Friday, November 21, 2014

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin - L. Jagi Lamplighter

Overall: 8/10
Characters: 8.5/10
Plot: 8/10
Pacing: 6/10
Message: 8/10

It's been a while since I posted, and even longer since I posted a book review, so I wanted to treat you all to the most recent notch on my Kindle: L. Jagi Lamplighter's The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin. While not quite a "Young Adult" any more, I found Ms. Lamplighter's writing more than engrossing enough for any age. Drawn in by the preview, I ponied up my $2.99 and dove right in! I was not at all disappointed in that decision - Unexpected Enlightenment  was well worth it!

In going to write my review, I found that Ms. Lamplighter's husband, John C. Wright (also an author), had posted a link to another review of this book by Pierce T. Oka at Dogma & Dragons. Reading it, I found I agreed with many of Mr. Oka's points, and thus recommend you read his take along with my own to get a fuller picture. That said, let's dive right in!

Characters 8.5/10

Ms. Lamplighter has a great talent for creating memorable, dynamic characters. Mr. Oka found Siggy endlessly amusing. I didn't. However, this in no way detracted from his character, but made him all the more believable. Even in the midst of Siggy's crazy tangents, I began to feel a friendly affection for the Dragonslayer, until eventually I made peace with his awkwardness and just enjoyed.

In fact, I can't make too strong a point of how well the characters are rendered. The adults, who would have been useless in Harry Potter, are actually sympathetic and responsive. If they aren't everything that Rachel wants them to be at times, they will at least have a good reason for being so. Nastasha's lawful stupidity towards the end grows organically out of her upbringing, and serves a valuable role in Rachel's character development. And above and beyond them all stand this book's twin badasses: Gaius Valiant and Vladimir Von Dread, who seem all the cooler for being men, not titans.

In a similar fashion, the "evil house" in Unexpected Enlightenment gets a lot more nuance than Slytherin (Really, anyone else come away from Potter thinking that those kids should have been sorted into prison instead?). While the Fulgerator's wand carries a distinct air of menace, they are also not far from the side of the good guy Agents.

The only things dragging down this Character score are the main villains. They don't get nearly enough screen time or characterization prior to their big moment. While this does make it harder to predict the book's denouement, it also robs it of some of the impact it should have had. While we get enough to figure out that they might not be good people, we don't get enough to really grasp how they become so bad.

Plot 8/10

The Unexpected Enlightment is engrossing! While the characters are the book's strongest asset, the story doesn't lag too far behind. Things pop up that are, if you will forgive me for saying it, "unexpected" and you're a much stronger reader than I if you can pull yourself away from what comes next.

Ms. Lamplighter does fun things with a few of the established high school tropes, alternately subverting and nourishing them into something new. Most importantly though, the tension never seems contrived. In keeping with her excellent characterization, the interpersonal conflict in Unexpected Enlightenment  keeps to a believable amount that brings the plot forward without running away with it.

The only problem here is that certain plot ideas are pushed further into the forefront than their current state of development permits. While I'll admit that the "metaplutons" and the Raven fit neatly together, Rachel's acceptance of Siggy's random utterance as the focal point for the series' plot seems to come much too early. I would have liked it if she would have shown a bit more credulity, as such an ambitious arc deserves more of a sense of wonder (and with it, disbelief) to attach.

Pacing 6/10

As far as fast-paced stories go, few are faster than The Unexpected Enlightment. There are no dull moments, no wasted words, nothing that would make you want to do anything other than turn to the next page.

The problem is, in books as well as in people, having some fat can be healthy. The events of this book all take place within the span of five days. Don't believe it? Well, neither does Rachel! She frequently brings up this fact, both in this book and the next. Even with  this stated, you still won't believe it.

While Unexpected Enlightenment does well to avoid Potter's one year- one book pacing for something of its own, I wish the time frame had been expanded to at least a month. Maybe I was just a lame kid, but I know that much stuff never happened during any of my many first weeks at school!

Message 8/10

It's there, its great, and I don't want to spoil it! Therefore, I'll let you discover what has me so excited here for yourself. Of course, as it is only the first book in a series, I have the feeling that the big revelations will have to wait. In the meantime though, we are given a main character in Rachel Griffin who is thoughtful, kind, brave, and willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. We could all stand to be a little more like her.

Additionally,  Nastasha's dedication to law and Siggy's chaotic streak bring up good questions about when one should adhere to the rules and when one should bend them. Thankfully, Rachel seems to steer well between the two. I could see this being a valuable example to the young adult (and probably many full adult) readers of this book.


The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is an excellent book, and well worth the three dollars you'll spend for it. By about chapter seven, I had already made sure to download the sequel. And as I tear through book 2, I look forward to many fun rereads to come.

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