Minutes Before Sunset was perhaps the worst book I’ve ever fallen in love with.
When author Shannon Thompson emailed me and asked if I’d like an e-book copy of her urban paranormal romance, Minutes Before Sunset, I was initially hesitant. Urban paranormal is not a genre I’ve read much in, and romance is a word that typically turns me off to a book faster than you can say “all the feels.” And I have to say, no offense to Shannon, but this cover needs a redesign, because the bright blues and violets almost hurt my eyes.
Nevertheless, I was curious. Shannon was incredibly friendly and I read a few of the reviews of her book on Amazon and was impressed. I was also curious because Minutes Before Sunset is written in a dueling-first-person narrative style, just like my debut novel The Sowing. I wanted to see how she did it. So I agreed to read the book in exchange for an honest review.
Ostensibly, Minutes Before Sunset has all the features of a YA paranormal romance. Eric Welborn, seventeen years old, is a shade, a member of the community of Dark supernatural beings with special powers that elevate them above humans. The Dark is locked in an age-old battle with the Light, their vicious, cruel enemies. Eric is the legacy of a timeless prophecy – he is the first descendant, destined to battle the second descendant (a member of the Light community) for ultimate supremacy on his eighteenth birthday. Eric, whose shade name is Shoman, sees his destiny as a death sentence – he doesn’t believe he can survive. His eighteenth birthday might as well be the day he walks up the gallows. It’s only when Eric befriends a nameless shade, one who exists outside the Dark community, that he starts to believe he can win the battle.
Minutes Before Sunset has so many incredible flaws, it was something of a miracle that I enjoyed the book as much as I did. We begin with the stereotypical teenage romance, featuring a shy but earnest new girl to the local small-town high school who is welcomed to the scene by the sullen bad-boy protagonist. As they get to know each other, Jessica learns that Eric actually has a heart of gold, and Jess finds her confidence through her deepening relationship with Eric. (Because we all know it’s not possible for teenage girls to become confident in their own right.) Eric is constantly lamenting the fact that his superiors in the Dark community won’t tell him the truth and are hiding things from him, yet he turns around and does the exact same thing to a nameless shade he’s slowly falling in love with. Why? Because of that age-old male protective instinct. He doesn’t want to hurt her, so he lies to her, while bemoaning the fact that his father and his superiors do the same thing to him.
From the cliched romance we move to the writing: poorly constructed sentences that often left me laughing or simply baffled. “The Light is here, I telepathically talked to Pierce.” How does one talk something to another person? The appropriate verb is said. “It was a half- day, caused from teacher- parent meetings,” – The hyphenation problem aside, I didn’t realize things could be caused from, I thought they were typically caused by. “Robb and her stared at the station.” The correct ordering is she and Robb. Okay, that’s enough of that, I won’t harp on the point. But my point is, the book needed a close line-edit that it clearly wasn’t given.
And then onto the immensely silly names. The name situation is somewhat complicated by the fact that Eric’s community of Dark shades has both human names and shade names, so there were quite a few to keep track of. I had a hard time taking Shoman seriously, (I kept saying it in my head as though it rhymed with a really dramatic pronunciation of WO-man), as I did Urte, Lucither, and the Light character introduced early on Fudicia. Which sounded like either a brand of chocolate or soap. I wouldn’t make a big deal of this, either, except I’ve recently come to believe in the importance of names that roll off the tongue – they make a story more powerful, characters more memorable, and the prose more exciting to read. Very few of the names in this story were particularly inspiring.
And finally, my last complaint before I continue on to the good things: The dialogue was so simplistic it could have been written for a children’s story, and there were plenty of occasions where the characters just repeated things back at each other in slightly different iterations. Nothing interesting happens in the dialogue, except perhaps in a critical scene about halfway through the book. Otherwise, the conversations are often simple and repetitive.
But if you’ve stuck with me this far and are still interested in giving the book a shot, it is, surprisingly, worth it. Despite all its flaws, I read it from cover to cover in just under three days, and I actively looked forward to sitting down to read, which isn’t something that happens with every book I encounter. Thompson has expertly plotted the book out in such a way that there’s never a dull moment, the beats in the story come precisely when they need to, and the characters’ choices drive the action like a grinding machine.
Not to mention that the book does the ‘paranormal’ particularly well. There are no vampires or werewolves, and the clash between the Dark and the Light was serious and engaging. The powers they have at their disposal, though not particularly original in themselves, were described in such a unique way that kept me hooked. Although the prophecy that predicts an ultimate clash between the champions of good and evil seemed a little trite at first, the introduction halfway through of a totally new dimension to that age-old story definitely piqued my interest.
And finally, a note about the ending. There’s an act of self-sacrifice on the part of one of the protagonists (don’t worry, I’m not giving anything away, you have to read it to know what I’m talking about) that struck me as particularly mature and thoughtful for YA. Rather than whining and moaning about the lost love and tragic consequences, the characters accept the only possible outcome with dignity and selflessness, which I thought was inspiring – especially, perhaps, for younger readers, who are usually taught that the only way to a happy ending is through promises of undying love and a ring on the finger.
Ultimately, despite all its flaws, I had a great time reading this book and it certainly opened my eyes to a new type of paranormal. If you’re a fan of the genre (or even if you’re not! God knows I’m not a paranormal romance fan), I recommend giving it a read-through.
Thanks to Shannon for providing me with a copy of the book. 3/5 stars.