One of Julie Hutchings’ great strengths is inspiring addiction. I mean this in the nicest way possible, as I spent over year waiting and whining for the sequel to Running Home – the newly released Running Away. The second in the Shinigami series is a whirlwind of words, with just the right amount of mystery and sass to keep you turning the page.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Running Away begins where Running Home left us: in a complete, emotional mess. Hutchings makes a rare but welcome decision to join the conclusion of her first book seamlessly with her second’s introduction, instead of recapping in the first chapter with flashbacks. Our wonderful, headstrong Eliza Morgan is reduced to a guilt-stricken, grief-stricken wreck in the wake of her best friend’s death; a shadow of her former self, and her relationship with Nicholas French is in tatters. Her numbness vibrates through the first pages and echoes throughout: this grief feels real, and resonated with me as fictional loss rarely does.
It is a few chapters in, however, that Hutchings really kicks it in to gear. The preliminaries dealt with, and the readers up to speed, it’s time to dive straight in to the culture clash that is An American Eliza in Japan. The scene is effortlessly set, with the vibrancy of modern life mixing with the ancient zen of the Land of the Rising Sun. Hutchings works well with description and her unique, fresh style of narrative prevailed where another author might have given in to stereotype and tired similes.
New characters are introduced: Paolo, who seems too ‘good’ to be true; Blue, the vampiric alternative to now-dead Kat; Kieran, the fiery Irish scoundrel who’ll scorch your heart with want. We meet the Master, Nicholas’ mentor, who is – quite frankly – creepy as all Hell, and I shared Eliza’s distrust of him from the start. And the death that has followed Eliza around since childhood is given a name and a new, physical form: the Japanese god Izanagi. All add a welcome layer of complication and depth to the mystery surrounding life on the Shinigami mountain.
Eliza is obviously meant for something big. Every page of Hutchings’ book builds towards this fact and it’s a destiny that she reveals to the reader with a knowing, deliberate pace. Change is coming to the Shinigami whether they like it or not, and she’s wearing Chucks and an Afghan. Running Away goes from strength to strength and the last page leaves you with the taste of blood and anticipation in your mouth when you realise where Book Three will take you.
That said, I did have some criticisms, which I’ll get out of the way now before gushing about my favourite parts and finishing on a positive fangirly note.
As generally well paced as Running Away is, it sometimes felt a little too fast: namely the latter parts involving Eliza, Paolo and the Master. I felt that the urgency to tell the story meant that Eliza’s reactions were not quite as well articulated as they could have been, and the Master’s insidious presence not as potent as I’d have wanted. Eliza adjusted to some of her new powers a little too quickly for my liking, too, although I will happily put that down to my own rather rigid preferences with ‘coming of age’ plots. The prose in this instance lost its sharp pace and syntactical hypnotism, which regrettably meant that I lost my grip on what exactly was happening and why. It is rare that this happens in my experience of Hutchings’ work, so I was perhaps more disappointed at this stage than I had a right to be, through sheer unfamiliarity with the problem. Fortunately, it picked up again soon after and didn’t look back until the story was told.
Paolo’s own revelation at the end with regard to Eliza I found difficult to believe, but I think perhaps that is the whole point: as Eliza says, Paolo would put his faith and love in anyone if it meant he didn’t have to take responsibility for his own choices.
Mainly, however, I struggled with the decisions Eliza made with regard to Nicholas and Kieran, given her own irrational jealousies with regard to relationships. Yet, perhaps that is a strength too: Eliza Morgan is not infallible. She is human, or close to it, now, and makes mistakes and inexplicable decisions based her emotions: it is who she has always been; it is who we all are. And, I can’t honestly say that I wouldn’t have made those same confusing, yo-yo choices myself when faced with what was happening to her (which is a gosh-darn lot, I tell you).
Oh, who am I kidding? I would have totally made those same choices, and probably done worse.
The only other criticism I have is that some of the editing was overlooked. I presume this is not Hutchings’ fault but an oversight of the publisher, but nonetheless the few-and-far-between slip-ups detracted from the story in hand. Sorry, Julie – I try to ignore them but I’m a persnickety sort.
With those quibbles out of the way – let’s get back to the goods, people! I loved the story. The pace was mostly excellent, the characterisation was as brilliant as in Running Home and Hutchings’ unique brand of prose won me over yet again. The mystery she has weaved with the Shinigami mythology is testament to her imagination and creativity; it’s a vampire story I want to hear. An all-too-human, self-deprecating Eliza Morgan heads the story with the unchallenged right to tell it. Running Away is full of moments and one-liners that will make you giggle, scenes that will ramp up the creep-factor to 11, and leave you wanting Book Three to already be available for sale.
Incidentally, anyone who has been following my Twitter for the past few days will have been privy to the dialogue I loved so much I simply had to share it with the world. I don’t often tweet as I read, so kudos to Hutchings for making that happen.
I loved the characters. Each one was fresh and entirely their own self. Although I mourned the relative loss of Roman and Lynch from the first book, these new playmates distracted me from their absence very successfully. My favourite was Kieran, who radiated sexual appeal like a freakin’ furnace. Although loving him so much felt like betraying Nicholas, I suspect every reader will be complicit in the same unbridled treachery.
The creep factor I mentioned was from a scene set in a certain historical mental hospital I know very well (through study and physical proximity, I hasten to add, not because I was ever a patient). I relished the exploration of these haunted hallways and attic (attic, seriously, Hutchings? I’m with Kieran – could you make it any creepier if you tried?) and felt the location served a metaphorical purpose, reflecting a beloved character’s state of mind in a way no reader could ignore.
The morality of choice is something that Hutchings questions as well. Just because you can kill someone, should you? Just because fate tells you one thing, should you listen? Eliza challenges the Shinigami view of life and death with her arrival on the mountain and, in doing so, asks of the reader to answer those same questions. It’s a refreshing take on the plight of the vampire, building on the foundations Hutchings built in Running Home.
Second books in trilogies are notoriously hard to pull-off. They are the bridge between the story that hooked you and the dramatic conclusion with the characters you love. Whereas Running Home is the book you want to read in an armchair by a blazing fire, Running Away is the book you read as you walk along the street, or sit on the train – it is the transitional book that will lead you to great places. I wish I could delve into the spoiler-alert opinions I have in my brain, but I don’t want to ruin the experience for potential readers. To conclude: if you’re a fan of the Shinigami series, read it, then join me in mercilessly hounding Julie Hutchings for the third book.
Note: This is a reposted review based on the original publication of Running Away. It is currently being re-released, and an updated cover and purchase links will be provided soon!