I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
“The Return of the Key” is basically a fantasy story about a world of fantasy creatures connected to our own. The world is supposed to be closed off but for some reason creatures from it are crossing over to the human world and people are disappearing. Eliza, a human, becomes friends with Gwen, someone who is half human and half fae, and when she gets kidnapped one day Gwen follows her over to the other world to save her.
There are parts of this story that work for me and parts that don’t. I’ll say right now my favorite part was the ending – and not because of the cliche “finally, it’s over” reason, but I actually liked what the very end did. I wasn’t expecting it in the previous pages leading up to it.
I think the part that made me struggle a little was the writing. Especially in the very beginning, it would have a lot of telling instead of showing, and it did this with important things. I never felt like I saw Eliza and Gwen as friends. More like they met, then we’re told they spent a lot of time together and were best friends, and we never really see it. I think the same was true of a lot of characters.
Some of the writing felt stilted. For example, it would start off describing a scene and something else would cut in. Like, Eliza is being told the story of a fisherman who found a strange clock-like device. Then, at the end of the paragraph, it sticks this in:
Somehow, this clock-like device had become entangled with Eliza’s fate, thought she was yet to know it.
…but he did have good cause for standing by Eliza, as you will find out later.
So, you see, the slightest trigger…
The only thing I could picture was a random narrator talking over a movie.
We’re told what the characters are instead of shown.
This was how a friendship between an unlikely pair began. Gwen, an over-confident tombow of sorts loved wearing oversized sweatshirts with her patched jeans; her beauty radiated, and everywhere she went she drew attention with her lithe walk and strange charisma. The only jewellery she wore was a plain silver necklace adorned with the rare peridot gem at the centre of a lead. Eliza was the exact opposite of Gwen-unassuming, self-doubting, and considered herself average and thus not needing distinguishing clothing to make her stand out unnecessarily. She rarely drew attention and always preferred to keep it that way, but together the two girls had a chemistry that was unexplainable and almost immediate.
And that’s it. We’re told the personalities instead of shown, and told they have chemistry instead of shown, which made it hard to get invested in their relationship or feel any connection.
There were parts that made me tilt my head. I haven’t been everywhere in the world, so I can’t speak to what’s normal everywhere, but this did stick out to me:
“It’s Gwen’s ma working up some magic, John,” said a voice from the back of the classroom.
“Oye!” Gwen shouted, spinning around to give Aaron Spindler a piercing look again.
“Ok, settle down you two,” John said, in a less-than-authoritative tone.
Gwen’s mother disappeared a long time ago and at this point could probably be presumed dead. So, a kid is making fun of another kid’s dead mother and that’s the reprimand?
Just a bit later it’s pouring down outside and for some reason Eliza seems irritated that a teacher offers to give her and Gwen a ride home. I actually wasn’t sure why, because it would get them out of the rain, plus people have been disappearing so it would be safer.
The romance suffered the same fate. I honestly have little idea what Eliza and Arden saw in each other besides thinking the other was hot. I have no idea what interests they share or anything else.
It was the first time she had had a proper look at him, and she stared at his beautiful face and became embarrassed, as she was lost for words. He blushed with delight, appeased that his feelings were shared.
They blush at each other and that’s about it. They give each other shy looks in the story and never really have a connection beyond that.
There are the occasional errors, like “We call it Annwn1” (should be superscript but it’s not) or “…knew the answer toAnd it was.”, but not a ton.
Later on in the story the stilted feel of it dissipates a bit, but there are some other issues. Female villains come off as histrionic, and one is even called that. I wouldn’t say much, but it did seem like there were a lot of women having overblown emotions.
Things that the story said didn’t always add up with what it showed. Like when it introduces Loridel, the narrative states that the reason her people are shunned is because their emotions will be wrong for the situation and they go from normal to grandiose in a second. The story then goes on to show Loridel controlling her emotions several times.
Loridel felt a good cry coming on. She resisted it easily…
Loridel will be annoyed by her, and then awhile later the narrative will say she found “what she was certain to be a lifelong friend” without anything that really seemed to support the narrative.
I guess the “tells without showing” basically covers most of the complaints I have. Because of this relationships seem weak because we barely get to know the characters together, we’re just told they get along. Characters don’t match up with their descriptions so things will feel off, like the story will say Gwen rarely gives up, but it’ll say this after it’s shown Gwen giving up the last few times we saw her.
The story itself has a lot of promise. Having people mysteriously disappear has a lot of potential to be creepy. The overall world is fine, though it could be polished (background characters on the world feel very much like the background, never questioning obvious stuff). I think it just lacked impact for me because of the style of writing and the way it would drop information early on instead of letting readers learn it or see it with Eliza (blatantly stating Arden had mysterious reasons to join Eliza, stating that a device that was found would be connected to Eliza’s fate…)
I would say it needed another readover to get rid of some of these things that slowed down the story or took the reader out of the story, and then catching some little inconsistencies. There wasn’t anything that I found particularly offensive. I did mention I liked the ending the best. I do think that sets up something that could make an interesting sequel.
If the story sounds good to you? Go for it. It’s all right. What I described kept me from getting really into it, but it might not bother someone else.
I give it a 6/10.