Unborn - Amber Lynn Natusch

(I got a copy courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

I shall be honest and say that I was one inch from DNFing this one. About four or five times. I trudged on because I felt I owed the book a review, since I had requested it, but I just can't recommend it. Instead, I shall thank the local bus system and this past week's early work shift, because they provided me with reading time at something-too-early AM, which made itall the more bearable.

I seriously wanted to like this. Roots in Greek mythology. A ward of Hades, snatched from the Underworld. The idea behind the treaty between Hades and Demeter, providing an interesting diplomatic explanation to Persephone being allowed to go back to her mother for six months every year. Khara's origins, being the daughter of a kickass god, in spite of his usual shortcomings. Well, grantd, Detroit was kind of cliché—it seems like the Bleak City of Bleakiness of Doom for anything horror or supernatural—but hey, whatever, as long as it works!

Only it didn't.

My very first gripe, and unfortunately one that lasted for the whole novel, was Khara's narrative style, which I can only decribe as stilted and "trying too hard":

Our destination was on the far side of the mob before us, and I cringed at the thought of having to navigate through them all, their sweaty stench already offending me from where I stood. Without time to relay those concerns to Kierson, he took my hand and pulled me behind him as he cut his way through the mass with ease. Though I was loath to admit it, there was something strangely appealing being surrounded by the dancing horde, swallowed up in their debauchery. I had not expected to find it so amenable.

I'll acknowledge it tried to stray from basic, bland prose (because a book is urban fantasy, paranormal, young adult, etc. doesn't mean its writing has to be dumbed down, for sure). However, by doing so, it achieved the contrary, making everything feel heavy-handed—all the more because dialogues, too, were in the same style. All the characters spoke in very similar ways, at odds with their surroundings, their usual places of dwelling, the kind of lifestyle they lived. I just can't envision any son of Ares speaking like this:

“No,” Drew replied with an ounce of hesitation. “I have made the decision to hold off on that for now. He has his hands full out east. I see no reason to burden him with this as well, especially when there is nothing to report other than her existence. What he is dealing with has potentially far more disastrous implications than learning he has a sister. I do not think he needs a distraction to derail his focus.”

And Khara's narrative remained like this all the time, even during fight scenes. So maybe, just maybe, her upbringing in the Underworld would have made her a wee mite uptight, but... No, not even that would really justify it.

I also couldn't bring myself to care for Khara. Making her the a daughter of a war deity could at least have warranted a few nice traits. Natural ability for fighting, a mind cut for strategy, being world champion at chess... Whatever. But mostly, she remained passive and useless, observing everything, barely feeling a thing (well, that's how her narrative made me feel, that is). The girl standing in the middle, the one that has to be protected and saved because she barely fends for herself, in spite of claiming she has spent centuries in the Underworld surviving her lot of blows. The one all the guys around fight for—thankfully not as a love polygon, since most of them are her brothers, but they still came off as "you're the girl and so you stay here and when we tell you not to move, you don't move." She alleges her ability might actually be to "stay out of trouble". Then here's what she does:

“Stay close, and always behind me.”
I walked toward the voices, wanting to see just how the situation would play out. Would whatever creature Kierson pursued let her go, or would he face the wrath of my brother? Furthermore, I had a strange desire building within me that demanded to see just what the assailant was. I had not seen the evil that I had been so constantly told of since meeting Drew and the others. Curiosity got the better of me.
Just as I rounded a thick concrete pillar, I could see the three of them, though light was still scarce. A thin and sickly looking man held the young girl, her face cupped in his hands, mouths nearly touching. The second I stepped into view, his hollow, empty eyes snapped directly to me.
And they never left.

Excuse me for not quite believing that, Khara. Also, for questioning centuries' worth of understanding ability:

“You are not going anywhere, especially not until we know more about why you came here in the first place. [...] If you’re finally feeling rested, you should join us.”
“But you said to stay right where I am...”
He laughed heartily.
“Not literally right where you are. I meant I would feel better if you stayed with us.”

I just... I just can't. Sorry.

I'm not even going to touch the romance here; no chemistry whatsoever between Khara the Bland and typical Tall, Dark and Dangerous Guy. Or how the psychopath who's been trying to own Khara for centuries is brushed aside as a threat from the beginning, before someone finally starts to remember that maybe, just maybe, he should be kept in their computations. You know, just in case.

This novel was definitely not for me.