A Mark Unwilling (The Reckoning #1) by Candace Wondrak
September 10, 2018
Thank you to the author for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
WARNING: Book contains graphic imagery and death, including a school shooting.
I feel compelled to apologize for taking as long as I have to read this book and post this review. To be fair though, there were a few other ARC receivers who DNF and still reviewed the book. (Those usually aren’t the best) The thing is I made a promise to myself that if I was going to agree to receive a book for free I better damn well give it the time and the review I promised that would be worth the price of actually purchasing it off the shelf. So, while this has been the longest I’ve held onto a book before reviewing, I am glad I am able to review it today.
When I am looking at requesting an ARC I tend to read the synopsis multiple times to make sure I get the basic idea of what the author is going for and what kind of adventure I might expect. I feel like I have gotten better about this as time has gone on, but in the beginning I ran into a few that did not deliver on the promise within their synopsis. A Mark Unwilling by Candace Wondrak not only falls into this category, it sets a precedent all its own.
I’m going to start by getting in deep with the MC, Lexa. She is the quintessential teen heroine complete with goth boots, a “don’t give a fuck” attitude, a fear of emotions and emotional physical contact, and a hate for her family. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! She also loves her BFF, Warlock David, whom she showers with her “witty” sarcasm non-stop, non-stop, but he’s not special because everyone gets to benefit from her witty sarcasm that becomes increasingly annoying as the story progresses. She hates her parents and pretty much everyone, except when in dire circumstances. Here’s the issue with trying too hard to make your heroine a badass who doesn’t give a fuck. If that is all she is, your readers will also not give a fuck about her, which is exactly what happened to me.
I’m sorry, I was done with Lexa after the first chapter. She is not relatable and quite frankly, she isn’t a good person. It really felt like the author came up with this amazing scene in her head for this story that ends up in about the middle of the book and branched out from there. Because of this we don’t really get a complete character back story or arc for that matter. Additional characters are added in simply to make it appear as though the MC has friends and people she cares about. This to me, felt lazy. How am I supposed to care for a character that the MC met two seconds ago, but you decide to immediately put into harms way? I get people have ADD, but give your readers some credit and time to get to know your people.
In terms of plot, it was a bit all over the place. I felt like I read the first and second book of the series with the amount of information she tried to cram into this book. If I could give another helpful tip, it would be to not continue repeating information that has already been said. Again, your readers will retain this and so there is no need to say time and time again that David is the MC’s best friend or that she finds the leader of the Vampires and the son of the Devil hot. Lexa is stated to be in her early twenties, a college student, and yet she is instead portrayed as a naive fifteen year old girl drooling over the abs of boys. Boys might I add who are pretty much evil until the story calls for them to turn nice.
To start Lexa is marked by a demon in exchange for her parents to lead a stable wealthy life. It is stated many times that this is the reason Lexa hates her parents and they are depicted as these narcissistic rich jerks, when it would have been better served, I feel, to show them as the desperate humans they were. So desperate as to sell their daughter’s soul in order for her to have a comfortable life and then to have them regret that decision. We don’t get that though. In fact Lexa refuses to refer to them as mom and dad most of the time, preferring instead to use their first names. Initially she has no clue who owns her soul, but she doesn’t seem too bothered by this even though she knows that if the demon comes for her she will have no choice but to go with him/her.
The first thing that happens is a school shooting at the college Lexa attends and because of her Mark she is able to run into the building take a few bullets, one even to the head, before she takes the gun from the shooter (it’s really as easy as I just made it sound) and mows down the shooter without a second thought. She doesn’t get arrested for manslaughter because in this universe anything goes for Lexa. The death of the shooter raises a horseman of the apocalypse which at this point is the main crux of the story. Every time, what soon turns out to be cultists, kills themselves after committing a murder, a horseman rises. Despite the MC being the worst, I’m with the story here. I understand it.
GOOD POINT: Any reference to the four horsemen of the apocalypse is a sure way to get me to read your story. This was one of the reasons I was excited to read this book in the first place. However, the narrative fails in bringing forth this mythos. If you have the four horsemen maybe you don’t need to add so many other supernatural beings and maybe if you do, don’t have them detract from the apocalypse narrative you started with.
We are then quickly introduced to Deb, a clairvoyant who draws out her visions in a sketchbook. This relationship is immediately portrayed as Lexa and Deb being the closest of friends, which does not make a lick of sense. Here’s the thing, I don’t necessarily want Deb to die, but I don’t understand why fake Gothic, don’t give a fuck Lexa doesn’t want her to either. Why does she care at all considering you’ve spent the first couple chapters of this book describing her as someone who wouldn’t care? She’s known this person all of 5 minutes and we are supposed to believe that she would sacrifice herself in order to save her? This is where Lexa as a character begins to contradict herself and it doesn’t let up for the remainder of the book.
GOOD POINT: The human characters work for the most part, I just wished they had been more fleshed out. Even Warlock David is pretty good considering, but again falls flat like the cardboard cut out he is when anything of substance is needed from him. I wanted more depth, but never got it.
The end of the world is eminent and Lexa along with David, Deb, and Mike, a detective investigating the rising horsemen who also happens to be marked, decide to get Lexa’s parents and their maid and her kid because “they are like family” despite this being the first ever mention of them in the book. In the ensuing escape Lexa’s dad is killed by a horseman, but not before she seems to forgive him for his role in her soul being sold and from here on out she is depressed about losing her father, but still loathes her mom. I guess her capacity to forgive only comes with the person’s death.
We are introduced to vampires as well as the owner of Lexa’s soul, whom we are initially told is the Devil. Knock me over with a feather because I’m shocked! Honestly, I saw this coming a mile away. If it wasn’t the Devil then it would have been some other well known Demon. But wait, oops it’s not the Devil, but the spawn of the Devil. Same thing, different only in that you are supposed to not be grossed out by the obvious love connection the author is trying to build between Lexa and Devil Jr. (That is the name she gives him and it gets as annoying as you think it would)
There is also this weird sexual tension between Lexa and Cloud, the leader of the vampires (Completing the mandatory love triangle for all YA fantasy). At this point I’m going to point out the blatant references to other pop-culture supernatural media. Among these in just dealing with the vampires we have Twilight and True Blood. The author literally mentions and dumps on these stories. Okay, lets review. Her vampires can eat humans or animals (Twilight), but eating animals makes you weaker (Twilight). While the vampires can and do eat humans, because of Lexa they don’t eat her friends or family (True Blood/Twilight), but magic turns them pure evil and so they attack them anyway (True Blood). You don’t get to brush off another vampire fiction claiming yours is superior when all you’ve done is taken the same elements and slapped your name on it.
The vampires are also not the only time she makes clear references to other pop-culture. Author, you are dating your book every single time you do this. It will not hold up and pretty soon your readers won’t understand what you are talking about. If you have to reference every little thing you took ideas from in order to get your own point across, then your story is weak at best. Take ideas and spin them for your own purposes, but the idea is to make them one hundred percent your own and to not step on other’s work to boost yourself up. It didn’t work for me and in fact made my eyes roll each time it happened. P.S. it happened a lot.
Additionally, when she would make a subtle reference she’d follow it up with an explanation of the reference, you know, in case her readers didn’t get it. I will say this until I am blue in the face, TRUST YOUR READERS! If you think we won’t get a reference, instead of explaining it you should be asking yourself if you should even include it in your story. What made these references worse is that she would use them in jokes told by her MC, which made Lexa even more insufferable. She wasn’t funny, she wasn’t witty, but damn she probably could have been if you had just let her be. There is literally a moment when the MC calls out a deus ex machina occurrence, author you are not forgiven for plot fails that induce the need for a deus ex machina if you have your MC reference it afterward. It makes it worse!
Wow, in all this exposition I forgot to mention that Hades, yes the keeper of the underworld in Greek mythos, makes an appearance. He is the keeper of Mike’s soul (I mentioned he was Marked, just not by who). He also has creepy sexual urges toward Lexa for some reason and spends his time in the book popping up and either causing problems for her or helping her, he can’t figure his shit out apparently. The only solid thing we get is that he and Devil Jr. have history, but no details as to what that may be.
The ending is just as jumbled as the rest of the story and personally, anticlimactic. Devil Jr. leaves to go check something out and Mike gets called back to Hades to essentially hunt Devil Jr. down. From there Hades pulls Lexa out of the house where they are all holding up and attempts to kill her because as it turns out when she thought it was him helping her, it wasn’t. She is saved by the Archangel Gabriel (Oh yeah, I forgot there were angels too, be sure to catch Michael’s brief cameo). Hades basically runs away with his tail between his legs and Gabriel just leaves her in this radioactive dystopian plain.
Question: if Hades could just pull her to wherever, why wasn’t this done earlier? It seems that he could have killed her way before this moment but just dicks around the whole time. This makes zero sense and isn’t explained even a little. Lexa didn’t have a magical barrier around her and from what I gathered, was no safer when Devil Jr. was around. So why then do we wait until the last 5% of the book to see Hades attempt this? Either he’s a moron, or the author left a major plot hole.
Lexa runs into another warrior who immediately stabs her to make sure she is who she thought she was. Seriously? Lexa walks up, gets stabbed, and the warrior chick basically goes, “cool” and offers to help Lexa retrieve Devil Jr. (Who we now know is called Dagon, nice play on the word Dragon *que eye roll*) from the underworld, because apparently that went down while all this other stuff was happening to Lexa.
This is where the author leaves it. It’s meant to be this grand cliffhanger, but I couldn’t care less. It doesn’t entice me, I have no motivation to pick up the second book. The story I could come up with in my own mind would, to me, be more satisfying than finishing this series. According to what I’ve researched there are two more books, if one would be so inclined. Not for me though.
I wish I had gotten more enjoyment out of this read. I wish this had been the book I had envisioned when I read the synopsis and requested an ARC. I wish that the author had done so many little things differently that while may not have created the story I had initially envisioned, it would have made more sense. As it stands this book is a hot mess that perhaps needed a few more beta readers and editors.
BAD POINT: Check your spelling. I know this is an indie book, but even a second pair of eyes from literally anyone would help catch many of the small grammar and spelling mistakes that became very distracting.
1 Out Of 5 Stars
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