Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on February 17, 2022
I’ve called it before, and I’m calling it again: Julie Hall’s Fallen Legacies is officially the Christian Twilight. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. Mysterious, attractive supernatural beings? Yup. Heart-pounding romance, intense tension, and more than a little heat (but still technically clean)? You bet. Overly possessive love interest whose behavior borders on abusive? Also, unfortunately, yes.
In the series’ defense, I will make this one thing very clear: it’s a lot better than the actual Twilight. That’s admittedly a low bar, but one that Hall passes handily by giving her heroine Emberly, y’know, an actual personality. An appealing balance of action, romance, and character development plus an overall better prose style than Meyer’s also elevate this above Twilight. But really, just calling Fallen Legacies a Christian Twilight sells it short: it is its own creature with its own lore and strengths. So let’s give it a closer look, shall we?
Stealing Embers opens with seventeen-year-old Emberly homeless and on the run, waking up in an alleyway to face another day of fending off terrifying visions of bright colors and shadow monsters, the so-called Spectrum World. Today is different, though; Emberly finds herself overwhelmed by the powers of darkness and mysteriously rescued by a group of shapeshifters and Spectrum-world-hopping warriors who call themselves the Nephilim. Soon she’s spirited away to an academy where angel-born like herself learn how to use their powers and fight, and the adventure begins. Emberly, whose blonde hair and rough background make her painfully different from her dark-haired, relatively privileged peers, struggles to be accepted. She also seems to have a magical target painted on her back and attracts a seemingly endless slew of shadowy monsters—the Fallen—and the vampire-like Nephilim possessed by the Fallen—the Forsaken.
Hall populates Emberly’s world with a crowd of likeable friends, including the wonderfully boisterous BFF Ash, flirtatious goofball Sterling and his more reasonable twin Greyson, compassionate mentor Sable, brooding bad boy Steel, and, towards the end, the hilariously pretentious guardian-squirrel-angel Tinkle . Hall even makes the unusual, and smart, choice of making the popular-girl rival, Nova, turn out to be a friend rather than foe to Emberly. By giving her protagonist such a rich life outside of the love interest, Hall avoids some of the most toxic tropes of Twilight and its various knockoffs. Friendships with Ash and Nova are characterized by support and communication. Emberly has awesome male friends who aren’t love interests and, at one point, refused to let the love interest stop her from hanging out with them, which had me cheering. The Emberly/Nova/Steel sort-of love triangle is handled in a remarkably healthy and mature manner. It’s honestly refreshing to see this dynamic in a YA paranormal romance. That alone makes it a winner, in my book.
The story is quite entertaining. I mean, it’s essentially angels vs. vampires. How cool is that? Hall keeps the action and romance rolling at a nearly breakneck pace. If Emberly isn’t facing high school drama in Seraph Academy, she’s alternately falling for and hating on Steel, or fighting off creepy shadow monsters (or both. At the same time). The plot twists come thick, fast, and reasonably unexpected. The action is so intense I found myself blocking off reading sections by when Emberly wasn’t in physical peril! The terrifying Fallen and Forsaken, the hostile elements, and Emberly’s own feelings of guilt all make formidable adversaries. All the action and conflict in the world won’t carry a story, though, if the reader doesn’t care about the characters. Fortunately, one of Julie Hall’s greatest strengths, also on display in her excellent Life After series, is her large casts of distinctive and likeable characters. I cared about all of their fates, which kept the pages practically turning themselves.
The big, glaring, not-so-great thing about Stealing Embers, however, is the love interest. I just couldn’t get behind Steel as a worthy guy for Emberly. He insults her, tries to stop her from spending time with her friends because he is trying to “protect” them from her monster-attracting presence, even stalks her at one point (ironic considering Sterling’s in-world diss on Twilight). Emberly, perfectly understandably, can’t stand Steel. So when they are arguing and then suddenly kissing, it just feels not only unhealthy, but unconvincing. While the friendships in the story worked, I just could NOT get behind or support the main romance. Seriously, for all the other toxic YA tropes this novel avoids, why does it have to stick to the one of writing off the love interest’s terrible treatment of the heroine because he’s a “bad boy,” “overprotective,” “misunderstood,” “just doing it to push her away because he *REALLY* loves her”? Steel’s behavior honestly borders on abusive, even with the reasons behind it revealed later on, and unless he redeems himself hard in the next novel I am not cool with the romance element and might have to stop this series for that alone.
The novel also suffers from a few of the typical flaws of fast turnout: the characters, though good, could use a little more development, and the plot tends to rely too heavily on rapid-fire action scenes. Stealing Embers could have stood some of the classroom and magic-in-practice scenes that helped make Harry Potter such an utterly immersive delight. Information about angel lore felt squeezed in at times, rather than integrated into the plot. I would have liked to see more time spent on Emberly and Ash’s apparently awesome friendship. The story was very readable, and good, but I feel like it could have used one more edit to really shine.
The Christian element that was woven so deeply into Life After barely features in Fallen Legacies. Sure, there are references to a Creator and the rebellion of the fallen angels, but while Life After dealt with the heroine’s journey to faith alongside other concerns of friendship and adventure, Fallen Legacies practically leaves the faith aspect out. Nothing wrong with that—Christian writers are free to write secular stories, as Hall seems to be doing here—but Hall’s debut novel Huntress just hit me SO hard at JUST the right time in my own faith journey that I was kind of hoping Stealing Embers would do the same and was a bit disappointed that it didn’t. (and yes, I will write a glowing review of Huntress. Eventually).
Stealing Embers is a clean read, I suppose, but, being self-published rather than through a Christian publisher like Thomas Nelson or Enclave, and aimed at a general audience, it pushes some of those boundaries. There are kicks to the “family jewels,” mentions of characters being “pissed off,” and descriptive kiss scenes, including a tongue kiss. Emberly’s tough background (foster care, threats of being institutionalized, and, in book II, a mention of an attempted molestation by a foster dad) and the creepiness of the vampiric Forsaken make this a somewhat darker, grittier read than Life After (though nothing compared to some contemporary YA haha). Emberly’s background, though, is more hinted at than exposed, keeping this from becoming a truly dark and gritty read like Rachel Marks’s intense, gripping Darkness Brutal. It is certainly on the older end of the YA scale: while Life After can be and has been enjoyed by readers as young as 10, I wouldn’t give Stealing Embers to anyone under 13 or 14. I, of course, love the tougher, grittier aspects and always advocate for more of that in Christian and Christian-authored fiction. But someone who is a regular reader of, say, Enclave titles, ought to be fairly warned.
Despite my somewhat mixed review, I have to say: I enjoyed Stealing Embers a lot. I liked the heroine and her friends, the unique twist on angels and vampires, the action, the gorgeous interior character artwork, and the (non-Steel/Emberly) relationships. I have a real weakness for YA paranormal romance, so I slurped this up like a tall sugary drink of boba tea. Which anyone who knows me knows means I absolutely devoured Stealing Embers shamelessly. For a YA paranormal romance, this was pretty good. For a self-published YA fantasy romance, even more so. But compared to better works of YA paranormal romance like Susan Ee’s Angelfall, even to Julie Hall’s own Life After, this just wasn’t amazingly special. Sorry.
Am I going to be reading the next installment, though? You bet. The gorgeous paperback Forging Darkness is already on my bookshelf and ready to go. That should tell you everything you need to know.
Artistic value: 3/5
Moral value (Christian): 2/5
Moral value (general): 3.5/5
Naomi’s Choice: 4/5