One Way Fare by Barb Taub
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
There was so much to like about this book I really, really wanted to be wowed by it as much as all the other reviewers, but there were just too many blips for me. Let me explain.
This book has a cracking good start – as a character, Gaby bounces off the page. Her Gift, or harmonia, is that of order – absolutely perfect for an accountant. Her boundless enthusiasm for her profession defies all that we – normal people, that is – assume about accountants. And she gets to work for a wickedly handsome rock star, although his figures (and I do mean numbers) are more fascinating to her than he is. If that sounds plain weird, well, it isn’t. There’s humour, great mystery, awesomely brilliant dialogue, terrific momentum, and I was totally hooked.
Then we are introduced to Leila. She’s one fun character, with her own clear personality and dialogue – to re-iterate, the dialogue in this whole book just superb – BUT I was totally bounced out of the narrative at the point where Thomas announces that his grandfather is several hundred years old, and then starts warning Leila about pitchfork-wielding peasants just before he grabs her and takes her on the run – AND SHE JUST ACCEPTS IT. No effort to rationalise, nor does she think Thomas might be insane (and probably dangerous), she just accepts it hook, line and sinker and off they go. Nor does she question the assertion that the Metro will take them to 1890 (the year, not the time).
Now, the Metro is a brilliant invention – it carries people between not only places, but also time. And ‘Mind the Gap’ is hilarious. I did, however, find it difficult to visualise this specific passage: ‘she fell asleep bolt upright on the floor, wedged into the corner’. Hmmm – let’s try that one, shall we?
Sticking for a while with the (for me) negatives:
• point of view is variable – most of the time with a single character, but then randomly head hopping, and sometimes authorial.
• The characters are fabulously well drawn, but I didn’t notice much growth through the course of the book. Yes, they endured a lot, but it didn’t seem to change them all that much.
• At one point Gaby and Luic die. Then they are on the Metro station. The fact they are dead doesn’t actually seem to make much difference to them, or anyone around them. Yes, there is a bit of explanation later, but too late for my suspension of disbelief.
• At around the 50% mark, we get a fair sized info dump on the various factions, which only served to confuse me even more. We have Heaven, Hell, Haven, Gifts, Watcher Court, Fallen Court, Raquia, Nephilim, and Angels, plus a book that appears to be made out of jewellery, not to mention Null City (or several Null Cities). Too much to get my head around, sorry.
• The story jumps around in time quite a lot. Aside from the 1890s, where there is an obvious difference in the way women are treated, I could really have done with more time-specific details to ‘place’ the different eras. The characters continue with what they are doing pretty much regardless of when they are, which is no help in anchoring the reader in the various time zones.
• At around 75%, I began to struggle. Having lost Luic, Gaby falls for Thomas’s hundreds-of-years-old grandfather, Sebastian, who she insists of calling Max. As far as I could tell, she fell for him simply because there were no other candidates available. I didn’t find him at all engaging, and wondered what the hell she saw in him.
I apologise again for sounding so negative, because there was an awful lot to like as well: I absolutely loved the interlude in Fallen Court, where Gaby brings order to chaos with clever incentives for imps, who are totally self-motivated, and Leila starts an infernal coffee shop chain.
And the ending is excellent. I’m so glad I stuck it out – all the pieces slotted into place, and everything became clear, leaving just the right amount of threads dangling for the next book.
I suspect other readers may not be as bothered by the stumbling points I encountered, but this was my honest experience, hence the 3 stars.