Khanh the Killjoy


Conjured - Sarah Beth Durst ✔ Witness Protection Program✔ Magic✔ Serial killerLet's be honest, this book had "Khanh Bait" written all over it. However, after reading the story, I cannot say that this is a book I would recommend. The writing is lovely, the descriptions and use of the carnival imagery will delight all fans of circus-themed things, but unfortunately, it failed to deliver on all three selling points. The use of the three items which I mentioned were completely arbitrary; besides the inclusion of magic, there was little relevance and mention of the serial killer or portrayal of Witness Protection Program that I had hoped to get.This is going to be a messy review because it's so hard for me to parse through my thoughts for a book of this nature. It felt so utterly disorganized. The plot was long-winded, confusing, and nonsensical. This book reminded me a lot of Another Little Piece in its surrealism and the massive wtf-ery of its plot.I'm not going to summarize the book because to do so beyond the jacket summary would be to spoil it, and it would ultimately be a Herculean feat for me to try, because I honestly had no idea what was going on for the latter half of the book. The first half was extremely slow and ultimately plotless; we are introduced to some supporting characters, namely the smart-aleck of an insta-love interest Zach, and the strangely inhuman (and supposedly intriguing) trio of Aiden, Victoria, and Topher, none of whom I felt contributed anything of significance or interest to the plot.I came into this book with high expectations. I know the real premise of the Witness Protection Program is not a pleasant experience. All the secrecy, all the sacrifices involved, not to mention the danger of having one's covers blown and having one's life's harrowing.Still, I can't help but be fascinated. I especially love reading about teenagers in YA fiction involved in this program, imagining adjusting to a new life as a sullen, unwilling teenager. A normal move across cities, across states is traumatic enough to a teen, but becoming a whole new person? This sort of premise is so much more interesting for me as viewed from the psychological and behavioral standpoint of a teenager. It is a fascinating idea, and I absolutely jumped at the opportunity of reading this book.So, how well did it live up to the task and my expectations? It didn't. How the main character Eve adjusts to a new life, new schools, a new identity, was nonexistent. For one thing, this book took place in summer...translation: no school. Even so, Eve's interactions with others are so limited as to make me question the reason for her involvement within the program at all. The premise of the Witness Protection Program was nonexistent; the danger was not made evident enough for me to feel there was a purpose for its inclusion in the book as a selling point.Eve was a highly unsatisfying character. Her amnesia was really a plot device that I struggled with. Huge chunks of memory of her present life is missing. The narrative jumps around, whether it's days missing, or weeks missing, or months missing, we're not sure because of the unreliability of the narrator. It really frustrated me that I could not see what is going on in her life and how she was actually dealing with being in the WitSec program.Due to the nature of her amnesia, Eve is completely devoid of personality. She has had to relearn language, writing, the basics of everyday life, even terminology like "bread" versus "bagel." My problem is not that Eve does not remember the remnants of her previous personality, it is that throughout the book, she develops no personality of her own. The premise of the Witness Security Program (WitSec) in which she is enrolled might as well not have been there. In the beginning, we're shown how she has to learn her new identity, how she is given a history...and that's it. Eve interacts with so few people outside of her WitSec circle that the aspects of what I wanted to read about was nonexistent.Eve is so utterly passive as a character. Few people are nice to her, and her "Aunt" Nicki (read: Agent in charge of "babysitting" her) is a complete jerk. People are clearly hiding shit from Eve. There are all sorts of intimidating Men-In-Black type telling her what to do, how to act, being condescending and patronizing and just plain ANGRY at her because Eve cannot remember what it is that she is supposed to remember. Instead of standing up to herself, instead of demanding some sort of answer, taking some darned initiative...Eve just stands there feeling really sorry for herself, and so utterly apologetic that she can't deliver the answers that the Big Honchos want to hear. I just wanted her to grow a backbone. She finally does, but her actions ended up being utterly unbelievable, capricious, and unsupported by rationality. She was not a character I enjoyed at all.Of all the characters in this book, I ultimately ended up loving the agents the most. Malcolm is a sweetheart, and I loved his relationship with Eve. (and he's black! Yay for diversity!) I started off disliking Nicki, who was the personification of passive-aggressive bitchiness. However, her character grew more complex and eventually became someone with whom I sympathized, unlike the rest of the cast, who were utterly forgettable.The love story of Eve and Zach didn't interest me. For one thing, Zach is not a character that I found attractive, he is a smart-alecky type of boy, one of those smooth-tongued types who go off spouting factoids at you all day long and just never seem to fucking shut up. Right after meeting Eve, literally within seconds, this is what he says to her: "I think it's a shame that it's customary to shake hands upon greeting when what I really want to do is kiss your lips and see if you taste like strawberries." He is too glib, too smooth, Zach comes off more as a wise-cracking fool than a character I could relate to.The book promised me danger, excitement, magic: it promised me a serial killer, who was, for the majority of the book, completely absent. There was no sense of jeopardy, no blood, nothing that stimulated me. A few mentions of a serial killer chopping people up doesn't cut it for me, no pun intended. The word "killer" doesn't even emerge until a third of the book is through, and I honestly had no idea why Eve had to go into hiding and remain in such secrecy besides her vague and largely useless demonstrations of magic. Making forsythias bloom out of season, making birds fly off wallpapers, changing eye colors. The use of magic in this book is whimsical and flimsy, it did not deliver to my expectations; there was largely no purpose to the inclusion of magic and largely no point to it.The book took far, far too long to reach any level of excitement. The book seemed to pick up a lot at the halfway point, but even though there was a lot of excitement and a lot of things going on, nothing made sense to me. There are a ridiculous number of things that went unexplained, and the world-building of the big reveal, while beautiful...just didn't make any sense. It wasn't until 95% of the book, in which things are literally spoon-fed to us in the form of an expository trial that I finally went "Oh! So that's what was happening." This is not good, guys.In short: good writing, beautiful descriptions and use of carnival/circus imagery, but not recommended due to the nonsensical and uncompelling plot.I received a copy of this book for review through Netgalley. The quotes used in this review are taken from an e-galley and is subject to change in the final edition.