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Captivate – Carrie Jones

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Here’s one of those great examples where the second book in a series surpasses the first.

I really liked Need (see review here), in which Carrie Jones introduces the blood-sucking pixies who terrorise Zara and her friends in a cold isolated Maine town.

The series debut sets up that pixies – with their manipulation and bloodlust – are a murderous threat. But then Captivate cleverly clouds that perception by introducing Astley, a new pixie who claims not all are as violent and uncontrollable as those Zara has previously faced.

There are also new threats – created inadvertently as a result of Zara’s actions in Need – which have tragic consequences. But while the plot takes some dark turns, I’m trusting Jones to ultimately give the emotional journey a huge pay-off by the series’ end.

While Captivate is more intense that Need, Zara remains a witty and engaging narrator, and her wry observations (even when terrified she’s turning into a pixie) frequently lighten the mood.

An interesting twist here is that Zara’s ideologies are and belief systems are seriously challenged.

In Need, Zara and her friends had to deal with pixie situation in a way that goes against her philosophies of pacifism and justice. In Captivate, she has to deal with the consequences of her choices, and come to terms with the fact that ideals are never as black and white in the harsh light of reality.

Her actions – and her reaction to newcomer Astley – create a crisis of ethics and challenges the attitudes (read: borderline bigotry) of her friends towards pixies.

The story itself also kicks into high gear, with even more of the pixie mythology unfolding. The action is more intense, the stakes higher and the conflicts more interesting and complex.

The series is heading into really interesting territory, particularly in terms of character growth. Nick, Issie and Devyn are all back, and all undergo their own threats and challenges.

There’s also great continuity from the first book, with more occasional references to Stephen King, and Zara’s catalogue of phobia definitions.

This is an excellent YA/cross-over series. I’m really curious to see where Jones takes her characters next – and by the way Captivate ends, there’s plenty more to come.

Are pixies the new bloodsuckers?

We’ve had vampires, werewolves and fallen angels … now it could be time for pixies to be the next big thing in paranormal fiction.

And we’re not talking cute and perky pixies, but nasty soul-sucking, blood craving pixies, who may sprinkle gold dust but have murderous intentions.

At least that’s the case in Need, the first in a new series of novels by Carrie Jones.

A quick overview of the plot:
Zara, still mourning the death of her stepfather, is sent to stay with her feisty grandmother in a chilly remote area of Maine. She’s roused from her grief by the realization a stranger is stalking her, calling to her from the forest and leaving behind a trail of gold dust. It’s soon pretty obvious something isn’t right in her grandmother’s town, and that some of its inhabitants may be much more than they seem.

Even if my local bookseller hadn’t recommended this novel, the marketing pitch alone would have drawn me in: “If you grabbed Stephen King and Stephenie Meyer and asked them to co-author a book, they would absolutely come up with something really close to Need”.

It’s not a bad way to describe the page-turner, which is equal parts thriller and romance. Need has plenty of familiar elements: a cold isolated town, a hot but moody guy who may or may not be dangerous, an unknown threat lurking in the dark forest, and latent family secrets.

But Jones injects fresh life into the genre with her lively, intelligent and self-effacing narrative character, who has more than few quirks.

For a start, Zara’s a walking encyclopedia of phobias; she doesn’t have them, just happens to know what a lot of bizarre fears are called, like nelophobia (fear of glass) or couplogagophobia (fear of being a third wheel – I have no idea if these are real or not…).

Zara’s lived by the adage if you can name fear you can control it, but of course, nothing is ever that simple.

She also has a strong social conscience, spending her spare time working on Amnesty International Urgent Action papers, and her awareness of the suffering of others around the world regularly puts her own situation into perspective (a nice touch in a YA novel – not too much self indulgence here).

Still, Zara does have a few things to worry about. Aside from her own stalker issues, teenage boys are going missing, and it seems this isn’t the first time in the town’s history it’s happened.

Jones has created a dark mythology around the pixies, and it’s not giving too much away to say there are other supernatural creatures in Zara’s world.

Zara is probably one of the most likable and multi-dimensional narrative characters I’ve come across in YA paranormal fiction in a while. Her wry sense of humour regularly breaks through her cloud of grief, as do her hormones.

My only minor quibble is that she seems, at times, to miss the obvious – especially for someone with her apparent attention to detail – but then, I guess it’s really not normal to assume murderous pixies and other mythical creatures are actually real…

I did like the occasional references through the story to Stephen King, who, of course established Maine as the capital of weird through his early horror catalogue.

I don’t know if Need is the start of a new trend or a quirky stand-alone series about freaky pixies, but either way it hooked me early and I enjoyed the journey.

(The second book in the series, Captivate, is already available in the US, but won’t be out here in Australia for a few more months.)