The light versus the darkness. Heaven versus Hell. Good vs evil. It’s a timeless story, yet one with so many variations. Cracked is yet another take on this idea. Eliza Crewe tells an intense and urgent story of a hybrid caught between two worlds. Perhaps the most intriguing idea that Crewe brings to the table is the way the main character has to consume souls. Beyond that, there isn’t much here that I haven’t really seen before—but Cracked still manages to pull it all off with a fair bit of panache.
Our protagonist and narrator, Meda, is a 16-year-old half-demon. Her human mother was killed recently, and so now Meda is on her own. She controls her Hunger by killing only those who deserve it—but she isn’t really sure if that morality is strictly necessary. Then, in one night, Meda discovers that not only do full demons exist (and hate her), but Templars, agents of good who hunt and kill demons, also exist (and would hate her if they knew what she was). “Rescued” by Chi, Jo, and Uri, three teenaged Crusaders in training, Meda must hide her true nature from them. That might be harder than she hopes, though, because it seems like the demons know what she is, and now they are coming for her….
Meda is a great narrator. There’s a lot of telling rather than showing in this book, and that was jarring at first, but I appreciate how introspective Meda is. She considers why she feels the way she does, and she weighs her options. When she’s processing her feelings about Jo, or Chi, or how others are interacting with them, she doesn’t jump the gun and react with her gut instinct. So even though she is young and 16 and there are definitely some hormones involved, there’s also a great amount of self-awareness that balances out her character and makes her very well-rounded. I also appreciate how Crewe portrays the way Meda perceives her Hunger. Meda tries to abide by the morality her mother instilled in her as a child, yet her half-demon instincts mean that sometimes she isn’t too sure. It’s a little like a psychopath who knows she is psychopathic but tries to be a good person anyway.
Another bonus, for me at least, is that this story doesn’t prioritize romance. Meda is attracted to Chi, but she observes that he and Jo clearly have a long-running, mutual attraction. So there is a romantic subplot in this book, but it’s between two side characters instead of involving the protagonist. I like this! Moreover, Jo and Chi have meaningful, understandable reasons for not yet being together. Similarly, I like how the relationship between Meda and Jo evolves. At the beginning, Jo’s insta-dislike felt quite clichéd; I was apprehensive. Soon it became apparent, however, that Crewe started us at that point so she could develop the grudging respect that then turns into the seeds of a friendship. And that’s pretty cool.
Cracked loses my interest when it comes to the main plot, alas. First, there isn’t much of it. The book is a few notable action sequences strung together with exposition and some baling wire, much like an action movie. The fact that Crewe develops deep characters while doing this is an unexpected bonus, but the story itself is lacklustre and unimpressive. There is a somewhat generic “school” for gifted kids (this time because they are Crusaders by blood) and some super-powerful baddies, the demons, to serve as mostly faceless antagonists. We’re supposed to care because these are good guys and because Meda is in danger, but it’s all fairly rote. The villain seems to be doing this because he’s a) evil and b) Meda’s father. I guess I’d like a more original reason than “I’m evil, nyah!”
I can’t say I loved this book, but I can see why others would. There is some great character development here. The urban fantasy aspects are OK too. I just wish the story had been a bit more captivating, at least for me. Cracked, much like the action movies I’m reminded of, was a good enough popcorn fantasy diversion. It didn’t do more than that.