“Jane, Unlimited”: A New Novel by Kristin Cashore

Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore is an interesting novel about the significance of seemingly insignificant choices. Written in a style originating from the choose your own adventure story, this third-person-present POV novel follows Jane, a young woman lost in her life, in her sexuality, and her finances. Working at a bookstore and barely scraping by after dropping out of college, Jane runs into an former wealthy acquaintance, Kiran, who invites her to come to her family’s private island for as long as she wants to stay.

As she arrives, several mysteries unfold, and Jane is faced with a seemingly innocuous choice, which leads to several dramatically different endings.

While I found the premise of this story intriguing, I was disappointed in the actual product. While well-written, Jane Unlimited felt too much like a very thorough and drawn-out writing exercise.

Each ending was unique and original, but it was disorienting to have to go back after each ending to the same place after such exciting developments, not just with plot but also with characters.

It was difficult to go from reading about a Jane who, for example,  loves and cares about a dog, about her art, and is confident in who she is, to a Jane who is insecure, unsure about everything, and doesn’t know who to trust again. I really enjoyed the first ending because there was a great lead up and it flowed really nicely and everything felt natural. The ending had payoff. But when I had to return to the middle of the story again, I had forgotten a lot, and the Jane I was now reading about was not the Jane I’d come to love, and I had to start over again. By the third ending I was feeling pretty fed up, and I really only skimmed the fourth (which seemed to be the weakest of the endings anyway). But the fifth did feel a little fresher, and I enjoyed it almost as much as the first.

On another note, there was quite a bit of language, mostly at the beginning of the book, but sprinkled throughout. So if swearing bothers you, I would pass on this book. Also, as a general note, the main character struggles a little bit with figuring out her own sexual preferences throughout, and this does play a part in character development, if not plot.

I enjoyed Jane’s character, and many of the others, but it was hard to keep my feet under me throughout this book as it seemed like a realistic mystery novel at the beginning and transitioned to a highly fantastical novel by the end, and kept jumping back and forth in the in-between parts. It felt inconsistent and just plain odd. I would rather have had it all realistic or all fantastical.

The jumping back to the middle annoyed me as well. I would much rather have had a linear story that incorporated all the plot points, and mysteries that the various endings addressed. But maybe “choose your own adventure” stories just aren’t my thing.

Overall, I would rate this a 3/5.

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Third-Person Omniscient in “Underland” and “Unenchanted” by Chanda Hahn

Homeless and alone, fifteen year old Kira finds herself kidnapped from her cardboard home and enslaved to an underground group of monsters, doomed to spend the rest of her life doing the bidding of hideous snake people, vampires, witches, and zombies. After failed escape attempts, Kira is forced to participate in “the games”—a chance to make a name for herself and possibly earn her freedom.

This fantasy YA book was an intriguing read if you can get past the first couple chapters (they drag). While the excess of back story interludes initially weighed down the narrative, the payoff was surprisingly rewarding as it differentiated her character from that of other popular YA novels such as Katniss from Hunger Games and Mare from Red Queen. While it was nice to have a different kind of character, Kira oscillated inconsistently between being brave and vengeful, and frightened and sappy. The inconsistencies drove me a little crazy, and took me out of the story.

I enjoyed that this book was set in similar world as our own — that Kira comes from the world we already know and love. This gave me a shared perspective with Kira as I experienced the new world of Underland through her eyes.

However, Hahn’s use of third person omniscient surprised me. By jumping from Kira’s perspective to other characters’ perspectives for short periods of time, the reader ends up knowing quite a bit more than Kira. I worried that Kira’s lack of knowledge (or my excess of information) would make me frustrated, but I was pleasantly surprised. While third person omniscient still bothers me a little bit, Hahn did a decent job.

I recently read another of Hahn’s books titled Unenchanted in which she again uses third person omniscient, but much less frequently, and it bothered me much more in that book. She changed perspectives just enough that I noticed it, but not enough that it felt consistent or useful. I think that because Hahn used third person omniscient more frequently in Underland, it felt more purposeful.

Unenchanted‘s premise is that the main character has inherited her family’s curse: that she will relive all of the Grimm fairy tales until she dies or until the fairytales run out. I enjoyed this premise and the book, but I felt it fell short of what it could have been. The book felt childish at times with the main character wavering between mature and inexperienced, naive, and ignorant.

Overall, Unenchanted was a fun read because of the premises but it was not intellectually stimulating, and it felt a bit overdone (cliche’s galore). This was a clean book, but it’s not one I’m rushing to reread or recommend. Unfortunately, while the original ideas behind Unenchanted and Underland were good, they were not executed well, and both books felt inconsistent with character and relationship development.

My recommendation: if you have some extra time to burn, pass on this book, and try a different one.