Author: Stacey Jay
Genre: Fantasy, Speculative Fiction, Retelling, Young Adult
Publication date: August 2011
Hardcover: 304 pages
“These violent delights have violent ends And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which as they kiss consume.”
—Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
The most tragic love story in history . . .
Juliet Capulet didn’t take her own life. She was murdered by the person she trusted most, her new husband, Romeo Montague, a sacrifice made to ensure his own immortality. But what Romeo didn’t anticipate was that Juliet would be granted eternity, as well, and would become an agent for the Ambassadors of Light. For 700 years, she’s fought Romeo for the souls of true lovers, struggling to preserve romantic love and the lives of the innocent. Until the day she meets someone she’s forbidden to love, and Romeo, oh Romeo, will do everything in his power to destroy that love.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: I am not one for passionate paranormal romance, adult or YA, and reading another Romeo and Juliet retelling in the vein of Twilight/Hush Hush/Shiver whatever makes me want to throw up in my mouth. So, when I read the synopsis of this book – with the intriguing premise that one of our most iconic love stories is actually a lie, and Juliet and Romeo are immortals locked in a centuries-spanning war – I was instantly hooked.
For centuries, Romeo and Juliet have been the ultimate symbol of tragic romance; the embodiment of love at any cost, the couple has been a touchstone for star-crossed lovers across countless generations. But what if the love that claimed the lives of these young lovers was actually a lie? What if, instead of killing themselves for love, there was a more sinister, supernatural plot afoot? What if Juliet was actually betrayed by her beloved and slain by his hand, an innocent sacrificed so that Romeo could achieve immortality? For the past seven hundred years, Juliet Capulet has fought against her former husband for the souls of pairs of lovers, because Romeo’s plan didn’t quite go as smoothly as expected. While Romeo willfully killed his bride in order to achieve immortality and entrance into the Mercenary ranks as an emissary of darkness, Juliet was also enlisted to the Ambassadors, those guardians of light diametrically opposed to the Mercenary cause. The pair are thrown into the bodies of mortals and are locked in a never-ending battle against each other: Romeo tries to convince soul mates to kill one another thus winning their souls for his cause, while Juliet does everything in her power to keep the soulmates safe and in love. Unfortunately, Romeo always seems to prevail.
Their latest assignment, however, is different than the countless others. This time, Juliet finds herself in the body of a teenage girl named Ariel – a girl with low self-esteem, only one friend, and an overbearing, critical mother. Ariel has just had the worst date of her life (after intercepting a text message from her date Dylan, who it turns out was only dating Ariel to win a bet to get her to sleep with him), and in her anger Ariel has caused a fatal car accident. Juliet takes over Ariel’s body just as she drives off the road, and, as fate would have it, Romeo takes over the body of her date Dylan after he is killed in the crash. As Juliet/Ariel desperately tries to flee Romeo/Dylan’s gleeful violence, she finds help in the form of a teenage boy driving a passing car. Instantly, Juliet feels a connection to this boy, Ben, but she knows better than to let herself get distracted from her mission. And yet, there’s something about Ben that she cannot ignore. When she finally discovers who the pair of soulmates are, however, Juliet’s job becomes infinitely harder – because the pair she must protect is her troubled best friend Gemma…and Ben. Added to this emotional turmoil, Juliet senses that there’s something very different this time around, and she begins to listen to Romeo’s warnings that their time is almost up. As Juliet questions the Ambassadors and the mission she has dutifully carried out for centuries, she also finds herself in the middle of another star-crossed romance, as the relationship between her and Ben blossoms into true love.
Phew. Juliet Immortal, the new novel from YA author Stacey Jay, is a complicated ode to true love, despite all obstacles. Let me just reiterate how cool the concept of this book is. I loved Juliet’s characterization, and this unique spin on one of the Bard’s most prolific tragedies. Take Juliet’s words to heart:
That horrible play. That contemptible, lying play he helped Shakespeare pen all those hundreds of years ago when he first twisted our story to fit his agenda. It worked far too well. Shakespeare’s enduring tragedy did its part to further the goals of the Mercenaries – glamorizing death, making dying for love seem the most noble act of all, though nothing could be further from the truth. Taking an innocent life – in a misguided attempt to prove love or for any other reason – is a useless waste.
Awesome, right? The interesting thing is, for all that Juliet Immortal is based on Juliet’s rage at having been duped by Romeo in a whirlwind romance that culminated in her death, it’s a little odd to see that in this book, 700 years in the future, the same pattern repeats itself. Again. Juliet falls almost instantly in love with Ben (who also falls almost instantly in love with her). I don’t hold that against the book, though – this simply was not what I was expecting when I picked up Juliet Immortal (I was thinking more of an urban fantasy, fight to the death, epic battle sort of thing). Instead of truly turning Romeo and Juliet on its head or denouncing the play, this novel cleverly subverts its source material by reinterpreting the players and rewriting the ending. Ultimately, Juliet Immortal finds a way to take the impulsive, all-consuming romance of Romeo and Juliet and reinterpret it for a contemporary era with a wiser, stronger heroine. Unlike her fourteen year old counterpart, this version of Juliet knows that the relationship she had with Romeo was starry-eyed adoration fueled by obsession and not real love. She has grown and has learned from her mistakes. This time around, Ms. Jay gives Juliet a chance at true love, but allows her to make different choices – she involves her mother and confesses her feelings (YAY for present parents in YA), she doesn’t go along with half-cocked plans of elopement, and, most importantly, both Juliet and Ben fall in love with each other as equals and true soulmates. It’s all very meta, really (there’s even a school play within this book, in which Romeo and Juliet play characters – West Side Story, naturally).
The reason why Juliet Immortal truly works, though, is because of the strength of its heroine. This is another character-driven novel, in which an angry, bitter Juliet finds a way to believe in love again and come to a sense of self-enlightenment by learning to forgive. Over the course of the book, it becomes clear that Juliet’s rage and anger is not solely directed at Romeo, and the strength of this revelation is an incredibly empowering message. As much as this is a novel about falling in love against all odds and logic, it’s also a book about self love and acceptance. That, dear readers, is really, really cool. I also loved that Romeo is given enough dimension to make him seem real and not a villainous/evil character for evil’s sake. Rather, Romeo is charming and dangerous, selfishly narcissistic, and yet there are redeeming qualities to his character (as misguided as he might be). The only character that I felt needed more development was Ben, Juliet’s new love interest. While we are given glimpses of his past, his falling in love with Juliet seemed a little too quick, and his character a tad undercooked.
The other faltering aspects of the book lay with the worldbuilding and plotting, especially as the book builds to a dramatic ending. From a worldbuilding point of view, I love the ideas of Mercenaries and Guardians, however these two warring factions remained mostly anonymous and undefined throughout the book. Big Boss level Mercs and Ambassadors finally show up late in the novel (mostly to propel the plot and lead the book to said dramatic conclusion), but we don’t learn much more about them, why they exist, or what their real goals are. There is some discussion of ulterior motives all around, but it all felt rather underdeveloped. Also, though I loved the choice that Juliet ultimately makes at the book’s climax, I really wasn’t a fan of her last chapter. Although I loved the spirit of the chapter, I hated the cheesiness. I should note that in contrast, Romeo’s last chapter was pretty awesome.
Though not without its weaknesses, Juliet Immortal managed to surprise me and, ultimately, win me over. Although the book isn’t quite what one would expect given the premise of the novel, it’s a beautiful story of self-discovery and the ability to love, even in the face of impossible adversity. Easily the best paranormal YA romance that I have read in a very long time, I wholeheartedly recommend Juliet Immortal to lovers of romance, and to those who long for a more empowered heroine in this very popular genre.
Notable Quotes/Parts: You can read an excerpt HERE or by using the widget below:
Rating: 8 – Excellent, and a notable read of 2011
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