Tuesday, 5 March 2019

The Black Coats by Colleen Oakes | ARC Review

The Black Coats

Colleen Oakes


387 Pages


Send to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Thanks to HCC Frenzy for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Roses are read, violets are blue, if you hurt us, we’re coming for you.

The deeply secretive Black Coats have been exacting vengeance on men who hurt girls and women for years. And Thea has just received an invitation to join them. This is the opportunity she’s been waiting for to finally get justice for her cousin Natalie, whose killer went free.

Thea dives head first into the group, training every day with other girls whose stories rival hers. Together they carry out Balancings—acts of revenge guaranteed to teach a lesson. With every predator threatened, every blackmailer exposed, and every date rapist punished, Thea can feel herself getting closer to avenging Natalie’s death.

But then the Balancings begin to escalate in brutality, and Thea discovers that the Black Coats are not all they seem to be. Thea must confront just how far she’s willing to go for justice—and what kind of justice Natalie, and Thea herself, deserve. Because when the line between justice and revenge is razor thin, it’s hard not to get cut.

This cover, and the promise of badass women and vigilante justice totally sold this to me. I was hooked on the pitch, and I was hoping for the best. I hadn't heard anyone else talking about this book, let alone reading it, but I thought I had just happened upon a sleeper. But oh gosh, was I wrong about this book.

First things first; this book is close to 400 pages, and I want to say that it could easily have been cut in half, in my opinion. There is so much that goes on, but nothing that lands or that is truly accomplished. One of my big grievances with the book is that, in 400 pages, there is almost no palpable atmosphere. In a book set in Austin, Texas, with themes of secret societies and vigilante justice, one would think that creating a fitting atmosphere would be one of the top priorities. But it felt like this book could have taken place anywhere and still fit. The writing and description of the setting felt super basic, which meant that, from the get-go, I was not rooted in the story. No atmosphere, so grounding.

Thea was also a super problematic protagonist, meaning that she never, literally at any point, felt like a 3 dimensional character. I wanted to hear more about her struggles with grief, and to actually watch her grow since her joining the Black Coats. But again, it felt basic. Her characterization felt limited. This story had the potential to be so fast paced, so visceral and emotional, and instead, our main character isn't even emotionless, she's just boring. There are no stakes when it comes to Thea. I never felt like her life could have ever really been on the line. She's not an underdog, she doesn't seem truly in the pits of grief, like she needs to be pulled out from this depressive state, and so who is she?? No, seriously, I'm asking. Who is she? 

The Black Coats, as a plot device and an organization, was such a crucial part of the story, and it seemed too good to be true at first, but then that all came crashing down, and quite quickly. It seemed interesting, but again (and you'll notice a theme here), the execution of it was sloppy and boring. Part of me also began groaning when the organization was fractured from within. Of course it's women who are bringing down other women. Of course it's women who are trying to moderate and silence other women. In a novel so obsessed and fascinated with the roles that men and women play in society, you think there would be more thought put into how the organization was built, and how it runs. The fact that it splinters because women can't see eye to eye shows the cracks in the novel and how patriarchal influences have crept in undetected. I loved the concept of a hierarchy of women, passing down training, knowledge, healing. I loved this idea of teams of girls and strength in numbers, and so of course the organization needed to be corrupt on some level. Yes, all organizations be they governments or secret societies, have cracks in their armour -- they all have downfalls. Democracy is a system based on flaws and compromise. But of course the splitting of the organization is predicated on women unable to get along, and unable to come to an agreement. A metaphor for the structure of post 3rd-wave feminism if I've ever heard one.

I also want to mention how much of a role Natalie plays in this book. Because it feels like she's everywhere, but also, like she has no influence. Part of me hoped that she would be Thea's driving factor, or that something to do with her case would kind of drive the plot forward. Buuuuut, nope. Instead, that role is taken a boy. But not just any boy. A cuuuuute boy. Ugh. 

Was this romance necessary?? Like, at all?? The entire time it felt tacked on. Thea is suffering from PTSD, and she struggles to cope with her grief, but it's not enough that she joins the Black Coats, and becomes part of a team. It's not enough that she can find healing and purpose and happiness within a group of women who are healing together. Of course not -- she needs a boy. The book even refers to the Black Coats as Thea's purpose, while Drew is what makes her happy. I'm sorry, but I'm calling utter bullshit on this one. I'm a lover of romance in YA. I love a good romance, but this? No. It was underdeveloped, unsatisfying, and it never full felt like a part of the story. I mean, I never cared about Drew. I was never interested in his as a character, so imagine my shock when I don't care about his dad either. I was so excited to read about this badass group of girls serving vigilante justice, and instead I got a lukewarm, underbaked romance, once again pulling focus from the power and importance of females in the story. I'm a little bitter if you can't tell.

I wanted more from this book. I wanted more from Thea, and from the rest of Team Banner. I want the theme of vigilante justice to not just be discussed, but for it to be messy and morally unclear. I wanted this book to be able justice, and revenge, and grief, and healing, but instead it can't decide what it is. The marketing and the packaging of this story does a disservice to what is really inside of it, and what's inside feels rushed, and sloppy, and disappointing.  A total 1 star read for me.

If you have recommendations for books that are more in line with what I was expecting, please leave them for me, or tweet them at me! Thanks for reading!

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