Gail Carson Levine is best known for her retellings of traditional fairytales, (most famously Ella Enchanted) but here she draws on a mythological setting for her inspiration. Despite the fairytale-ish title, Ever takes place in an imaginary world that bears a resemblance to Greek or Middle-Eastern culture, particularly in regard to its climate, customs, clothing and food.
Kezi is a girl nearing her sixteenth birthday, living the simple life with her beloved mother and father, and who likes nothing more than weaving and dancing. Unbeknownst to her, she’s being watched by the wind god Olus, a young god who is fascinated by humanity but unsure how to be a part of it. Even more confusing for the him is the fact that Kezi’s family is monotheistic and worships a singular God that he has never heard of before. When Kezi’s father bargains with his God in order to spare the life of his wife, Olus is horrified to realize that Kezi will be sacrificed in her place. Using his winds to whisk her away, the two youths begin the tasks required of them to ensure that Kezi can obtain immortality: for Olus this involves facing his greatest fear, for Kezi, it is undertaking a dangerous journey down into the Underworld.
The story alternates between short, choppy chapters told in first-person narrative by both Olus and Kezi. Levine thankfully avoids the usual first-person pitfall wherein the narrator ends up sounding incredibly self-absorbed, yet despite having full access to the thoughts and feelings of both Kezi and Olus, we never really seem to get inside their heads.
The biggest problem with Ever is simply that we are never given enough reason to care about the young couple. Sure, they’re nice enough kids, but there’s no depth to their relationship whatsoever and the entire thing (on Kezi’s side in particular) is based on love at first sight and physical attraction. No sooner do they meet in the flesh than they’re risking life and limb to be together, without any sort of emotional attachment for the reader to invest in.
However, Levine has some interesting things to say about the existential crisis that she sets up for the protagonists: Kezi in particular struggles with her faith in Admat (the one-god of her people) and her realization that there are other beings known as “gods” that exist in the world. Her search for love is also a search for answers as to whether the God she’s been raised to believe is in fact real, and what this means for immortality, death, and the laws of her people. The issues raised are interesting, but don’t expect any clear answers or epiphanies to emerge at the conclusion. Levine chooses to end on a rather enigmatic note.
All in all, Ever is not a bad book, just a little… humdrum. At this stage I don’t think Levine will ever top the excellence she achieved in Ella Enchanted, a book that contained one of the best ever romances in YA fiction, and certainly Kezi and Olus don’t come close to having the same emotional resonance and depth that Char and Ella did.
On a last note, I love the models chosen for the cover art. They look exactly like their counterparts in the text itself: both look like they have naturally olive skin instead of just being white people with a fake tan, and Kezi looks solemn and grave, with Olus rather mischievous and kind. The book should be more like the cover!