Betwixt by Tara Bray-Smith

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Betwixt by Tara Bray-Smith

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Category: Teens
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: An urban fantasy which will appeal to fans of Heroes and Skins. It starts very strongly but loses its way a little in the middle parts. Strong on the teen mindset, but less so on the fantasy elements.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: March 2008
Publisher: Headline Book Publishing
ISBN: 0755344502

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Odd things are going on for a group of teenagers just entering their final year at high school. Morgan d'Amici sleepwalks, and not in a good way. She comes to only to find twigs and leaves in her hair, dirt under her nails and the image of blood in her mind. Nix Saint-Michael can foretell who will live and who will die. He sees haloes of light around people's heads. Ondine Mason can't cry, but when she looks at a painting, it comes alive.

All three try desperately to turn away from these unsettling episodes and to concentrate on their more humdrum teenage preoccupations - school grades, the latest fashions, the opposite sex, and which party it's coolest to be seen at. The coolest party of all is the fabled Ring of Fire. Nobody's sure it truly exists, but everybody wants to go. And at the Ring of Fire, Morgan, Nix and Ondine discover there really is no turning away from their other, frightening, sides...

I really engaged with the characters in the first half of Betwixt. All three protagonists are three-dimensional, rounded characters with talents and flaws. Morgan carries a chip on her should and is fiercely competitive, but her love for her younger brother redeems her. Ondine is loved and spoiled by her doting parents, but she has an innate sense of justice and fair play that makes you warm to her. You want to reach out and give the sensitive, damaged Nix a great big cuddle. As the kitchen sink dramas of teenage life are gradually edged out by the encroaching fantasy elements, Bray Smith develops a real, palpable tension. I really wanted to know what was going to happen to them, and who they really were.

Things got a bit turgid in the second half though. After the crunch point at the Ring of Fire, all that tension dissipated a little as the plot followed several threads - all of them interesting, but not closely enough connected to maintain the same degree of breathless page-turning. This isn't a huge criticism - fans of this kind of urban fantasy will enjoy the expositions and feel comfortable with the familiar tropes. Those more interested in the human side of the drama may feel their interest begin to flag though.

It's very nicely written, with a good blend of idiom and sharp sentence construction. Reading in Britain, I didn't feel the book was so American as to be inaccessible. Teenage argot doesn't deflect from the thrust of the dialogue, but the voice is, nevertheless authentic. There's an amount of kissing and teenage groping that might make this hard going for even sophisticated younger readers - plus scenes of drinking and drug-taking - and so Betwixt is probably best kept firmly within its intended teen audience, especially teens who enjoy such visual fantasies as Lost Boys, or Buffy, or Heroes.

My thanks to the nice people at Headline for sending the book.

Fans of this kind of Buffy-inspired urban fantasy might like the bitey, music-driven Parasite Positive series by Scott Westerfeld. You might also enjoy Blue Sky Black by John Connors.

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Buy Betwixt by Tara Bray-Smith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Betwixt by Tara Bray-Smith at


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