The Wonder of All Things, by Jason Mott

The Wonder of All Things, by Jason Mott
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
ASIN: 1322022763
304 pages, eBook
Expected Publication: 30th September 2014
Source: NetGalley

 Tragedy strikes a small town when a plane accidentally crashes into a crowd of air show spectators. Among the casualties is a boy named Wash who is found amid the wreckage seriously injured, bloody and torn, by his best friend Ava. Distraught and panicked, Ava lays her hands upon Wash and they both witness his wounds miraculously heal. The existence of Ava’s power does not stay secret, but the healing results of using that power do not come without exacting a brutal price upon her. As others flock to the town to seek Ava’s aid, or to perhaps exploit and control her for their own goals, Ava and her single father, along with Wash and the grandmother who raises him must deal with these outside forces as well as new personal discoveries.
When I requested an advanced reading copy of this through NetGalley a part of me worried that the publisher would consider my thoughts on Jason Mott’s last book, The Returned, and refuse me. Though popular and spawning a television show, that novel left me feeling disappointed. The biggest factors in that reaction were its ending, which I found bordering on cartoonish, and the dilution of its focus across too wide a range of stories/points of view. But aspects of The Returned still impressed me and I was more than willing to try another of Mott’s novels (or I wouldn’t have made the request). With The Wonder of All Things Mott avoids both of the above problems as I saw them and writes a touching story with compelling characters that flows sharply in readability and tone.
The thematic set up for The Wonder of All Things is familiar to those who have read Mott – a sudden, unanticipated event that magically alters a normal causal relationship between life and death. The mysterious event (or in this case power) engenders a bit of awe, reverence, hope, and fear simultaneously in people; how they respond and deal with the newfound situation or power becomes the novel’s central focus. Very effectively here, Mott puts the brunt of this focus directly on Ava and Wash and to their guardians. Other characters also react in unique ways to Ava’s power and its implications, but their decisions and actions all filter back to those protagonists, rather than being dispersed through multiple protagonists as in his previous novel.
Ava’s magical powers to heal are straightforward and Mott takes this simple ‘what if?’ scenario and proceeds to deeply investigate its impact on the young girl and those closest to her. Mott writes his children characters most vividly, endearing them to the reader and investing them in their struggles, in particular to Ava’s desire to help those she cares about around her, but on her own terms.
Overall the adult characters seem less solid, present each as more of a narrative impetus for Ava’s character. The primary exception to this is Ava’s mother, who died prior to the start of the novel and is present through flashbacks of Ava’s childhood and her mother’s early realization of Ava’s healing powers and the price it exacted. Ava’s mother is a fascinating character, strong and loving yet weakened by bouts of serious depression. The parallels that Mott draws between physical and mental health are important and Mott effectively unites the past and present of the novel through the comparisons between Ava’s loving mother and others in really understanding the consequences and power of Ava’s gift/curse.
Those who enjoyed The Return should also appreciate The Wonder of All Things, but those on the fence could find this an enjoyable and worthwhile read.

Four Stars out of Five

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced electronic reading copy of this from Harlequin Mira via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Returned, by Jason Mott

The Returned, by Jason Mott
The Returned Book 1
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
352 pages, Kindle Edition
Published August 2013
Source: NetGalley

The zombie genre has overflowed with titles recently, and there hasn’t been any shortage of plots dealing with general world-altering apocalyptic events either. It was therefore nice to see a novel that deals with the idea that “sometimes they come back” in an original and poignant way. Mott’s first novel brings some success just in its premise, loved ones returning mysteriously from the dead, breathing and alive as if they had never left in the first place, and the heavy emotional burden this drags up for those who fought hard to come to terms with their passing, now faced with them back. This is a subject with broad emotional appeal, a plot that is ripe for awards, and adaptation. It isn’t surprising to see that it has already been bought up by Brad Pitt for translation into a TV show, network TV, so I have little hope for it. But still.

The novel even feels like a TV show to begin with, episodic and fleeting, rarely answering any big questions or dwelling too long on any one particular scene or character, going from one quiet moment of introspection into another, until finally coming to jarring action at the novel’s conclusion. The novel focuses on two main characters, now in their elder years, faced with the return of their young son, lost to accidental drowning decades ago. But each chapter is interspersed with brief glimpses into the lives of other “Returned” and the ‘true’ living into whose lives they have re-entered. In many cases these little snippets seem more interesting than the main plot and characters, making the reader sad to know they won’t be able to stay long with these newly introduced storylines.

The strengths of “The Returned” are in its straightforward writing style that breezes by, yet allows deep emotional resonance between the reader and the characters. In the normal zombie troupe the returned are the monsters, set on destroying life and civilization. Here is kind of the reverse. The Returned are strikingly normal, yet still otherworldly and threatening. Society reacts in fear and loathing, and in some sense necessity as they realize that the already over-burdened Earth can hardly handle an even greater population – the resources, the space, simply aren’t there. While evoking humanity and love and awe in some, the Returned awaken hate and prejudice and disgust in others, setting up the violent clashes that the close of the novel feature.

If the quiet moments of introspection are among the novel’s best moments, the weakest moment (other than its general structure as mentioned) is its turn to action at the end, too little, too generic, too late, leaving enough uncertainty to make clear that future novels set in this universe will be due out, lessening the impact of this work on its own.

For people not really into sci fi or fantasy this would still be a book they would enjoy because of its broader emotional appeal that truly lies at its heart. It is an excellent concept, done reasonably well, and which will surely make for a successful TV program. It’s not the best it could be, but it should certainly be popular.

Three  Stars out of Five