Book Review: Vala: Agendas by J.F. Jenkins

As always, a little information about the book before I begin talking about it:

    Format:  Kindle Edition

   Publisher: Astraea Press (October 17, 2011)

    Sold by: Amazon Digital Services

    Language: English

    ASIN: B005WNXJRG

    Lending: Enabled

The book opens with us meeting Cheyenne, the heroine of the tale. She is presented as an ordinary girl with the problems of ordinary teenagers going to school. She isn’t much one for boys, and she isn’t much one for social games. One day at school, she meets a boy that catches her attention.

When she is invited to a party, she attends, and meets that boy all over again. We learn that his name is Denver, and he is the catalyst that propels Cheyenne into a world of magic, adventure, and the divine. At first, she starts hearing what plants have to say. Then she discovers that she is adopted, and that her real parents wanted to protect her. This leads her to a new home at a boarding school.

From there, the books turns toward the expected adjustment period of a girl who comes from a normal world and finds herself in a more magical one. She discovers that there may be more to myths than she ever could imagine.

The characters that J.F. Jenkins brings to life are interesting. They are a mixed bunch, all of different heritages and thoughts on how they want life to go on around them. The drama between the characters is the realistic social climbing of teenagers. It is definitely the characters that carry this book and make it an interesting read — albeit light — from beginning to end.

Most of the tension in this book is spawned from the relationships of the characters. However, this is as much a disadvantage as it is an advantage. Due to the strength of the characters, other elements of the book have gone a little to the wayside. The plot is character-oriented, and the tension levels are not as high as I would like. Due to the general flexibility and strengths of the characters, the tension that should have been associated with the events in the book are not nearly as strong as they could be.

That said, it is the interesting assortment of characters, and how realistic to teens they feel that make them an enjoyment to follow.

For me, the weakest element of this book was the plot. There is no distinct, immediately recognizable villain, and while there is a threat to the character,the way that it is treated doesn’t feel very threatening to Cheyenne, who is happy to flaunt the rules in place that are meant to protect her. The villains — such as they are — are not as defined as they could be, and even the worst-case scenario doesn’t necessarily feel like it will destroy the world or her life if they should come to pass. Even the more evil of the characters presented are presented with good-sides, heroes of their own stories that are misunderstood rather than true villainous counterpoints to the strong heroine.

Cheyenne is presented in such a way where coping, adjusting, or even conquering the worst-case scenario is believable. That said, while weak, it did get the characters from the start to the finish of the book. In some ways, it feels more like a set-up to a book in terms of plot, which does in turn give me hope for the second book being more interesting in terms of the ramifications faced by all of the characters involved.

If I could ask for one thing from this book, at least in terms of plot, I would ask for higher stakes at the end so that the closure felt more complete. And a more villainous villain, so that all of the worry of the adults is more justified. As it is, it almost felt as if things returned to the starting state, allowing for the characters to pick back up where they left off.

The setting was something I had a love-hate relationship with in this book. I loved the mix of magic and normality, the general setting of the school, and the tone that the book took. There were times where it felt like descriptions took too long in comparison with the rest of the book. There were some rather beautiful descriptions in this book which helped bring the setting to life, which I appreciated as I was reading. There were other times where I wanted less setting placement and wanted more story. But, the job got done, and J.F. Jenkins made good efforts to bring the environment Cheyenne must cope with to life.

The one flaw I did find with this story was that, while there are references to magic and magical beings, it almost felt like it was a magic school that didn’t actually teach magic. Some of the students know some forms of magic, but we don’t see the magic through Cheyenne’s eyes, except in small bursts here and there.

Overall, I am giving this book 3*. It was an entertaining read, and I enjoyed some of the situations that Cheyenne got herself into (and out of). I got the feeling that this book was just starting to bloom, and that the second book should be so much stronger for the presence of the first, but that a lot of the things presented are there so that if there is a second book (which it feels like there should be), it will be something well-worth reading. If I were presented with a copy of book 2, I would definitely give it a try. I am not sure I would spend a lot of money on a copy of book 2 — certainly not the amount I’d pay for a hardback — but I wouldn’t be ashamed of having this book — and future titles — on my book shelf.

P.S.: I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a light, relaxed read. Teens would have a good amount to relate to, and I feel it is more targeting a female audience, as there are a lot of female-centric issues covered during the book.

If you are interested in purchasing this book, you may do so here.

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