I received a free digital copy of this book from the publishers through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Shortly after 17-year-old Maren Hamilton is orphaned and sent to live with grandparents she’s never met in Scotland, she receives an encrypted journal from her dead mother that makes her and everyone around her a target. It confirms that her parents were employed by a secret, international organization that’s now intent on recruiting her. As Maren works to unravel the clues left behind by her mother, a murderous madness sweeps through the local population, terrorizing her small town. Maren must decide if she’ll continue her parents’ fight or stay behind to save her friends.
With the help of Gavin, an otherworldly mercenary she’s not supposed to fall in love with, and Graham, a charming aristocrat who is entranced with her, Maren races against the clock and around the country from palatial estates with twisted labyrinths to famous cathedrals with booby-trapped subterranean crypts to stay ahead of the enemy and find a cure. Along the way, she discovers the great truth of love: that laying down your life for another isn’t as hard as watching them sacrifice everything for you.
Toward A Secret Sky is the first in, what I hope will be, a new young adult, fantasy style novel that is perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter realm. Following Maren as she embarks upon a new life in Scotland following the death of her Mother, we are thrust into a world that, on the outside, appears normal and picturesque with rolling hillsides and harsh weather but, underneath it all, lies many secrets and mysteries and a war that has been raging for many years between angels and demons. By deciphering the messages left behind by her Mother intended for the secret organisation that she worked for, Maren begins to understand the truth behind her Mother’s death as well as all the events taking place around her but doesn’t expect to be falling in love, and with someone that she shouldn’t.
From the get go I couldn’t shake the similarities with Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. There are slight similarities with the whole angels and demons side of things, the fact that these creatures will follow rules that state that they should not enter grounds that are the territory of the other, a young girl oblivious to everything around her until the death of her Mother (slight difference) and then everything suddenly makes sense. Yes, there are definitely some differences (for one there are no runes!) but you just can’t not see the similarities! That’s not to say that it isn’t a good book in its own right. The book is advertised as being perfect for fans of the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer as well as those of Dan Brown’s more cryptic, puzzle-completing novels. I personally didn’t really see the similarities with Twilight – there’s certainly no vampires or werewolves, but I loved the use of puzzles and deciphering secret coded messages that were incorporated throughout. It was certainly different to a standard novel of this genre and made Maren a young girl who was far more intellectual than some novels prefer.
As stated, Maren is a young, intelligent girl in her late teens who has lost everything. Her Father, she never knew; her Mother, is gone under mysterious circumstances – something she blames herself for. Throughout the novel it becomes clear that Maren has a sense of honour and duty surrounding those she is close to. Any deaths or bad occurrences make her feel guilty that she was not able to stop them on time which makes her a character that is very human in her emotions. In the beginning, I found the way that she was portrayed to be a bit patronising in that she criticised a lot of the differences she found between American and Scottish/British cultures. It grated on me a little bit but that soon passed when those comments stopped being made. Maren definitely grows more confident and stronger as the novel progresses and she begins to understand that her life has changed, and it won’t be going back to normal. She starts off feeling scared and very unsure of her position within this new world that has appeared to her as if out of nowhere, until she meets Gavin – her new Guardian angel!
Gavin and Maren’s relationship is stereotypical of young adult nowadays. Plain and simple – it’s instalove! She sees a hot, young guy who fits all the boxes in your “perfect” boyfriend checklist and she can’t help but swoon. Similarly, Gavin is this “bad boy” that she needs to stay away from when, really, he just doesn’t want to hurt her or fall deeply in love with her himself. It’s all standard but you still can’t help but become embroiled in the relationship and start shipping them from the get go.
The story itself was definitely interesting with the puzzles and coded messages. Maclean puts her own spin on how the demon/angel world is run and how Gavin/Maren’s relationship can affect them, but also the types of demons and what they’re capable of. It was refreshing not having to read a young adult novel such as this where the angels possess named swords or weapons that can easily defeat demons. There were varying elements within this novel that stood this world out instead and, though similar in some aspects, it was different in others.
I was immediately gripped by Toward A Secret Sky and it was quick read that kept me entertained and, sometimes, on the edge of my seat as Maren, Gavin, and the friends they encounter, became stuck in fast-paced action scenes. It’s one of those novels you can’t put down for lack of trying, you find yourself wanting to go back each time and to see how Maren and Gavin’s relationship will progress (even though you kind of know how!) and to see whether they manage to resolve all the issues that they are facing. I am seriously, seriously hoping that there is a sequel to this novel as it definitely ended in a way that suggested there would be.