Review: Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

When Clara Gardner learns she’s part angel, her entire life changes. She now has a purpose, a specific task she was put on this earth to accomplish, except she doesn’t know what it is. Her visions of a raging forest fire and a mysterious boy lead her to a new high school in a new town but provide no clear instruction. As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she’d have to make—between the boy in her vision and the boy in her life, between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. . . . When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?.*


I should say that I haven’t read a lot of novels with angels as the main fantastical/mythical (I’m not really sure how to classify angels) component. In fact, I think I’ve only read two fantasy series with angels as a component; one where the angels are cross-breading with humans, similar to Unearthly, and in the second the angel was really just a side benefit to all the demon stuff going on. So for me this is still a pretty new idea, a place in literature I haven’t been often, and Cynthia Hand certainly created a very fun angel-world to visit. There are angels, half-angels, quarter-angels, and the neat tricks of each angelic level is pretty darn fascinating. There is a suggestion that, at least in the world of the novel, these types of human-angel hybrids are historical nuisances (either being feared by humans or hunted by full angels), and they have a long history of hiding what & who they are.

From the description above, I predicted the arc of the story to be: first, about Clara learning that she’s part angel; second, about what she can do as a quarter-angel-human; and third, about her mysterious task, the one she was “put on this earth to accomplish.”  However, at the beginning of the novel Clara already knows she’s a quarter-angel-human (though there is a flashback scene to her finding out). Clara knows what she’s supposed to be able to do as a quarter-angel-human, but she mostly sucks at it (she spends a majority of this novel learning how to fly, which is both humorous and frustrating, for Clara and for the reader); and there are a few great moments of Clara doing something angelic and her mother being surprised by it either manifesting at all or manifesting so soon (which, if you can’t tell, suggests Clara is a special quarter-angel-human). Finally, Clara has her mysterious Purpose, which turns her into a bit of a stalker, and really, the entire plot of this novel is redeemed by the larger Purpose plot. It takes a long time to unravel and get anywhere (there is all the angelic training, and moving, and general teenage stuff to do, too), but when it starts moving, it’s pretty interesting and very action-packed.


Clara seemed a very typical teenage girl narrator: she found her inner narrations more funny than they were and she focused on tidbits of life around her that were obviously missing the point (which was interesting for me to notice as a reader as I was “in her head”). There is an odd tension between first-person point of view and Clara seeming to be aware of an audience listening to her; it’s unclear to me after reading this if Clara was supposed to be conscious of an audience (if the story-telling aspect of this narration was, on purpose, emphasized) or if that was just the way the narration kept leaning. In a few places Clara seemed to be consciously narrating & commenting on the story, and in other places her first-person voice seemed more natural, less self-aware.  Either way would have been a fine choice, but each way lends its own stylistic impacts to a story-arc, and the wavering between the two styles threw me off in specific places. Not in a strong, distracting way, but it was noticeable none the less.

Clara does, however, make far too many “literally” jokes. I’m very proud she actually knows what the word “literally” means, and I’m glad she never literally laughed her butt off, or literally split a rib laughing, but still. Not using a word incorrectly does not mean one needs to use the word correctly at every available & correct opportunity.

As a complicated quarter-angel-human teenager girl, Clara made some decisions that were flawed from one perspective of the plot, but commendable from another. She was still making some interesting choices at the end of the novel that lead the plot into some twists that, while predictable, were reached in interesting ways. This book is followed by its sequel, Hallowed (1/17/2012), so though Clara’s story in this novel ended without making much forward progress on her flaws or concerns, there is still room for her to grow.


Like most books that will come up for $0.99 review, I purchased this book because of it’s price point, and then I read this book because I’d purchased it (weird line of action there, I know). It was a quick read for me (a few hours total), though I did find myself missing key world rules & dynamics and having to re-read in places.  This novel was definitely entertaining enough to read at a slower, more careful pace so as not to miss important bits of information; especially the important bits of subtle action that propelled Clara into a sudden climax.

I will probably, eventually want to read Hallowed to know how things progress for Clara and co. The side kicks in this novel (her little brother, two potential love interests, and several other part-angel-humans) are obviously going to be involved in future books in more impactful ways. And I am sucker for good side kicks.

Rating: ★ ★ ★

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