Review: The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong

Darkest Rising Trilogy: Book 1

The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong, UK edition cover.

Title: The Gathering
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Genre: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy
Publication Date: 7th April, 2011
Blurb:

Maya Delaney has always felt a close bond with nature. The woods around her home are a much-loved sanctuary – and the pawprint birthmark on her hip feels like a sign that she belongs.

But then strange things begin to happen in the tiny medical-research town of Salmon Creek. A young girl drowns mysteriously in the middle of a calm lake. Mountain lions appear around Maya’s home, and won’t go away. Her best friend Daniel starts experiencing bad vibes about certain people and things. One of those people is Rafe – the new bad boy in town. What is he hiding – and why is he suddenly so interested in Maya…?

Rating: ***** (5 stars)
Review:

I will preface this review by admitting that I am a huge fan of Kelley Armstrong’s, and I have read all of her books (though not many anthologies) which have so far been published in the UK. I was introduced to her through reading her book Bitten – the first book of her Women of the Otherworld Series which is aimed at an adult readership.

The Gathering is the first book in Kelley Armstrong’s new Young Adult (YA) series The Darkness Rising. This is Armstrong’s second foray into the YA market, the first being her The Darkest Powers Trilogy. Like her previous works, The Gathering is set in a world similar to our own but with some vital differences – how it differs is only hinted at in this book, but if you’ve read any of her other works then you’ll have a pretty good idea. If you’ve not read any of her books before then don’t worry, as this series works as a stand-alone (based on the evidence of this book).

The main character of this book is Maya Delaney, a teen with Native American heritage but who was adopted when she was a baby. She is a very likeable and well-rounded character. In fact, although this is never really explicitly mentioned in the book, she is rather popular. This may be because there are only sixty-eight children in her school, and the population of Salmon Creek is only 200, but it is hinted that this is not why. She certainly seems to be well liked on the whole by her peers and by the adults of the community. Maya has a strong like for the outdoors and for wildlife which percolates throughout the book – she looks after injured wildlife and then releases it back into the wild once it is well. Her friendship with Daniel is a strong and deep one, despite the slight distance between the characters – there doesn’t seem to be many secrets between them, and their lives seem very closely entwined – and there is no sense of romance between them. They are just two good friends – Maya seems to be the only girl of her peers who isn’t attracted to Daniel.

The book opens with a bang, which won’t be much of a surprise for readers as the first nine chapter is available online (just visit her website to have  a taste of this book). At first everything seems very ordinary, and then things fast go downhill. This event sets up the whole book (and quite possibly the whole series). It certainly changes a lot of things for both Maya and Daniel. The next chapter takes place nearly a year after this event, showing both how things have changed and how things have remained the same. There is a sense of deep community ties within the book, as everyone seems to know what is going on with everyone else and Maya is very much a part of this. There is also the feeling that you are either part of the community or you are not, as the kids are taught how to handle people who ask questions about Salmon Creek – this is most definitely a reflection of the fact that Salmon Creek supports a medical-research lab. The lab in question seems to be very high security, but it provides a lot of benefits for the people of  Salmon Creek – however, there is a sense of mystery surrounding it despite its seeming openness.

The plot of The Gathering is made up of three main themes: mystery, romance and friendship. Of these, mystery and friendship are the most predominant ones. The romance in the book doesn’t appear until over fourteen chapters in to the story – so if you’re looking for a quick romance story, then this isn’t the book for you. Armstrong handles the romance element of the story with charm and grace. There is enough of it to keep the story interesting, but not so much that if it’s not your kind of thing you find yourself flipping through the pages until you find the end. The mystery and the friendship themes percolate through the book from the opening chapter. There are several mysteries presented as the story progresses, though few of them are answered in this book and the book itself ends on a cliff-hanger – but don’t let this put you off! The mysteries Armstrong presents are both big ones and small ones, and much of the book is a quest for answers – which Maya and Daniel are unable to get due to outside events. As this is the first book in the series the lack of answers is somewhat to be expected – why else would we want to progress to the next book? – and whilst the lack of answers is somewhat frustrating, I find myself eagerly anticipating the next book in the series.

If you’re a fan of Urban Fantasy then I think that this is a must read for 2011.

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