Unrivaled by Alyson Noël
The degree to which I was dreading reading this book just proves how moronic I must be.
You see, I read the first two books of Noël’s The Immortals series and had to stop. There was something about the writing, I thought, that I just wasn’t fond of so when I finished book two and seriously disliked it I thought it best to steer clear of her books since they must just not be for me. Then Unrivaled came along with it’s pretty gold-dripping strawberry cover and featured position on that fateful Costco table and suddenly I found myself walking out of the store, book in hand, despite the fact that a) it’s by an author I don’t like, b) the synopsis is not a book I’d typically enjoy, and c) reviewers compared it to the PLL books which I gave up after #1 because I didn’t like them. Basically I only bought it because it looked pretty so when a BookTubeAThon challenge was to read a book you got for the cover, I knew this was it. And I whined about the prospect of having to get through it.
That was a spectacular misjudgement on my part because oh my stars Unrivaled is. so. good!
First off, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking with the whole I-don’t-like-her-writing thing because I kind of loved it. It’s honest and real and gritty and Noël expertly conveys both the glitz and glamour of LA and the darker underside of it. Each character came off the page in 3D, all with very distinct personalities and senses of humour, which I find is sometimes lacking in POV-switching novels. I’m honestly so confuse right now because I spent a good six years skirting away from her books because of the writing THAT I APPARENTLY LOVE? Maybe I just didn’t like that particular book. Maybe 13-year-old me didn’t know what on earth she was talking about. All are valid possibilities.
About the characters. I’m not going deep into each individually because there’s both too much and not enough to say so I’ll do a quick breakdown. Layla is cynical but ambitious and while her attitude consistently gets in the way, there’s something admirable in her in a strangely twisted way. Tommy’s perceptive and smart, risky but dedicated, and somehow fits the bill of the country boy looking to make it big in LA in a way that flaunts the irony of the whole situation, so that he makes fun of it while simultaneously embodying it. Aster is quite the contradiction herself, someone who seems compromises her own morals (morals without knowing her you probably wouldn’t even think she had) for the sake of winning, but in a way that she’s still utterly in control of keeping them intact. Madison is an enigma wrapped in an enigma who allows the reader only glimpses of herself under layer upon layer of fabricated identity. They’re all real, they’re all vivid, and they’re all very complicated.
I loved the setting and how it gave the nitty gritty real side of Hollywood, not just the picture perfect image we get from movies and most books, when the starstruck teen winds up in the glitz and glamour of LA. Unrivaled goes far beyond the paparazzi and examines what makes the stars tick, what they’re hiding, and what lengths they’ll go to for what they want. It shows a side of blackmail and manipulation, of PR stints and public scandals and secrets sold out to the highest bidder, sometimes even by the one with the secrets themselves. It’s a dark, dark, dangerous world hidden by lights and fame and Unrivaled bares all of it.
The story itself spends a lot of time shaping itself up which makes it feel slow at times even though,in hindsight, it’s almost all necessary. It’s kinda frustrating though that the events of the Prologue (a fast-forward into the book) take a long while to happen, and then take their time to shape up afterwards, but the good thing about the way the prologue is done is that it make you guess and question all the details and pick up on tons of clues or potential clues as you go. It keeps things mostly interesting even when it’s slacking. The post-prologue events portion is well done because it keeps you constantly guessing and suspecting everything. I wasn’t entirely fond of the ending since in order to give it the cliff-hanger or whatever it left a LOT of loose ends. I know there are another two books that I’ll have to read anyway if I want to know what happened (and I do so I will) but there was something missing.
If you can’t tell already, Unrivaled was nothing like I’d expected. Gritty, suspenseful, suspicious–it keeps you guessing for every page. And the characters, though maybe not altogether immediately likeable, you grow attached to them and their struggle shortly into the novel. The setting captures the darker side of LA remarkably well and the writing is far far FAR better than expected. All in all, Unrivaled is a seriously good read!
Click here for the book synopsis on goodreads!