Boundless - Cynthia Hand

Spoilers for Unearthly and Hallowed. Do not click on the spoiler links unless you've read Boundless.

Once again I find myself having mixed feelings about an Unearthly book, although this time my feelings were much clearer than with the last. In my opinion, this was the weakest of the series, though Cynthia Hand's engaging narrative style still makes it a quick and enjoyable read despite its flaws.

While I certainly found myself much more frustrated with Clara in this book than in the first two, I can't help but love her voice. She's still very relatable, and I adore her humor and moments of self-deprecation and self-awareness, which is lacking in many YA PNR heroines. I also rediscovered my love for Jeffery in Boundless. I concur with other reviewers that he would make for a good spinoff character if Hand wants to revisit the Unearthly universe at some point. Clara's relationship with her mother, which is consistently awesome in all three books, is still compelling. Maggie would also be another good choice for a spinoff character. I would love to learn more about her life and her relationship with Samjeeza.

Many of the issues I had with Boundless began in Hallowed and either continued on or became more extreme. Although the Unearthly trilogy has had an element of wish fulfillment from the beginning, it was tempered in the first book by Clara's relative inadequacies and weaknesses. In Hallowed, these weaknesses were minimized with the revelation that she's a Triplare and the daughter of the archangel, Michael, but at least she still had to struggle with her powers. In Boundless we learn that not only is Clara a Triplare, she's even powerful for a Triplare. She masters new skills much more easily than other angels, and when her powers fail, it seems more like a plot contrivance than a genuine struggle because of how easily they came to her in the first place.

I also felt that this book had more of a moral agenda than the previous two, although it was much more subtle than in other books like Halo. As the trilogy has developed, the mythology has relied more and more on Christian theology. In the third book one message that is telegraphed very strongly is the importance of believing in God. Evil corrupts one character by getting him/her to stop believing in God and he/she literally ends up in hell because of it. There is also an unplanned pregnancy in which there are implicit messages about how it should be handled and viewed. The entire pregnancy storyline really put a bad taste in my mouth. Once again we have another example in YA lit where a girl gives up her future to have a child and ends up content with the outcome despite her drive and ambition. There's also some subtle messages about sex. In one example, Clara becomes outraged at the suggestion that she might sleep with Christian on their first date. She emphatically lets it be known she's not "that" kind of girl, which reeks of judgment.

The mythology continued to be an issue, starting with Glory, which becomes much too convenient. It can literally be anything the angel/angel-blood wants it to be, and it can be channeled and localized taking away its only weakness, which was that it could expose those who used it. Then there's the whole idea of ambivalent angels introduced in Radiant. How can an angel be ambivalent? Being ambivalent in and of itself is going against God. It suggests angels have free will, which is what is supposed to separate angels from humans according to Unearthly. And how exactly is Phen ambivalent if he's working for the Black Wings? Further, why does he not become a Black Wing after he sleeps with Angela and gets her pregnant out of wedlock? It's a sin for angels to sleep with humans, except when ordained by God (Michael and Maggie, and apparently Maggie's mother and Uriel) and at least in the case of Michael and Maggie, they were married first. I also don't understand why the angels aren't fighting this battle with the Black Wings. Why send angel-bloods to do what a full-blooded angel could do much more efficiently? It's not as though the Black Wings aren't getting involved and angels have been known battle evil (Michael is the Smiter after all).

Finally, the love triangle was a huge disappointment, not because of who Clara ends up with but the journey she takes to get there. I came into this book with neutral feelings about the triangle, and I thought that I would be fine with whoever Clara ended up choosing I was almost certain after Hallowed that it would be Tucker, so it wasn't a huge surprise. As stated in my reviews of the previous books, I liked both love interests and I thought Clara had amazing chemistry with both of them. Hand could have easily written the love story in such a way that I would have been happy with either choice. Instead, it was written in such a way that it didn't matter who she ended up with, I would have been unsatisfied. Clara's back and forth between Tucker and Christian was very frustrating, especially since I thought it was clear very early on who Clara would end up with. Clara only thinks of Tucker (and dreams only of him) and shows no romantic feelings for Christian. This didn't make much sense given her overwhelming attraction to Christian in the previous books. It's odd that she fails to overcome her feelings for Christian while she's with Tucker but once she's single, she can barely muster even a spark. And despite the prominence of the love triangle, there weren't any real swoonworthy scenes between Clara and either boy. I thought the chemistry was lacking with both of them.

All three characters suffer because of the love triangle. Clara's refusal to make a decision and let either of them go, thereby hurting them both, reflects poorly on her, and neither Christian nor Tucker holds her accountable for her actions. Christian ends up looking very pathetic and I felt sorry for him. It was painful to watch him get rejected over and over again. I feel really bad for the Christian/Clara fans. There was no payoff for that ship. Tucker ends up being little more than a love interest, and an overly perfect one at that. Even though Clara has broken his heart and cheated on him, he isn't angry with her for it. Instead, he's angry because she doesn't want to have contact with him. And when she very rudely tells him they can't be friends he responds by saying she deserves to be happy. No matter how many times she rejects either of them, they both go crawling back to her. As for the resolution itself, I thought things ended a bit too neatly for Clara and Tucker. He is saved by Clara's love, a played out YA trope, and gets to be "slightly more than human," which means magic has cured him of his sickness to her glory and it allows him to live a longer than normal life so the age difference won't be an issue. It's all too convenient for my tastes. It also annoyed me that Christian spends the rest of his life in love with Clara, unable to move on (or so it's implied).

Even though I was unhappy with the direction this series took, I still enjoyed myself. It was a quick read and I would recommend it to others with reservations.

Nitpicky issues:
1) It bothers me that Tucker attends UC Santa Clara, a school that doesn't exist, when all of the other characters attend real colleges. It's not as though there aren't other universities near Stanford, namely San Jose State.
2) Angela's bright white wings are never addressed. Were they an illusion? It's explained that Christian's wings have black in them because his Black Wing father marked his soul, but Angela's are bright white even though they have the same father.