Editorial Review: The Ties That Bind by Susan L. Markloff
The Ties That Bind by Susan L. Markloff is a new YA fantasy novel, the second installment in the Human-Born Era collection.
In the first book, human teenager Jen Monroe has discovered her powers and already met her terrifying fated enemy, Cregorous, in combat. Readers will be able to follow the plot of The Ties That Bind perfectly well as a standalone novel, but reading the first book will increase the depth and complexity of the characters by showing more of their personal growth and relationships over time.
When the second novel opens, Jen and her protectors are on their way to find and meet the six other Human-Born hybrids, all young people with special powers and a dangerous destiny, like her own. Although these other Human-Borns share similarities, their backgrounds, and personalities collide. This is a character-driven adventure, with an epic feel.
The characters in The Ties That Bind are well-developed, with their own unique personalities, connections, loyalties, and powers. I enjoyed discovering friendships and rivalries that clearly began before the current conflict, and will outlast any massive battles and upheaval to come. Still, the sheer number of characters in this novel can sometimes be hard to keep track of. I have to admit I spent a certain percentage of the book pausing to remember who we’re talking about and who else is in the room. But after a while, intriguing relationships between individual characters begin to come through, even for the new characters introduced in this novel.
This is a world similar to our own, with fantasy elements and realistic details. The world-building is solid, with references to a complex world that Jen and the other young Human-Born, are just discovering. The supernatural, including both powerful friends and terrifying enemies, exists in our own world, just below the surface. Well, not entirely out of sight, there’s some collateral damage to these epic battles… and that leads to additional earthly trouble for Jen and her friends.
One of the most enjoyable parts of young adult fiction is getting to know characters at a personal crossroads, and seeing young people decide what kind of person they’ll be. The Ties That Bind does not disappoint! This isn’t directly a coming-of-age story, but much of the story involves character-revealing choices, as Jen and the other Human-Borns decide what to accept and what to fight for, and just what kind of heroes they’re going to be.
With competing demands from their normal teenage lives and their wild Human-Born calling, Jen and the new Human-Born heroes are constantly deciding how they’re going to reconcile their dual identities. Jen considers if finishing high school is even relevant, and without spoilers, the other Human-Born must weigh their supernatural destiny with their family obligations.
Their main enemy, Cregorous, is not waiting patiently for their destined battle. This enemy is ruthless and purely evil, with powers before what a teenager can handle. The idea of a fated enemy and a pre-destined battle comes up again and again in fantasy fiction. Here, it’s ominous and dramatic, as the heroes uncover their new allies and new skills while knowing that extremely powerful evil is waiting for them. Again, without letting spoilers slip, there’s a truly epic feel to this conflict.
With intriguing world-building and many complex characters, The Ties That Bind is a compelling YA fantasy, with friendships at its heart.