Firstlife by Gena Showalter (No Spoilers)

Well, I was totally right about how many books I would finish while in the land of no internet and no cell service. I finished five books – three of which were over 400 pages long, one of which was in the 600 page range. One of them was a reread (I wanted to remember the first book before I dive in to the second book), so maybe that’s why I was able to blow through it so quickly. Either way, I’m back in town with three reviews that I need to work my way through. *cracks fingers*

Firstlife, interestingly enough, was the first book I finished while I was away. Right away we’re introduced to Tenley “Ten” Lockwood who is locked away at the Prynne Asylum for her refusal to choose a side in the ongoing battle between Troika and Myriad. In the world Showalter created, everyone lives through what is known as their “Firstlife” and when they die they’ll either belong to Troika or Myriad, two different worlds (at least I think they’re worlds) with different belief systems for the rest of their Everlife. The catch is that they have to choose where they want to end up before they die, because if they die without pledging to either side, they’ll end up in Many Ends, which is a scary, dark place with no way out.

Ten’s father works for Myriad and is fairly high up for a human, however, the fact that he cannot get his daughter to pledge to Myriad, makes him a target of his higher ups. This leads him to send her to Prynne where he gives the head doctor full license to torture her (though he doesn’t want her permanently injured) until she decides to pledge to Myriad and therefore ensures her father’s survival. But Ten, refusing to be forced in to a decision, withholds her choice and survives 13 months of torture at Prynne before she breaks her way out with the help of her Myriad Laborer and Troika Laborer (people assigned by their home realm to convince a target to pledge to their realm). I can get where Ten is coming from. She’s trying to make an adult decision without being influenced by her environment.

All kidding aside, I admire the fact that Ten wants to make her own decision based off of her own thoughts rather than just pledging to Myriad the way her father wants her to.

“Fate is an excuse, a way to remove blame and therefore guilt for poor decision making. Free choice decides the outcome of your life, not fate.”

It’s rare to come across a young female character who recognizes that she is in control of her decisions and that her decisions have consequences. A lot of young adult characters try to brush off any responsibility for their own decisions and I was pleased to not see that here. Ten very much seems to subscribe to the philosophy of “it is what it is.” I saw a couple of reviewers who were frustrated with the fact that we don’t find out which realm/world that Ten pledges herself to until the end of the novel. Believe me, I get the frustration considering the book is 475 pages long. I was right there feeling it along with you guys, but honestly, making an individual decision that is well thought out, can take that long. And you can waffle over it repeatedly like Ten does in this book. But I get it – this book was long. For her ability to withstand torture, to give serious thought to a monumental decision despite chaotic circumstances, her willingness to continue chasing after things despite how scary they may be and her ability to accept unfortunate circumstances without whining like a baby and move on almost immediately, I hereby dub Ten a Fiery Female. She earned it – at least from me.

The symbolism of this book just added to the premise of the story for me. The reader can easily replace Troika and Myriad with the concepts of Heaven and Hell and the land of Many Ends is really purgatory. The Myriad Laborer and Troika Laborer who try to influence Ten’s decision then become the little angel and devil that sit on your shoulder, the good and bad side of your subconscious. How difficult decision making can be when you don’t have all of the information available to you. It’ll be interesting to see if Showalter continues with the symbolism in Lifeblood, the second book in this series. And you know I love to analyze the title, but in this case is moot because it’s pretty obvious. But the symbolism that stretches to that cover art! Look how junky the top of the hourglass is and how beautiful your Everlife is supposed to be at the bottom. I love when the aesthetic of the cover just jives with the story.

And while I won’t give away who Ten ultimately decides to pledge to, I will say that this book does end on a cliffhanger. Not as far as her decision, I promise that you find out. But it ends like in the middle of an action scene. Very abrupt.

Ultimately, the symbolism present in the book and the premise itself weren’t enough to combat my slog through all 475 pages, which leaves me with a rating of…

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I’m definitely interested in the Lifeblood though. I hate to admit it, but maybe there is something to ending a story on a cliffhanger.

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