Author: Ally Carter
Series: Embassy Row Series
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publish Date: January 20th, 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Adventure, Mystery
A new series of global proportions — from master of intrigue, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Ally Carter.
This exciting new series from NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Ally Carter focuses on Grace, who can best be described as a daredevil, an Army brat, and a rebel. She is also the only granddaughter of perhaps the most powerful ambassador in the world, and Grace has spent every summer of her childhood running across the roofs of Embassy Row.
Now, at age sixteen, she’s come back to stay–in order to solve the mystery of her mother’s death. In the process, she uncovers an international conspiracy of unsettling proportions, and must choose her friends and watch her foes carefully if she and the world are to be saved.
I read All Fall Down as a buddy read with Kathy from The Novelty of Life and Cassandra from ccbooks66512. Overall, I found it to be a combination of mildly intriguing and tremendously frustrating, and I seem to be struggling to rate it (I apologize to those of you who have been watching me change the rating back and forth between two and three stars for the past hour). I’ve finally settled on two stars and am trying to restrain myself from making any further changes.
Grace is an army brat, never settling in one area for an extended period of time. She’s also the granddaughter of a U.S. ambassador, spending each summer at Embassy Row alongside other children her age. This summer, however, Embassy Row isn’t characterized by the usual fun, carefree attitude. Instead, it serves as a vivid reminder for Grace of her mother’s death. Having witnessed the traumatic incident, Grace is convinced that her mother was murdered at the hands of a frightening man with a jagged scar across his face. Afterward, however, Grace is told that her mother’s death was accidental due to smoke inhalation. Refusing to discredit her memories of the event, Grace remains adamant that her mother’s death was no accident.
“Yes, it was dark,” I snap back. “Yes, I was young, and it was traumatic. Yes, I have never been the most reliable girl in the world, but I know what I saw. And I’m telling you, I saw a man with a scar on his left cheek shoot my mother. I heard the bomb that burned her shop to the ground.”
She undergoes years of psychiatric treatment but is unable to forget the incident. When she returns to Embassy Row for the summer, she realizes that there may be more going on than what initially meets the eye. Deciding to dig a little deeper into a series of mysterious occurrences, Grace realizes that she must choose her friends carefully.
I wasn’t immediately hooked when I began reading – the first 150 pages were very slow and a bit heavy on the political interactions between countries. Having minimal knowledge about international relations, I found these sections to be particularly boring, and I ended up skimming most of them. Midway through the book, however, the action picked up significantly, but seemed to fade away, only to reappear in fits and starts. The resulting, unpleasant lurching speed of the plot left a little to be desired, but this was made up for by a few plot twists that I certainly did not see coming (I don’t want to elaborate any further because it would make this review quite spoiler-heavy).
This was my second foray into Ally Carter’s writing – I read I’d Tell You I Loved You But Then I’d Have to Kill You about a year ago, and that went over like a lead balloon, full rant here. But I allowed someone to convince me to give her books another chance, and I still wasn’t overwhelmingly impressed. Once again, I found that Carter’s writing style was geared more toward a younger audience (although this could simply be me “outgrowing” young adult books). I thought the plot was oversimplified – it could have been much more complex and likely would have better held my attention.
On a similar note, there wasn’t much character development throughout the course of the novel. The main characters in particular were extremely static, changing minimally, if at all. Grace, who served as the first person narrator, shed a very immature light on events as they unfolded, failing to consider the consequences of her actions or to view a situation from someone else’s perspective. I would generally associate such a trait with a more juvenile character, but seeing as Grace was nearly a legal adult, I found the characteristic to be a bit out of place. She also had a tendency to assume a whiny tone and mental attitude when things didn’t go precisely her way. I did not realize that I would be dealing with a tempermental toddler when I began reading.
As the narrative continued, it became increasingly difficult to distinguish between flashbacks and hallucinations. While this was likely intentional, it became a bit confusing to the point that I was forced to reread several chapters simply to decipher when said events were occuring. Consequently, Grace was a fairly unreliable narrator – it was nearly impossible at times to differentiate between reality and Grace’s twisted yet not entirely truthful perception of a situation.
The secondary characters shared one thing in common: they all lacked back stories. Perhaps this is something that will be addressed in later books in the series, but they all felt like flat, lifeless pieces of cardboard to me. It would have been nice to learn a bit about the past, particularly since Grace’s recollection of it is so jumbled.
The romantic aspect of the novel is where it starts to get a little tricky – while there are two male characters with close relationships to Grace, there is no love triangle (which is a huge relief, at least in my book). Alexei, who lives in the Russian sector of Embassy Row served as Grace’s brother’s best friend and an older brother figure for Grace, always looking out for her and keeping her best interests in mind. Noah, on the other hand, serves as more of a romantic interest throughout the novel…but nothing happens between Grace and Noah. Whatsoever. Leaving me enraged and extremely disappointed (which is never a good combination).
While I commend Carter for her originality and perseverance in regard to her writing, I found myself unable to move past several components of this book. Between the characters, plot, and pacing, I found this book turned reading into a chore – I was determined to complete the novel in the hopes of some magical, drastic improvement in these respects, but to no avail. I had fairly high hopes for All Fall Down, and while it didn’t meet many of my expectations, my nagging curiosity will likely prompt me to continue on with the series. And who knows, I may be pleasantly surprised with the remainder of the series!