Series: Between Lions (Book 1)
Hardcover: 296 pages
Publisher: BookBaby (October 3, 2015)
TRUST is a young adult, mythological, urban fantasy thrill ride about the darkly fantastical, supernatural Museion that has secretly protected humanity’s greatest treasures for millennia, and Anna, the sixteen-year-old New York girl who is the unknowing Heir to it all.
I received a copy of this ebook for free from Netgalley in exchange for an impartial review. Normally, I have a strict “no self-published books” rule for my reviews. However, I decided to make an exception for Trust because it offers something I believe is sorely needed in today’s market, especially in YA fiction: Diversity. Both the author and the protagonist are women of color and that was enough to persuade me to take a chance on this book.
I couldn’t be more pleased with my decision. In her debut novel, Jodi Baker introduces the audience to a protagonist who is smart, funny, and relatable. Although I did notice a few issues that can be attributed to lack of writing experience, overall Ms. Baker manages to weave history and mythology together to create an intriguing story told with an engaging voice.
Trust opens with a prologue that thrusts readers into the final moments of Hypatia of Alexandria. In Jodi Baker’s fictionalized account, Hypatia is the last living descendant of Ptolelmy, founder of the Great Library of Alexandria, and is heir to the position of Head Librarian. Desperate to save the precious scrolls from being burned, Hypatia attempts to escape through a magical portal hidden in a wall. But there is a price. Humans are only allowed to use the portal in the presence of a Guardian for safety. To attempt entry without a Guardian is certain death.
The next several chapters recount the strange childhood of the novel’s main protagonist, Anna. Raised in New York City by her single mother, Kali, Anna knows her life isn’t typical, but she doesn’t understand why. She only knows that she must “stay in the middle of the pack” lest a mysterious They discover her existence and take her away from her mother.
Kali takes pains to isolate Anna from the outside world. Anna is homeschooled and the only time she sets foot in public school is to participate in annual testing. Despite Anna’s high intelligence and the advanced curriculum in which she has been instructed, ranging from learning to read ancient Greek to zoology lessons, Kali coaches her daughter to ensure Anna’s test scores are never above average. Anna has no friends her own age, nor is she allowed to speak to strangers. In her whole life, Anna has broken her mother’s rule only once – when, as a young child, she dared to speak to a boy in the antique bookstore she and Kali visited twice a year. After that incident, Anna and her mother never return to the store.
If anyone thinks Kali’s behavior borders on psychological abuse, you’re not alone. The only other reason to be that obsessive about maintaining secrecy is if Anna and her mother were in a witness protection program. Which is why I had a hard time suspending my disbelief when Kali meets a boisterous man named Patrick while she and Anna are visiting Central Park, immediately begins dating and then marries him a few months later, culminating in Patrick and his teenage son, Clayton, moving in with Anna and Kali.
Without giving too many spoilers, Patrick turns out to be a throwaway character who gets stuffed into the Fridge to fuel the rest of the plot. With both her mother and step-brother incapacitated by grief, fifteen-year-old Anna is forced to take on the role of “pack alpha” and manage the household, beginning her journey into adult independence. Eight weeks later, Kali drags herself out of mourning and leaves on a mysterious errand. She tells Anna to “stay in the middle” until she returns. Anna goes to bed and wakes up on the steps of the Metropolitan museum with no memory of how she got there.
At this point, Trust takes a sharp turn into urban fantasy. Anna discovers it’s exactly one year later and that Clayton has reported both Anna and Kali missing. A grandmother Anna never knew she had now owns Anna’s house and has been named her legal guardian should Anna ever be found. Even more unbelievable is the new voice in Anna’s head, which possesses knowledge Anna does not, including how to read and speak ancient Sumerian. The voice, referred to only as “Inanna”, insists that Anna must trust it and those it deems appropriate allies.
From that point on, Anna is on a mission to discover where she’s been for the past year, learn why she has no memory of that time, and ascertain her mother’s whereabouts. Along the way, Anna learns she is a distant relative of Hypatia of Alexandria, that shapeshifters such as were-jaguars and were-jackals exist, and that her entire life has been a lie her mother fabricated to hide Anna from her grandmother’s political schemes.
Trust is the first installment in Jodi Baker’s Between Lions series and it is definitely not a stand-alone novel. There are numerous plot points that are not resolved by the end of the book and a few I felt were glossed over or rushed. I’m hoping those threads will be more fully developed in later books. Despite a few drawbacks, Trust is one of the most captivating books I’ve read in quite a while. I look forward to future books in this series.