Review: SEEKER by Arwen Elys Dayton

Herein lies my longest book review ever.  I had so much to say about this book that you may be surprised by its rating, but perhaps not if you’ve read my THE SELECTION review (a lot of people actually have).  I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.   This review dives into more of the story than the first third that’s covered in the book’s description on Goodreads or Amazon. So if you don’t want to know more than 35% of this book, stop reading the review at “STRUCTURE” and skip to the “OVERALL” It would be impossible for me to fairly review this book without going into parts 2 and 3, because each part is so different. However, I don’t feel like anything I mention is particularly “plot twisty,” if you know what I mean.

I’m giving this book 3.5 stars, but rounding up to four.  The main reason for the high rating was that I found it much of it very engaging, despite the problems I had with it, and in the end, that’s what’s most important to me when rating a book.  I liked the MCs (caveat to come). Quin’s unwavering faith in becoming a Seeker in the first third of the book was a beautiful contrast to John’s desire to become a Seeker with knowledge (hinted at, as it was) that her faith is misplaced. Shinobu wasn’t as developed in that first third, which I think was a shame because he gets more and more focus as the book continues, and I wish we could see his character arc—the best of the three—more thoroughly from the beginning. Maud’s POV was late coming into that first third, and at first it surprised me to see her there, but from beginning to end, I was drawn into her POV. And yet, I will probably not talk about her much in this review because most of the action is around the other three.

SEEKER is quite an interesting book, in many ways unlike others of “its” genre. If I had to pick a genre, it would be fantasy, although the “dear reader” note at the beginning of the galley claims that the story transcends genre. There’s some futuristic science in there that could be seen as sci-fi (mainly in the form of an airship and weaponry), but I would call this primarily fantasy. The time period was a little confusing—I got mixed signals, thinking it was in the future at some point early on, then maybe an alternate now later. We could just call it sci-fantasy or speculative fiction. To me, it doesn’t matter, but some people like a well-defined genre, so here’s a paragraph for you about that.

So far, I have only addressed the first 35% of the book, which consists of the first Part. One more thing to mention about this section is that there’s a lot of withholding of information in here. Skipping scenes and “I don’t want to talk about it or even think about it” types of withholding of information, as well as a character vaguely thinking about hints from his past. If this is the sort of thing that you can’t stand, don’t bother picking up this book.

Some details about this book:

STRUCTURE: This book is the most oddly structured book I’ve ever read. There were three parts plus an “interlude,” which I am keeping separate in my part count because the book does too. The first Part is what’s in the book’s description. Quin, Shinobu, and John try to become Seekers, told that they will basically be superheroes. John doesn’t pass his tests—which seems a little weird at the time, but is understandable in retrospect—so he’s kicked out and Quin & Shinobu—the two who had always believed the superhero line—go through the ritual and find out that they were wrong about what a Seeker does. But they’re stuck in the role now. John’s obsessed with becoming a Seeker, and getting the athame (which is a special knife, like on the cover), so after he’s kicked out, he comes back, this time with hired guns to help him get the athame. Quin and Shinobu use his actions as an excuse to escape that life.

We go to the interlude. It’s a short section of memories, mostly John’s, but also Maud and Quin and Shinobu’s are in there too. It mostly shows us what John’s been hinting at from his past and gives us a good bead on on his motivation. Maud’s is very good, and I’m not sure the chapter about Quin and Shinobu is needed. What’s strangest about this section is that it is not the only place where we spend full chapters in the past. It’s not even the first place in the book with flashbacks, because both John and Quin tell us about their feelings when they first met (John’s memory in more flashback-y form than Quin’s). So when we later get a Maud chapter set in the past with no indication that it’s set before the events of the book, it’s very disorienting and calls into question as to why have this “interlude” at all.

And perhaps it’s so that we can feel like we’ve spent some time before Part 2, which jumps to 18 months after Part 1. Okay, that’s a reasonable excuse. However, what really struck me as I went into Part 2 was that I felt like I was going into the second book in a trilogy. What often happens in book 2 in a trilogy is that there’s some sort of time jump and a huge change in the role of MC(s) and the reader is completely disoriented, and likely disappointed after book 1. That’s exactly what Part 2 feels like. Quin has no memories and Shinobu hides himself in drugs, and only John actually drives the story that we started reading. Another weird thing about Part 2 is that for *absolutely no reason* the first chapter is from the point of view of a harbor. Well, that’s how the chapter is labeled, but it’s actually a random omniscient POV (the harbor cannot actually know all the information given in the chapter). But nothing nothing nothing in the chapter is necessary. Everything in this chapter is shown or told to us in past or future chapters. In the end, Part 2 kinda feels like the filler between the beginning and the climax (ha, just like most book 2s in trilogies). It ends about the time Quin gets her memories back and Shinobu gets over his “worthlessness.”

Part 3 is exactly what you expect it to be. The book is back on track and we go into the nice big showdown that we’ve been waiting for.

CHARACTER ARCS: I started out liking Quin and John, and feeling like we didn’t really know Shinobu or Maud (whose POV came in late). Quin’s wide-eyed faith in what she was doing, followed by her reaction to finding out what it truly meant to be a Seeker was easy to identify with (although the latter would be easier to identify with if we actually knew what happened as a Seeker at that point). She was tough and focused and easy to root for. But in Part 2, she has no memories and turns into a frustratingly different person. Perhaps what makes it even more frustrating is that she sometimes acts like she remembers what she doesn’t remember and like she’s trying to atone for this thing that her memories were erased over. If the atonement was so important to her character during this time, I would have rather seen her in her healer role trying to make up for her past, rather than germ-phobic, repressing-anything-weird-that-happens Quin (because really that was all the personality she got during this time period). When she gets her memories back (which was kinda an iffy point of time because she sort of goes back and forth on this), she basically returns to her original character, so I’m not sure she gets any growth at all.

John’s motivations and character are clear throughout the book, but sadly he doesn’t learn from anything he does in it. At the beginning, he is easy to root for. His family’s been wronged, and he believes in what he is doing to right that wrong. In Part 2, he drives the story, since Quin and Shinobu want nothing to do with the whole Seeker business. In Part 3, he continues with the exact same tactics that he’s failed at using over and over again. One thing that I noticed is that every time he picks up a weapon or hires someone to “only threaten” with a weapon, it ends up being used. So when he takes up a weapon that terrifies him in the third part, you want to yell at him for his stupidity at trying this “threatening only” thing yet again. He also fails to realize that the only way to get sympathy for his cause is to talk to the others involved (particularly to the girl he loves, who he keeps trying to convince through force), and continuously holds back the information that might have convinced her to help him. In many ways, he is an antagonist (although there are 2 villainous figures in the book) and even a villain to Quin and Shinobu, and yet we understand where he’s coming from, even when we’re angry at him for not learning from his own failures. But there’s also something comforting about that consistency, and knowing that the emotions that keep him from being trained into an effective Seeker (particularly anger and fear) are the same ones that he shows near the end and that make his reasonable motivations turn into villainous actions.

And then there’s Shinobu. Shinobu has the best character arc of the trio, actually growing and changing throughout the book. Sadly, we don’t get a good feel for him before he becomes a Seeker, so let’s just assume he’s as full of faith as Quin is at the beginning (and in fact we’re told this is true). Really, what we see most at the beginning is that he’s jealous of John’s relationship with Quin. After he feels betrayed by his and Quin’s fathers for their lying about what Seekers do, he makes some bad decisions that haunt him even more than what they did as Seekers. He dives into a world of dare-deviling and of drugs and hides from the people he loves to avoid thinking about all that. And he says that he’s become “worthless,” and I have to admit that I sort of think of him and Quin that way during this time period. But unlike Quin, at least he’s actively doing things during this time. And even though I’m not big on the whole drug-using character thing, I find his POV during this time a lot more engaging than Quin’s was. And so when he gets past it and moves into the climax with his new perspective and shiny superhero aura (yeah), it does feel like a triumph and a successful character arc, and I really really like Shinobu in the third part…only I feel like he didn’t exactly earn that right, due to the way his “redemption” came about.

LOVE TRIANGLE: The triangle is another structural problem with the book. For the first part, the romance is strong between John and Quin, while Shinobu pouts off in the distance. In part 2, the John-Quin romance is so strong that it is the first thing that Quin remembers through her memory loss, while she doesn’t remember Shinobu at all. So it is quite surprising when Shinobu becomes a viable love interest in the third part. People may complain about the whole third cousin thing, but it’s really not that big a deal (especially since they’re not really third cousins) and the book is clear early on that within Seekers’ families there is a lot of intermarrying. If you can deal with it in the worlds of Harry Potter and Jane Austen, you can deal with it here. I like a decent love triangle, and I don’t even think that this one was unnecessary, but Quin goes from 0 to 60 with Shinobu, and it all happens while they’re preparing for battle, so it’s not only jarring but feels a little out of place. And I was initially hoping for Quin and Shinobu, even though the entire Part 1 makes that seem as likely as Xander breaking up Buffy and Angel (there is it, the obligatory Buffy reference 😉 ), despite the fact that Shinobu is described as looking like a Scottish-Asian model. From Shinobu’s POV, this is a huge triumph, again, but from Quin’s POV, her mind constantly being occupied by how maybe she wants Shinobu while they’re preparing for and in battle is out of place. Even Shinobu doesn’t think this way (and he’s the one who should be celebrating) during the climax except in the waiting moments. Quin can’t stop thinking about him or John while she’s battling. Her faith in John while he continuously gets her hurt is a little annoying too. Even though she is right that he doesn’t *want* to hurt her, he continues doing so, and her insistence that he doesn’t want to makes her look stupid, naive, and like an abuse victim about to happen. It also cheapens our ability to see that we understand where he’s coming from even while he makes poor decisions. We can see that a gun fired in the heat of battle but that he didn’t mean to shoot it, and look into his POV and see that he doesn’t want to hurt Quin but feels that the ends justify the means, and we can understand it because we know where he’s coming from. We don’t need Quin to cling to her belief that he wouldn’t hurt her while he’s doing it and giving her no explanation for it.

OVERALL: And yet, despite certain problems mentioned above, the book kept me reading. I got frustrated with part 2 and had to take a break in there, but I did keep picking up the book to see what would happen. Although I didn’t talk about Maud here much, I was fascinated by her story and wanted to see how her character arc would grow. But while she was a part of the story, she also was very separate from the others, which is why I didn’t include her much in this review. And even with their character arc problems, Quin, John, and Shinobu kept me reading. I was engaged by them and by the main plot (even with its little detour). And to me, that’s what counts.

Recommended for fans of: a mix of sci-fi and fantasy; multiple POV stories; interesting settings; uneven character arcs; strong romantic feelings in any situation; love triangles out of nowhere-ish; a trilogy arc in a single book; random unusual POVs; withheld information to be revealed later (mostly); redemption stories; watching a character fall into villainy; ancient magical characters; amnesia; drug-use; cool magical knives; Asian boys with red hair.

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