The Heroine: Juliet Capulet, one-half of the famous star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet. However, unlike in the Shakespeare play, Juliet was murdered by Romeo in 1304 as an initiation into the immortal Mercenaries, a powerful group committed to violence, anger and suffering. Luckily for Juliet, her life was saved by the Ambassadors of Light, a rival group of immortal spirits that live off of love and happiness, determined to stop the Mercenaries' reign of terror. Juliet has spent the last seven hundred years fighting Romeo over the souls of lovers, trying her best to convince them to commit to love and protect them from succumbing to Romeo's offer of immortality in exchange for killing their mate. Though creative, bright and good, Juliet has turned bitter over her years of service to the Ambassadors of Light, her hatred for Romeo controlling her every move. That is, until she lands in the body of Ariel Dragland and meets a human boy that may convince her it is possible to find love again.
The Highs: If you don't already know this about me, I am a HUGE sucker for romance. I also have a soft spot for Romeo and Juliet, though not for the reasons you may think! Anyway, the idea of a fresh twist on an old tale hooked me into picking up this book and I definitely got the unique outlook I was looking for. Not only are Romeo and Juliet immortal, but they are merely spirit beings that inhabit human bodies (or in Romeo's case, human corpses) whenever they are needed on earth – Invasion of the Body Snatchers style. And not only do Romeo and Juliet hate each other with a burning passion, but they are doomed to spend eternity together, fighting to convince soul mates to either love one another or commit murder and join the Mercenaries, like Romeo chose to do. Whew, what a concept!
The story begins with Juliet landing in the body of Ariel Dragland, a miserable teenage girl with a scarred face, a strained relationship with her mother and a real witch of a best friend, Gemma – who is also one-half of the lovers Juliet is supposed to ensure end up together, or one of them will die. The unfortunate problem for Juliet is her feelings for Gemma's soul mate, Ben. Torn between her love for Ben and her duty to make sure he is bound to Gemma, protecting them from Romeo, creates a huge conflict that forces Juliet to reassess almost all the beliefs she held dear, even her hatred for Romeo. The tangled relationships and assumptions made by each character bring some great suspenseful twists into the story. The romance between Ben and Juliet (though he believes she is Ariel Dragland, another insurmountable obstacle) is sweet, adorable and full of tension. If I wasn't so obsessed with Romeo and Juliet, I would definitely be rooting for them!
I also liked the attention the author paid to Ariel/Juliet's relationship with her mother, Melanie. Melanie has misguidedly felt she was protecting her daughter by keeping her away from other kids and opportunities, due to her facial scarring, but instead Ariel has ended up feeling ugly, unloved and alone. While in Ariel's body, Juliet makes a big effort to mend Ariel and Melanie's relationship, resulting in some scenes that were touching and sweet.
I have never read anything by Stacey Jay before and I was actually really impressed with her considerable writing talent and skill. Despite some problems I may have had with the plot, her prose itself is really neat, clean and beautiful.
The Lows: I was really liking Juliet Immortal up until I reached chapter twenty-one, when everything descends into chaos and I completely lost the plot. It never found me again, though I continued reading up until the very last page. I won't go into specifics, because I don't won't to spoil the ending for anyone who plans on reading this book, but I'll just leave it at I have no idea what body, place and century we are in, or how we got there. And by we I mean pretty much every character in the book.
I also felt there were a few gazillion plot holes that were left gaping wide, like why Ariel's soul retreated to the forgotten mists when Juliet was occupying her body, but this did not happen to the souls of other characters when their bodies were used briefly by other transient souls like Juliet's (such as Nurse's soul in I-won't-say-whose body). Another basic thing I did not understand was why Juliet was sent to help Gemma and her soul mate in the first place, when she really had absolutely nothing to do with helping the two get together (if you've read the book, you know what I'm talking about). Or why the higher mercenary spirit comes down to see Romeo, and why they can't properly tell the difference between an Ambassador of Light's aura and the aura of just a good human, when the magic they are capable of is astounding. Or why Juliet couldn't properly remember how she died (again, if you've read it, you know what I mean). Or why Juliet wasn't capable of seeing a "glowing aura" in the shadow of a building's overhang. I could keep going, but I won't for your sake.
I also felt it was a bit of a cop out to create a huge conflict between Juliet and her original soul mate, Romeo, and instead of focusing on the more complex journey to bring the two of them back together, the author just throws her a new, random soul mate. I would be a lot more interested in seeing Romeo and Juliet find a way to reunite after all the chaos and trauma, a tale of overcoming human weakness, forgiveness and fighting for true love, instead of Juliet running off with Ben despite the fact that she has no body and he has no idea that she's not actually Ariel, in a sci-fi twist on a classic tale with a dollop of spy thriller thrown in that is way too tangled to make a lot of sense.
Final Thoughts: I applaud Stacey Jay's creativity, and I wish it would have worked for me (especially since the beginning seemed so promising!) but the ending lost me completely and it's nearly impossible to make up for that.
Rating: Juliet Immortal earns five unexplained magical occurrences out of ten.
To buy 'Juliet Immortal' on the Book Depository, click here
To connect with author Stacey Jay, click here
Photo from here
The sequel, Romeo Redeemed, will be released August 2012.