Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Review: The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard

by Scott Alexander Howard
Release Date: February 27, 2024
2024 Atria Books
Kindle ARC; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1668015476
Audiobook: B0C&YM2Z5P
Genre: Fiction / Sci-fi / Magical Realism
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Sixteen-year-old Odile is an awkward, quiet girl vying for a coveted seat on the Conseil. If she earns the position, she’ll decide who may cross her town’s heavily guarded borders. On the other side, it’s the same valley, the same town--except to the east, the town is twenty years ahead in time. To the west, it’s twenty years behind. The towns repeat in an endless sequence across the wilderness.

When Odile recognizes two visitors she wasn’t supposed to see, she realizes that the parents of her friend Edme have been escorted across the border from the future, on a mourning tour, to view their son while he’s still alive in Odile’s present. Edme––who is brilliant, funny, and the only person to truly see Odile––is about to die. 
My Thoughts
The Other Valley is a speculative fiction novel where you can travel either forwards or backwards in time if you decide to leave your home in the valley, to see loved ones if the current ones have passed away.  This has a really interesting premise, and if you love philosophy, this opens up a lot of 'what if' questions. Naturally there is a governing body who decides who gets to visit the other towns and there is a gendarmerie that protects the boundaries of the towns which are outlined by tall fences to discourage the townspeople from questioning things and leaving. 
The main character, Odile, is a shy, introverted girl who is being pushed to join the governing body as an apprentice by her mother. For the first half of the book we learn about her school experiences as well as her relationships with her peers. I almost had Divergent vibes during this part of the book as the teenagers were trying to figure out the rest of their lives, discovering their career paths, and who would take them on as apprentices.  Odile is a very passive character and seems to be one of those people who gets things simply because she is at the right place at the right time. We see Odile twenty years later in the second half of the book, and I really liked seeing what happened to her and the consequences of one's choices had on one's life. It shows you how you really need to fight for what you want in life because if you just settle, you can be content, but not necessarily happy.  
The secondary characters were very under-utilized however, and it's a shame as there were a couple that were quite intriguing. The author used them to forward Odile's story line rather than use them to forward the plot, and there is a huge difference.  
The plot itself was more philosophical in nature, and once you stop trying to understand how the timeline works, especially with the villages to the east and west, it works so much better. My scientific brain was going crazy at the beginning trying to work it all out, knowing how the butterfly effect works, knowing that you just can't wipe out whole timelines of people, so there had to be so much more to the stories the students were given. Once I relaxed and just went with it, the experience worked so much better. Now, in hindsight, the gaps are still there and I just can't let them go.  In the book Odile finally understands the consequences to knowing more than she should, but I don't feel the author went far enough with those consequences.  It asks the question: Is it worth the risk to change something from the past? And what are the consequences to the future if one does? These questions are not really explored. While I understand the author wanted to put the emphasis on Odile and her life and her choices, pushing the importance of world-building to the background as something that doesn't need to be explored hurts the overall story as the actions of the characters within that world don't always make sense because we don't fully understand it. 
The Other Valley was quite original and I really enjoyed the speculation behind it, but that's my thing. However, Odile is the only one who really got any character development, and the pacing was uneven throughout the book, as if the author wanted to explore other avenues but wasn't sure if that was a wise route to take.  Personally, I felt the ending was too predictable in such a world, too perfect, and would have like something more...philosophical.



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