Between the Spark and the Burn, the sequel to Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Geneive Tucholke, takes some odd turns, unfortunately none of them lead us to the nice little bow that signifies the end. Instead of going out with a bang it sort of just fizzled into the nether.
I felt like I was back watching the last episode of Carnivale, Deadwood or the Pushing Daisies – don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t exactly the cliffhanger that Las Vegas or the Glades (total tangent: while this is a book site, A&E is on my sh*t list because really, Glades and Longmire? What is wrong with you TV people? They were excellent shows and the only, ONLY, reason I watched your network!) left us with, but this story left more loose ends then a grass skirt factory. I give you TV show examples because TV shows, I think, are way more frustrating to have end on cliffhangers or leave with loose ends. Don’t get me wrong, I am not asking for a happily ever after or having everything tied up in a nice little bow I can hang on my Christmas wreath. But there is a big difference between a few unanswered questions and the frustrating, bang your head, when is the next book coming out feeling. Think for a moment of Harry Potter if you will. We get an epilogue at the end of Deathly Hallows, but not absolutely everything is tied up. There are still questions. For example, one of the things that bothers me to this day is why Snape hated all Griffyndor students, not just Harry. Where exactly did that animosity come from; surely it isn’t solely because of James. Why, despite being expelled from Hogwarts, is Hagrid prohibited from doing magic “strictly speaking”? There is mention of home schooling and am I really supposed to believe that Stan Shunpike got through school… so why can’t Hagrid use magic (especially since he was vindicated)? Does Dolores finally get her comeuppance? What were the Centaurs seeing in the stars? See… loose ends. And I can live with them. Heck, I even enjoy thinking up my own resolutions to those loose ends. But It’s not like book seven never happened and we are left wondering if Harry ever defeated Voldemort or if we really should have trusted Snape. The end of Between the Spark and the Burn left the latter type of questions unanswered. And damn it, I feel cheated by the fizzle that was the end of this book.
The plot is basically this: Violet needs to find River; she wants him back. She and her troupe, including Neely, head out to find him, and/or Brodie, in places that have been reported on this weird radio show that discusses the weird and strange. On the way they encounter trials and seem to add to their rag-tag band of merry men. It all culminates with how they “find” Brodie too.
In addition to all those loose ends, there were some odd places that we traveled to. Both in terms of geography (we get Carrolie NC, a fictional part of the Outerbanks; I kept thinking it was a typo and it should have been Carrolla…) and in terms of plot. That is not to say that some of them weren’t interesting and even welcome (regardless of other’s perspectives I don’t think it was predictable; guessable, yes, but not predictable). Like the first book we have all sorts of things going on: a boy with hooves instead of feet with flames in his hair, a devil boy and dead ravens; a sea king who sacrifices virgins and a haunted fisherman’s shack; a highlander hung in a dead tree and talking trees and all the children are missing; blizzards, ice cream trucks… the weirdness is pretty bountiful in this book.
As to the guess-ability versus predictability – I am making the distinction because I think that this didn’t follow the formula seen in most YA books. Some of that comes from the loose ends and some of that comes from the failure to move certain aspects of the plot along. Whatever the reason, however, the map I would draw for this plot does not look like the typical YA love-triangle-with-a-supernatural-bent map. That’s not to say that I didn’t feel a little like I was being hit over the head with a sledgehammer every time the author tried to foreshadow or hint at what might have been going on. This is why I say it was totally guessable. I will not take credit for guessing it early on, no, I came late to the party and didn’t guess until right before the big reveal. But I seem to guess stuff like that only about one third of the time. And the fact that I guessed the there was something up with Neely and he had his own power blew any chance I had at guessing the whole Brodie/Finch thing.
I will note there was not exactly any huge improvements in the writing style or anything. But it was consistent. We still have a convenient parental void (merely letting the kids run off is so easily accepted), but I say like I said when reviewing the first book that that is typical of the YA genre. We still have just enough setting description to paint broad stoke images of the house in Carollie and the motel in Colorado. We have characters that for what ever reason have no trouble running off with strangers (stranger danger, anyone? Anyone ever heard of it? Definitely not something for the younger crowd to look to as a model for behavior). And we have just the barest hint of romance.
But it works. It gets the story moving and gets us up to that unfinished ending. So, while it isn’t exactly great literature, it wasn’t bad either. It There were even the rare moments of comedy (although whether intentional or not I can’t say) like the mental image conjured when the ice cream truck rolled up to the motel. It was easy to follow, the dialogue was decent and the characters seemed to follow a natural progression from where they were, in relation to themselves and others, to where they needed to be for this story to conclude. There even seemed to be a little more character development, certainly there was character progression (Brodie/Finch saving River from the freezing depths of the lake). I am guessing, however, that the author intentionally painted many things in varying shades of grey as a lesson that not everything is black and white. So despite how neatly black and white makes things (and how much I like that in books I read for fun), it just wasn’t the case here. River is the epitome of a grey area. The author paints a picture quite contrary to the rigid black-and-white, good-and-evil scenario. People aren’t always either good or evil. And sometimes people are just bad to be bad, not because the devil made them do it. We see a lot of that here. We also see nobility in a different way: Neely’s sacrifice for his brother seems truly selfless – he is not going to get anything in return and he won’t stop. He does it because he loves his brother. There is a nice contrast between that relationship and self sacrifice and the relationship between the White parents and their children, where they leave the kiddos home to fend for themselves while they puruse their art.
My biggest gripe, if not already evident from the opening of this review, is that the conclusion doesn’t tie things up – not really. I am left wondering so very much. What if River couldn’t completely crush Brodie, and he is in there still somewhere? If Canto can find Finch and bring him back, then Brodie can probably come back too… What if Neely doesn’t come back? Will the burn, spark and glow all stay away? It was disappointing to learn that this is merely a sequel and not just the next in a series. The author notes in two places on her website that this is it – the end to this story. But I would really love to see what happens to this group next. Who will Vi choose? What will happen to River and Brodie? Does Canto find and save Finch? All those unanswered questions don’t sit well with the notion that this book was the “conclusion to” the first. But, that’s what the author asks me to believe. So I guess I just need to live with the fact that the spark and the burn are fizzled out after all.
Special Note: I don’t care if it’s Brody or Brodie… I use them interchangeable because I think the correct spelling is really irrelevant to my review. I know what I mean by either spelling.