You know how sometimes, when you read a really fantastic book, everything you read soon after it just seems mediocre in comparison? I fear Incarnate fell victim to this phenomenon.
It's got a great premise: In a world where people's souls have been reincarnated into new bodies for over 5,000 years, Ana is a newsoul. Her body was supposed to house Ciana, a woman who died a few years ago, but instead she is Ana, a completely new person who must experience everything for the first time. The other people who live in Range view Ana with either pity or revulsion. Her own mother despises her.
Tired of being subjected to her mother's barbs, Ana decides to leave their country home and set out for Heart, the world's bustling main city. Along the way, she runs into a teenager (in appearance only, of course) named Sam. Sam doesn't think she's someone to be hated or feared, and actually is quite interested in helping her develop and survive in Heart. Romance ensues. With Sam, Ana must learn how to get along with the people of Heart and survive the dragons and sylphs that attack the city. She also comes to a startling revelation about the reincarnation of souls and her own absent father.
I'll start with what I liked about Incarnate: the concept is fascinating, Ana is a pretty well-developed character, and the events near the end of the novel were completely surprising, but also completely plausible. Not many novels are able to do that. I appreciated that the plot was different from a lot of YA fantasy I've read lately and that it didn't become something more familiar as I read.
My main problem with Incarnate was the writing, which I felt was a little weak overall. The first couple of chapters in particular are confusing, and not in the "I'm getting adjusted to a new fantasy world so things are going to be confusing for a while" way. I wasn't ever quite clear what was going on and can't quite remember what it is that exactly happened. Meadows throws Ana into a confrontation with a sylph almost from the get-go, but I still don't feel that I know what a sylph is or how Ana escaped.
The other issue I had was pacing. Not much happens in the first half. I would actually consider all of the first half exposition: Meadows sets up the world and the characters in it, but the plot isn't much advanced. A more skillful writer would be able to incorporate this world-building into the action. Instead, the novel is a bit of a slog at the beginning and rushed at the end.
And a third, minor problem involved the romance. Very old (but young in appearance) men romancing teenage girls is no longer anything new in YA, but some writers make it more believable than others. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to fully buy into it here. Ana felt like a real person, but Sam never did. I never got a good reason for why he would be interested in Ana; he seemed flat and had weak motivations.
As always, your mileage may vary. For a take from someone who thought more highly of Incarnate than I did, check out Lenore's review. I may seem pretty critical of Incarnate, but I did enjoy it. I actually would probably read the sequel, since I'm interested to see how Meadows takes what she developed in the second half of the novel.
Book borrowed from my local library.