Hello Internet. Welcome back for Review #43. Now, instead of looking at the very best of a prolific author’s achievements, and judging their writing talents by the quality of their Magnum Opus, I’m going to take a look at their worst to see what happens when fantasy YA meets forensic crime thriller.
Virals is what happens when a prolific writer of adult (operative word) crime fiction attempts to write a YA novel. Virals is a hot mess of fantastical liberty taken with diseases and genetics; teen characters who sound exactly like adults but with more naivety and snark; transparent futures regarding relationships between the main character and the obvious future love interest; and the stupidly addictive and well-written plots that Reichs writes regarding crime (added alliteration bonus points!).
Now, I might be too much of a cynic when it comes to YA fiction. I do wallow in the stuff most of the time, so it makes sense I would get sick of it pretty quickly. But I’m sure it’s not just me who feels that this book (and quite possibly the rest of the series, if I do get around to finishing it) is clearly written by an author out of their comfort zone and contains just the wrong amount of YA tropes and stereotypes to feel… odd.
I mean, out of the possibly two Bones books of hers I have actually read, Kathy Reichs is an amazing crime author. Her stories really are detective fiction, running along at a brisk pace which really engages readers. You’re encouraged to think, and work at different theories along with the main character (who is pretty cool, as far as forensic scientists go). But after Bones, Virals seems like the weird, bastard offspring of a Bones novel and a YA fantasy novel. The book attempts to be genre-busting and have a cool, relatable protagonist who appeals to a wide range of teenagers. But thanks to the fact she’s an introverted tomboy with a nose constantly stuck in a book about dead things, she isn’t someone who would relate to the typical high schooler.
And of course, although Viral’s protagonist (whose name escapes me at the moment) is designed to be immediately likable (the complete opposite of Temperance Brennan, whose coldness the reader grows to appreciate when compared to the warmth of the rest of the cast), you end up missing how much better her aunt is at actually solving crimes and doing gumshoe work (Bones and Virals are in the same universe, although Tempe does not appear in Virals, and nothing is mentioned in Bones about any wolf-like superpowers Tempe’s niece may or may not have). Tory Brennan (that’s it!) is hopeless by comparison, and the ensemble of misfits who serve as her entourage are pointless to the point where their main skill is clanging their heads together to miraculously come up with epiphanies because of plot.
Look, in honesty, Virals boils down to the misplaced time and effort made by an author clearly out of their comfort zone with a YA novel. Don’t get me wrong, Reichs has really done a number on Virals, and it’s better than most YA swill out there by virtue of good style and a brilliantly clever plot, but it’s clearly in the shadow of Bones and its success, so it’s never going to live up to Reich’s better work.
Virals was published in 2010 by Puffin Books. It can be found on Amazon here.
Yours: J.M. Pear