Marked: A Two Halves Novella by Marta Szemik

Marked: A Two Halves Novella by Marta SzemikThe underlying mythology of this book has some similarities with Sergei Lukyanenko‘s Night Watch trilogy: several types of supernatural beings exist divided into two groups, one good and one evil, based on a defining moment in their past. However for at least one of these types the defining moment occurs at birth and the protagonists of this book are prophesied to pick a particular side, so there is more emphasis on fate rather than just personal choice.

This novella is the first part of the Two Halves series. It tells the story of Xander, a young shape-shifter, as he struggles to choose between joining the forces of good and evil. At the start of the book he favours evil, but his decision is complicated by the requirement that he and his twin sister, Mira (who favours good), join the same side. This is almost immediately complicated further by each twin acquiring a lover from their preferred side.

The overall plot was interesting, and engaging enough that I wanted to find out how Xander would resolve it. Unfortunately this desire to know the end was all that kept me reading.

Although both the world and the plot have great potential, I found many of the specific events a little superficial. For example, the story opens with Xander about to kill to become bound to evil while his bound sister watches; apart from a brief aside that he knows the leader of the evil side already there is no real explanation of why he is so determined to join evil; this willingness to join evil before he meets his lover also undermines the struggle later between staying with her and letting his sister join good.

Aspect of the characterisation were similarly lacking in depth. Despite Mira being one half of the forces pulling on Xander, there is little time spent establishing her as a character about whom the reader cares. Other characters receive even less detail or integration; despite the core dilemma being based around family, Xander’s adoptive father, and his position, is first mentioned in passing more than half way through and does not feature again until he appears suddenly at the end to deliver his line.

My largest irritation was the accent of the leader of evil. He is described as having a distinctive hissing speech, but this is represented not just by additional sibilants but by repetition of a consonant in most of the words he speaks, including somehow hissing the letter “g”. While dialogue containing a small amount of typographical embellishment can make the speaker recognisable this left me more interested in how it might sound than what it meant, and was, if anything, more comic than menacing.

Unlike many short e-books written as the first in a series this novella brings the immediate dilemma to a resolution instead of leaving everything as a hook for later books. As such it is genuinely a series instead of an episode in a serial.

Overall I felt that – in contrast to the many stories that need to be trimmed – this book would benefit from being longer to allow for more showing of both the world and the characters. As with most stories with children as protagonists I feel I am not the target audience, so feel the issues might trouble a teenage audience less.

I received a free copy of this book.

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