Review: Inheritance by Lisa Forrest (book)
By Lisa Forrest (HarperCollins, 2013)
I have spent the entire year thus far reading books featuring strong female protagonists on the speculative end of the spectrum (sci-fi/fantasy et al)—Veronica Roth, Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Garth Nix, just to name a few authors—yet Inheritance is not a book I would ordinarily have bought and read due to seeming altogether too girly. Under the influence of a festival, however, I did purchase the book and even had it signed by the author while I was volunteering at a Sydney Writers’ Festival School Days event earlier this year. The thing that tipped me towards it was the concept of circus performers having magic powers. I friggin’ love the circus (so long as the participants are human), so add a dash of magic and I’m looking for a rollicking read.
I read Inheritance very quickly, usually a sign of a plot with momentum, though with this novel I was really racing to get to the juicy bits that didn’t come until the final climax, which was unfortunately fleeting and unsatisfactory. Protagonist Tallulah (Lu) spends 80% of the book being trained at a circus school while simultaneously trying to find out more about a special silver cuff she has inherited and the Cirkulatti, the supernatural circus troupe she is supposedly about to join. There’s plenty of tension as Lu works her way through the social politics of an established group and small climaxes throughout the narrative as she discovers her new powers.
Forrest is very careful to make Lu work hard for her gift, things don’t come easily as they do in similar ‘discovering magic’ books. The problem is that you can see the seams of this at work and it only seems to make the book longer than it needs to be at the front.
Similarly, Lu’s friendships are also hard-won and supporting characters are only sketched until Forrest needs them to be more acutely drawn. The most interesting character is Adelaide (Della), Lu’s initial rival and then friend, and from what we learn about Della it seems that she should probably be the protagonist but we are left with the goody-goody, indecisive yet powerful Lu, which I feel is a bit of a waste.
Fortunately Lu isn’t as pig-headed as Tris from the Divergent series, nor as rash as Katniss from The Hunger Games books, but having an overly cautious main character makes for a boring journey. Lu has cool powers and does interesting things with them, but she doesn’t engage with her discoveries emotionally or intellectually the way you hope a protagonist would. After all, as readers we see the world through the protagonist’s eyes and if fatigue, weird dreams and headaches are what her life is like, then we’re hardly going to see the wonder that is patently there if only Forrest could define it more clearly.
It’s also a shame that the antagonist is so obvious from the start (Saskia has an opposite trajectory to Della, starting as not exactly friendly but at least in league with Lu) but Forrest does play other characters’ relationships to Lu quite nicely, to the point where it isn’t clear who Lu can trust at various points.
The author also uses a historic event (the Neko riots) to good effect, reinterpreting it to fit the supernatural circus troupe story. The parallels between figures of the past, which Lu learns of through dream sequences, and the present is clearly evident, however, and leaves very little guessing who is supposed to be who reincarnated, which spoils the sense of mystery and intrigue the narrative tries so hard to instil throughout.
It turns out the book is off-balance because it is the first of a series, which I wish I’d been told prior to opening it (nope, still haven’t forgiven the two-year gap between Garth Nix’s Lirael and Abhorsen). This makes the weird pacing of the book a little more understandable and forgivable, and I do hope the sequel lets some of the other characters shine through a little more as well as highlights the features of what is clearly supposed to be a very cool place.
Will I read the sequel? Look, I don’t tend to discriminate against writing choices I disagree with (I have issues with the writing of Suzanne Collins, James Dashner, Roth and Clare but I still read their series) so I will certainly look out for the next book. The drive to find out what happens next is the strongest drive of all and I’m a complete sucker for it. Just don’t let me wait too long, HarperCollins, or I’ll never pick up the trail again (*looking at you Christopher Paolini*).
Book rating: 5/10
Enjoyment rating: 7/10