Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack
Embrace is a novel that will appeal strongly to Twilight fans. It’s not a copycat by any means – for a start, there’s not a vampire or a werewolf in sight – but both are romantic fantasies aimed at young women, and there are striking similarities between the strengths and weaknesses of these novels.
Violet Eden is about to turn 17. She’s never been a big fan of birthdays, largely because her mother died on the day she was born. This birthday is shaping up to be more difficult than usual, too, as quite a few people seem to think that 17 is important. And for Violet, it is; she will discover her Grigori heritage and be faced with life-changing choices.
Angels, it seems, are real. They are there to guide humans, and are not necessarily either good or evil in themselves, although some lean one way or another. But when an angel leaves their own dimension and comes to earth, he or she essentially becomes wicked – their lust for power overwhelms them and they become a danger to the humans around them. As a result, the Grigori were created – humans whose duty it is to find rogue angels and despatch them back to their own realm. These humans are given supernatural powers when a parent dies within a few days of the child’s birth, leaving a gateway for an angel to impart some of their own essence to the child. These Grigori children come into their power when they turn 17, but they must consciously choose to accept the power and responsibility for it to flower completely.
Violet discovers she is a potential Grigori, and many of the people around her are not who she thought – Grigori and rogue angels have both been attracted to her latent power. She must decide whether to accept her Grigori power, and the resulting responsibilities; and at the same time, sort out who she loves.
One of the big similarities with the Twilight books is the central romantic triangle. As in Twilight, a 17 year old girl finds herself torn between two males, neither of whom are fully human. And as in Twilight, one of them appears to be close to her age but is in fact much older. Again similarly to Twilight, Violet spends a lot of time hesitating between them, wavering in her feelings, defusing the tension between them, and generally wittering on about her feelings for them. Although I found this a little tedious at times, it is undoubtedly a pretty realistic depiction of a teenage girl in the throes of first love when there are bigger than average complications. Younger readers are probably going to find this element of the story strikes some strong chords with them, although more mature readers may find it a little irritating.
The romantic triangle carries a great deal of the plot. There are other elements – most notably the scene setting for the ongoing struggle between the Grigori and the rogue angels and Violet’s struggle to decide whether or not to accept her Grigori heritage. As this is the first book of a series, you can probably guess the outcome of that aspect of the plot. The scene setting requires quite a lot of exposition, which makes this feel initially as though there’s a strong plot, but when you strip away that exposition, not a lot really happens in the novel. I didn’t find it a particularly compelling plot; Violet didn’t engage my sympathy strongly enough for me to be all that interested in her love life, and there truly wasn’t a lot more here apart from her decision about whether to accept her Grigori powers. This was an easy enough read but not by any means a page turner.
There were other similarities with the Twilight books; for example, Violet’s father is uncommunicative and largely leaves her to her own devices. Unfortunately one of the similarities is that Violet’s friends are, like Bella’s, poorly characterised. They are little more than shadows who exist because of course a teenage girl must have some friends; but there seems to have been little effort to make them real or interesting. Similarly, I didn’t find Violet a particularly engaging character, although she was certainly more well rounded than Bella. Nevertheless, she wasn’t very vivid, and I found it hard to care very much at all about her. And another similarity with the Twilight books is that just as Bella turns out to be different to all the other vampires, it seems that Violet is destined to be different to all the other Grigori – if she accepts her powers.
The symbolism in Embrace is exceptionally obvious. Violet’s surname, for example, is Eden. Her mother’s name was Evelyn. She tastes apple when her Grigori powers manifest themselves. The possibly rogue angel she falls for is named Phoenix. She meets him in a nightclub called Hades. I found it clumsy, and although it didn’t impede the story, the lack of subtlety meant the story essentially had little to offer except what was on the surface.
The novel also lacked a strong sense of place. I’m not sure if that was deliberate or not; Shirvington may have been trying to write a novel that would appeal to a wider audience by leaving it open to them to choose a location. Unfortunately it didn’t work terribly well, resulting in a setting that was so bland it disappeared and added further to the sense of shallowness.
Overall, I thought Embrace was a weak novel, lacking strong characters or plot and without a lot to hold my interest. However, it is a fairly easy read in that the prose is clean and straightforward, and Shirvington has captured the mood of teenage girls when confronted with romantic dilemmas. Although I didn’t enjoy this much, it will appeal to the same audience who enjoyed Twilight – younger females, mainly, who are willing to lose themselves in the romantic triangle and not worry too much about anything else. For those readers, Shirvington offers a slightly more together and capable heroine and an attempt at a more complex plot. It is not clear whether the background set up here will lead to a better plotted and thus more interesting second novel; it’s not impossible, but on the evidence here I wouldn’t count on it.