“These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which as they kiss consume.”
—Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
The most tragic love story in history…
Juliet Capulet didn’t take her own life. She was murdered by the person she trusted most, her new husband, Romeo Montague, a sacrifice made to ensure his own immortality. But what Romeo didn’t anticipate was that Juliet would be granted eternity, as well, and would become an agent for the Ambassadors of Light. For 700 years, she’s fought Romeo for the souls of true lovers, struggling to preserve romantic love and the lives of the innocent.
I first heard about this book through my friend Angel @ Mermaid Vision Books (who was also amazing enough to give me a copy), and though I knew nothing about it (other than the fact that it obviously somehow had something to do with Romeo and Juliet) I was intrigued. Mostly because of the cover. (It’s so absolutely beautiful, and I love the “forsaken debutante” feel I get from it. It’s a shame that it’s only symbolic of Juliet’s feelings in the book — it would have made a spectacular scene in the story if the cover actually did happen, and she was somehow abandoned on a rock in the middle of the ocean, but most YA novels these days don’t seem to relate to their covers directly, if at all.)
What I love about this book is the concept. Romeo and Juliet has been proven to be timeless, but so many people (like myself) are unsatisfied with the “love at first sight” ploy. It’s difficult to believe that two pre-teens, one of whom claimed he was in love with another person who did not return his affections just moments ago, could fall in love that quickly, that instantaneously, at a party without really speaking to each other. And to risk everything — their family, their reputations, their lives for this immediately-occurring love? It would have to be insane, right? Juliet Immortal thinks so too. In the novel, Stacey Jay almost parodies the idea that Romeo and Juliet truly fell in love at that age, that quickly, that intensely. She demonstrates that it isn’t love, not really — Romeo is merely a conniving, lying bastard, and Juliet is simply naive enough to believe him. Throw in some dangerous, dark forces, a battle between two supernatural entities (“good” versus “evil” with several shades of grey), and an ongoing quest, and you have Stacey Jay’s retelling of this iconic love story.
Though, to be honest, Juliet Immortal cannot truly be classified as a “Romeo and Juliet retelling”. Although the classic story is partially rewritten, this book continues some time after Shakespeare’s play ends, and the characters are able to change and grow. Especially Juliet, who — after much time has passed — is able to develop into a headstrong, independent (or rather, as independent as she can be, given the circumstances), brave young woman, who learns from her past mistakes and isn’t so wholeheartedly-trusting (in the name of love!) anymore. She sees people, especially Romeo, more clearly, and she recognizes and regrets the mistakes of her adolescence. On the other hand, Romeo isn’t completely evil, and Stacey Jay makes sure to not only humanize him (at least a little), but also to demonstrate that the characters and occurrences in this world are not as clearly black and white as the summary would have you believe. There are several sides to each story, and between Juliet’s version of the events, her own memories, Romeo’s, and everything the Ambassadors tell her, the truth is not what it seems. From the unbelievable suspense to Stacey Jay’s beautiful prose, I absolutely loved guessing where the novel would take me next, and even when things happened exactly the way I presumed, I enjoyed seeing Juliet to the end of her story.
I really enjoyed the fact that Ben and Juliet actually got to know each other (for at least three days, but hey, it’s a step up from the original, and those three days felt so much longer, given all the events that took place in that time frame) before they claimed “love”. Which is sad because there is a scene in the ending when, in an alternate reality, Ben and Juliet’s relationship is restarted. And it’s just as flimsy and fast and unrealistic as Romeo and Juliet’s from Shakespeare’s play. Maybe it’s because I don’t believe in the idea of “love at first sight” at all, or maybe it’s because literally four seconds before they start flirting and kissing, Benvolio was believing Juliet to be married to Romeo and they had just met each other (again)… Either way, it felt like everything before then, the actual relationship these characters built throughout the story before the time frame shifted backwards, was abandoned for this sham, and the only difference is that instead of jumping into an insta!love relationship with fickle, selfish Romeo, Juliet now has Ben, a kinder, sweeter alternative.
I’ll admit I was a little confused about how the “Ambassadors occupy living bodies” thing worked, but I eventually caught on and within the rules of Juliet Immortal’s universe, it did make sense (even though the idea of Juliet’s soul being inside Ariel’s body did initially creep me out). It’s a unique concept, and vastly different from any kind of body/soul possession I’ve ever seen in fiction.
I’m not a huge fan of the teenage angst Juliet, Gemma, and Ben experienced, but I understand that it had everything to do with the “making two soul mates bond” plot, and I did find that interesting. And if you’re masquerading as a high school student and messing with love lives, angst is probably inevitable. Even if it was sometimes a little on the melodramatic side…
This book employs (some) switching points-of-view. It only happens once in the beginning and once in the end. I generally tend to stay away from books that do this just because, most of the time, it is both out-of-place and distracting, though I did enjoy the insight they provided into Romeo’s psyche. However, they still felt random, and I think they would have been better served in the sequel (Romeo Redeemed).
Overall, I felt that Juliet Immortal was a refreshing and intriguing take on a familiar story (and its aftermath). Stacey Jay illuminates Romeo and Juliet as a story of misguided teenage
love infatuation, and instead, tells the tale of a strong female protagonist struggling to survive in the aftermath of a bad adolescent decision. Fans of supernatural love stories (or fans of stories that turn “love at first sight” upside down) will enjoy it.