I finished FirstLife by Gena Showalter a few days ago, having purchased it on Amazon and letting it sit in the TBR (“to be read”) section of my bookshelf for months. I wish I would’ve read it sooner. It was intense and unique, a modern, really dramatic retelling of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, with a few key differences.

The premise of FirstLife is that everyone on Earth  knows irrefutably that there is an afterlife, that this life is just a preparation for that life, and that they have to decide before they die which kingdom they want to go to if they want to avoid the “Land of Many Ends” (i.e., hell). The ambassadors from each kingdom, who are comparable to guardian angels and devils, are real and visible to everyone. They actively try to recruit humans to their side, as there is an otherworldly war going on that they’re both trying to win.

Whereas Screwtape Letters is told from the perspective of the devils who are fighting for the soul of a human, FirstLife is told from the perspective of a teenage girl whose soul is being fought over by two warring “secondlife” kingdoms. In FirstLife, they’re called Myriad and Troika. The girl, Ten, starts out in prison because she refuses to acquiesce to the demands of her father, who signed with one of the realms and wants to force her to do so as well. If I were to rate FirstLife’s premise on my new “ten-star” system (because five isn’t enough), which I introduced here, I would give it the premise of FirstLife a strong one out of two possible stars. It’s not necessarily original, but it’s definitely unique in its adaptation.

From the first page, it is an unabashed adrenaline ride, with a roller coaster of a plot. Ten’s goal is, at first, just to survive, but more importantly, not to have to choose a realm because someone forces her to. The whole plot, in fact, is her being chased or tortured or worse. It has a lot of action; it’s almost nothing but action. So, if you’re looking for a lot of “real life” in this book, you won’t find it. You can find, though, if you really look for it, a lot of allegory, as Ms. Showalter admits that the idea for the story was born from scripture. In this respect, it’s a lot like The Screwtape Letters. I give Firstlife a 1.5 for plot quality, just because it’s addictive.

Beside Ten, the main characters are the two “laborers” each sent from the two opposing realms to fight to get her to sign. They are Killian and Archer, and they are well-drawn, engaging, unique, even puzzling. Some of the other key characters, however, aren’t introduced until almost halfway through the book, which seemed a bit late for me. And Ten’s parents, who are central to the story, are seen hardly at all. So, one star for characterization quality.

Gena Showalter’s writing, while not prosaic per se, is definitely brutal and dramatic, a style that lends itself well to the plot of the book. For its smack-you-in-the-face vividness, I give it a two.

Unfortunately, though Ten goes through so much that you’d think that her emotions would be constantly at the surface, I found it difficult to connect with her emotionally, as my life isn’t threatened every day. I do often feel like forces from Heaven and Hell are definitely trying hard every day to win our souls, but that is where my ability to understand Ten stops. So, I would have to give Firstlife a 0 for emotional connection.

So that means that FirstLife by Gena Showalter gets a solid 5.5 out of 10 stars, if I’m doing my math right. Since I’m horrible at math, it’s entirely possible that I didn’t add that right, so feel free to let me know if you spot an error there.

You need to read it and tell me what you think!

Book Review: First Life by Gena Showalter

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