At the outset, Utah author Brodi Ashton's debut novel Everneath feels like a far-too-familiar jaunt through the most popular current supernatural-fiction tropes. Everything that's ultimately interesting about it takes a bit more digging. ---
The premise plays with plenty of elements that have seemed omnipresent in the Twilight/Hunger Games era. Our protagonist, Nikki Beckett, is a smart, complicated, troubled Park City High School student forced to deal with circumstances beyond her years—in this case, becoming a modern-day Persephone when she agrees to become a “Forfeit” supplying life energy to Cole, one of the immortal denizens of the Everneath. Only six months have passed in our world, but a century down below, when Nikki takes a chance on returning to the life—and boyfriend, Jack—she left behind, even though she's told she'll be taken back to the Everneath in another six months. Cue the romantic triangle with massive implications.
Ashton takes a chance on beginning her story with Nikki already in the world of the Everneath, subsequently both moving forward with her difficult return to humanity and flashing back to the events that led to her choice. The fractured chronology often feels unnecessarily tangled, with too much narrative time passing before establishing the connection between Nikki and Jack that may ultimately prove crucial to the resolution.
It's a frustrating ride for a while, but eventually it feels as though Ashton is digging into interesting metaphorical territory, and not just in re-visiting ancient mythology. There's an ironic subtext to the fact that everyone assumes Nikki's long absence was a stint in rehab, because essentially her choice to escape her pain is the supernatural equivalent. And in Nikki, we also see a girl who has the opportunity to witness what amounts to the impact of her own suicide on those who love her—and to fight for the chance to make it right.
Ashton isn't always efficient in explicating the “rules” of her mythology, resorting near the end to the appearance of Professor Exposition to fill in some purely academically speculative details that, of course, turn out to be completely accurate. Yet she ultimately is effective at creating a bond between her central characters that might stand the test of eternity, while also exploring how easy it seems to surrender to the emotional lows of the here and now. If Ashton chooses to re-visit the Everneath for a follow-up, the hardest work may be behind her—and the strongest potential still to come.