by Dot Hutchison
Near an isolated mansion lies a beautiful garden.
In this garden grow luscious flowers, shady trees…and a collection of precious “butterflies”—young women who have been kidnapped and intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes. Overseeing it all is the Gardener, a brutal, twisted man obsessed with capturing and preserving his lovely specimens.
When the garden is discovered, a survivor is brought in for questioning. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are tasked with piecing together one of the most stomach-churning cases of their careers. But the girl, known only as Maya, proves to be a puzzle herself.
As her story twists and turns, slowly shedding light on life in the Butterfly Garden, Maya reveals old grudges, new saviors, and horrific tales of a man who’d go to any length to hold beauty captive. But the more she shares, the more the agents have to wonder what she’s still hiding...
I chose to read this because the title, cover, and description seemed promising-- and because it was a freebie (through Prime Reading). While it was certainly readable, even interesting in a few parts, there was much head-shaking, derisive snorting, and eye-rolling.
I'm not surprised that the author considers herself "mostly" an author of YA fiction, because this felt like a for-adults story written in YA style. Even though the novel deals with serious, adult themes and situations, the writing feels... immature. A little silly, to be brutally honest. Corny, in spots. It's there in the way some of the characters talk-- the way they behave. Cardboard-cutout characters kowtowing to the dictates of stereotype. And at the center of it all, the practically-perfect (but damaged-- but oh, so special!) modern heroine.
A thousand "little things" aside, there are two major biggies that left me in eye-roll mode at the novel's end. I can't go into them without spoiling the story, so I'll save them for the next section.
Suffice it to say that I wasn't terribly impressed. This was okay in the sense that it's something to read, if you enjoy the genre and love the typical "modern YA" style-- and can look past some fairly intense silliness and irrational behavior-- but I never stopped feeling that there were better books I could've been reading. It's merely a way to pass some time-- and probably feel the occasional urge to hurl the book across the room, which is not recommended if you're reading it in e-book form.
Specifics (with SPOILERS):
--One of the "biggies" referenced above: Why, oh why didn't the girls gang up on the Gardener?! I mean, seriously. I know they're afraid of him-- and there's the brainwashed Lorraine to deal with (and Avery, if they timed it really poorly)-- but come on! The stakes are high enough to merit some risks. Wait until he's distracted with one of the girls, then sneak up behind him and whack him over the head. Get him on the floor and kick/hit/whatever-is-necessary him until he agrees to give up the code to open the door. It's not that hard, really, and at least a few of those girls were tough enough that they should've been able to stomach such unladylike violence. (Heck, just give me a minute to lace up my sneakers, then let me at 'im-- and he hasn't even hurt me, unless you count the mental anguish of reading about His Creepiness in this book...)
It would have been different if the "Butterflies" were constantly drugged, locked up, or chained, but they had so much freedom to move around (most of the time)-- not to mention a few personal items that could've been used as weapons. The bare fact that they could freely congregate and that the Gardener never carried/used weapons on them in the Garden was enough leeway to allow them to stage an uprising. It's unbelievable that they wouldn't have at least tried.
--Second "biggie": What was that ridiculous twist ending?! It wasn't just unnecessary; it was actively bad. It brought the book down a notch, in my reckoning. Just so, so silly. Sophia is supposed to be a sympathetic character, and yet she didn't do anything-- didn't even try to help the girls she left behind.
So the police might not believe you... So what?! You still try. So you're pregnant and worried about the fate of your child... Well, that makes no sense! How would the Gardener ever have gotten custody of that child without admitting to the whole world (including his precious, delicate wife) that he'd at least had a fling with Sophia?! (Not going to happen.)
If nothing else, she could've given an anonymous tip. I don't believe she could have been completely unaware of the location of the Garden; she would have had some idea of how she'd had to move to get back home-- at least enough to give a tip in the right direction.
It boils down to lazy writing and/or a pathetic, spineless character. Makes zero sense.
--The lesser annoyances are too numerous to list in entirety, but here's a taste: The Gardener's ability to tattoo so skillfully seems unlikely. The torturous good cop/bad cop thing was painful to read! The only thing sillier than the florid names the Gardener chose for the Butterflies are Maya's chosen name (Inara) and given name (Samira Grantaire). Too much of the story turns out to have been pointless. The big reveal at the end was... Well, there really wasn't much of a big reveal, unless you count the twist, which was a monumental let-down.
--Despite occasional reminders that life in the Garden is tough (what with the captivity and rape and the knowledge that you'll be killed at 21, if not before), so many of the Butterflies seem to act as though they're living in a sorority house, with games and crafts/hobbies and girl-talk. It's one thing to keep hope alive and make the best of things; this feels like something else-- something incredibly weird and unrealistic.
--Maya/Inara's backstory is so maudlin and melodramatic-- just one long sob-story, like a very poorly-written soap opera. I suppose some people's lives truly are exactly that awful, but it seems very unlikely that everyone in her young life would be so crappy. (Except for the perfect young neighbors, of course.)
--In the end, I ran out of ability to suspend my disbelief. There are limits.