Meadows, Jodi. Incarnate. 384 p. Katherine Tegen. 2012. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9780062060754.
Incarnate is set in a world where everyone's soul is reincarnated over and over-- until one soul disappears forever, and later, Ana is born. Her soul is new, and nobody knows what to make of her. Raised on the fringes of society by an unloving mother, she is determined to discover the truth of her existence. As she begins her search for information, she is aided by a young man named Sam, and must learn to trust the first person who has ever shown her kindness.
This book is filled with truly lovely writing that drew me into the story and kept me reading, even though I felt mixed about several elements. Brisk pacing moves things along nicely, yet the plot is slightly unfocused. Ana's mission to find out more about herself is set alongside the development of her romance with Sam. The two aspects of the story don't always seem to mesh, and even compete for importance at times.
As far as characterization goes, I enjoyed the practical and patient Sam, but found myself frustrated by Ana's constant angst, even as I empathized with her difficulties and doubts in navigating a society where she's the ultimate outsider.
The worldbuilding in this book is inventive. But with fantasy elements such as dragons intermingled with mundane contemporary items like backpacks and handheld electronic devices, I felt like I never quite had a grasp on the setting. Is an an alternate universe? Our world in another era? I couldn't get my head around it, and the uncertainty nagged at me. That said, I think the need for a strictly defined setting may very well be a personal quirk of mine! I can see other readers really getting into this world-- it's unique, mysterious, and there's an intensely vivid segment toward the end of the book that takes place in a surreal location that stands out as particularly memorable.
Ultimately, even though this was an uneven read for me, I can see its appeal for readers who love fantasy and are looking for something a little different. I predict that this book will circulate often in my library.
Incarnate comes out tomorrow, January 31st, in bookstores everywhere. ARC for review received from Katherine Tegen, an imprint of HarperCollins, via NetGalley.