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Afterlife – Claudia Gray

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Throughout the Evernight books, Claudia Gray has taken her characters into interesting territory, but she’s saved the best journey until last to deliver a worthy finale to this YA gothic tale.

All the way along, this series’ trademark has been clever plot twists and characters with ambiguous motives. More than one supporting character has turned out to be more than they first appeared. And the (literally) heart-stopping cliffhanger at the end of Hourglass left many readers wondering how Gray was going to resolve all the dilemmas she’d created.

But resolve them she does (well most of them – there’s a spin-off series coming, so a few have to be left hanging), bringing this page-turning series to a satisfying close.

If you’ve read the first three novels (Evernight, Stargazer and Hourglass), this review won’t contain any spoilers. If you haven’t, and intend to, you might want to come back later.

Afterlife is essentially about Bianca and Lucas coming to terms with the fact they’ve both turned into what they hate and fear the most. They not only have to find out if their relationship can survive their new reality – they also have to find out if they can accept themselves.

We also finally find out more about the wraiths, and what they want from Bianca; the significance of the relationships between wraiths and vampires (and vampire hunters); and Mrs Bethany’s hidden agenda.

The gothic atmosphere of earlier books is retained, helped by the fact the action heads back to where it all began, at Evernight Academy, and  the author again demonstrates her skill as a storyteller, setting a cracker pace and building the tension to the inevitable showdown between Bianca, Lucas and their enemies.

The final page of my edition of Afterlife has a teaser for an upcoming novel about Balthazar, one of the most popular characters in this series, so it’s safe to say fans can look forward to more adventures in this nicely textured world Gray has created.  I must admit, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next for that particular vampire…

(In the meantime, Gray has Fateful – a new paranormal story about werewolves on the Titanic – due out later this year.)

Hourglass – Claudia Gray

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Expectations have been high for the next instalment of Claudia Gray’s Evernight series, released a few weeks ago.

The first two novels made it onto best-seller lists and attracted a legion of fans who enjoyed Gray’s blend of gothic mystery, menace and romance.

The good news: Hourglass doesn’t disappoint. The bad news: it ends on a classic cliffhanger, and we now have to settle in for the wait for the next book.

One of the great things about this series is the twists and turns Gray provides, and I’m not going to spoil them here (so if you haven’t read the first two books, it’s safe to read on).

Let me just say this is a page-turning series populated by vampires, vampire hunters and wraiths. It revolves around Bianca and Lucas, whose families live on opposite sides of a long-running war and whose worlds collided at a gothic boarding school with more than few secrets.

The first novel, Evernight, introduced the main characters, mythology and the conflicted loyalties that would drive the story. Stargazer then built on the mystery and menace, heightening the tension with a few more twists.

In Hourglass, we pick up where we left off, with Bianca and Lucas still trapped with vampire hunters Black Cross, trying to bide their time until they can escape. But before the novel can turn into The Adventures of Bianca and Lucas in Black Cross, the larger story arc kicks in, sending the young lovers in new and unexpected directions.

The tangle of relationships and lies finally comes to a head, with more than one secret uncovered, and the pair find themselves learning the hard way that freedom and rebellion come with a price tag.

While Stargazer established the wraiths as a new threat for Bianca, Hourglass builds the tension further by starting to reveal their significance in her future.

Bianca (and her creator) love Romeo and Juliet, and there’s more than a nod to that classic tragedy in Hourglass. But Gray is skilled enough that it isn’t contrived, and Hourglass is paranormal fantasy , not Shakespeare, so things aren’t always what they seem…

Gray cleverly keeps readers guessing, and I like that the lines between the good and bad guys are often blurred, and her characters have to face the consequences of their decisions.

By the end of Hourglass, the rules have changed for all involved, and the scene is set for Bianca and Lucas to head into even more interesting – and tense – territory in the next book.

(Australian fans certainly love this series: Hourglass was the highest selling novel here – not just in the YA market – when it released last month, and has managed to stay there.)