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Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay

What a beautiful cover. I remember when I first saw it my initial thought was, Oh, please don't let it suck. I know that sounds harsh, but sometimes a cover just calls out to you and you know when you finally hold a physical copy of the book itself you'll just want to stroke it and love it and tell it it's found its home on your shelves. Unfortunately, the innards (as my boy is fond of saying) don't always match the outtards. And then I am forced to cry. Because . . . so pretty. So when a review copy of Stacey Jay's Juliet Immortal came my way, I held my breath. Just a bit. Okay, maybe for the first five pages or so. Thankfully, that's all it took. Because this innovative retelling (of sorts) of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet has teeth. And they sank into me with delicious ferocity. This was my first foray with Stacey Jay, though I know she has a handful of books already out. After this encounter, I look forward to checking out her other work.

Juliet Capulet's nightmare is never going to end. No one knows what really happened to her. Murdered by her true love, Juliet is saved at the last minute by powerful but nebulous forces of good (known as the Ambassadors), who recruit her immortal soul in their timeless battle against the powers of evil (known as the Mercenaries). Filled with grief and hate at Romeo's unforgivable action, Juliet accepts the offer and finds herself pitted against Romeo, who essentially sold his soul to the Mercs for promised immortality. And the two of them face one another over and over and over again. For seven hundred years, they've been racing against the clock and each other to save (in Juliet's case) or damn (in Romeo's) pairs of soul mates, literally slipping into human bodies (in Juliet's case) and dead ones (in Romeo's) in order to sway their charges for good or ill. Each and every time Romeo tries to kill Juliet and Juliet fights back and escapes, though she is forbidden from taking his life as part of her mission for the Ambassadors. But this time--this mission--something is different. And they can both tell. This time more seems to be riding on the outcome than just a point scored for one side or the other. This time it's difficult to tell just who exactly are the soul mates, just who loves who. This time Juliet may not escape with her immortal soul intact.

Juliet Immortal wins because it is both a competent retelling and re-envisioning of the most famous star-crossed lovers of all time, while managing not to forget the ruthlessness, violence, and eerie inevitability of the original. In fact, I thought Stacey Jay's clever explanations went a long way toward fleshing out the characters and events of the play. I certainly loved the life and depth she breathed into both leads. How brave Juliet is. And evil Romeo? Where have you been all my life? There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. This Romeo is evil, he's out for Juliet's blood, and the enmity between them is real. The story starts off with a bang, literally, as Juliet is flung into the body of a girl who has just decided to end it all and drive the car she's in off a cliff, taking her shoddy date with her. It's one of my favorite scenes in the book and the first one to give me real chills. Right after the crash (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
Dylan's eyes flutter open.

Even in the moonlight shining through the ceiling they look dark, peculiar. There's something strange about this boy, something warped inside him. I'm not surprised that he played a cruel trick on Ariel, but I'm curious to see what he'll do next. How will he deal with the fact that she nearly killed them both?

"Ariel?" he asks, his voice slurred. "Are you okay?"

"Ye-yes, I think so." Maybe he doesn't remember how the car crashed? If so, I won't be helping him with his recall. I keep my expression carefully blank. "Are you okay?"

"I think I'm fine. I . . . think I might be . . ." His words fade as he leans closer. He's staring at me. I can feel it, though his chin is tipped down, creating hollows the light through the roof can't touch.

The roof! I look up, and a sigh of relief escapes my lips. Glass. It's made of glass! Thank goodness. Getting out of this car seems like a better idea with every passing second. If Dylan is this disturbing at eighteen, he'll be a serial killer by the time he's twenty.

"We'll be fine. We just need to get out." I lift blood-slicked fingers to pry at the latch, ignoring Dylan when he leans even closer.

The sunroof is manually operated. I see that the glass panel can pop out, but the mechanism gives me a bit of trouble. Still, I'll get it open and there will be plenty of room for us to fit through the hole. Me first, of course.

"I'm sorry, could I--" He exhales, his breath hot on my neck. I fight the urge to shudder. "Could I ask you something?"

He wants to talk. Lovely.

I sigh. "Sure." I pull on the hinges, then realize I should have been pushing and sigh again.

"Has anyone told you your hair looks silver in the moonlight?"

I glance in the rearview mirror. My new hair does look silver, like something from a fairy tale. And the rest of what I can see of myself is equally haunting--shocking, really.

Why does Ariel think herself so repulsive? Huge blue eyes dominate my new face, dwarfing my small nose and thin lips. The scars on my cheek and jaw are visible, but they aren't as terrible as Ariel thinks. The face looking back at me is attractive, compelling. There's something about it that makes you want to look twice.

So I do, staring a little too long, giving myself away.

Dylan laughs, his lips suddenly far too close to mine. "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?"

No. It can't be. We've never-- He's never--

"Did you miss me, love?" He kisses me on the cheek, a rough, playful kiss that leaves a bit of wet behind.

Dylan has died after all. And Romeo has found a corpse. It's my last thought before his hands are around my throat.
Yep. Chills. There's also a pretty sweet love story going on within the pages. I was delighted with who Stacey Jay chose for Juliet and how she updated him for a contemporary take. Their initial encounter is another of my very favorite scenes in the book, and my affection for them lasted for the duration the story. So much so that I actually could have done with a little more connection between the modern boy and the one from the play as it would have enriched the bond for me. That part, along with one section in which Juliet sort of uncharacteristically fails to make a few connections, are the only instances that bothered me a bit. Otherwise, the novel's strengths stood out, particularly older-and-wise Juliet herself. She's such a strong character, able to contain a plethora of rich and complex emotions. She is clawing her way toward revenge or peace, whichever comes first. I loved her fire, and I loved how the writing reflected her rage and pain, without marring that original, first love between the two kids from Verona. Rather, it supports its authenticity in all its breathless perfection. Which then only highlights the atrocious betrayal and the loss she feels. It's all very affecting and enjoyable. As is Juliet's foray in young Ariel's body. Her interactions with Ariel's well-nigh estranged mother and her problematic best friend Gemma are nuanced and gripping. Lastly, I do have to say that my favorite thing about this book is that it scared me. There are a couple of scenes in particular that gave me the cold shivers, and I just love it when that happens. All in all, Juliet Immortal is an unexpectedly visceral read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to handing it around.

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  1. I already have this one on my wishlist but I'm glad you decided to review it. Looks like a compelling read! I might wait for the paperback to be released before I get a copy though because there are still so many books in the TBR pile.

  2. I'm not usually into retellings, but this one sounds pretty unique! Very nice, well-written review!

  3. Anonymous1:50 PM

    So happy to see that you liked it! It's currently sitting on my nook as well as in my library's collection. Excited to do it before recomending it to students!

    I totally get that feeling...great cover, please let the book live up to it! lol

  4. Wow, this sounds amazing! I also loved the cover and was hoping beyond hope that it would do it justice, so glad to hear it does!!!

  5. Happy to know you liked it! You know I'm always up for a good retelling...and always sad when it turns out to not be so good. I'll be reading this one soon!

    Also, a belated thanks on the recommendation for The Demon's Lexicon. Those books and I had a lovely, intense little love affair that I will remember fondly forever. Sigh. :)

  6. I'm so glad you enjoyed this! The writing stood out to me above all else- after that first paragraph, Jay could have tried to sell me just about anything and I would have bought it.

  7. I was planning on staying far far away from this book despite its beautiful cover but this made me completely reverse that decision.

  8. Chachic, I understand. Mine is towering in an obscene manner at this point.

    bibliophile, thanks! This one is unique in that it's not such a straightforward sort of retelling. Might be your thing.

    librarian, you too? Yeah, it was very pleasant to find this one live up to it. Hope you enjoy!

    Maria, it's just a gorgeous cover, isn't it?

    Jolie, I do know. :) This one's different and fun. And thank you SO much for letting me know you loved The Demon's Lexicon books. I may have sat down and re-read all my favorite scenes from SURRENDER the other night. "I don't have deal breakers. I look on tempests, and am never shaken." Sigh.

    Laura, wasn't it a killer beginning?

    Brandy, yeah, it surprised me in a very good way.

  9. Like Brandy, I was planning to skip this one, but your review and that excerpt made me want to read it!

  10. Anonymous2:34 PM

    Finally, an actual reason for me to dislike Romeo (being pure immortal evil is this re-telling).


  11. No matter how beautiful the cover, I usually wouldn't read this book. It's very presence would annoy me. Don't get me wrong. I do retellings. But for me, no one messes with the bard. No point. He said what needed to be said (and usually some more than that), and nothing needs be added or changed, except obviously in every stage adaption, which will hopefully not be traditional. I just made a lot of sense, didn't I?

    Now I'm intrigued. My only issue: Why wasn't Juliet the bad guy? She always seemed way creepier and less sincere than Romeo. Also, was she like, fourteen when she died? Though I guess it wouldn't matter now.

    I guess I'll just have to read to find out. Oh, phooey.

  12. Anonymous7:26 PM

    Great review. I was already thinking about buying this one after reading another review, possibly by The Book Smugglers. Now I really have to add this to the next buy list!


  13. Anonymous7:33 PM

    Angie, I just clicked over to Moira J. Moore's blog from your blogroll and I'm shocked by her news that ACE has decided not to publish the rest of her series! I'm so bummed by this news. So so bummed!


  14. Lin, love that scene. Hope you enjoy the whole thing!

    Sharry, lol. He's not always the most likable of characters is he. You will definitely hate him here. And love hating him, which is even better!

    Bets, I'm totally with you. And I would have read this with the roles reversed, like you mentioned, as well. In this case, she was 14 when she died, but she's been around a long time since and, thankfully, learned a few things in the intervening centuries . . .

    Karen, I think you'd enjoy it. Wouldn't take you long either. And I am heartbroken over the Moira news. I'd seen it earlier and was just sick all day after I read her post. Ugh. How can they do that?

  15. I remember seeing the cover awhile ago and thinking how lovely it is. I completely understand your thoughts because some of the prettiest covers have such lackluster stories within. I've never been a fan of Romeo and Juliet so if this fleshes it out a bit then maybe I would like it? The premise/characters are intriguing.

  16. Why didn't I see this review sooner? I saw Juliet Immortal at the bookstore the other night and just kind of rolled my eyes at yet another Romeo-and-Juliet-themed book. If I'd known you liked it I would have looked more closely. It's on the list for my next trip to Barnes and Noble now. :-D

  17. I never liked Romeo, so it sounds like it could be fun to indulge myself by hating him completely. Sounds awesome!

  18. This sounds like a great retelling! I'm so glad you enjoyed it, I was a bit hesitant about this one.

  19. Holly, I think you might. The way it reverses things is pretty fun.

    Emily, lol. Sorry to be late! :) I would normally eyeroll over another R&J as well, but this one, while not without its flaws, plays with it in more interesting ways, I think.

    Melanie, this one gives you free reign!

    Kay, it definitely surprised me in a good way. Love it when that happens.

  20. Anyone who likes Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story would like this book. Really loved this book!!!!! I was left wanting more! What happens to Romeo?


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