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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

SPFBO Finalist: Last Memoria by Rachel Emma Shaw review


Official Author Website

Order Last Memoria over HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

Read FBC's interview with Rachel

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rachel Emma Shaw is a London based author. She started writing as an escape from her PhD in neuroscience and has never stopped. She lives in a house slowly being consumed by plants and loves being outdoors. She will frequently attempt to write her books in local parks, only to inevitably end up falling asleep in the sun. If you want her to hurry up and write more books then wish for rain. Her best work is done when it's stormy outside.

CLASSIFICATION: Dark Fantasy

FORMAT: Last Memoria was self-published by the author on May 10, 2016 as the first book in the Memoria duology. It's available in an e-book and paperback format. 

The book counts 424 pages and is divided into 47 numbered chapters. 

ADAM

When I was a kid, I used to trade cards. Magic: The Gathering, baseball, Garbage Pail Kids, whatever I could get my hands on. Trading cards was always fun for me because it was more about the thrill of the trade than what I ended up gaining or losing. I kept this in mind while reading Last Memoria as these characters stole and swapped memories like trading cards, and it helped me relate with the insanity of it all. 

Being forced to steal memories under pain of death is reasonable, but someone jacking memories for addictive fun? Echoes of Katheryn Bigelow’s 1995 film Strange Days pinged my mind while reading this story, which for me is high praise. However, it was difficult to get into the headspace of voluntarily losing your own self by absorbing pieces of another’s mind into your own. The concept interested me from the get-go, and I was looking forward to see how Shaw was going to pull the trigger and see where the story was going to take us.

Without getting into spoiler territory, I divided the book into three parts. There’s a noticeable shift around the halfway point and another notable event around the three-quarters mark. In the first half of the story we are introduced to Sarilla, a memori on the run from people… and to people… and it’s all a bit hazy for a good portion of the story. It is a fun mystery to unpack, but it took longer than expected to understand her motivations. I still don’t have a clarity of her history or goals even after the end of the book, so this disconnect prevented me from warming up to her.

At the halfway point, things are shaken up considerably, and the story veered into an interesting new direction when I felt it needed it the most. At the 75% mark, the story takes another unpredictable and exciting turn, and the tone of the book switched gears for the startling climax. However, while the plot points were exciting, I continued to have trouble connecting with characters.

Last Memoria leans into the theme of transformation: what the body and mind is capable of when stretched to the limit and beyond. The story carries this idea beyond the trading and stealing of memories; themes of nature, ancestry, responsibility, and truth vs. lies also play important roles. While I enjoyed the concepts behind the book, I would have appreciated it more if the characters were a bit more fully developed. Still, this is a cool story that takes some daring twists and I think many readers will find a lot to like here. 


ŁUKASZ

Sarilla has learnt one thing from stealing memories. Everybody lies.

Last Memoria’s cover and blurb picked my interest as soon as Weatherwax Report announced it as their SPFBO 2020 finalist. Strong opening chapters coupled with an interesting premise (memory thieves) made me eager to dive into the story. Ultimately, I enjoyed the book, but for different reasons than expected. In the Last Memoria, nothing is what it initially seems.

Plot & Structure

The story, divided into two parts told in first-person by Sarilla and Falon, shows each tale has at least two sides, and memories tend to warp the way we perceive reality. Both parts happen in the same timeline and focus on protagonists trying to flee the abusive king. As the story progresses, readers learn about the characters’ pasts, relationships, and the world. The simple plot (good guys on a run from the bad guy) serves as a background to the deep dive into Sarilla’s and Falon’s psyche and identity. I found the plot simplistic and unconvincing, but I didn’t mind because of the focus on more interesting things. Specifically, the ways in which memories shape us and define our identity.

Characters 

I can’t call Last Memoria’s protagonists heroes. They’re flawed, traumatized, and far from following a strict moral compass. People around them hate them and abuse them. The king keeps his subjects in line, using Sarilla to steal their memories. And she does everything he asks her, despite his cruelty and hatred she feels toward him (it’s much more complicated).

While we learn a lot about two major characters, the secondary ones remain indistinct. I still don’t understand the king’s motivation - is he just a power-hungry asshole and megalomaniac? If yes, why? Just because?

Point of view

Sarilla narrates the first half of Last Memoria, and Falon the second. Despite her self-hatred, Sarilla remains interesting and complex. If only the world around her would allow for it, she would do good. Alas, her compatriots despise and fear Memori for their power. Sarilla considers herself a monster, and it strongly influences her point of view. Admirably, though, she believes people should get a second chance. A pity she doesn’t treat herself this way. Her chapters impressed me with emotional depth and strong writing.

Falon’s perspective is less appealing than Sarilla’s, and the abrupt change in POV felt jarring. At first. His self-discovery packed a nice twist near the end, but he served mainly as a lens allowing readers to observe Sarilla’s development. I'm probably unfair, Falon develops as a character as well, but I didn't care about him.

I love the first-person narration, and Shaw has done it well.

Setting

The setting is interesting but introduced through slightly boring pieces of exposition. I couldn't imagine the world at large, but what I got allowed me to see things important to the plot development. And I like it this way. As a reader, I don't care for detailed world-building.

Magic

Fascinating stuff - memori can steal or replace memories. Their powers aren’t fully explained but I found the concept fascinating. Shaw's narrative demonstrated how powerful memories are in shaping us and influencing our decisions.

Voice / tone

Last Memoria won’t lighten readers’ mood. In anything, it’ll make them more depressed. Nothing a glass of wine or dark chocolate can’t fix, though. The focus on trauma and, in the case of Sarilla, self-loathing, makes the reading experience disturbing, but also fascinating.

Early in the book, the author makes bold choices that will probably twist readers’ expectations concerning certain characters and their possible role in the story. The protagonists’ realizations and self-exploration result in a painful and heart-wrenching finale. You want HEA? Look elsewhere. Or in the sequel. Who knows what the author has in store for her protagonists?

Timing/pacing

Not the fastest book I read this year, but still engaging. I had an issue with the excess of exposition in parts of the narrative, but I also felt it helped to understand the context. Chapters usually finish on solid hooks that force readers to continue reading. 

In closing

Even though the plot contains holes and feels simplistic, Last Memoria has an emotional depth that appealed to me and made the reading experience worthwhile. It tackles unique themes, and its unusual structure helps to explore them. An intriguing read, for sure.

Official SPFBO rating


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