Fallen opens with a prologue set about 150 years before the main events of the story, well-written with a good sense of time and character, an artist and his mistress in 19th century England. A short scene, seemingly unrelated, but it hooked me immediately and kept me wondering how it was relevant.
Chapter one, and the scene changes to Luce arriving at her new boarding school. Great! (Have I mentioned that I am partial to boarding school stories?) Sword and Cross is no ordinary boarding school, but a reform school for juvenile delinquents and headcases, where Luce has been sent after an unfortunate incident where a boy died. Sword and Cross has a creepy, zombie atmosphere to it, everything described in shades of black and grey, mould and mildew. To add to the bleakness, although there is no school uniform, the dress code is black, black and more black. Black jeans or skirts, black sweatshirts or jackets, black Converse boots... you get the picture. The students are watched 24/7 by surveillance cameras (although they show great resourcefulness in disabling them!) one third are tagged by electronic wristbands, and detention involves clearing the neighbouring graveyard at the crack of dawn.
Somehow I found myself seeing superficial similarities between Sword and Cross and my university hall of residence: not only did the back buildings overlook Surbiton Cemetary, but it was rumoured to have formerly been a prison - although the truth of that rumour never was established. Being a reform school, the characters were not the same archetypes of the average high school story. Everybody had a Past. Still, Luce manages to make some friends, Arriane and Penn (short for Pennyweather! Probably the only sane person at Sword and Cross, who is only there because her late father was on the staff.) As this is young adult literature, she also meets two boys: the friendly and flirtatious Cam. And Daniel.
From here I felt the story go downhill. Daniel is gorgeous and expresses an instant dislike to Luce, but she "feels a connection" with him, a sense of deja vu and persuades herself that actually they were meant to be together. Daniel gives little to no encouragement to Luce, and all we have to go on are vague descriptions of "feelings," which was a problem as their "connection" proved to be central to the plot. I found Luce's obsession over someone who treated her badly unconvincing from the start, and their relationship to have as much substance as that of Bella and Edward in Twilight, if that.
Meanwhile, Luce seems to be getting on pretty well with Cam, who is instantly smitten. Unfortunately, he just doesn't compare to Daniel. It is as if Cam is the boy Luce would like, if she was simply what she appears to be. But there is something strange about Luce, something that she doesn't understand but that Daniel seems to - if he would only talk to her for two minutes at a time without vanishing on her. Aside from the deja vu, Luce is haunted by "shadows" that no one else can see, but from which she senses threat and hostility. Since arriving at Sword and Cross, these shadows have appeared to her more frequently and they are gaining substance, bringing disaster with them.
As the book comes to a close, and Luce agonises over her two romances, some truths are revealed about Daniel's true nature and his history - and hers. As a battle begins between good and evil manifest, friends, classmates and staff are forced to take sides and some of their true loyaties are surprising. The finale in the graveyard and around the school is a dramatic and terrifying affair, and I was left with the knowledge that this is just the beginning. Only some of the questions raised in the book were answered, and I wanted to know more. Why does the fate of the world revolve around Luce (and Daniel?) What really happened the night Luce's first crush died? And how on earth will they keep their world appearing to be the same as the one we know?
I found it difficult to rate this novel, because there was so much good about it, and yet so much that really annoyed me. In the end I settled on an average of three stars, although that feels stingy to the story as a whole and over-generous to Luce and Daniel, who are the largest part of it. I shall certainly be reading the sequel, Torment, although I haven't decided whether to wait for it to be released in the smaller-format paperback or take advantage of the excellent multi-buys that the bookshops are currently offering on children's books.
*Having looked at the cover for about a year before reading it, I was rather disconcerted to discover Luce does not look like the girl in the picture, having had her long hair cut short just before the book opens.