Immortal by Gillian Shields

March 13, 2010
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When I picked up Immortal, by Gillian Shields, I was expecting a fun historical romance. After all, the author says that she was inspired by the Brontë sisters. In Immortal, Evie has no choice but to attend the exclusive Wyldcliffe Abbey school on scholarship when her grandmother suddenly grows ill. The school operates on the backdrop of a Gothic mansion and the harsh British moors, and its students are no friendlier. Unaccustomed to the rigor and discipline of boarding school and tormented by Celeste, the cousin of the dead girl whose place she took over, Evie is initially overwhelmed. When she starts to meet with a perplexing boy, Sebastian, in the middle of the night, the mysteries of the school and her own past are slowly revealed, with her heart inextricably tangled in the process. The story is interspersed with the diary entries of Agnes, a Victorian-era girl whose life bears striking resemblances to Evie’s. All in all, I was excited to read this book; it has an interesting and unique plot premise, and I really thought that it had a lot of potential.

Unfortunately, that potential fell flat once I actually started to read it. As I forced myself to finish Immortal, which is fairly slow-paced, I was met with disappointment after disappointment. For starters, the characters, even the protagonist, were one-dimensional and contradictory. Evie professes on page one that she is “intelligent, sane, {and} sensible,” yet had she not flat-out told the reader this about herself (another grievance of mine, which is all too common in first-person fiction), I would have had no idea. She certainly had no problem immersing herself in the world of witches, magic, and secrecy; instead, this minute description serves to provide the hackneyed “I wouldn’t believe it either, but then it happened to me” air to the book.

One of Evie’s enemies, the snotty Celeste, at least had a chance for depth and sympathy for her deceased cousin, but that avenue was left completely unexplored. The secondary characters were forgettable; in fact, the only one that was really characterized was Sebastian, and it was not in his favor. From the diary passages I gleaned that, despite Evie’s rhapsodies over his good looks and charm, he is driven by greed and envy. Suffice it to say that I didn’t feel any pity when misfortunes befell the characters.


The attempts at foreshadowing--I say attempts because real foreshadowing does not act like a blatant stop sign to a reader--were contrived. Worse, though, are the unaddressed plot points. Some might not notice them, but I was rather annoyed when Josh the stable boy was awkwardly and conspicuously mentioned--twice--and then never appeared again. Furthermore, some aspects of the story were improbable and, at times, ridiculous. Just one example: in a book where “first love never dies” is stamped on the cover, Agnes endlessly rehashes her undying love for Sebastian...and then runs away, marries a consumptive painter, and has a baby girl just in time for her husband to conveniently die. In short, it was a manufactured plot twist so that her family line would continue; the only problem is that it goes against the main premise of the book. Enough said.

Not to beat a dead horse, but the romance between Evie and Sebastian, the focal point of the book, is a joke; after about three hours spent together in the dim moonlight, they are madly in love. At least, Evie is, until she is convinced that Sebastian doesn’t love her. She is eventually reassured of his love. But then she starts to wonder...does he really love her? This and other engrossing questions dominate the majority of the book.

Some may bill this review as overly harsh. I will admit that there were some enjoyable, even unique things in Immortal. As I’ve said, the setting is fascinating and relatively unexplored in modern young adult literature. It also has a fairly engaging plot overall, although when examined closer it borders on inane. I also might be the first to say that the diary entries were fun to read; they were what kept me going when long pages of Evie’s wandering thoughts nearly derailed me. And in my opinion, the ending of the book was a lot better (relatively) than the rest of the book. I was at least satisfied that it was not the expected happy-ever-after.

Still, Immortal left much to be desired. I would suggest that readers interested in the setting and the historical atmosphere try reading A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray, instead. The ending left ample room for a sequel, but I for one will not be picking up the second book, Betrayal, when it comes out.





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