Updated twice weekly by Lyn Thorne-Alder. Rated 18+ http://addergoole.com/
This review concerns up to Chapter XI of the series. WARNING FOR POSSIBLE SPOILERS.
Addergoole bills itself as “a contemporary fantasy story with erotic and dark-fantasy elements.” It’s a succinct summary, but one that is somewhat misleading. After reading Addergoole I came to the conclusion that it was more of a dark-erotica story with fantasy elements, rather than the other way around. Readers follow the story of a group of freshman students as they begin their new lives at the Addergoole School, a school built underground with astounding technology and magical marvels. The characters explore the unusual social rules of Addergoole’s magical society while probing the deeper mystery of why the school – and in essence, the characters themselves – exist.
The website is simple, the focus strictly on the large, easy to read text. The table of contents is useful. The writing is clean with few typos. Some really lovely sentences and descriptions abound: “The world was red and black, the wheat field they stood in so scorched, so drenched in blood, that it would yield no crop but corpses this season.” The world-building is complicated but thorough, and explained in bits and pieces – whether or not those bits and pieces gel together, though, will be discussed in a bit.
There is a large cast of characters and three different protagonists, but the author juggles the multiple story threads with ease. The story jumps between several characters’ points of view, but each character is well-defined enough that the changes in point of view are smooth and consistent. This sort of point-of-view jumping presents its own unique set of problems, but for the most part it’s an excellent narrative choice. By following multiple points of view we see how the school affects different people, and each story thread so far is unique, and the bonus stories deepen the world while providing hints of scenes to come. Jamian’s and Shahin’s stories, especially, are the standout for me. Jamian’s deep fear and confusion radiate off the page with powerful force, while Shahin’s visions are artfully done.
The most noticeable fantasy element is the physical transformations of the older students. Jamian undergoes a transformation that leaves him with horns and a tail. Others have butterfly wings, bat wings, ornate markings or special powers such as shape-shifting. On the cynical side, this presents a nice dose of wish-fulfillment, allowing the reader to imagine what their own unique physical traits would be if they attended the school. But it also presents a nice metaphor for what I believe is one of the large themes of Addergoole: adolescence, learning and growing up. The characters are searching for their place in the world, and the School allows them exploration both spiritual and sexual. The characters don’t know when their transformations will happen and what the results will be; they don’t know what the future has in store for them and what kind of people they will become.
The mind-control plot point is a detriment to this theme and to the characterizations in general, I feel. For the entire first book I hated every character for behaving far too calmly and unaffectedly at events that would have sent alarm bells ringing in many other people (shoving others across a room for example). It was noticeable enough that I considered it a characterization issue. It is not until book two that someone hints at mind control. But the idea of mind control, and the lack of definition as to what the mind control entails exactly, casts all of our understanding of the characters in an unreliable light. Sometimes the characters react strongly and at other times they do not. The mind control aspects make the story’s reliance on close-third-person points of view — a point of view in which the reader’s information is entirely filtered through a character — a burden when the characters don’t quite behave like people and every emotional response (or lack thereof) could be considered inconsistent. If this was done purposely then I applaud the author’s creation of not one but several unreliable narrators – but it is another aspect that may find impatient readers jumping ship before the end of book 1.
The sexual/erotic parts of the story are mostly well written, notably the Shahin/Emrys dance scenes in the first book. However, the BDSM aspects of the erotica and of the social dynamics will turn off some readers. Social relationships are defined through Keepers and their Kept and enforced through magical means, leading to a society in which people are kept under others’ protection (or fear), and many of the relationships between Keepers/Kept become sexual. It is a world where sex is irrevocably tied to power. We’re three books in and no one has thought to question why the society has developed in such a way, and the reader is not given even a misguided explanation. The stakes of these relationships and the protection they afford are hinted to be very high, but we don’t witness that need for protection ourselves until Hell Night, a story point much later in the story when the older students torment the younger ones – sometimes to the point where I stopped reading. It became more bizarre considering I was never sure how old any of the characters were other than “college-aged.”
To me the larger draw that kept me reading was not the romances of the young students but the greater mystery of the existence of the school and the school’s purpose. But the hints of this great conspiracy are few and far between, and this plot seems secondary to the characters’ romantic interests. The main problem with the story is that the stakes are murky. Why do these relationships matter? What do the characters have to gain or lose from any of these sexual explorations? Why is this school so important? The story holds the mystery of why these students are so special and what this school is about over our heads for too long, dedicating its time to detailing trysts and keeping the larger mystery purposely vague. But the vagueness eventually turns against the story, hurting what would otherwise be steady characterizations and an intriguing world. For many readers who read Addergoole for the romance and erotica, the question of whether these things will be explained at all may not even matter. If you’re looking for a darkly sexy teen story with fantasy elements, Addergoole is for you.
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This review has also been posted to the Web Fiction Guide and Muse’s Success.