August Book Review: The Veil by Chloe Neill

The Veil (A Devil’s Isle Novel)

By: Chloe Neill

Release Date: August 4th 2015

*Beware: Spoilers ahead!*

Official Synopsis:

Seven years ago, the Veil that separates humanity from what lies beyond was torn apart, and New Orleans was engulfed in a supernatural war. Now, those with paranormal powers have been confined in a walled community that humans call the District. Those who live there call it Devil’s Isle.

Claire Connolly is a good girl with a dangerous secret: she’s a Sensitive, a human endowed with magic that seeped through the Veil. Claire knows that revealing her skills would mean being confined to Devil’s Isle. Unfortunately, hiding her power has left her untrained and unfocused.

Liam Quinn knows from experience that magic makes monsters of the weak, and he has no time for a Sensitive with no control of her own strength. But when he sees Claire using her powers to save a human under attack—in full view of the French Quarter—Liam decides to bring her to Devil’s Isle and the teacher she needs, even though getting her out of his way isn’t the same as keeping her out of his head.

As more and more Sensitives fall prey to their magic, and unleash their hunger on the city, Claire and Liam must work together to save New Orleans, or else the city will burn…

My Synopsis:

New Orleans has always been known for its love of the paranormal, but that changed when the Veil separating Earth from the beyond was torn, flooding the city with bloody-thirsty paranormals intent on war.  Seven years later, anyone with even a hint of paranormal powers is imprisoned for the safety of mankind, forced into the walled community known as Devil’s Isle. 

Claire Connolly is like every other inhabitant of post-war New Orleans, working hard and keeping her head down in order to survive. Unlike everyone else, she’s also a Sensitive, someone gifted with magic from the other side of the Veil.  Exposure means a life in Devil’s Isle, but keeping her gift hidden may be even more dangerous.

When a monster attack forces Claire’s powers into the open, Liam Quinn steps in to get her training and to keep her secret.  He knows the threat of letting Sensitives try to make it on their own, and even as he helps Claire harness her abilities, it becomes clear that something has changed in the city of New Orleans.  Attacks are on the rise and the Veil is failing, and Claire and Liam must work together to save the city and themselves. 

My Thoughts:

     I’ve been a fan of Neill since Book 1 of the Chicagoland Vampire series.  Merit and Ethan are one of my favorite literary couples, full of snark and chemistry and a firm knowledge that, despite whatever problems they may have, they always have each other’s backs.  It was because of this awesome couple that I excitedly picked up Neill’s newest work.  The Veil is a Devil’s Isle novel, the first in a series, and while I would love to say that it immediately pulled me in and sold me on the rest of the series for however long it runs, there was something about this book that kept me from getting truly hooked.

     But let’s start at the beginning.

     From page 1, we begin to get a picture of post-war New Orleans.  This war wasn’t the usual human conflict; this war began when the Veil, the barrier between our world and the world of magic, was ripped apart.  Paranormals bent on conquering Earth poured through, and the strangest war ever fought ensued.  Although humans were the victors, the southern USA was drastically changed: crops refuse to grow in magically-tainted soil, electricity is iffy at best due to magical interference, and travel is monitored and constricted.  (Basically, magic screwed everything up).  I loved the descriptions of NOLA–the once stately homes now abandoned or destroyed all together, the Cajun and southern fare a thing of the past, the culture of magic and voodoo and the supernatural banned.  But even still, the people know how to throw an over-the-top celebration with parades, music, makeshift beads, and plenty of alcohol.

     I don’t really remember reading any firsthand accounts of people who’d survived Katrina, but I do remember the weeks of news broadcasts.  Seeing all that destruction and death, I couldn’t imagine how New Orleans could ever recover.  But once the initial shock had passed and recovery began, it was apparent that the people who had been through this tragic event had something that even outsiders did not-hope.  It was this hope that allowed them to make the best out of a terrible situation and begin to build back the city they loved.  Neill does a fabulous job of capturing this spirit of hope in a version of NOLA ripped apart by a very different event with very similar outcomes.  Most of the characters have this air about them that as bad as things are now, they know it will get better.  People look out for one another and make do with what’s available, working hard as needed and playing hard when they can.  Sometimes the images of the city are a little too detailed, which slows things down, but the unbreakable spirit of this city still manags to shine through.  Even if I had liked nothing else about this book, the setting and culture of this darker New Orleans would’ve been worth the time.

     Unfortunately, our main cast wasn’t nearly as developed.  Maybe it was because I didn’t really relate with any of them, but I feel that it was really more simply a lack of space—in between building up this version of New Orleans, setting the rules/lore of the paranormals, and throwing in action, there wasn’t enough room left for real character development.  Claire Connolly, our leading lady, is one character that had a lot of potential but never seemed to quite reach it.  Claire is a NOLA native, having survived the war and getting along afterwards.  She’s also a Sensitive, someone who absorbs the magic that leaked through the Veil and manifests it in some sort of magical ability.  Claire is telekinetic, which would be cool if her magical status didn’t constantly put her at risk of being thrown in Devil’s Isle or of becoming a wraith, a mindless monster that feeds on magic until said magic burns through them like so much firewood.  I always love a main character with superpowers, and I liked the twist that these powers were both illegal and life threatening.  Since Claire isn’t using her telekinesis, we get to see more of her personality without the typical superhero bravado.  What I like best about Claire is her bravery.  She doesn’t hesitate to fight off a pair of wraiths attacking an innocent young woman.  Despite the personal risk, she stays in the city to run her mercantile so that others can get the supplies they need to survive.  And she’s certainly not afraid to stand up to government officials when they infringe upon her rights as a private citizen.  Claire has backbone to spare, but that’s really the only sense I got of her—this brave, red-haired woman who knows how to run a store and who has to hide her magical powers.  And then even her bravery seems to diminish to some degree when she starts falling for Liam Quinn.

     Now, I get that Liam saves Claire from being thrown into Devil’s Isle, and he even finds her a teacher to keep her from eventually becoming a wraith.  A fair amount of gratitude is definitely expected, and Claire is certainly grateful.  Fine.  But what isn’t expected is how addled she is by Liam and how she begins to fall for him in less than two days.  Two days.  Yes, they’re under a lot of stress, and emotions do tend to run high in such situations, but that’s still rushing things a bit.  I’ve never been a fan of instalike/instalove (I’m more of a fan of relationships that go from hate to tolerance to friends to lovers, à la Merit and Ethan), and that’s what we have here.  It isn’t unexpected, but knowing this is set up as a series, I expected Claire and Liam’s feelings for one another to slowly develop throughout the books.  Unfortunately for Claire (but happily for me), Liam decides that they can’t be together, and their relationship after that is much more believable and likeable.  I feel like I could really like Liam as a character, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about him, so I have to reserve judgement for now.

     In terms of the story itself, the first half seems slow; things happen, but I felt there were a lot of scenes that could’ve been combined or cut altogether.  Things are pretty focused on keeping Claire’s secret, and it’s not even until the last third of the book that we even know there’s a bigger problem.  Once Claire and Liam join Delta, the rebel group fighting to keep the Veil closed, the pace begins to pick up.  The appearance of Malachi is particularly great, mostly because he seems so out of place (which, as an angel from the other side of the Veil, he is) and socially awkward (which, again, he is) while still being super powerful.  And he has pet messenger pigeons!

     The showdown at the end is intense, and the writing is good in that it lets us focus on the main event but see shots of the action everywhere else without dragging the scene on too long.  Claire’s glimpse through the Veil shows that the human versus Para war is far from over, and it’ll be interesting to see the interaction between Claire and the people trying to reopen the Veil, since Claire is now the only person that can open the barrier (from this side, at least).  My only complaint is that in order to re-lock the box and close the Veil, Claire has to wield large amounts of magic and use her powers in a very focused and precise capacity.  For someone who started the book without ever really having used her powers and who has no real idea how to control them, this transition to a powerful Sensitive is rather unrealistic.  It makes for a good climax, but I didn’t buy it.  Even so, the ending made me smile: Claire back at her store, trying to fix a walking stick, just like she was at the beginning.  It goes to show that not every day can be exciting, even when you have magic and you work nights saving the world.

     There were lots of things I liked about The Veil, but things felt off just enough to keep me from being fully immersed in Claire’s story.  Maybe I was unfairly comparing this book to the first book in the Chicagoland Vampire series, maybe I’ve read too many magic-related books in a row.  I don’t know.  Is this my favorite of Neill’s books?  Not by far.  Am I cheering for Claire and Liam like I cheered for Merit and Ethan? No.  Will I pick up The Sight, the next Devil’s Isle novel?  Yes.  You can’t judge a whole series by one book (especially the first book), and I’ve read enough of Neill’s work to know that there’s something worthwhile in every one of her books.  I’m sure the Devil’s Isle novels won’t be the exception.

Favorite Lines:

  • “To New Orleans,” Gunnar said.  “May she be forever strange.”
  • Fear flooded through me, and with it, memories of war.  Of the blood-hungry Valkyrie I’d killed with my own two hands.  Of the angel I’d seen standing atop the Superdome, calling to his troops with a golden horn, his ivory wings stained with blood.
  • “Bonjour, Claire,” Gunnar said.  “Liam is teaching me some Cajun French.” “Oh, good.  Now both of you can mutter under your breath in a language I don’t speak.”

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