Review: ARC of Pivot (Jack Harper Trilogy #1) by LC Barlow

NB- I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

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From the age of seven, Jack Harper is raised by the leader of a mystical cult, Cyrus Harper. Through Cyrus, Jack receives a full education in all usual subjects—economics, literature, mathematics, history—as well as one unique skill useful to a person in Cyrus’s position: assassination. With the help of Roland James, a man incapable of dying, Cyrus hones Jack into the perfect weapon to use against all who oppose him.

It is not long, however, before Jack discovers that Cyrus and Roland are not the only ones living in Cyrus’s mansion. There, too, exists a mysterious creature in the depths of the house with supposed immortal magic. According to Roland, this creature is responsible for all the miraculous things Jack has witnessed throughout her childhood, including Roland’s resurrection. The creature, potent and powerful, only weakens in the presence of Cyrus’s red velvet box—a dark, enchanted tool that grants Cyrus his invincibility and ensures his reign.

Lonely and terrified by her life in the cult, under Cyrus’s neverending watch, Jack desperately pursues the mysterious being. When they finally meet, her world is turned upside down, as he offers her more than she could have ever expected—the possibility of escape and her own secret, magical power.

I don’t read much horror, so maybe I was expecting the wrong things from this book, but even though I was interested and finished it quickly, I never really got invested in any particular character or story line. Very little is learned about Jack, and what is discovered is told point blank to the reader by her internal monologue or another character. Alex was disappointingly two-dimensional, despite the potential for interesting conflicts between him and Jack that would have worked to develop both characters better. Roland was great, but his motivation for his actions do not line up well with what we learn of his character.

Cyrus was the most developed character by a long shot, yet even when his back story is revealed his actions seem lacking in depth. That being said, his relationship with Jack is well developed and realistic, showing a nuanced example of an abusive relationship, gas-lighting and all. A scene later in the book almost spoils this, however, as Cyrus all but spells out to Jack that he has manipulated her into being and doing what he wants. He may as well have put on a t-shirt saying ‘You are disposable, any loyalty you feel to me is false’.

The fantasy/sci fi aspects of this book are a mixed bag. Everything I mention next is in the blurb, so if the language seems vague, it’s to avoid spoiling anything. The creature in the basement was a welcome addition to the book, though I wish more was explained about the source of its power, and the power behind Cyrus’s mysterious velvet box. Without this, the effects brought on by the box and the creature seem almost arbitrary, and I’d prefer more limits were placed on the magic to make the book seem more grounded in (the book’s alternate) reality.

The plot of Pivot seemed to wander until about halfway through the book, when events get put into place, Jack (finally) begins learning about her world, and a looming event brings a sense of urgency to the novel. Jack’s descent into evil is abrupt and fairly emotionless, and I struggled to sympathise or even care about her experiences. I thought the drug use in the book was poorly portrayed, as Jack never seems to suffer any typical consequences of such a habit. The conclusion is satisfying, if a bit hollow, because the plan that brought events to a head is never fully explained. Cyrus’s endgame seems very poorly thought out, considering the man is supposed to be very good at what he does.

There were definitely moments in the book that tackled typical fantasy/sci fi themes, as well as more complex moral and religious questions. I particularly liked the line “Wings will grow on anything that will swear off biting…” but that brings to light another issue—Pivot seems more like a prequel to a fantasy series than it does a story in its own right. If I were already invested in Jack’s story, or if I knew more about Alex and Roland, I think I may have enjoyed this book substantially more. There’s definitely potential for an interesting cast of characters, and a fascinating magical system, but in this book, with Jack’s ignorance and vulnerability serving as the reader’s only window into the story, the characters and world failed to truly shine.

Nevertheless, this book was a quick and interesting read, that I’d recommend for fans of Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim novels, and those who enjoyed Brent Weeks’ The Night Angel Trilogy  or Robin LaFevers’ His Fair Assassin series, but would prefer a less classical fantasy setting.

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