Perhaps mixing genres isn’t quite as unusual as it once was. Still, Melissa Marr’s fun and surprising new book, THE ARRIVALS (her second adult novel, following 2011’s GRAVEMINDER), blends disparate elements and conventions in smart and engaging ways. It is the story of a gun-slinging, well-intentioned outlaw brother-and-sister duo, Jack and Kitty. Twenty-six years ago, the pair was mysteriously transported from California in the late 1800s to a strange otherworld called the Wasteland. The aspects of the traditional Western novel that they bring are balanced out by the inhabitants and the magic of the Wasteland, and the complicated romantic relationships of the main characters.
"Blending the best bits of western, fantasy and romance novels, Marr creates something quite believable despite its strangeness.... In the end, THE ARRIVALS is simply a unique, refreshing and entertaining tale told swiftly and confidently."
Jack and Kitty Reed were the first from their world to find themselves in the Wasteland, but over the last three decades, many more have appeared. The Arrivals all come from different times and places back in their world, though none from as early as the Reeds. And the Arrivals all have one thing in common: in their world, they were all killers. In the Wasteland, their killer instincts, survival skills and way with weapons come in handy --- from wrangling lindworms to hunting demons, and especially in their dealings with the evil and powerful Ajani. In the Wasteland, the Arrivals who team up with the Reeds have the ability to rise from the dead a number of times, but those who go to work for Ajani seem to have gained immortality.
When Mary, part of the Reeds’ crew and Jack’s lover, dies and doesn’t come back to life, everyone prepares for a new Arrival. Luckily they find Chloe before Ajani does, and Kitty nurses her through the rough transition. But Kitty, Jack and the rest of the Arrivals in their camp know that Ajani will come searching for Chloe soon, making her an offer that will be hard to resist. In the meantime, they must deal with the local governor and hunt down some demons, and Kitty must confront her feelings for her lover Edgar (previously a Chicago gangster) as well as her feelings for her former lover Daniel, who now works for Ajani. All of this is further complicated by the immediate attraction between Jack and Chloe, and the complex relationship the Reeds have with Garuda, the leader of a Wasteland species of powerful blood-drinking telepaths.
Marr writes THE ARRIVALS with just enough backstory for her characters and never gets bogged down in the details of world-building. The Wasteland remains a curious and enigmatic place, even after a few big reveals. Blending the best bits of western, fantasy and romance novels, Marr creates something quite believable despite its strangeness. Readers are challenged to ignore certain codes of morality (sometimes substituting them for ones particular to the setting) to fully engage with the story. That all the Arrivals are murderers may be unsettling, but it’s a powerful device that Marr uses yet never exploits.
In the end, THE ARRIVALS is simply a unique, refreshing and entertaining tale told swiftly and confidently. Readers may crave more of the characters and of the Wasteland, but this is an economical book that, like the frontier justice of Jack and Kitty’s original world, gets right to the action and then gets outta Dodge. Some questions remain unanswered and some characters could’ve been fleshed out more, but that doesn’t really make the novel any less enjoyable to read.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on July 12, 2013