Tuesday, 3 September 2013

SOULMATES by Holly Bourne, reviewed by Tamsyn Murray

I'd be the first to admit I'm a romantic. I love the idea of there being a true love out there for each of us, someone who is the ying to our yang, the cream to our strawberries, the bubbles in our bath - The ONE. I'm also intrigued by the science of love - the physical reactions in our bodies when we fall head over heels for someone, even if all the evidence suggests that they are bad for us. So when I heard about Holly Bourne's debut novel, which combines all these things, I knew it was a book I would enjoy. What I didn't expect was to have my expectations flipped around and questioned. And I didn't expect to like the main character quite as much as I did.

Poppy Lawson has all the trappings of typical teenage life; she's got good friends (some better than others), loves going to gigs and hates her home town. But before you go thinking she's all fluff and no substance, she's snarky (and I am a sucker for a sardonic heroine) and sniffy and struggles with severe panic attacks. Oh, and she doesn't believe in romance, doesn't do relationships - until she meets Noah, who she has an extreme emotional and physical reaction to. Noah is in a band, gorgeous (of course) and has his own problems. I knew from the blurb that their relationship wasn't going to be straightforward; they might be soulmates but we learn almost immediately that this isn't actually a good thing. In fact, their relationship is something a shadowy international agency is working very hard to prevent, because if Poppy and Noah stay together, the consequences will be catastrophic.

Soulmates rattles along at an incredible pace. I started it one afternoon and only reluctantly put it down to sleep, finishing it the next morning. The plot swoops and climbs around the main characters, weaving an intoxicating tale of wanting what you can't have and growing up faster than you should. I was amazed to discover that this is Holly Bourne's first book - it's a skillfully-told story. I loved the idea that finding your soulmate could be the very worst thing that could happen to you, and I liked the way the cataclysmic events circling Poppy and Noah slowly tighten until there's no way they can avoid facing up to the truth. I liked the stark reminder that love has consequences - for most of us, that isn't the end of the world but Poppy and Noah might not be so lucky.

A word on the cover, which could have been black and red but seems to make a conscious effort to move away from the more traditional paranormal romance covers of recent years and I think it helps to distinguish the book as a superior example of the genre. Overall, I found Soulmates to be quirky and funny and gorgeously heart-rending. It's romance, Jim, but not as we know it. More, please!


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