Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: JULIET IMMORTAL by Stacey Jay

Jay, Stacey. Juliet Immortal. New York: Delacorte Press, 2011. ISBN: 978-0385740166. $17.99

It’s been a while since I read something so compelling that I took it everywhere I went, just so I could read it whenever I had a spare moment. Stacey’s Jay’s imaginative novel is impossible to put down. The initial concept is outlined in the book jacket, arresting in its so-simple-it’s-amazing hook: “Juliet Capulet didn’t take her own life. She was murdered by the person she trusted most…Romeo Montague.”

Now come on! How brilliant is that? Don’t you wish you had thought of it? And Stacey Jay takes that wonderful premise and runs with it, creating a novel steeped in intrigue, mystery, and the dueling forces of good and evil.

In Jay’s novel, Romeo kills Juliet as a sacrifice to gain immortality. After her death, Juliet becomes an Ambassador of Light, a spirit who can inhabit bodies on earth when her help is needed to unite soul mates, and Romeo becomes a Mercenary, an immortal soul on the side of evil. The erstwhile lovers meet again and again on earth in their respective afterlives, always fighting each other for soul mates. If Juliet unites them, she scores one for her team of Ambassadors. If Romeo can convince one soul mate to kill the other, the Mercenaries’ power grows. But are Romeo and Juliet simply doing what they have to do to keep their immortal bosses happy, or are they pawns in an ancient game? And when Juliet finds her own forbidden love – and it’s not Romeo – will she ruin her chances at a peaceful afterlife?

Stacey Jay takes the common conception of Romeo and Juliet as the ultimate pair of lovers and turns it on its head. Juliet hates Romeo, and Romeo is slick, sadistic, and deceptive. With vivid descriptions of graphic violence and macabre visions, the novel edges into gothic horror territory. The suspense is thrilling, the characters are just mysterious enough, and the sense of “What is going on?” will have you racing through the book’s 300 pages to see what will happen to these formerly fair lovers.

Along with the mysteries and unanswered questions, the characterization of Juliet and her relationship with Romeo contributes to the suspense. Juliet – always on the side of good but carrying a bitterness and resentment that darkens her – ultimately learns what love is for. And because Romeo and Juliet have such an epic history, there’s an element of wistfulness for what they used to be. While you may not root for them to end up together, you do feel sorrow for the tragedy they both went through.

Overall, Juliet Immortal is a tantalizing exploration of a fantastic concept. It does suffer a little from the common YA ailment of instant, all-consuming love between teenagers who have just met, but… so did Romeo and Juliet.

Jill Coste

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