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TPG reviews: To Dream, Perchance to Soar, by Ashlyn Navina

December 8, 2013

…wha…

Aile Molyneaux has a secret, a passion, and a dream. She wants to fly — more than she could ever want anything else in the world. Of course, that’s just not possible. All she can do is dream. Except that Aile lives in changing times. And the change that’s coming is going to blow her, and the world around her, away. Metaphorically and literally.

Aile’s France is not too different from the one we know. The zeppelins fly overhead, shuttling passengers from city to city. The cars drive by, business continues as usual. Then one day a parallel universe touches hers, and suddenly everything changes. Les volants soar through the skies like angels. Dreams become real. What isn’t possible?

Soar

My rating: ?!?/10

Uh…what…what did I just…huh?

Alright, a bit of background. I first came across this over on Tvtropes, then downloaded it for free a while ago over on the author’s website. I’d almost forgotten about it when I saw it on my kindle, at which point I decided to try it. Having finished this book a couple of days back, I…really have no idea what to say. I didn’t not like it – I kept reading it without forcing myself to, after all – but by the end it got so strange that…well.

The book starts off in a relatively straightforward manner. For as long as she can remember, Aile Molyneaux has dreamt of flight. She has a truly unquenchable wish for wings, which seems impossible to fulfil until a race of winged humans abruptly appear over the fantastical version of Paris that Aile calls home. Aile soon gets her wish courtesy of a rogue Ka’aulele doctor, only to find herself at odds with her family and treated as an outcast by both sets of communities. From then onwards, Aile finds herself embarking on a personal quest – both for acceptance, and to discover what she truly wants out of life

This novel, from what I gather was principally written with otherkin in mind, though it could just as easily be interpreted as a metaphor for transgender issues. While it generally worked in this way, a few scenes got excessively preachy and opposition from Ka’aulele characters rang far truer than the reactions of Aile’s fellow humans; in particular, jealousy turns out to be one of the few problems Aile doesn’t have to deal with, even though I’d have expected it to be one of her most pressing concerns.

Along the way, the reader is treated to all kinds of fascinating worldbuilding. The author has clearly spent a lot of time considering the practicalities of having wings in a very much wingless world; if anything, it’s handled in even more detail than in Growing Wings, which is saying something. The various elements of Ka’aulele culture were genuinely interesting to read about, and it was nice to see that they could be just as flawed as the humans in the setting. All in all, there was a lot to enjoy here, and this was largely the reason I kept reading.

For the first three quarters, everything was okay. Aile’s journey was interesting to follow even if it seemed to lack a clear endpoint, and her romance with one of her fellow “HtK” converts was (generally) highly enjoyable. The writing was largely solid, with the descriptions of wings and flight being particularly nice, though it did suffer from some annoying head-hopping at points. All in all, things were pretty good.

And then, around three quarters in, everything went completely off the rails

Abruptly, almost all of Aile’s conflicts get resolved all at once. Any sense of conflict withers and dies, and the novel transforms into something that could only be described as a spiritualist’s fever dream. Various concepts get introduced with no prior warning: talking animal spirit-guides, childhood imaginary friends made flesh, humans wishing various bizarre transformations on themselves, and so on. It was all, quite frankly, highly entertaining – just not in the way it was supposed to be.

By the end, things got too bizarre for me to take them remotely seriously.  It’s as though the final quarter was written by a completely different author. Even now, I have no clue what sort of rating to give it. And so, for the time being at least, I’m not going to give one. I honestly did not think that this kind of thing would ever happen on this blog, but there you have it.

Soar can be downloaded from the author’s website here, for those who are interested

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