When we last left Ella, having realized that the perfect life she was bred for was anything but, she escaped captivity and had managed to cross the border into Canada, where asylum is offered to human “pets” such as herself. Excellent….right? Well… not so much. As with everything else in Ella’s life, there’s a caveat to her freedom. In the process of seeking refuge, Ella was forced to leave behind Penn, her former owner-turned-love of her life. She watched from just across the border as Penn was dragged away by American police, back to the hell that is Ella’s former and Penn’s present home. What happened to him from there is anyone’s guess.
To add insult to injury, back in the US, Ella’s high-profile escape is causing a ripple effect that nobody could have anticipated. Pets are turning up dead, dismembered and disfigured all over the country. When help comes from the most unlikely of sources, Ella takes the opportunity to return to the states, risking everything to reunite with Penn, and in the process, discover and expose who or what is killing pets like her.
Ok, so, Entangled Teen did it to me again. They approved me for this lovely book on NetGalley, and unbeknownst to me, it’s a sequel; meaning I had to read its predecessor before digging into this wonderful little nugget of joy. And, yet again, I couldn’t possibly be more pleased! If I loved Perfected (see my review here), what I feel for Tarnished can only be described as the most acute form of euphoria. It’s official, I am definitely a die-hard fan of Entangled Teen and their authors!
Tarnished picks up shortly after where Perfected left off and I was immediately swept away and back into Ella’s world. The world-building that goes on in this novel was fabulous. Although on the outside, Ella’s world isn’t much different from ours, the author took great care to explain in great detail a seedy underground beyond our wildest nightmares. One of the few (but notable) issues I had with Perfected was that it explained how Ella’s world differed from ours, but I felt that it didn’t go into enough detail as to the “why”. Tarnished accomplished this in spades. Every single question I had while reading its predecessor was answered thoroughly in this novel, and I loved it more with every word.
Again, the character development in Tarnished was just as wonderful as it was in the first novel, if not more so. With every page, I grew with Ella. I learned with her, was heartbroken when she hurt, was horrified when she was, and felt exuberant joy right along side her. Just as I loved Ella, I fell even more in love with Penn throughout the course of this novel. Kate Birch wrote in Penn the ideal book boyfriend (I think he’s 18, so that’s allowed, right?) He’s strong, loyal, brave, and stands up and fights for what he believes in, consequences be damned. You just can’t help but swoon over those qualities in a man. Although we find obvious protagonists in Ella and Penn, there’s a third in this story that is possibly even better. I won’t spoil the novel and give away who it is, but this character brings such a grittiness and bad-ass nature to the Tarnished that she is what truly makes it perfect. She is the salt to the sugar of Penn and Ella and I love that I spent a large chunk of the novel simply trying to figure her out.
Speaking of “gritty”, while Perfected certainly had a bit of a “shadowed” feel to it, Tarnished was just straight-up dark. As an adult reading a YA novel, this was something that I really appreciated. YA as a general rule, especially when you get into the paranormal/alternate reality sub-genre, isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, puppy farts and rainbows. But, this novel just may be one of the most disturbing that I’ve come across. Some of this was due to the content itself, and part of it was due to the fact that the world of Tarnished isn’t just believable, but it’s the one we live in. There are no fairies, vampires, or witches. There’s no time-travel, alternate dimensions, or elven lairs. This series is set in places that can be found on a map: Canada, New York, Connecticut, etc, and in a time that is largely indistinguishable from our own, with technology that is horrifyingly possible with current scientific understanding.
A great dystopian novel serves to make you think differently about the world you live in. Its purpose is to show you what could potentially happen if we, as a people and a culture, continue on our projected path. The difference between other dystopian novels and this series is that, as opposed to being set in the future, this twists what we already know into something far more sinister. In our world, cloning and genetic engineering are something we read about on a regular basis. The black market and human trafficking aren’t, by any means, foreign concepts to us. Tarnished puts an entirely new spin on both. It shows us what is conceivable on the path we’re already on, and that’s just freakin’ scary.
This novel truly has something that appeals to any mind, in any age group. It has the syrupy sweet heart-fluttering romance that every teenage girl (and many adult women) loves to read about. It’s jam-packed with action for those who are searching for it. At every turn of the page, you’re heart is jumping out of your chest, and you’re resisting the urge to scream. And, for the adult reader, and the older teenage reader who wants more than a good story, this novel is definitely a thinker. There’s so many themes in this novel that will make you look at and think about even the most run-of-the-mill aspects of your world completely differently; from your typical house-hold pets, to Dolly, the cloned sheep.