Halo (Halo #1) by Alexandra Adornetto Oh my lord… Where do you even begin with this book? Just where? But first, let me relate to you a personal anecdote of mine. Its relevance will become clear soon enough. At my primary school, the older children were partnered up with the young children. Yep, us ten year olds had to arrange the five year olds’ lunch tables, check they’d eaten everything, walk them home if we lived in the village and their parents weren’t available, read to them, and generally give them a hand with anything they found difficult. Considering my school had four classrooms, four teachers, two learning support staff and three dinner ladies, I suppose they needed all hands on deck. But anyway, me and my friend had to look after twins. And since they’d behaved so well, we were allowed to watch cartoons with them on Friday afternoon. (English primary schools quaintly refer to this as ‘Privilege Time’, aww.) And one Friday, I was sat watching a show called The Tweenies with them. It’s a pretty terrifying show, but it was extremely popular in the early 2000s over here. So anyway, these horrifying… things had a story-time segment on their show. And one time, they picked up a book. And this moment has burned into my memory ever since. “Look!” Cried one of them. “This book was written by —! She’s a BIG GIRL, and she got her book published at ten years old!” And lo and behold, that book was… just what a book published by a ten year old would be like. Nothing special. I think it was about a giraffe who learned to stop doubting himself after something something something. What relevance does a ten year old show for little children have to a YA book about angels? Simple. Youth does not excuse anything. I recognise that it is a pretty big achievement to be published at a young age. It’s an impressive feat, yes, but you don’t always end up with a good, classic piece of literature. Remember Eragon by Christopher Paolini? That had some pretty impressive writing for a fifteen year old boy, but it became a bit sketchy when it was found out that his parents were in the publishing industry. And while the author of this novel didn’t have the same nepotistic treatment as Paolini, it’s still annoying to me that this got published. And we’re supposed to laud over it because of the relative youth of the author. Pfft. So, what is Halo about, I hear you cry? Well, prepare your eyes to roll out of their sockets: the preface contains a lyric by Beyoncé. No points awarded if you can guess what song it is. Need a hint? It’s got the same name as the title of the book. Yeah. Other authors go for classic literature, poetry, or even a well-known quote… Adornetto goes for a by the numbers ballad by Beyoncé. Yes, the book is about these angels who come to a quiet coastal town in the middle of nowhere. Why? Well, apparently the Agents of Darkness (basically demons or Lucifer and his followers) are attacking this town, starting off small before they go into the big leagues. (Which makes no sense because there’s supposed to be a load of them causing problems in the Middle East.) To save the souls of the poor citizens of Venus Cove, God sends down a family of angels. Angel roll-call! Gabriel One of God’s archangels. Most famous for telling Mary that she was going to give birth to the son of God. He also watched Sodom and Gomorrah burn. Ivy A seraphim whose only characterisation is to flap and cluck like a mother hen, make biscuits and cupcakes for church bake sales and generally provide nothing to the plot. Bethany Bethany has to be one of the WORST characters I have ever come across in YA literature. Did you know I have a prison in my mind where I banish the characters I hate from YA novels? Yeah, currently Bethany is sharing a cell with Zoey Redbird from Marked, Ever Bloom from Evermore, and Clary Fray from The Mortal Instruments. She just so happens to be a very young angel, and is extremely compassionate towards humankind. Which, amongst the angels, is a bit of an anomaly, considering that angels tend to take the ‘poor little lambs’ view on humanity. So… even though there isn’t much of a reason why Bethany (or Ivy for that matter) should be on Earth in the first place (come on, God sent down a freaking archangel, the demon problem in that town should be taken care of by the next morning!), we have to follow Bethany around as she goes through her boring little life in a boring little town. Oh, there is some excitement to be had. Bethany does save the life of this one girl who was in a car accident. Yep, she had a punctured lung, a shattered wrist, and several fractured ribs. Injuries that were no doubt exacerbated by Bethany PULLING THIS GIRL OUT OF THE WRECK OF HER CAR. I’m quite sure basic first aid dictates that if somebody is seriously injured and curled up in a certain position, you do not move them unless you are a qualified medic. Well, anyway. First things first, Bethany begins attending a private school, where Gabriel has gotten a job as a music teacher. Bethany, in her infinite compassion, makes friends with just about everybody (whilst still privately judging the ‘kooky beret-wearing art students’, the goths who ‘dress entirely in black’ and the vapid idiots she sits with at lunch, mind you). However, everything changes when she meets Xavier Woods. And holy shit, the author really was like a first-time driver putting too much pressure on the accelerator pedal and sending the needle of the speedometer careening towards 100mph when it came to making Bethany and Xavier fall in love. In fact, they fully declare their love for each other by about page 105. And there’s quite a few Romeo and Juliet references in this book too. Yes, it’s a good old starcross’d romance and there’s FORBIDDEN LOVE. What really made me laugh was when Bethany is in an English Literature class and she tries to convince her classmates that Romeo and Juliet is actually a realistic relationship. Pahaha. So yes… A super-special perfect angel like Bethany falls in love with a human boy named Xavier. Whose facial features are almost always compared to nuts and spices. ‘His light-brown walnut-coloured hair’ ‘His almond-shaped eyes’ ‘His nutmeg hair…’ Goodness gracious me. I think somebody went down to the spice cabinet every time they needed inspiration for their pre-modifiers. Xavier is supposed to be practically perfect in every single way. Except for the fact that he has emotional baggage. His girlfriend Emily died in a fire several years ago, and according to all the other girls at school, Xavier is still heartbroken over it and hasn’t dated since. Until Bethany comes into the picture, of course, because she reminds him of Emily and is of course absolutely flawless and… oh for the love of, when will this stupid insta-love bullcrap in YA-lit end? Later, in a complete role reversal of Twilight, Bethany tells Xavier that she’s an angel. Xavier doesn’t seem to mind, even though my world would be completely shattered if I learned that not only do angels and demons really exist, but so does God, Heaven, and Hell. But no, this is just par for the course for Xavier, who’s supposed to be agnostic. (Also during this exchange, Bethany actually says she doesn’t believe in the fire and brimstone kind of Hell preached about in some religious sects. Huh.) Well, anyway, Xavier and Bethany cuddle on the beach and surprise surprise, by the next day it turns out that Gabriel has found out about our two little lovebirds, and he’s actually had to call a council meeting with the other archangels to see what God’s plan is now Bethany has blown their cover. (Also, the way Gabriel castigates Bethany is like she’s done the WORST POSSIBLE THING EVER. She just cuddled a human, told him she was an angel, and now he has to call the most powerful angels to find out what God’s will is now going to be? You know, that’s pretty much the equivalent of calling the military police to your house to take an unruly child to the naughty step/time-out zone.) Luckily, the archangels have better things to do than wonder whether or not a stupid angel should be excommunicated from the kingdom of Heaven for cuddling a boy. So Bethany and Xavier are allowed to continue dating, but… uh-oh, it’s love triangle time! Yes. Love triangle time. A hundred and ten pages or so into the book, there’s mention of a new student having transferred into Bethany’s new school. Guess what? He has a British accent. (Which in Hollywood terms means he’s definitely evil.) And it also seems that snakes are his thing. His cheekbones looked razor sharp, and his cat-green eyes watched Miss Castle intently with the hypnotic quality of a snake about to strike.The greedy glint in Jake’s snake- green eyes[.] Did I mention that this guy also has a snake tattoo curling around his forearm, and is genuinely considered to be trouble to be around. Can I make reference to a villain from a supernatural fantasy book series who also has snakes as his motif? You know, looks like a snake, has a reptilian smile, is quite slimy, etcetera. Lord Voldemort. The dark lord himself. The wonderful thing about Voldemort though, was that J.K. Rowling didn’t CONSTANTLY shove it down our throats that he was some kind of ‘reptilian’ ne’er-do-well. Clearly, in Adornetto’s writing, Voldemort’s every appearance would go something like this: ‘His face reminded me of a snake’s – eyes vile and vicious, like a cobra before it struck. The reptilian slits where his nose should have been moved gently with each seemingly wrong breath he took. And when he moved closer towards me, Elder Wand in hand, it was with a serpentine grace, moving in the zig-zag motion of a reptile. And he grabbed my wrist with the force of a boa constrictor’s coils.’So anyway, this obvious Agent of Darkness farts about with Bethany in her English Literature class and helps her write a sonnet. This is by far one of the most boring parts of the novel, mind you. Some time after this, Xavier breaks his ankle. And he’s kept in for overnight observation after the doctors find that he has a concussion. Okay, now that’s absolutely hilarious to me, because I’ve had personal experience with a broken (collar-)bone and a concussion: particularly, the hospital telling me to go home and rest rather than keeping me in for the bloody night. And even then I got about two hours of rest before I had to rush to the airport, since I was on holiday in Germany at the time. So yes, Xavier can’t go to the high school prom with Bethany, which of course is THE MOST TRAGIC EVENT EVARRR!! However, Jake asks Bethany out instead. Xavier tells Bethany he doesn’t mind, because he knows how much Bethany was looking forward to the prom, and how it won’t be the same without a date. Well, anyway, this obvious Agent of Darkness is revealed for what he is during the prom. Oh, of course. If the reader can pick up the fact that he’s a demon sixty pages before the big reveal, I’d say tone it down a little with all the serpentine imagery, hmm? Anyway, even though any demon worth his salt (well, maybe not salt, whatever) could have levelled this useless little town before tea-time, Jake only reveals he’s going to wreak havoc after Bethany rejects his advances at the prom. Because, need I remind you, Bethany is that important. Oh, and someone snapped a picture of Bethany being kissed by Jake, and OH NOES, Xavier saw it on Facebook and now he’s all jealous and hurt and upset! You know, your average person would probably be a bit more understanding. Not Xavier, though. He launches into a tirade against Bethany, and… wait a second. Does this make sense to anyone else? Bethany is a creature of pure goodness, a celestial messenger, an angel. Why would it be in her interests to lie (which isn’t angelic in the least) to her boyfriend about her relationship with the guy he allowed her to go to prom with in his stead? This book makes no sense! *claws at the walls* So anyway, Bethany finds herself in Dumpsville, USA, and spends the next few pages crying and feeling sorry for herself, until Gabriel finally tells Xavier what really went on, and Xavier comes back, completely ready to forgive and forget. In the space of about three or four pages. My God does this girl have Xavier on the brain. In fact, if you cracked open her skull, ‘I <3 Xavier' tattoos and stickers would be plastered over both hemispheres. It gets to the point where you just want to tell her to shut up. Like these two extracts, for instance, fresh from being dumped: When I realized Xavier was absent from school the following day, my eyes burned and I felt hot and dizzy. I wanted to crumple to the ground and just wait for someone to carry me away. I couldn’t make it through another day without him; I could hardly make it through another minute. Where was he? What was he trying to do to me?I wondered if I would ever be able to put together the pieces of my life on earth that had been blown apart when Xavier had left me. Shut up, Bethany. And somebody please tell Ms. Adornetto that her version of true love at first sight is so highly exaggerated the Disney princes and princesses would tell her to take it down a notch. The two reconcile, and Xavier and Bethany have a lovely naked cuddle on Bethany’s bed. (Where’s that council of archangels now, Gabriel? They were fully clothed the last time around, surely you should be calling God Himself to sort out Bethany for that kind of atrocious behaviour.) After all that, Bethany goes to school again and discovers that Jake has gotten himself quite a big following. And he may or may not have caused one of Bethany’s friends (Taylah) to commit suicide. This girl being the same one who went: “Oh, Bethy, eww, you don’t want to go to the library, only losers hang out there!” And ””Everybody knows the Middle East is in Africa.” Jake of course continues to threaten Bethany, and his followers grow day by day. One of whom is Bethany’s friend Molly. Shock, horror! And how do Bethany and her motley crew of two high angels and one human work out where Jake is likely to take Molly out on a date? Brace yourselves, the stupidity might require an ice pack from how hard your palm will meet your face.“They look like goths,” “And what is the centre of goth culture?” Gabriel said. Ivy looked at him, eyes wide. “Death.” “Yes.” Xavier’s face was grim. “So where would be the best place for a bunch of weirdos obsessed with death?” The realisation hit me, and I drew a sharp breath. It was overstated, it was grim, it was dark, and the perfect place for Jake to stage his show. “The cemetery.” (Seriously, is Marilyn Manson the author’s only reference for what a Goth looks like nowadays?) So, if people at your school/other educational institution take up an interest in the Goth lifestyle, there’s obviously a demon around somewhere! It’s not a conscious choice made of their own volition, nope, it’s a demon sucking out the happiness from their souls. Also, is it me or is Jake pretty stupid for a follower of darkness? If the dumbest angels ever committed to page can work out where you’re going to execute your evil plan, I think you need to go back to villain school posthaste. What follows next is a boring as hell ‘OMG Goths totally hang out in cemeteries and make blood sacrifices and endeavour to look as sullen as possible, right?’ until Bethany shrieks and like an idiot, gives away her and Xavier’s position. She is then spirited away to a Victorian mansion, where Jake continues to threaten her… and then Gabriel bursts through the wall with all the powers of Heaven behind him. Hooray! But oh no, Jake proves to be quite a match (for a bloody archangel, need I remind you). Until… in the mother of all awful endings… Bethany defeats Jake……with the power of love. I told you guys you’d need an ice-pack. Hope you still had it handy. Seriously, the power of love being used as some ethereal force that can conquer all evil? I thought that cliché died out when Sailor Moon finished airing. Yeah, so while I had a good chuckle at that dénouement, Bethany just settles back into life in Venus Cove… until the sequel grab happens. A little scroll with a mildly threatening message in Jake’s handwriting falls out of Bethany’s locker. OH NO! That so totally makes me want to read Hades, the next book in the series! Actually, no, it doesn’t. This novel was awful. I only finished it because it was so laughable, and I seemed to catch cringeworthy clangers on every page. The story makes no sense, the main character is a wishy-washy Mary Sue who has nothing to her personality besides being ‘kind and caring’ and ‘obsessed with Xavier’. It’s insulting to one’s intelligence (with things that are obvious constantly being explained to the audience), and the villain is absolutely pathetic. Jake’s inclusion into the plot seems more like the author realising she’s written 110 pages of angelic fluffy romance and she needs to shake things up a little. And you can’t speak of the villain without speaking of the other heroes. Gabriel and Ivy did absolutely nothing throughout the plot. Gabriel was just ‘ZOMG HOT NEW TEACHER’ and Ivy did nothing but arrange bake sales and help out at the local church. Also, isn’t it kind of insulting that the two female angels are weaker and stereotyped as caring and nurturing? Piss off. For divine beings from the Heavens, they certainly wouldn’t be picked for my dream team to take on the forces of evil. And yet they somehow revitalise church attendance in this little township? Pah. Call me back when church attendance is increased by a sassy lounge singer turning the dull choir into a funky gospel troupe. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to purge the e-book from my hard drive. And my brain. 1/5.