Monday, August 2, 2010

Strangled by the Red String: Reviewing “Fallen”

Title: Fallen
Author: Lauren Kate
Reader: Justine Eyre
Publisher: Listening Library

Final Verdict: 1 out of 5. Contrary to the “Guide to the Final Verdict” sidebar, I was not so much ENRAGED by Fallen as disappointed. I found it to be frustratingly bland and insubstantial, and its primary conflict—Luce’s longing to kiss the inaccessible Daniel Grigori—uninteresting. The suspense of the story is not so much relieved by the ending as put on hold—true, there are three more books to anticipate, but the ending left me neither satisfied nor interested in continuing the series.  The novel introduces heavy topics—student deaths, familial estrangement, to name two—but does little with them. The romance overwhelms every aspect of the story, and it reduces its heavier issues to the backdrop of a love story that is justified by fate and peopled by characters it is a difficult to care about.

The following review contains spoilers for true natures and tragic back stories.

Lucinda Price is haunted by shadows that no one else can see. She has suffered the rounds of psychologists and medication, but nothing can drive the shadows away. And when, through their agency, Luce is implicated in the death of a fellow student, Luce cannot confess to them—and so in silence, she is exiled to reform school.

It is here, at Sword and Cross, that she meets Daniel Grigori, a handsome boy who takes an immediate dislike to her. Luce is simultaneously bewildered and intrigued by his aversion, and as the weeks pass, her attraction grows—she cannot escape him, either in life or in her thoughts. And neither, it appears, can he escape her.

Luce feels that she recognizes Daniel. But she cannot place him, and Daniel denies any prior connection—though as his dislike melts, and he surrenders to her persistence, he displays an uncanny familiarity with the things she loves—things she has told no one at her reform school about. Too many people at Sword and Cross, Luce starts to realize, are more familiar with her than she is with herself. And too many object to her attraction to Daniel—as if its doom is fated.

What is Daniel’s secret? And who is she? Obsessed with questions, Luce begins a desperate search for answers. A search that, as the true faces of things begin to reveal themselves to her, could end in her death.


The thing that most disappointed me about Fallen is that I have read this story before, under different titles and by different authors. I have seen Lucinda Price, called Luce, before: her name was Bella Swan. I have seen the boy with whom she is besotted, Daniel Grigori: his name was Edward Cullen.

Literature, true, could be called the vast recycling bin of ideas. Stories are always being retold; characters are always being re-imagined. I live for the retellings, the re-imaginings: they’re like a great, never-ending conversation. But when a story treads the well-worn path of its predecessors so closely that it cannot be distinguished from them, that’s when my disappointment kicks in.

Fallen is Twilight, set in the heat of Georgia, [SPOILERS] overrun by fallen angels instead of glittering vampires. This isn’t necessarily bad, but neither is it especially stimulating. Daniel Grigori’s angelic nature has no real affect on his character. He is the hot and brooding and utterly unattainable—except, not—kind of boy whose presence is a staple of YA romance. Little distinguishes him from his Byronic brethren; he simply has wings instead of fangs/leather pants/inherited wealth/tragic past/etc. [/END SPOILERS]

This same reality applies to Luce, the designated heroine. Luce—according to herself—“… spent three years on a full academic scholarship at the best college prep school in the country”. She maintained a 4.0 GPA, “know[s] Latin and French, and in middle school… won the science fair three years in a row.” She “… do[es] the Sunday crossword puzzle, sometimes in under an hour,” and someday, she’s going to be a psychiatrist, “who actually listens to her patients and helps people.”

Unfortunately, the person Luce is describing bears little resemblance to the character we have been following for the past fifteen chapters. Ever since she set foot in Sword and Cross and discovered that there are cute guys in reform school and wow, exile doesn’t look so hopeless after all, Luce has been preoccupied. There’s a hottie with green eyes inviting her to his room. A golden-skinned Adonis flipping her off. Reform school is going to be a feast—which guy should she choose?

Again, Luce’s preoccupation isn’t necessarily bad. The unfortunate thing is that she is meant to be more. She’s meant to be seen as highly intelligent and highly motivated. But within the context of this story, she is not. She does not act like a conscientious and driven student, who thinks about other things besides her crushes. Her prowess is in the mouths of her teacher and admirers, not in her actions. TV Tropes calls this Informed Ability.

I wanted to be fair. I thought the beginning of Fallen was promising, and was ready to like Luce, before she decided that being flipped off was some primitive form of a pick-up line. Before she laid eyes on Adonis, called Daniel, Luce showed promise as an individual. She was haunted by an ugly past—sensational, yes, [SPOILERS] but here was the thing. She’d burned a boy to death and didn’t remember doing it. Her parents were afraid of her and she wasn’t comfortable with the girl she saw in the mirror. [/END SPOILERS] Already, there were consequences and self-doubt.

But neither was there a story. I had hoped that the romance stated on the back cover would form only a part of Luce’s struggle to come to terms with the girl (the monster?) she saw in the mirror. Her world was in disarray, and I wanted to see her put it to rights by her own effort, in a setting that was hostile to her.

But Fallen isn’t about Luce, not really. It’s about how she obsesses over Daniel, [SPOILERS]and finally discovers that her attraction to him is fated. Her love is the work of destiny and Daniel’s love for her. Not hers for him. His love damned her, and she gives way to her damnation again and again, century after century, as easily as a sandcastle.[/END SPOILERS] Luce has very little do with her own life. And this, ironically enough, is a plot point, but it isn’t explored. Luce comes to terms with her destiny in the space of a chapter and a half.

Justine Eyre’s narration keeps the story bearable. I fell into the rhythm of her voice quickly enough; she distinguishes characters without going overboard in her portrayal, and mixes in a light southern accent for several of the characters.

I personally would not recommend this story. It isn’t terrible; I simply didn’t enjoy it, and found it too derivative for my tastes. The audiobook makes for an entertaining, casual listen, and it helped my commute (and the hours I spent waiting for my classes to begin) pass more quickly.

Credit for the title goes to TV Tropes and its article “Strangled by the Red String”.


  1. I really can't get past Luce. She just bugs me in an otherwise awesome story idea. I rad Torment and if she bugs you here just wait.....I'm waiting to the series is done before I read anymore. It's just too frustrating.
    I will say to the people who loved Fallen - Torment has more action so they should like it. Luce just drove me nuts...

  2. Hmmm...Fallen is so heavily publicised that it makes feel left out because I haven't read it yet. But, if it's just a rehash of Twilight, I don't think I'm going to put it on top of my TBR list. But then again, I feel like reading it just to read over your review again because it is soo excellently detailed! :D

  3. I didn't enjoy FALLEN much either although I was one of the people waiting anxiously for it to be released. There were too much hype about it and we built the excitement up so much that it just could not be realized. I fall into the group of people who actually really loved the TWILIGHT series (don't judge me - lol), but I could not let FALLEN slide by even on that.

  4. Karen - Luce goes downhill in "Torment"? O.o How is that even possible? At the end of "Fallen", I didn't think she could plunge any further. Luce must break some kind of record, x3

    Elle - You know, it comes as a surprise to me to learn that "Fallen" was publicized, xD I'd never heard of it before I saw it at the library. I'm glad you liked the review! I agonized over it a bit, because I had several more pages of complaints and had to edit it down ruthlessly before the post turned into a novel, xD

    Chrizette - Gah, I know exactly what you mean about hype. The excitement is always so thrilling, but then there's the danger that the anticipation will outstrip the thing anticipated! A quandary of epic proportions, D: Haha, don't worry, loving the Twilight series is absolutely fine in my book. I fangirl Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle series like there's no tomorrow. It's far from the best fantasy out there, but I <3 it anyway.

  5. I completely agree with you. I just finished it and was about to write my review but I needed some encouragement from someone else as equally frustrated as me. So thanks :) Found you through the book reviewers challenge, and I am a new follower. Have a great day!

    Danielle @

  6. Thank you so much for following my blog, Danielle! I'm glad you found some inspiration from the review, ^^

  7. Thanks for your comment on my blog, and I must admit the rating system was not my completely original idea. I saw a blog somewhere that had a similar system but somehow she made it out of 100. I played around with it a bit and made mine out of 30. Anyway, I agree about Luce not thinking for when she is swimming that race in the pool, sees Daniel with Gabbe and just STOPS swimming. Really? lol. If you go on goodreads and read some of the angry reviews on there it is hilarious. They make ours look nice!