I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A friend introduced me to The Choosy Bookworm (some of you might be familiar with a similar site, The Fussy Librarian) which provides subscribers with daily discount deals and even completely free ebooks, the latter often in the form of a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Sure, I thought, I like ebooks (these days; I didn’t always) and discovering new authors via free copies for reviews benefits both the authors and me: they get visibility and a review, I am forced to blog more often. I signed up for a free copy of Rachel L. Hamm’s Honor’s Lark, the first book of The Lark Series, on Choosy’s site. The first twenty-five to request a copy got one — including yours truly!

The author gifted it to me via Amazon, introducing me to Kindle which makes highlighting and writing notes so easy, it’s a pleasure — so thanks for that! Upon discovering that the novel had come to life as a NaNoWriMo project, I really wanted to like it. I’d run into the idea of soulmate marks in fanfiction, and wanted to see what an original story would do with the concept.

In a world where everyone is assigned a lifemate at birth by the Gods, thirty-year-old Honor is still looking for hers. When her new boss, Sedric, points out that her mate probably died before they met, Honor embarks on a quest for closure. She needs to know who her mate was and what he was like so she can move on with her life. 

Sedric is determined to help Honor, because he understands the emptiness she’s feeling. As they search for Honor’s lifemate and get to know each other, they start to wonder if the only kind of love is that which is fated and if there really is only one person for everyone.

If I had to sum up my review in one sentence, I’d say that Honor’s Lark is an alright book with an interesting premise and promising characters that needs more work in the writing and world-building departments.

On a Goodreads scale, I give it 2.5 stars: “it was okay” and a bit.

The premise of one pre-destined lifemate for everyone initially bothered me but, considering that the back cover blurb promised to explore the problematic nature of this and whether or not the concept is actually all that relevant, I was willing to withhold judgment. Mates in the novel’s world are determined by the Gods and marked by identical lovemarks, “larks”, that start as something like weird skin lesions but evolve into a distinctive shape if the person follows “the pull” to their mate and finds them.

I found it admirable that Hamm so clearly points out that same-sex relationships are no biggie in the world of her novel. The main character’s friends are a female couple with children, and parents are called ‘lifegivers’ instead of a gendered expression. Yet Honor is described as having always known that her mate is a man and the writing is steeped in heteronormativity. The nature of Honor and Sedric’s relationship, for example, is assumed to be potentially romantical and/or sexual by their close friends despite the fact that they know the two work together and have never seen them interact. Sedric’s lifegivers treat Honor coldly because they think she is there to replace Sedric’s mate, and her friends think she is sleeping with him.

If there’s time. He was low on the list, though. We couldn’t find any evidence that he traveled to any of the other cities on my list. So, three down, fifteen to go! 1This many people (men only!) die in a SINGLE town within a SINGLE month, a good percentage of them mateless, and still people never finding their mate is practically unheard of?

The main character suffers from a slight case of the Speshul Snowflake Syndrome in that it is mentioned several times that Honor knows absolutely nobody “whose lifemate died before they met”. I find it incredibly difficult to believe that in the entire history of this world everyone’s presumably “perfect” and “ideal” partner has always been found before life got in the way.

This is one of the reasons I say the world-building needs work. Another one is that nobody questions the pull and the larks, insisting that the Gods know what they’re doing, but religion plays little part in the story to the point of being absent. Aside from exclamations like “Pria!” and what I assume is Christmas being replaced by Priamus, none of the characters appear overtly religious, which is why it makes no sense whatsoever that so much weight is put on the significance of the larks.

It also struck me as odd that nobody seems to know much about how the larks work; where is the science in this world?

I’m sure you’ve found this out — being alone makes you selfish. It’s made me incredibly so. There are days where I feel like I’m on nobody’s radar but my own — when no one else is thinking about me or caring how I am or what I’m doing. And those days suck. But do you know what’s worse? — The days when no one else is on my radar. When the only person I think about or act for is myself. I don’t want to be that person. So please — please, can you help me? Let me put you on my radar for a little while.2You’re acting for yourself here, Honor. YOU feel shitty because he is not opening up to you, so you pressure HIM to do it to make YOU feel better. Just pointing that out.

The novel is written in first person, and I honestly can’t decide whether that is a good thing or not. On one hand, the glimpse of the inner workings of the character helped me understand Honor and her behaviour better; on the other, she is a very, very bitter and self-centred woman due to her lack of a mate. It’s hard to sympathise with a character who acts childishly and like an entitled jerk with only a few airy “oh, I know I’m a hard-ass and a bitch” acknowledgments thrown in.

For the majority of the novel, Honor clings to the idea of mated life being perfect bliss to justify her bitterness. Thankfully there is some character growth towards the end when Honor realises that the beliefs and cynicism she has wallowed in for years are baseless and not good for her.

Honor’s Lark is very heavy in dialogue with little description, especially when the characters interact, which reminded me more and more of a film script the further in the novel I got. Hamm defaults to telling instead of showing altogether too often, possibly because she is writing in first person and it feels more natural to have Honor tell reader things — how she feels about Sedric, for instance: “He was articulate, but not annoyingly so. He was intelligent, but didn’t shove it down my throat. He was everything I disliked about people, but I didn’t dislike him.”

The telling instead of showing makes Honor sound incredibly naïve in some instances, like when it seems that she is willingly wearing blinds when it comes to the possibility that the larks may not be everything they’re advertised to be.

The Gods picked ideal matches. It’s the only thing I knew with any certainty. Bonnie and Caron. Hero and Gizella. Perfect pairs. I couldn’t think of anyone I knew who wasn’t happy with their lifemate, but maybe I’d never bothered to see it.

Despite all the criticism, there are some very pleasant surprises in Honor’s Lark, including several minor characters who are well fleshed out and interesting. Honor’s nephew in particular, blunt as he is, was one of my favourites. Handor’s no-nonsense attitude and his very relatable reaction to the problem with his lark endeared him to me.

Interestingly, it’s the side characters that serve to show that the author is aware of the flaws in the world she has created. One lifegiver tells Honor, “We taught him the lark story and told him how happy we’ve been together,” which pretty much sums up why people think that the larks are important: it’s a tradition. (Though there is an instance where Honor points out that if she got together with Sedric, the law actually wouldn’t recognise them as a couple due to their mismatched larks.)

The novel does raise some good questions: Are people happy with their lifemate because they are perfect, or because they worked for it? Can you ignore the pull and make your own destiny? Does clinging to the past in order to find answers make you happy? Is shoving two hormonal teenagers together and telling them this is it for the rest of their lives really such a grand idea?

The final plot twist — which, by the way, did surprise me — more than anything else shows the potential in Honor’s character, her world, and most importantly, in Hamm’s writing. The overall feeling I got was that the author definitely has the dedication to become a better writer and to develop this world further.

So, mission accomplished, I suppose! Although I gave Honor’s Lark only two and a half stars, I’m curious about the next part.