EVERLESS by SARA HOLLAND (2018)
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
Everless by Sara Holland is the latest entry in YA’s fantasy obsession. There’s a kingdom, a queen, sad villagers struggling against an unjust monarchy, and a sprinkling of magic. Everything you’d expect from a YA fantasy novel. However, Everless manages to stand out from the pack with its unique worldbuilding and slightly Gothic atmosphere. Not The Cure kind of gothic, mind you, but more of the Charlotte Bronte kind.
Everless follows Jules Ember, seventeen, as she fights to keep her head above the waters of poverty, like so many of her fellow villagers who are already drowning in it. Her father is dying and her stomach aches every day from lack of food. Aside from hunting, there is one other thing Jules can do to provide for herself and her family: She can sell her time. Yes, you read that right. Everless’s plot and world hinges on the concept of buying and selling time. Time lenders bleed the time right out of you, using your blood to make “blood-irons.” The more time you sell, the less you have to physically live with. People can sell their time in exchange for payment, which can be used to buy things like food, and time can also be given to others to lengthen their lives.
Enter the Gerlings. Considered the royal family of the kingdom of Sempera, the Gerlings hoard time and pop blood-irons in their wine like candy. The Queen of Sempera, ageless and powerful, lives in an imposing estate, the titular Everless, but rumor has it that she won’t be living much longer, for even blood-iron has its limits. When Jules manages to enter Everless as a servant, she quickly realizes that not all it was it seems in this glittering estate.
Let me just say this first: I enjoyed Everless much more than I thought I would. I wasn’t expecting much when I picked it up, but by the time I was finished, I was pleasantly surprised. The concept is by far the book’s biggest strength. Time as a currency (not unlike that one movie with Justin Timberlake that came out a few years ago) is an idea rich with possibility, and Sara Holland takes advantage of that possibility. Jules, our main character, can slow time to a halt—something no one else in this kingdom can do—and there’s even a village in Sempera that is stuck in time. It’s very cool, and the blood-irons are a great way to conceptualize the act of physically selling time as well.
I mentioned that this book has a slightly Gothic undertone before, and I’d like to expand on that here. It’s an element I really enjoyed. The Everless Estate is always described as being ominous and crawling with shadows. The Queen is this seemingly ageless woman who is quite literally untouchable, and there’s just something so off about her that you can’t help but feel nervous every time she’s on the page. Furthermore, the sheer concept of bleeding the life out of yourself to pay for basic needs is also pretty darn scary. The plot is full of twists and turns and no one is who you think they are. Jules’s dad not really being her dad, for example, threw me for a loop.
For all of Everless’s strengths, there are some weaknesses. The characters aren’t particularly strong or memorable. I struggled to remember what Jules’s name was at some points in the book, and I didn’t really care about the multiple deaths that happen either, because we aren’t given sufficient time with them to care about what happens to them. Even the big reveal about Jules at the end didn’t hit me as much as it should have. This isn’t enough of a problem for me to dislike the book, but it was still annoying that I couldn’t bring myself to care all that much.
Despite my minor quibbles, Everless is a good start to a fantasy series and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the series has in store.
You can pick up a copy of Everless at the Oreana library today!