Strange Chemistry (6 Aug 2013), Ebook: 225 pages, Urban Fantasy / YA
Website • Goodreads • Amazon UK / US
The start of a brand new and exciting series, The Weight of Souls by Bryony Pearce tests everything you think you already know about what ghosts need in order to move on.
Opening with a scene that introduces you to Taylor Oh’s power, the book immediately grips you and compels you to keep reading. She is confronting a London street gang, looking for a particular member whilst under the guidance of a ghost. The ghost is telling her what signs he remembers from his death, allowing her to correctly identify the perpetrator. So far, this may seem like standard practice for a medium, but Taylor has a curse that has descended through her family for generations. When a ghost touches her, it transfers a Mark onto her hand which must then be passed on to the murderer through touch. The Mark then allows the bearer to be taken by the Darkness, a force that shows no mercy and which will take Taylor if she takes too long to transfer a Mark.
After this initial scene and our introduction to the Darkness, we are given an insight into Taylor’s home and school life. She doesn’t feel like she can share this curse with anyone and as a result, she only has one friend, Hannah. Even Hannah is getting tired of always being blown off for ‘family issues’, especially as Taylor is always distant at school, continually on the lookout for vengeful ghosts. She is also being bullied by the popular group at school, who will go to any lengths to humiliate her and always get away with it. Occasionally she will see a spark of good will in Justin, or even in ex-best friend, Pete, but Tamsin and James seem rotten to the core.
Taylor’s home life is no sanctuary either, as despite her mother having warded ghosts away from the home her father doesn’t believe in the curse. He was left wheelchair bound after the accident that killed Taylor’s mother and doesn’t go out much, instead choosing to spend his time in his home laboratory. He is a scientist, and believes the curse to be a genetic disease rather than a magical force, determined to find a link between normal DNA and Taylor’s. As soon as she gets home her father likes to take blood samples, even though Taylor protests and denies that the ghosts are just hallucinations.
Things get even worse for Taylor when one of her school bullies goes missing, with her seeing his ghost the next day at school. She is the only one who can see him and he marks her without realising it, but refuses to tell her how he died. Unless she can find his killer, the Darkness will come for Taylor and she has a limited amount of time to discover the truth. Forced to work together with one of her enemies, Taylor discovers a secret club which is the key to popularity, but what lengths will the members go to in order to achieve it..?
I really enjoyed reading this story as it was fun, fresh and innovative, putting a great new spin on ghosts and the afterlife. I loved the exploration of the hereditary curse, as there are recurring snippets from an old family journal throughout the book, with the curse originating in Egypt from the god of the afterlife, Anubis. The story was fast-paced and hooked me from the beginning, turning into a gripping read that was full of twists and turns.
Taylor Oh was a relatable protagonist, with everything going wrong in her life and leaving her with few prospects. There was no safe haven for her anywhere, as the ghosts are always plaguing her to resolve their dilemmas before they can pass on. She has become paranoid as she is forced to evaluate strangers to determine if they are human or ghost, feeling utterly alone with no one to confide in, especially since the death of her mum. However, even though I understood her reluctance to confide in Hannah, I thought it would have been better if she’d at least considered it, as she knew Hannah would eventually grow tired of her and surely it was worth a shot.
The plot was well developed and very well written, as I could tell that Taylor would have to work with someone she knew, but had no idea which of her enemies it would be. The writing style was easy and I loved the seamless integration between flashbacks and the present, as we are taken back to the first time Taylor had to help a ghost and how her mother guided her through it. The relationship between Taylor and her schoolmate ghost developed slowly, as she struggles to let go of how he helped to bully her for years. However, I could see the potential relationship between them before he died, as it is present in his description and the way he interacts with her. I wasn’t entirely sure about the connection between them, but I thought it had potential towards the end of the novel.
Overall, I thought this book made a great foundation for a new series, outlining the ghost world intricately and covering any loopholes. I liked how the book was left open for book two, but at the same I didn’t like the ending as it was a bit too dramatic compared to the previous events of the book. The school scenes were a little too teenage for my liking, but at the same time the book makes a great social commentary about the youth of today and what lengths young adults will go to in order to be popular and secure their futures. In this sense, it captured the school environment perfectly and I can’t wait to see where the series goes from here.
This book marks the beginning of a great new series. I loved the plot, the characters and the potential for future instalments. Although some of the school scenes are a bit unrealistic, I enjoyed the unique twist on what forms the basis of clique popularity and what lengths people will go to in order to stay popular. Taylor was a highly individual protagonist, and I can’t wait to see what happens to her next and what ghosts she will encounter.