Book Review: Awakening of Ren Crown

TitleThe Awakening of Ren Crown Author: Anne Zoelle                              Genre: YA/NA, urban fantasy                (self)Published: July 9th, 2012,             Length: 461 pages

The person who recommended this book to be said that the world building was amazing, but it probably could have been pared down quite a bit. I will second her assessment.

The premise of the story is that 16-year-old Ren Crown’s twin brother is killed during his ‘Awakening’, the point when a person’s magical abilities first manifest themselves. To get him back, Ren illegally enrolls at a university of the magical persuasion (yay! another story about college students!) and hi-jinx and world-threatenings ensue.

What I liked/ will be drawing inspiration from: The world building in this story is very impressive. Ren is a naturally curious character put into a totally unfamiliar situation, so it’s a nice set up for exploring the world of the book. One of most interesting features is the “Layer System”. Basically, the world we live in is the first layer, and other layers that we cannot interact with are pilled on top. The second layer, which Ren can interact with once she has her own Awakening, is where she attends school to learn to control her magic. The subsequent layers increase in the amount of roaming magic and bizarre-ness, so the final layer (while not visited in this story) sounds like some kind of vaguely malevolent Dali painting.

Speaking of painting, Ren’s magic revolves around her talent in painting and also her mind for engineering. A clever combination that allows her to overcome many of the obstacles she faces better than she could’ve if she were, say, a combat mage. Psh, combat mages, am I right?

And speaking of combat mages, there’s one in the story who is the focus of Ren’s crush and I was pleasantly surprised that they were not immediately ensnared by insta-love. In fact, their relationship in this book is kinda the opposite.  Although by the end I was thinking,, “Damn, Ren, hop on that already.”

What I might’ve written differently:

As cool as the world building was, there was A LOT of it. Ren’s detail-oriented, engineering mind meant that she was always wondering why the magic works the way it does, and she would then attempt to figure it out. While some of this was neat, after a while it felt like too much. Magic doesn’t have to always been explained like a scientific concept; it can just be magical sometimes.

And the lengthy explanations of phenomena and events are what led to my biggest critique (which is echoed by others): the length. This is a long book and it’s pacing is a bit slow, largely because the author spends a lot of time detailing Ren’s experiences. There was an entire chapter about socializing with friends in the dining hall, and while it did add to the characterization of her friends that hadn’t gotten a lot of page time up to that point (and I’m all about strong characterization), it was placed right in the middle of the rising action. It ended up feeling like a chapter that either should have been either, or should have been eliminated all together to brevity’s sake. I’ve been told that the writing for the sequel, The Protection of Ren Crown, is much tighter.

Despite some shortloooong-comings, I enjoyed the book and will be reading the sequel. All in all, I give The Awakening of Ren Crown three and a half out of five stars. That’s more than half of the stars you need for a six-star omelette!


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