PJV Quickie: NETHERWORLD was a predictable read. Anyone familiar with the genre can figure out how the book is going to end from very early on. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with being formulaic, tropes become tropes because they work, and they do work here. The action of this novel is unique enough that it kept me interested and turning the pages but sticks close enough to the standard patterns of a paranormal mystery that I was never really surprised. The characters were the perfect blend of historical realism and fantastic idealism; having recently finished watching the John Green narrated CrashCourse World History videos, I enjoyed the very realistic portrayal of interactions between Britain/Brits and China/Chinese people in the age of the Opium Wars.

Review: This is the first work I’ve read by Lisa Morton, who is known for her award winning short horror fiction stories. She’s relatively new to the area of writing novels and NETHERWORLD represents her first entry into the world of the series. As an opener NETHERWORLD does fairly well. The book opens on Halloween night 1879 introducing us to the progressive Lady Diana Furnaval who is anything but a Proper British Lady; she defies all of the norms of her time, and she acknowledges that.

The first thing we see her doing is what she will spend the rest of the novel doing, closing supernatural gateways to the titular Netherworld in order to stop demons and other beings from coming through. With this first gateway we learn that our author is not shy about killing off characters once they’ve served their purpose, which is a common horror trope.

Sometimes we’re thrown back into Diana’s memories so that Morton can show us how Diana got involved with the gateways, because of her Husband’s death and the mystery surrounding it. When Diana starts to unravel that mystery it will lead her on a continent hopping adventure that will see her circumnavigate the globe before the novel is done and the dust settled. The ending of this novel is perfect closure for a standalone book, as a first book in a new series should be in my opinion, but it also perfectly ends so that it can be built upon in the next book.

I’m going give you my completely honest first reason for choosing this particular book as my first review for PJV. The main character’s last name caught my attention as I was skimming through synopses. I grew up around the corner from a street called Furnival Rd., in an area where all of the streets and parks are named after WWII veterans, or military honours. Even though Morton spells it Furnaval instead it was still enough to make me stop and really focus on the synopsis thanks to a wave of nostalgia. Once I read the synopsis I knew it was going to be a book I would enjoy for a couple pf reasons:

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  • I have, like many others out there a rather large fascination with Victorian era England
  • I love strong female characters who can take names and kick asses
  • Anything involving portals to other world/dimensions automatically has my attention thanks to my childhood obsessions with Narnia and Wonderland (who am I kidding those obsessions did not end in childhood, I am still obsessed with both)

So how did the book stack up to my expectations in those three areas? Fairly well. Sure, the book starts and ends in England, but actually, for a lot of the novel Diana and Yi-Kin are not just not anywhere near England, so there’s some lacking of truth in the Publisher’s pushing this as being about Victorian Era England. If they had pitched it as Victorian Era but left out the England I’d be happier; I feel like it would be much more exciting to mention her eventual circumnavigation of the globe in the synopsis. Weirdly enough Diana herself never even pointed out that she’d ended up going completely around the world other than to say something along the lines of, “Well I may as well just keep going in this direction and then I can close the two conveniently placed American gateways on my way home.”

That being said, she is most assuredly a strong female character capable of kicking ass and tacking names. Every challenge put in front of her she wins, every foe she faces she defeats. She struggles a few times, and does end up needing to be rescued by a man more than once so she’s by no means a flawless character, and that’s a good thing! Her flaws are why the reader is able to empathise with her, to put themselves in her shoes and see themselves on her adventure. She’s smart, and spunky, and she knows what she wants and goes after it. As far as female characters go, she’s definitely a good one, and makes a good role model for the YA audience that will probably pick this book up.

The world itself is also interesting; Morton has managed to make her Netherworld concept easy to grasp and yet just complex enough to be truly unique. Because this is only the first book in the series you shouldn’t expect to get a complete picture of the mechanics of the portals, or the how and whys of them. If you go in expecting all those details at a Tolkienian level you are going to be disappointed. The reader is learning about the gateways and the Netherworld in real time with the protagonists, neither of them is an expert.

This isn’t a heart pounding, must know what happens next page turner, and it’s not a heart wrenching, breathtaking romance either. It has moments of page turning action most assuredly, but if you’re looking for something that is fast paced or bodice ripping this is not the book for you. As is normal for the first book in a series, this one is setting the stage, all of the world building and character building and the overarching series plot have to get underway in its pages. All of those things take time to build up, so most of the action is at the back end of the book and once it starts happening it happens pretty quickly, but it is a slow journey to get there. So you need to be patient.

Now I also mentioned romance, truth be told though, there’s not much to be had, and what little there is seems forced and rushed to me. We’re supposed to feel the devastation that Diana feels at the loss of William, but the problem is we’re not given enough scenes of their relationship or its purported intensity to feel what she says she feels over his death. Then there’s her relationship with the mysterious Stephen Chappell, a bookseller who likes to pop up only when he’s needed. There’s supposed to be chemistry, but I never felt it, especially not when she was always annoyed at him and even despite her seemingly perpetual annoyance with him, she still invited him into her bed. The strongest relationship she has is with her protégé/partner/assistant Yi-Kin, this is presented as completely platonic even more of a business relationship rather than a friendship. The problem is Yi-Kin is the one male in the novel that I feel she even has any chemistry with and Morton never acknowledges that which I find supremely disappointing, but it’s only book one so we’ll see what happens.

Overall feelings: a good first outing in the series, the fantasy elements are fantastic, and I love her world building but the romance end has left a lot to be desired in my mind.

Read this book if:

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  • You’re into historical fiction and sci-fi/fantasy and you like your Victorian Era more like Frankenstein and less Steampunk
  • You prefer your paranormal romances to focus more on the paranormal and less on the romance
[/list] Take a pass if:
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  • You’re looking for a Victorian Era bodice ripper with paranormal aspects
  • You’re looking for a high octane adventure