Ana is considered a no soul. For thousands of years the many souls have been reincarnated over and over, as different people with different features, sometimes as different sexes. But something has happened to make Ana replace another soul. She's called a no soul by everyone else, but maybe she's just a new soul.
Incarnate is a novel that makes you think about the "meaning of life." What does it really mean to live. And what is our life really worth? With the new threat Ana poses, the other souls now wonder if this may be there last time on Earth as well.
Does having infinite number of lives make you live less?
I really enjoyed the development of Sam and Ana's relationship. There never seemed to be any unrealistic actions between them like there usually are in YA (i. e. insta-love, super attachment, rushing into things, etc.).
Would Have Been Stronger Without the Paranormal Elements
Ever since Presenting Lenore first featured this book in a prior dystopian month, I have been incredibly curious about Incarnate. Denied on NetGalley, I did not find time to read this until now. What I was expecting and what I got were entirely different things. It really kind of amazes me how little I know about books that I somehow still manage to be excited for.
Yet again, I'm deeming this not really a dystopia. Sad day. With the popularity of the genre lots of books are getting mislabeled. Actually, if anything, this seems much more like a utopian society, though one fraught with some issues. There is some amount of corruption in their governing council, but I don't think they try to control their average citizens enough to make them dystopian, though from Ana's perspective maybe they are.
The world building in this novel is straight up crazy, which I don't necessarily mean in a bad way. It's just way odder than I was anticipating. For example, I had no clue that there were going to be dragons and sylphs in this. There was also reference to trolls and centaurs, so I imagine those will show up in later installments, because why mention them if they're not going to serve a purpose in the plot? Even weirder than that, though, is the city of Heart, which the people of this world found built and waiting for them, walls, homes, temple and everything just empty and ready for them. They didn't question it; they just moved in, thank Janan. WHAT?
In this world, apparently, precisely one million humans live. Each of these souls reincarnates upon death, coming back in a couple of years to a new form and a new biological body and family. Everyone in Heart has been alive for five thousand years at this point. All of them have been both men and women. New experiences are few; everyone knows everyone.
Then, everything changes. Ciana dies, but she is not reborn. Instead, Ana emerges into the world, a shiny newsoul. Everyone flips out, because they fear this spells the end of their lives. Despite the fact that Ana clearly has no control over her birth, everyone blames and hates her, especially her mother, Li, who takes her to live in a rural cottage to escape from judgment. Also, being far away enables Li to mentally and physically abuse Ana without anyone knowing.
At the outset of Incarnate, 18 year old Ana has finally run away from Li, determined to learn the truth about herself in Heart. Misled by her evil old bat of a mother, Ana goes the wrong way, is attacked by sylph and nearly drowns. Thankfully, Sam happens upon her and rescues her. They form a bond and she discovers, for the first time, that people are capable of treating her well, of caring about her.
Ana made a rather indifferent heroine for me. She comes across as fairly weak, definitely depending more on Sam than is probably healthy. Then again, she basically has imprinted on him forever, since he was the first person to ever be nice to her. I do appreciate that she is at least a little bit bothered by the gap in their ages and experience; that has at least been acknowledged. Pretty much the only quality that really endeared Ana to me was her love for music. Otherwise, she didn't really stand out, much less clever and fascinating than I think I was supposed to think.
For the most part, my difficulties with Ana stem from her self-hatred. I totally get why she feels that way and, believe me, I understand what that's like. She's been torn down all of her life, so it would be impossible for her to be otherwise. Still, it's painful and annoying to sit through so many chapters of her self-doubt. Even with Sam's insistence on her awesomeness, she continues to think of herself as a nosoul for ages.
Sam, though, I actually really do like. He saved the book for me. He's nice and dependable. Aside from falling for Ana, something he seemed hesitant to do, but, thankfully, didn't brood over, he is completely non-creepy. My mental picture of him is super attractive, but he declared himself not to be, which is interesting. I wonder how reliable Ana's portrayal of him really is, considering that she, again, is biased since he was the first person in her entire life to ever be kind to her or to tell her that she has value. Their relationship strikes me as VERY unhealthy in all sorts of ways, even though I like Sam and want him to be happy. Still, finding your sense of self-worth only because of a guy isn't exactly ideal, neither for Audrey and Seymour or for Ana and Sam.
Reading through what I've written so far, I can't see too many things that particularly bothered me about Incarnate. Still, I feel like there was something missing that I can't quite put my finger on. For me, this turned out to be an entertaining but not especially impressive read. The concept intrigues me greatly, but I didn't really bond with most of the characters or the execution of the idea.
An Unsuccessful Mix of New-World Technologies & Old-World Mythologies
(Updated: May 24, 2012)
I absolutely loved Incarnate...until I started thinking about it. As I thought about what I had liked, I realized that the well-developed romance that I had found endearing, was actually an obstacle that prevented the plot from progressing, the concept of reincarnation, while fascinating, was questionable in its explanation, and the world of Range was an unsuccessful mix of new-world technologies and old-world mythologies.
I loved that Meadows attempted to take on such a complicated concept, and I was looking forward to seeing how her world reflected on our society and how she tackled some philosophical questions. How does one parent a child who has the wisdom of someone much older? How does the concept of murder change (does it change at all) and would there be consequences? How does possession change when one never truly dies? What would it do to someone's mental health to know they can never truly escape their problems, as they'll still be waiting for them in their next life? What toll does constant death and rebirth have on a person's psyche? How does giving birth to, or being married to, or parented by almost everyone you know affect the way you see those around you? I was disappointed when these types of questions were glazed over, IF they were even brought up.
So surely she nailed the idea of reincarnation on the head then? Well...kind of. The full ramifications of reincarnation in Incarnate is quite overwhelming. While the concept is explained and explored satisfactorily, there were a few things that had me confused - either because I couldn't wrap my mind around the specifics, or because something just didn't make sense. The fact that there exists one millions souls, which are constantly recycled, is really hammered home throughout the book as it is mentioned repeatedly. The thing I didn't understand was how these million souls seemed to know each other - to the extent where they would recognize someone's name and be able to list their individual accomplishments. Even after thousands of years, it seems implausible for one person to know that many other people. This had me thinking that those people who resided within Heart must have been just a fraction of the entire population. But then where are the other people living? We're told repeatedly how dangerous the world is outside of Range, as there's dragons, trolls and sylphs, so how do these other people manage to survive? And if a fraction of the population doesn't live within Heart, then how would the Council know that Ana wasn't the first NewSoul? So while that explanation made the most sense (to me), it also opened up new obstacles to overcome that I was unable to find answers for.
I did find the exploration of souls to be extremely thought-provoking. The fact that souls were reborn into both male and female forms brought up questions about love, life and sexuality. Ana questioned whether she would feel so strongly for Sam if he were to show up in a female form, and what that means for her feelings - would knowing Sam's soul was in a body be enough, or does she need him in this body to care for him? I loved how Meadows incorporated a rededication ceremony for the souls who vowed to stay loyal to each other, regardless of what form their bodies took with each life, and that their message was one of love which transcends the physical confines of our human shells. (However, I was definitely off-put by the idea of those same people committing suicide together, in order to be re-born around the same time, and that the people of Heart romanticized this idea). I loved that, while retaining their memories, experiences and personalities, the souls were also able to evolve and change with each rebirth - but it also had me questioning the hopelessness of their situation. For many people, death is seen as a welcome relief to the trials and tribulations of life, a new chapter through which they hope to gain peace (hopefully after a long and happy life). I can only imagine the kind of depression that might accompany knowing that this will always be your life - you will always be surrounded by the same people, who do the same things; you will always live in the same place, surrounded by the same walls, doing the same things you've been doing for thousands of years. I really feel like Meadows offered a captivating and insightful look at the concept of souls, and that any reader will find themselves fascinated by the ideas she has presented.
Now that I'm done rambling about the philosophical ideologies behind reincarnation...on to the characters! I absolutely adored Ana. Years of both physical and mental abuse, while making her distrustful and bitter, have not broken her. She's bound and determined to set out on her own, in the hopes of discovering the truth behind her existence.
"I stood up and pretended to be brave."
Having been told her entire life that she is a NoSoul, someone incapable of feeling, I was pleasantly surprised by how passionate and impulsive she was. She had the curiosity and passion for knowledge of a child, and she was constantly surprising Sam with her keen observations. Her past haunted her however, and her insecurities, buried only surface-deep, were constantly rearing their ugly head as she reminded herself about her lack of worth.
"Nosouls don't get friends. Neither do butterflies.
I was an afterthought, five thousand years later. A mistake, because Ciana was gone. I was the dissonant note on the end of a masterpiece symphony. I was the brushstroke that ruined the painting."
I did struggle with my concept of her - as I knew she was eighteen, but her inexperience reminded me of a child and it was hard at times not to see her that way (especially when she took everything personally, always assuming the worst). I enjoyed watching her grow as a person, and begin to realize her true worth as an individual.
At first, I loved Sam. He seemed to genuinely care about Ana, and tried his best to get to know her, even when she spent all of her time pushing him away. I was surprised her sarcasm and mean remarks didn't try his patience, and have him regretting his decision to take her on as his student. As the book progressed however, the amount of secrets that he seemed to be hiding from Ana, secrets which affected her personally, became something I could no longer avoid. I hated that Ana never bothered to question his nightly disappearances, and that we never really found out where he was going after she had gone to sleep. His constant delaying of information was irritating, as it seemed like the issues he delayed dealing with were never resolved later. I understand that he found Ana fascinating, as her vigour for things he had long forgotten were exciting reignited his passion for them, but as he was so secretive, I never truly understood why he had romantic feelings for her. Their constant back and forth was as confusing for me as it was for Ana, as Sam never explained why it would be wrong for them to enter in to a romantic relationship. Don't get me wrong - he definitely put off a vibe that said he didn't think they should be together, even if that's what he wanted - but it's not until he pushes Ana to the point where she tells him he has to choose - either to be with her as just a friend or more - that he explains why the Council might have an issue with them being together. (On a side note, I wasn't sure how I felt about them being together, considering he's technically thousands of years old - it's a little creepy!)
Creepiness aside, I did really enjoy watching Ana and Sam's relationship build. It developed almost frustratingly slow and a little awkwardly, full of almost-kisses and near-touches.
"Sam pulled out his SED. Light flashed, and I blinked away stars. "So I can keep you like this forever." He showed me the screen, which held an image of me grinning like an idiot."
I really liked that Meadows used music as a bonding tool for Ana and Sam. As someone who is constantly touched by music, I had absolutely no problems relating to Ana's passion for, and connection to music.
"And suddenly I wasn't no one anymore. I was Ana who Had Music.
A hundred or a thousand years after I died, someone could play my waltz, even Li, who'd always resented my presence, and they would remember me.
Thanks to Sam, I was immortal."
It was when they were together, making music, that I saw what they had to offer each other and the passion they ignited in each other.
The world-building was subpar. There were so many things that just didn't make sense to me, which made it hard for me to believe the world Meadows had created. How big is Range? Is there civilization outside of Range or are the souls living in Heart the only souls on the planet? Is Range a new planet? Or is it a futuristic Earth? If Heart can withstand a dragon attack, why can't it handle people using cars? If they can create laser guns, why can't they create some type of street-light so they don't need flashlights after dark? If Heart is big enough to house a million souls, how can they all fit in the Market for the rededication ceremony? (Another reason I think there must be others outside of its walls) And if it's big enough to house a million souls, how can they possible get around on foot and not spend days travelling? How can walls of silk hold shelves? So many questions, with no answers in sight.
As the ending neared, and I remembered there was a point to Ana coming to Heart that wasn't her romance with Sam, I realized that she had not been investigating her existence, like she had originally set out to do. Sure, there was the odd mention of her researching in the library, but it definitely was not the main focus of the plot. As the dragons descended on Heart and Ana ended up uncovering the reasons for her existence (and in effect, Ciana's permanent death), I couldn't help but feel disappointed. It was almost as if the ending was thrown together as an after-thought, which gave it a rushed and chaotic feeling. I was disappointed that more about the Temple (and Meuric's involvement with the Temple) and Janan hadn't been explained, that Ana was told about her history (rather than her being able to uncover the mysteries for herself) and that the reason for Ana's existence was so...unexciting. It was refreshing that we weren't left with a cliffhanger, but now I'm left wondering where the series will go.
So while on the surface I really enjoyed Incarnate, the untouched philosophical questions, the forgotten plot and lacklustre ending has left a slightly bad taste in my mouth.
INCARNATE is one of those books that you really look forward to. It has that beautiful cover and compelling summary that makes you feel like you just gotta get your hands on it. But when you do, it all falls flat. And makes you wonder if you really did just read the book that the summary was written for. I finished INCARNATE and I just feel like… like something’s missing. Or maybe it was never there.
Honestly, I don’t think that the first third of the book was necessary. Incarnate’s beginning dives right in… and not in a good way. We aren’t really introduced to any characters other than Sam and Li, nor are we really shown the world Ana lives in. We aren’t really told anything at all, actually, save for the fact that Ana’s a Newsoul and Li hates her. The beginning leads you ’round and ’round in circles. The first time I read Incarnate, I actually skipped to a little before the halfway point, and didn’t feel like I missed anything. The second time, when I read through it again before reviewing, I struggled through the beginning and discovered that, well, I really didn’t miss anything the first time around.
The romance (if you would call it that) was also a huge downside to me. I found it hard to put up with Ana’s constant paranoid rambling. She’s always too slow to catch Sam’s reaction and/or facial expressions, or is way too suspicious of him one moment… and them promptly forgets what she was suspicious of him over a few moments later. Sam was incredibly patient and kind to her, though, and you’ve got to give the guy some credit for that. However, I found it a little awkward for Ana to be wearing clothes Sam wore when he was a girl in his past lives. And, while he was extremely kind and patient, there just wasn’t any spark between them – no chemistry. They had as much chemistry as a teenager and her grandparents, which is to say, none at all. There’s a forced illusion of sexual tension, and, judging from all the awkward almost-kissing scenes, I guess the author was trying to create some sort of chemistry between them. But there just wasn’t any genuine sparks.
Stef was my favorite character by far. She was so bubbly and sweet – full of energy and could actually make someone smile whereas everyone else seemed way too clueless and naive for a normal person (Anna), down right evil and nasty (Li), monotone and lifeless (most Council members), paranoid (pretty much everyone), or too somber and serious *cough cough Sam cough cough.*
I thought this was a book on reincarnated souls, dragons, sylphs, other mythical creatures. But where did all the dragons go? The sylphs? And what about the people that don’t live in Heart? I think I recall one of the characters talking about how dangerous it was to live in Heart because of all the mythical creatures living in the woods around it. If Heart was dangerous, then some people would opt to live outside of Heart as to avoid the danger, right? So where’d they all go? What happened to them? We aren’t really told much about Heart, or Ana’s world of reincarnated souls. About 80% of this book was about Sam and Ana (their awkward near-kissing scenes, music, piano, and that butterfly metaphor).
Gah, the butterfly metaphor. I’ve cooed over the cover. It’s gorgeous, with all the different hues of pink and blue, the model, and that delicate butterfly mask. Okay, so there’s a butterfly mask on the cover – got it. It’s only natural to assume that there’s going to be some reference to the cover in the book. But I didn’t expect the butterfly metaphor to be everywhere. Literally everywhere. I thought it was clever the first few times around, but after it was repeated over and over and over, and especially when she put on the dress, the repetition didn’t seem so clever or nice anymore; just annoying.
And not only were there unnecessary metaphor repetitions, but pretty much most of the explanation and descriptions were unnecessary. Ask me to describe any of the characters (even Sam), and I don’t think I can. Well, I can describe Ana based off of the cover, but not from the descriptions within the actual book. However, I can describe in great detail Ana’s dress, Sam’s kitchen, the burnt music sheet, Sam’s cup of coffee, Stef’s shoes, and other things that I felt to be unnecessary.
And where did the ending go? Did I miss it? I couldn’t have gone through almost 400 pages just for that. So Sam and Ana finally confessed their feelings for each other. Great. Ana and Li’s problem is settled. Awesome. But I was under the impression (or, at least the summary gave me the impression) that this was about Ana finding out whether she’d be reincarnated or not, and why she’s a Nosoul. That. Can’t. Be. The. Answer. Someone please tell me I didn’t go through almost 400 pages just to have it end like that. No. No. No.
Frankly, INCARNATE was one huge disappointment for me. This book was about 80% Sam and Ana awkwardness, 8% unnecessary things, and 12% actual plot. No joke.
The idea of dragons, sylphs, and reincarnated souls is interesting, and one I’m sure people would love to read about. However, when dragged down and diluted with excess words, unnecessary and awkward moments, bland characters that lacked proper characterization, and a poor ending that doesn’t do a thing to redeem the sluggish beginning, the idea isn’t enough to support the whole book. I fell in love with INCARNATE’s premise. But the written story itself wasn’t as impressive or interesting.
Imagine. God, I had to skip the first ten or so pages until I chanced upon a remotely exciting character, Sam. Yet, here comes another boring male lead who heroically saves a girl, falls in love, performs kind deeds out of no reason, lies then does some hasty actions to cover up. Oh, and it turns out that he never really lied and everything ends up as a happily-ever-after.
No mind-blowing plot, no in-depth characters, no wondrous world-building. It's all the more sad as Incarnate was one that I saw with lots of potential.
What a new and brilliant concept of a city of reincarnated souls!
The first two pages illustrated to me a resplendent setting full of possibilities. And it went downhill.
Jodi Meadows should have focused more on the world-building. Because, she had me confused as to what world it was.
Vehicles with dragons. Heat detectors with centaurs. Machines with cottages.
It could have come off as a fantastic piece if well-executed, but it was not.
I had to skip chunks in between to arrive at the scene when Li (the mother of Ana) takes her away from Sam, and then jump to a dragon war, then go all the way to the end when Sam talks about playing the piano with Ana.
I wanted to crack my head open. What's this thing about love nowadays?
We read YA fiction because they open up a horizon of prose that can be painfully alluring, beautifully inspiring, meticulously crafted and light and free and brimming with youth at the same time. We can accept love wild and uncontrolled, we can accept love shallow and instant, we can accept love beyond all sensibility and reason, but we cannot accept love that has no meaning and essence.
Give me a book that has more than just a simple-minded romance, give me a book with a setting and a tale that challenges our imagination and brims our capacity to love.
I would still give Incarnate a chance. It might just turn out into something more.
This book was interesting. It’s a highly original story about people that never die. Well, except Ana. She’s a new soul. Because she is not five thousand years old like most inhabitants of Heart, she is stereotyped and treated like an outcast. Unwanted, even by her own mother. Li (mom) was downright despicable. I couldn’t stand that character, and I’m thankful she didn’t have a huge role in the story.
I’ve heard great things about this book. Many bloggers are rating it as one of their favorite reads. I’m not sure I feel that way. I enjoyed the story because it was original, but there were some things that annoyed me. For instance, Sam drove me nuts for about 2/3 of the books. He was smothering. Maybe it’s because I’m so independent myself that I have a hard time imagining how anyone could want a guy doting on their every move. It drove me insane, but I tolerated it because I could see why Ana needed someone like Sam. By the end of the book though, the growing romance between the two fully developed. Instead of seeming like a smothering person, you could tell that Sam needed Ana as much as she needed him. I liked the two of them as an item once they each figured this out.
Ana was a pretty enjoyable character. She came across as needy at times, but also very head strong. She was cynical of people and her surroundings. I liked how determined she was once she set her mind to something. By the end of the book she had grown a lot. You could tell that there was an inner strength developing that would show more in the books to come. I’m interested to see what she’s like in the next book.
I also enjoyed some of the other characters. The shadow creatures that could burn people to death with their touch were terrifying. I couldn’t imagine living in a world where Sylph roamed freely, waiting to devour you. Then there is the city of Heart itself—a city with a living heartbeat. Freaky. There is this god-like figure, Janan, which lives within the tower at Heart’s center. Janan is the one that gives the people souls and the ability to be reincarnated, as long as the people worship him. You never learn if Janan is good or bad, but Ana doesn’t get the warm fuzzies from him. Neither did I, for that matter. I have a feeling that this mystical being isn’t all that he’s made out to be. After all, why would dragons want to destroy the tower where his soul lives if he was an all-powerful “good guy?” The end of the book leaves things kind of open, but I am certain that Janan, the wall with the heartbeat, and psychotic Meuric (another bad guy) will return. I also predict that Ana is going to be a kick-butt character as her story continues. She was left with her father’s scientific journals (and secrets), and she seems like the type to use that information to her advantage.