Emi Warrin grew up under the wing of her over-protective mother not knowing that she had good reason for being so controlling. One night while Emi is house-sitting for her mother who is away on a trip, a mysterious man breaks into the condo. She escapes without being noticed and returns later with the police to find that the man only stole two paintings that weren't particularly valuable, but left several "shrines" to her. Atop one of these shrines, Emi discovers a letter from her dead father which she had never seen before and that happens to be postmarked years after his supposed death, making her begin to wonder if her mother has been lying to her all this time. The letter and a strange vision lead Emi and her friend, Daniel, who she has secretly loved for years, to the beautiful Austrian alps in search of a father she never knew. What they find is mafia-style family ties and the legend of a curse that was brought upon them centuries ago when their hunger for money and power led them into a misbegotten war with another clan who were believed to possess a golden vial containing the elixir of life. Part of the curse was also a prophecy that Emi, who as the Firstborn She, is the only one who can break the curse. Emi finds herself in a race against time to locate the missing vial and figure out how to use it before everyone she loves is destroyed by either the curse or those who are out to acquire the vial for their own evil designs.
Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen recently sent me a copy of her new novel, Trapped, that was just released this month (May 2010). I'm glad she gave me the opportunity to read it, because it was an interesting story that I generally enjoyed and might not have taken notice of otherwise. Trapped is primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller with a little romance on the side and a light paranormal element in the form of a family curse which only the heroine can break. The narrative starts off a little slow, and I initially had a hard time feeling connected to the characters. However, once Emi and Daniel arrived in Austria, bits and pieces of the mystery began to surface, gradually drawing me into the story. From there, it steadily built some pretty good momentum into an exciting climax. There were a number of twists and turns along the way that kept me guessing. Some things I figured out right before they happened and others were a big surprise. Overall, I would say the mystery/suspense aspect was well-done. I even wondered for a short time if the "good guys" and "bad guys" were actually as good and bad as they seemed.
The whole mystery is wrapped within a paranormal element that was intriguing too. Centuries ago, the Tillman family warred against the Traugott family in an effort to gain control of a golden vial known as the Kuhati which purportedly contained an elixir akin to the fountain of youth. When the Tillmans finally breached the Traugott castle, the head of the Traugott family placed a curse upon the Tillmans with his last breath. Legend said that every member of the Tillman line would die a hideous death at the hands of a flesh-eating disease until the Firstborn She came to break the curse. Emi, the heroine, is the Firstborn She (the first female to be firstborn in all the generations since the curse), but her parents kept her heritage and true identity a secret from her until a trap was set to draw her out. Now she must figure out where the Kuhati is and how to use it, while evading a mafia-like family who wish to take it for evil purposes. The fantasy-style puzzle which leads the heroine on a grand adventure reminded me a little of an Indiana Jones or National Treasure type of tale.
In my opinion, the romance was probably the weakest of the three main aspects of the novel. Emi begins the story supposedly having been deeply in love with her friend Daniel for years, but he hasn't really given her any indication that he feels the same way about her. I was never quite sure why she hadn't ever simply told Daniel how she felt in the five+ years since they met in high school. Daniel's feelings for Emi are pretty ambiguous throughout the narrative, and the reader isn't really given any insights into what he's been thinking all these years until near the end of the book. In the meantime, Emi meets the handsome, charming Lucas, a distant cousin by marriage who sufficiently sweeps her off her feet in just a day to have everyone around them thinking they've instantly fallen in love which just lacked credibility for me. Granted it did add a bit of conflict in the form of a love triangle and also played into the idea of good and bad guys possibly being reversed, but I thought it also made Emi seem rather fickle if her head could be turned from Daniel so easily.
As I mentioned earlier, I had a little trouble connecting with the characters in the beginning. This did get better as the story progressed and more things were revealed about them, but I still didn't feel like I got any truly deep insights into what made them tick per se. I think the reasons for this were two-fold. First, 99% of the book is told in first person perspective from Emi's point of view, and there is very little in her conversations with the other characters that reveal much about their personalities. Second, the narrative is primarily plot-driven, so it doesn't really focus as much on the character development to begin with. That said, over time, I did develop a liking for Emi, Daniel and some of the other secondary characters. Emi was raised in a very sheltered environment by her mother who we, of course, find out was merely trying to protect her. Considering that she previously had no experience with dangerous situations, I thought she showed some guts and handled herself pretty well under the circumstances. There were times though when I thought a little more insight into what she was thinking at the time would have been helpful in understanding some of her actions. In my opinion, she was a bit too easily accepting of her role as the Firstborn She and some other pretty big revelations about her family in general. Character introspection is something that tends to be pretty important to me in my reading, and I was somewhat surprised that there wasn't more of it, at least for Emi, since the book was written in first-person.
There were a few other things I thought could have been better. In my opinion, it would have been beneficial for the details to be fleshed out a bit more. There were some passages that just didn't flow as well as I thought they could have or didn't quite make sense without a little more information to back them up. One particular example: There was a brief two-page chapter in third person POV concerning a character named Gamma. I think I know who Gamma was supposed to be, but I don't believe his identity was ever specifically revealed. Consequently, I wasn't quite sure what the point of the chapter was, except perhaps to show how ruthless the family could be. There were also times when I think more details and the aforementioned introspection would have aided with the emotional connection between Emi and the reader. At times, I felt like the author was telling how she felt rather than showing it. I also found some continuity errors and typographical errors including a huge one where a new chapter started in the middle of a sentence. I realize the publisher is probably to blame for that one and not the author, but it was a little jarring nonetheless.
The first ¾ of Trapped has a very innocent feel to it, but things got a little more intense during the last ¼ of the book. Early on, I had to double-check that it wasn't marketed for a young adult audience as sometimes it felt more like that genre. I didn't find any indication that it was specifically written for teens, and I'm sure adults will enjoy the book. It's just much sweeter than most romantic suspense out there. There are absolutely no profanities, and the sensual content is limited to kisses and chaste touches only. Aside from some menacing behavior and mention of killings in the past, no actual violence occurs until the climactic chapters. Even then I would characterize it as more moderately frightening and suspenseful rather than graphic. Even with the added intensity in the latter part of the story, I would say that the book is probably suitable for most teens and sensitive readers. In general, I think that anyone who likes an adventurous plot-driven suspense story wrapped in a paranormal mystery that is written with a lighter touch would probably appreciate Trapped. Once I got past the first few chapters, I became fairly well engaged for the remainder of the book and thought that it was an interesting tale. Trapped is Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen's second published novel, and I enjoyed the story well enough to be interested in reading more by her.
Note: The author told me in a later interview that the book was indeed written for a young adult/adult cross-over audience in mind. Ms. Hinrichsen also informed me that she had contacted her publisher regarding the big chapter break error I mentioned, and they said it will be fixed in future printings of the novel.
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