak. She has her peregrine “Seraphine”, best friend Khan, and welding work that she realizes she has a knack for.

Everything changes again when new abilities begin to manifest and she realizes that her mother was hospitalized for being crazy when in reality she has empathic powers.

Avery’s abilities and her mother’s abilities are similar, but aren’t completely the same. Avery discovers that she can see others’ auras in shades of white, grey, and black, and they’re influenced by a person’s good and evil natures and experiences. When she uses her abilities on someone, it strengthens their better natures and they’re given the strength to make the right choice. Unfortunately, there are people with auras so black that her ability won’t work on them, and in particular, Dr. Spector, the man who runs the Tombs, is such a person. After witnessing Dr. Spector testing a street boy for abilities and whisking him off to the Tombs, Avery’s suspicion is aroused and she begins to put together the pieces of the real reason the Tombs exist and what Dr. Spector is doing with her mother and other people with abilities.

Unfortunately Avery makes some dumb mistakes (pfft teenagers), like visiting her mother in the Tombs despite her father’s warnings not to. And in effect she puts herself on Spector’s radar, which considering the resources the man has, it’s only a matter of time until he finds her. She escapes with the help of friend Khan, a former slave her father brought home on his return at the end of the Civil War. But now Khan is a man with his own mysterious activities around the city.

YA paranormal steampunk romance with a brave heroine. THE TOMBS is not exactly groundbreaking, but might just be something your dramatic teen would enjoy.

The story continues to unravel itself, with visits to gypsies, who become an important part of the story, a new understanding of her and her mother’s abilities, and the real reason why Dr. Spector is imprisoning anyone with supernatural abilities. The story takes time to unravel, though, and at 430 pages seemed a little long to me; but actually it was less about the pacing and more about the problems I had with the too formal prose and adequate dialogue. I spent too much time getting caught up in the inconsistent use of contractions, look-at-me adjectives, and lack of personality dialogue that seemed the same no matter who spoke (other than the gimmicky crazy chemist in the Tombs). I wanted to like this story more than I did, and in some ways it was clever and interesting, but in others I had a hard time believing contrived plot points and character choices. And the romantic elements were, I dunno, ok and then it got sappy; typical teenager fare, really.

THE TOMBS is set in post Civil War New York, and we get a little bit of the feel of the place and time, although it’s a little different with a few steampunk elements thrown in. The story itself takes center stage here, so plot elements move the story forward and there’s less time for real in-depth worldbuilding. I would have liked a better handle on Avery’s abilities, I wasn’t 100% clear how or why they worked, as well as the difference in abilities of the people around her. Why does she and her mother have this ability? Why do some of the gypsies have these abilities? Are they from the same place or are they different? Why do they exist? Same goes for Dr. Spector and his methods, which I can’t ask questions here or else spoilers.

Avery is our main character and the entire story is told from her point of view, which worked great for this story as it provided nice continuity, although it limited our knowledge of other interesting characters like Khan, Geeno, Indigo, Avery’s father, her mother, and others. I personally didn’t find Avery particularly relatable. She was a stereotypical heroine character type in a lot of ways (didn’t like wearing dresses, didn’t realize how pretty she was, tended toward more action than thinking things through), although the author did her best to give Avery a few differences from the usual heroine. She did things I thought were colossally dumb that I would never do. I had a hard time not finding certain plot points contrived, they needed better foreshadowing/buildup/explanation or something because this happened multiple times, and was frustrating because the story revolves around these incredulous events. Maybe I’m just the wrong audience for this.

If you love drama (think WUTHERING HEIGHTS) and some of the unexpected in your teenage romantic, paranormal, steampunky stories, this is the one for you.

  • Recommended Age: 13+
  • Language: Minor
  • Violence: Some ungruesome on-screen death and torture, but could be unpleasant for your sensitive teens
  • Sex: Teen kissing and references to affairs

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