ARC Review: The States

ARC Review: The States

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I think The States by Norah Woodsey is a good idea: a very light sci-fi approach to Jane Austen’s Persuasion featuring lucid dreaming, Ireland, and a filthy rich Manhattan family. Great. (I mean, I could do without the New York City or rich people bits, but for this they work as the Elliots.) The plot and the characters are getting there, they just aren’t quite. Yet. In other words, this book has promise but unfortunately did what lots of self-published endeavors do (probably including my own) and passed go before the book was thoroughly edited and tightened up. (Well, really, even plenty of traditionally-published books do this, but it a different-feeling way.) Some readers won’t mind this and will have a fun time going with Tildy on her adventures. I enjoyed the book but couldn’t ignore that it could have been better with more time and revisions.

Tildy Sullivan, middle child, left Ireland, her grandmother, and first love on the advice of her insufferable family (and their virtual assistant) for the high life in New York City. When given the chance to participate in a sleep study, Tildy sees a chance to live a second life back in Ireland through lucid dreams. But as she forms more dream-relationships, she starts to confuse reality and desire. The people she is growing attached to are only in her head, but if she keeps slipping away into her dreams, she’s been warned that something could go terribly wrong. And will she have to leave Ireland all over again?

I was approached and given an ARC of this book with the expectation of an unbiased review. It took me quite awhile to get to it (which I did warn), so it was published a couple months ago.

So, yeah. The book is a retelling of Persuasion, but you would not have to be familiar with it at all in order to understand the story. On the other hand, there are tidbits that you would miss if you weren’t more than just familiar with the story. I think that reading The States would be most enjoyable if one was a fan of the original. That way Austen’s work would combine with Woodsey’s and make more sense from some of the choices (like why Tildy would stay with her family in New York over just returning to her grandma).

It’s a romance novel, but we’re calling it science fiction. I mean, sure, it technically is. But the sci-fi of it are really light. Basically, we’re in a foreseeable world where one can induce lucid dreams and have a sort of relationships with AI. So almost reality. The main story is the romance, even if it is largely in Tildy’s head. Unfortunately, there are lots of romance fans who would balk at the addition of “science fiction” to their reading list; I would just glaze over the sci-fi in this case. However, if someone is really into science fiction, this is probably not going to scratch that particular itch.

I did enjoy reading this book. I was happy with the premise and I was interested the whole way through. I wanted to know what was going to happen to Tildy and I enjoyed some of the side-characters in a way I would the characters in a rom-com. Unfortunately, I agree with another reviewer that the book has potential, but it’s “just not there yet.”

Let me be more specific, though not exhaustive.

The book needs more flashbacks, more understanding of family dynamics. The main (real) friend relationship really needs to be built up. The flashbacks or backstory would also help with developing Aidan, and I don’t mean the dream Aidan. We need to find out who he really is so that we actually want him to be the love interest Tildy ends up with. (I’m not saying she does—no spoilers—just that he’s the one we’re supposed to root for.) Even Jude, the other love interest, needs a lot more development; as it is now, it doesn’t make sense that he would even tempt Tildy away from Ireland, etc. Also, Tildy has some issues as a character, on her own. Her staying with her family instead of going back to Ireland lacks real weight, real motivation. As for the rest of the characters, I’m wondering if Woodsey went one-for-one with Persuasion; the problem is, there are too many Ireland friends to make sense for this book, and they get really confusing. Really confusing. Lastly, there are moments at the end of the book that didn’t have proper build-up, or as an author I chatted with last week would put it, there aren’t sufficient breadcrumbs to lead us to the climax, let alone develop the subplots and relationships.

One other bummer: Woodsey uses Gaelic (I think it’s Gaelic. I don’t speak it) without translation, like a lot. Like long sentences. And then never gives us clues (some of the time, at least) as to what was just said. Or a footnote with translation. Anything? Nothing. Perhaps it’s a poke at how Victorian literature often included the tres chic French language without translation, though when I encounter that in classics I am equally as exasperated. These days, why aren’t modern publications of these books adding translation notes? For real.

The States is a self-published book, and one that I would recommend to someone who reads romance and would be interested in a teeny tiny bit of sci-fi… but not someone with high literary standards (for everything they read, anyway). There are some self-pub issues here, including a need for further development and edits as well as a better title (I don’t think I get it) and more representative cover (which tells us zero about the story). The idea is intriguing and there are some real promising seeds of characters and plot, but it could have been all-the-way-baked with more time and more insight.

Note: There are some quotes from the book that I marked, but because it’s an ARC, I can not post them here. The thing is, they might change between my copy and yours.