After a rather long hiatus, I thought to get back into reading and writing by continuing the Harley Merlin series. Truth be told it was far more difficult than I expected. An author typically has a planned length for how long their series would be and, as one would expect, it would feel like it flows easily from one to the other. But Harley Merlin and the Challenge of Chaos by Bella Forrest is a book in a series that feels like it has gone on far longer than it needs to.
In the first few books in the series, it was clear that there was a lot of growth and exploration of Harley and her friends as they developed into their own characters. But as the books dragged on, the characters clearly started to stagnate and not really change after a specific point for each of them. For example, Wade seemed to stop being an interesting character after he and Harley confessed their love for each other. Somehow he became a flat supportive boyfriend trope of a character without having the same character moments that made him interesting. There is a singular moment that feels rather significant in terms of character development that was nice to see, but aside from that Harley Merlin #8 was lacking in this regard.
Harley Merlin, while still a well-developed character, has basically stopped growing and changing as a character. It’s strange as there’s a hint of an idea of her delving into more of an ends-justify-the-means mindset but it never really goes far enough. It’s as if Harley has to stay an infallible character where even her mistakes are justifiable and the consequences are seen as inevitable rather than her fault. While Harley started off as an interesting and endearing character, after the suppressor in her broke it became hard not to see her as a “Mary Sue” type character. As much as I hate that term, it’s becoming more fitting for her as the series progresses.
The worst part of this book has to be Katherine Shipton herself. She is incredibly boring and her point of view in the story feels completely pointless and a waste of time. Something noted throughout the series is how the reader is often told of Katherine’s brilliance, villainy and how much of a mastermind she is yet it’s rarely demonstrated well. One would think her point of view would allow the reader a better understanding of her character, yet it is rather disappointing. We gain very little in terms of insight into Katherine’s thoughts that weren’t already shown. The worst part is that she ends up weirdly entranced by the most generic handsome man character that just feels out of character with what’s been established. Katherine’s character is that she hates and distrusts men and yet she seemingly falls head over heels for this randomly introduced character. It’s awful.
While nowhere near as plodding or dragged on as Harley Merlin #7, the eighth installment in the series is really starting to show this is going on way too long. The plot points feel more like they’re meant to extend the story rather than adding to the overall narrative. It doesn’t have the same flow that the previous books had as the story feels rather predictable and honestly rather boring this far into the series. The characters aren’t really growing much and, save for some pretty tender and sweet moments, there’s nothing quite memorable despite how dramatic the climax is supposed to be.
What makes this book feel plodding and unnecessary is likely because it was just that, unnecessary. When looking at the overall plotlines of books 7 and 8, they both feel incomplete and longer than either had the right to be. There were significant parts of book 7 that could be removed and the entirety of the Katherine point of view chapters in book 8 and, if the two were combines, it would feel like a complete story within the series. It’s hard to look at book 7 and 8 and not see how much unnecessary clutter served to lengthen them.
Honestly, aside from some potentially interesting worldbuilding around purge beasts that could be further explored, this book was lacking in continuing the to develop the magical world of Harley Merlin. Nothing new was really introduced save for one character that had a chapter or two before disappearing from the story. Perhaps it’s because of how long the series has run, but it doesn’t seem like there’s much left to explore in terms of worldbuilding which is honestly disappointing to see in a YA fantasy series.
One thing that has remained consistent is Forrest’s ability to write an easy to read story despite how plodding it can get. The word choice and language help to at least keep the flow of action and the thoughts of the characters easy to follow along with. It doesn’t help that the story itself is unengaging, but the way it’s written is well done and consistently remains to be so throughout the series.
That being said, it’s hard to ignore just how much filler it felt like this book had. This was especially true during Katherine’s point of view chapters as they often ended up just being monologues that droned on and on. Monologues aren’t necessarily bad, but typically they should add something interesting to the character or the plot overall, but Katherine’s monologues were just boring and unnecessary. Harley, while not monologuing, was also rather repetitive in both her angst and general thoughts. After a while it just got boring.