This is a very strange book. Incarnate, by Jodi Meadows, is a young adult novel about a society of people who have been reincarnating for 5000 years with no exceptions until one day, one person doesn't come back and a new soul is born.
I don't believe in reincarnation, but since some people do believe it, I wasn't sure what I would think of this book. I didn't want it to be too real, to take itself too seriously. And thankfully, it didn't. It's an odd combination of genres, mostly fantasy with a bit of dystopia in it. Overall, I enjoyed it and it read pretty fast, but there were aspects of it that I didn't like, too.
Ana is the new soul. A million souls have been born again and again, and everyone knows each other. So, when Ciana dies and doesn't come back and Ana is born instead, she is unwelcome at the very least. Even her own mother hates her. Ana leaves home after her eighteenth birthday in hopes of finding out the truth about herself in the great city of Heart. But before she gets there, creatures of shadow and fire, called sylph, nearly kill her twice. A boy who appears to be her age in this reincarnation but who has a soul just as old as everyone else's, rescues her and tries to show her that she is worthwhile and not a mistake. But Ana always feels as though she is playing catch-up, a mere fleeting butterfly amidst the old souls who find her a curiosity or a blemish. Can love make Ana see herself any differently? Will the community of old souls ever accept her? Or will she be a blip on the screen of their lives, forgotten after she's dead?
As I said before, I wasn't sure I would like the idea of this book, but it grew on me, particularly as the mysteries surrounding Ana mounted up. In the city of Heart, there's a great Temple that rises past the clouds, has no entryway, and gives off a pulse. The citizens of Heart don't seem to be bothered by it, but Ana is creeped out around it. The city is attacked by dragons now and then, and the dragons attempt to attack the Temple but don't even succeed in scratching it. The Temple is probably the most intriguing fantasy element of the book.
The tension and romance between Ana and Sam, her rescuer, is a little too drawn out. I felt like I was watching an episode of TV's Smallville where Lana says she just can't trust Clark...for the hundredth time. You can only push one plotline so far without it getting stagnant. In Incarnate, Ana is always misinterpreting Sam's actions toward her, always belittling herself, always seeing herself as a "nosoul." That will put a strain on any relationship, not to mention the 5000-year difference in age. Ana has a bit of a hard time accepting it, for good reason. So does the reader.
Sometimes I felt like the author was trying to live vicariously through her writing, as some do, making it more sensational than it needed to be, like a dream you try to hang onto when you wake up just as it was getting good. The romance felt a little forced, a little too unbelievable even though great amounts of the book were dedicated to it. For the most part, aside from the weirdness of the age difference, it was a clean romance, though there were awkward moments and Ana ends up living in Sam's house as his student. This isn't quite Stockholm Syndrome, but it felt similar. And I'm never for a guy and girl who aren't married living alone together. But that aside, there was one moment where Sam acts totally out of character at a masquerade and things get a little steamy then and after (though, no sex), and I kept expecting the author to reveal that Ana had mistaken this other person for Sam. But, no.
Unfortunately, the book is mostly a romance, and the mystery part is just the backdrop. I like romances, and I did enjoy this book. But something about it was just weird sometimes, not one particular thing but a bunch of all these little things I've mentioned put together.
However, the reincarnation idea was fascinating, and I thought the author explored it pretty well, showing what it would be like for old souls to live so many years together, even in different bodies (and genders!) and what it would mean to be only eighteen years old as opposed to 5000. This isn't a must-read, but it's not a bad one either.
Incarnate is out this month. Three stars.