This week on Down the Stacks, we’re looking at a fantasy-Western that doesn’t take many risks: The Arrivals, by Melissa Marr.
The Arrivals is set in an alternate universe known as the Wasteland. It’s a strange place full of a variety of near-human creatures and ran on a system of etiquette and tradition, until Ajani and the Arrivals came. “Arrivals” are people from our world, plucked from random points in history and dropped into the Wasteland, and somehow gained the ability to rise from death after about six days. Except when they stay dead. Ajani is a mysterious figure who’s proven more death-resistant than normal for an Arrival and is systematically stripping the Wasteland of its natural resources, backed by whatever Arrivals he can recruit to his side as well as an order of demon-summoning monks. Opposing Ajani is a small band of Arrivals led by Jack Reed and his sister Kitty, who has a rare ability to use magic similar to the monks but without the demons, assisted by Garuda, the leader of the vampire-like bloedzuigers who unofficially rule over the Wasteland.
The plot of the book kicks off when an Arrival dies for good and a new woman, Chloe, arrives to replace her. Jack’s band finds Chloe first, but Ajani starts making moves for her, and Jack and Garuda decide to try and put a permanent end to Ajani. Most of the conflict, however, centers around Kitty coming to terms with her unwanted magic powers and overcoming her knee-jerk dislike of Garuda.
The Arrivals is a modestly long and uncomplicated story without any subplots worth mentioning. There are dozens of hints and references to the history of the Arrivals and Ajani and their impact on the Wasteland, but the author only reveals enough to justify the ways the various characters interact. The characters are all cookie-cutter, each fitting a specific role and never deviating: Jack is the leader, Kitty is the troubled conflict-driver, Chloe is the naive newcomer through whom the reader learns about the setting, etc. Garuda is the most interesting character, but that doesn’t say much since his role is the mysterious and sagacious mentor/benefactor.
The biggest disappointment I had with The Arrivals is that the Wasteland is presented as a fascinating little world full of a variety of intelligences and cultures, but aside from the bloedzuigers we learn almost nothing about the Wasteland natives. Even the monks who serve as the first line of antagonists get next to no explanation or development; we learn that they can summon demons to possess their bodies, but that’s it. Wastelanders who serve as scene extras get even vague descriptions of their non-human natures at best. The book provides an insufficient snapshot of the world it takes place in.The Arrivals isn’t a terrible book. The writing is solid and has no serious plot holes, but the story as a whole is average at best. I don’t recommend it.