Though I am not generally drawn towards supernatural YA fiction, I'd heard BookTubers give PHASED high praise and also was intrigued by some things that the author said about it on her channel.
HOW I RATED IT
4/5 PHASED tells a beautiful story of sisterly love set against the backdrop of a creepy dystopian society that seeks to strip the girls of their werewolf heritage and nature. Not every aspect of the writing was exactly to my specific tastes, but I still had an excellent time with it all the same.
This story is told from multiple perspectives, the majority of which involve Val and Lyla, two Trueblood Werewolf sisters. At the start of the story, we see them released from the DAO facility for the first time since their capture and sent to a gated boarding school where werewolves (mostly half-blood) and some humans intermingle. There is a lot of emphasis placed upon the sisterly bond that these two characters share as well as a "blood bond" that links them on a more supernatural level. Exploring both the normal and more fantastical elements of their relationship was honestly such a delight for me. I feel like the love shared between siblings is heavily underrepresented in fiction and I love how Tecken portrays the tenderness, the rivalry, and the tension that all melts into the chaotic affection of this type of relationship.
Throughout the course of the story, the Blackwood sisters meet other students at their school as well as a couple other Truebloods within the DAO program. While I wasn't initially sure what to make of Lex, Jules, and Christopher, they eventually became incredibly endearing and memorable. There's definitely a bit of a motley crew that forms as well as a found family element to this story, so those who are fans of these tropes will likely be delighted as these very different people come together. Other side characters, both antagonistic and friendly were also fantastic.
Personally, I am a highly plot-driven reader, but I also really enjoy deep character work. I feel like there wasn't a strong sense of a plotline for about the first 50-60% of the story. While this did give me some hesitance about whether I would end up liking it, I think the seeds of the dystopian nature of this world really kept me hooked and invested in the sisters' journey. The concept of so many werewolves having their wolf side suppressed to the point where they don't even identify with their inner beast was quite haunting.
Over time, more and more is revealed about what the girls went through during their time in captivity and more hints are dropped of something sinister brewing at the DAO. If you are the type of reader that needs a book to immediately hit the ground running and carry you through at breakneck speed to the finish line, this may not be for you. If you are patient though, there are some brilliant twists and turns that the latter part of the story which nicely build upon everything that happened during the earlier chapters. There is also an action-packed climactic sequence that delivered the perfect amount of werewolf chaos.
It is worth noting that there are little hints of young love sprinkled in here, but I would absolutely not class this within the "paranormal romance" genre. There's no insta-love, no creepy stalker-ish moments dressed up as romantic gestures, and nothing sexually explicit to be found here, which might disappoint some, but were huge positives for me. I think this is a dystopian fantasy first and foremost, but I enjoyed how some of the friendships began to bud into something more romantic and felt as though there was an appropriate amount of subtlety in terms of how this was handled.
The story doesn't exactly end on a cliffhanger, nor has this been officially labeled as being part of a series, but it is clear that there is more story here to tell and I think the author has said that a sequel is in the works, so I look forward to when that comes out.
If it wasn't clear, I absolutely love dystopian fiction and I was thrilled to find out how much this particular story was grounded in that type of setting. The forced medication/testing and psychological manipulation that all the students undergo felt like a really interesting and tangible way to explore how intolerant society can be of anything or anyone that is uncomfortable or "unseemly." These aspects also felt unsettlingly plausible for a scenario where werewolves actually existed in our world.
The specific locations that the narrative goes to were all really engaging and distinct. From the oppressive, claustrophobic halls of the DAO facility, to the orderly campus of Westbrook High, and a serene rural home, the locations that the story takes place in do just as much work to convey the theme of wilderness vs. civilization as any of the other elements. All three are described in vivid detail and have distinct atmospheres that set the tone for the events that happen there.
While the cover didn't initially draw me to the book (possibly just because paranormal stuff doesn't usually call out to me), I do feel like it is a really awesome representation of the pages that lie within and I've only appreciated it more as I got deeper into the story. The interior formatting is all nice enough, though there's nothing particularly flashy going on. This is more of a personal preference, but I really appreciated how short and uniform the chapter lengths were. I tend to read eBooks a chapter or two at a time whenever I can sneak them in on lunch breaks or right before bed, so having quick, manageable chapters helped me fit this into my schedule. I also feel like this book is a great length overall, with even the "slower" parts feeling appropriately paced and never too drawn out. I will say that I found a lot of the dialogue to be cliché-heavy, although this kind of fit the earnest nature of many of the characters. There were also a handful of small typos though none of these heavily detracted from my enjoyment either.
PHASED offers so much more than other books in the paranormal subgenre and managed to surprise me in some delightful ways. I really think more people need to give this a shot as it seems to be a bit of a hidden gem right now.
(+) A compelling sibling relationship
(+) Side characters that become deeply memorable and endearing
(+) A creepy dystopian setting
(+) Unique take on werewolf lore
(+) A heart-thumping climax
(+) Amazing use of setting and atmosphere
(-) A handful of minor typos and some dialogue that felt a bit cliché at times
(-) I wasn't immediately sure if I was fully bought into the side characters or plot direction