My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Marina is a gothic story aimed at young adults. I didn’t know it was young adult when I bought it but that never worried me. I’m OK with a teenage protagonist if the story is good.
The story centres around young Oscar Drai who meets a mysterious girl called Marina. One day Marina takes Oscar to a graveyard where they witness a woman dressed in black lay a single red rose on a grave whose headstone bears no name, only the emblem of a black butterfly. They decide to follow her. From there onwards they are dragged into a dark vein of the cities forgotten past.
I enjoyed Marina. It’s a quick read and doesn’t hold back on the emotion just because it’s a young adult book. There are two stories at play in the book; there is the main gothic adventure and the story of Oscar and Marina’s growing relationship. You get the feeling of a character waking out of childhood into an adult world where he’s having to face up to the frailty of life, human weaknesses and fear and how those things can easily lead you into darkness. You know at the end of the book that he can never go back to being the boy he was at the beginning.
I know some people dislike the way Ruiz has a habit of writing big sections of back-story being relayed by one character to another but personally I feel he does this pretty well. I didn’t feel like there was too much putting the story on pause to fill in the back-story. I don’t recall it happening at moments of immediate action. It felt quite natural, and one character sitting down to tell another character their back-story isn’t exactly a new contrivance.
Without giving too much away, the end of this story is heart-breaking. I say this even though I could see it coming. I don’t know whether it was expected that younger readers wouldn’t pick up on it so soon (which I doubt), or whether we are supposed to see it coming and therefore have more sympathy for Oscar who clearly doesn’t. Either way, it was very emotional.
The reason I gave this 4 stars rather than 5 on Goodreads is because I felt there were some elements of the story that were not brilliantly explained, and not in a mysterious ambiguous sense; it just felt a bit unclear. Also I didn’t like the decision two characters made on the train platform at the end of the book. I can understand why they would make that decision but to me it would have felt more natural for them to decide the other way. But it’s the kind of situation everyone deals with differently. I don’t want to spoil anything so that’s all I’m saying!
All in all, a nice piece of accessible gothic horror that can introduce young adults to the genre and also engaging enough to appeal to adults. And if it is a consideration for you, it had a gorgeous cover.
One side note, there are parts of this book that remind me very much of one of the classic books of the gothic genre; I wont say which, but there is a character whose name greatly resembles that of its author. I wonder if this was an intentional nod. I do hope so.