Review | Line of Descent by James Derry

Upside Down 3Title: Line of Descent
Author: James Derry
Genre: Young Adult | Fantasy > Paranormal
Synopsis: Some women dread the idea of turning into their mothers. For Elise Gardener, that dread has twisted into an all-too-real nightmare.Elise has always been the spooky misfit of her wealthy family—and a disappointment to her overbearing mother. Elise’s problem is that she’s supernaturally sensitive. She’s an empath who can’t help seeing and feeling the intimate emotions—sometimes painful or shameful—of every person she meets. While her cousins are starting glamorous and lucrative careers, Elise is happy working as an unseen housekeeper at a camp for underprivileged children. But Elise’s cloistered life is shattered when her mother seemingly drowns herself.Elise invites her tenuous best friend—Mallory, a girl she’s only known for two months—to the memorial at the Gardeners’ private isle on the Georgia coast. Together, they discover that Elise’s family have a sinister secret that they’ve been keeping for generations.They are in the thrall of a dark spirit—a powerful, primordial ancestor who lives eternally by possessing the bodies of its descendants. Elise’s own mother was its last host…and the Gardeners’ inner circle have been raising Elise to be next.As the entity invades her mind, Elise is haunted by the memories of its past victims (including a Khmer princess and a mesmerist in pre-Revolution Paris). Through these visions she may find salvation, but her chances are slim. In 8,000 years no heir has ever broken free of the Gardener’s Line of Descent.
Final Rating: ★★★☆☆
Would I recommend? To fans of Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy.
Check out this book’s Goodreads page!

Aimal’s Review:

I was contacted by the author and he was kind enough to provide me with a free digital copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. I am genuinely grateful for the opportunity to be one of the first people to read and review this book, and I’m glad I got the chance to read such a different piece of YA literature.

I’m not much into paranormal books, and I never have been. Recently, I got into some major paranormal titles in the YA world and I grew to love these books, which was why I was more inclined to accept this book now than I would have been a few months ago. Now, don’t let my rating be the indicator of the quality of this book, because my rating is more personal than professional, in this case. If you like paranormal books in general, definitely give this a go. If you’re into inherited stories, definitely give this a go. If you’re into complex family dynamics, concepts of good and evil and a certain sense of mystery and intrigue, give it a go, you will not be disappointed. A three-star rating is not a bad rating by any means. It just means that I absolutely understand and recognize the multiple things that worked, but the things that didn’t work brought down the enjoyment for me, as a whole.


The concept of this book is fascinating. I have never read a book quite like this with regards to the concept and the sheer creativity of it. The concept of an inherited paranormal trait has been used before, yes, but the way James Derry puts his own twist to this idea was refreshing.

I thought the story moved pretty well. I thought that the book was wrapped up nicely- it wasn’t overdramatic or rushed, it was nicely done, and it left an interesting twist hanging by a thread. I enjoyed the several layers to the main story. I enjoyed how James Derry’s main character was not the person who was going through the cycle, but rather the friend witnessing it as it went down. That was unexpected, but it offered a different type of insight to the story.

However, sometimes I felt like there was some info-dumping going on. The author wasn’t just telling his reader what was going on and why it was happening, but he incorporated it in large chunks of dialogue that were a little overwhelming. There’s a lot going on with this story- there are several different timeframes at play, different settings and different cultures, so I understand that it’s significantly difficult for someone to map everything out without info-dumping. But this may be something Derry might think about further when he writes his next novel.


My major contention with this book was the characters. As I have said multiple times in my previous reviews, what makes a book stand out for me is if it contains well-developed, evolving, multi-dimensional characters. I, personally, thought that this book was more plot-driven than character driven.

Now, there are several dimensions to Mallory’s character and they are touched upon in the novel, such as her fear of commitment, but these issues are never expanded upon or solved. After being involved in a creative writing course this semester, I was given exposure to the concept of “Chekhov’s gun” – if a gun is introduced in the story, it must go off before the story ends. Every element is important, and it cannot be abandoned. I think some of Mallory’s complexities were abandoned as the main plot took over, and these complexities were important for the reader’s understanding of not only her, but the other characters she was involved with.

I was indifferent to Elise’s character. We don’t get much insight into her personality, and I wish we got some of that. It would’ve made empathizing for her infinitely easier.

I also thought that the relationship between Elise and Mallory wasn’t really explored to its potential. We know from the very start that Elise is, somewhat, clinging to Mallory, and Mallory is slightly uncomfortable with it. And then as the story progresses, this tension in their relationship just vanishes without any reasons or emotions, and it made the resulting relationship seem very flat for me.

Writing Style:

James Derry is a fantastic writer, there is absolutely no doubt about it. His use of image and metaphor is very strong, and his writing has the ability to suck you in and think about every word he uses. It’s not easy writing, but it isn’t clunky- it flows, despite being complex in its quality. For the most part, I really enjoyed reading the way he wrote, and I would be interested in what else he has to offer.

What didn’t work for me, when it came to the writing, was the overwhelming details that didn’t really advance the plot. This happened mostly when Derry was describing the auras Elise saw, and for the first few times, it was fine because it provided a clear picture of what Elise experienced. But after that, it hindered the flow of the plot. Also, the dialogue was slightly stiff and I would work on injecting some energy into it.



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