#SPFBO Review : One of Us, The City of Secrets by ML Roberts

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One of Use by ML Roberts was the fourth book I read this month as part of the SPFBO Competition.  My three other books as part of Batch One were Deathborn by CE Page,  Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes and Stranded by Rosalind Tate.  At the end of the month I will be posting an update and highlighting which book or books will be rolled forward and which will be cut.

OneofUs

So, I would briefly describe One of Us as YA high school/urban fantasy.  Mostly set within the school grounds it involves a young girl who starts to think her imagination is playing tricks on her.  

The story is told by Olivia, fifteen years of age (I think).  Her mum asks her a favour, to befriend the daughter of one of her clients who has recently moved to the area and is new to school.  Of course, being 15, and not even as part of the in-crowd, choosing friends based on your parents’ wishes doesn’t do anything for your social standing.

Olivia’s best friend is Mindy, they’re fairly average students, not the popular girls, not particularly sporty or clever, but doing okay.  Abigail stands out a little bit, for all of the wrong reasons, and Olivia tries to avoid bumping into her at all.  Pamela is one of the ‘super popular’ girls and incredibly mean.  She seems to have made it her own mission in life to make the new girl’s life hell.  This aspect of the story is very ‘mean girls’ until, unexpectedly, revenge becomes the dish of the day.

On top of skirting around trying to avoid other students Olivia has plenty of other things on her mind.  She spotted a story in a news article saying that a local boy (who Olivia knows and used to go to the same school) has died in a surfing or swimming accident.  Olivia is distraught by the news but soon starts to suspect that she imagined the story.  The article seems to have disappeared and nobody at the school seems to be aware.  At the same time we are shown a memory of Olivia and her brother out driving when a strange occurrence takes place.  The car is hit by an object, Olivia’s brother thinks a branch, Olivia on the other hand thinks she sees a man lying in the road, a man with long silver hair and wings.  There are other strange occurences but I won’t go into them here. Then things escalate, starting at the high school dance, Abigail is attacked.  We find out more strange news from Olivia’s flashbacks and there’s talk of a haunted house.

Now, my feelings on One of Us are a little mixed.  I struggled to get into the story at first (although I did think the opening chapter was quite an intriguing hook).  The early stages of the story felt very teenage angst-y and the dialogue felt clunky, there was a lot of wild speculation on the part of Olivia for almost everything and anything that happens and for perhaps half the book very little really took place other than glimpses of things that didn’t really add up to very much.  As the story began to hot up the writing improved, to such an extent that I was intrigued and quite keen to read forward to discover what was going on.  The pacing improved, in fact things became a little bit crazy, it felt almost like a Scooby Doo adventure at one point but with an all girl cast and absent Scooby – and witches and fae instead of wannabe criminals shaking their fists and muttering ‘if it wasn’t for those pesky kids’.  I can’t deny that it was actually entertaining in a chaotic sort of way, not sure it was entirely realistic in some respects but it did keep me turning the pages.  But, and yes, there is a but.  I’m not sure even now what the motivations of the ‘evil ones’ was or what they were really trying to achieve.  I have what feels like a sketchy understanding of things being hidden around the city, protected by Others using magic barriers and the like and also that there are those who want to access these hidden elements (creating unspeakable risks)- although I have very hazy notions of why that is at this point.  

Criticisms aside, I think this would probably work well with the right audience.  I think the high school vibe is well done, the insecurities and fear of being ostracised, the bullying, etc and there’s an adventure type feel to the direction the story took.  I’m assuming that another book is planned although it isn’t clear at the present but this one definitely concludes with certain things remaining open not to mention talk of portals and the fact that Olivia may herself have something more to her than at first meets the eye..

I received a copy from the author, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.