Embassy Row #1: All Fall Down by Ally Carter

Monday, 19 January 2015

Publication Date: January 20th 2015
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Purchase: Book Depository / Amazon / Barnes and Noble / Booktopia 
Goodreads Summary: Grace can best be described as a daredevil, an Army brat, and a rebel. She is also the only granddaughter of perhaps the most powerful ambassador in the world and Grace has spent every summer of her childhood running across the roofs of Embassy Row.

Now, at age sixteen, she's come back to stay - in order to solve the mystery of her mother's death. In the process, she uncovers an international conspiracy of unsettling proportions, and must choose her friends and watch her foes carefully if she and the world are to be saved.

(Other than loving this for personal reasons, Carter smashes it by finding a topic unexplored by YA. Wow, someone wins.) 

Diplomacy, ambiguity and a hot Russian love interest. Sorry, Jess will have to get back to you. She’s currently nursing her book hangover.

I know my last review was all about the book of my dreams, but All Fall Down was basically an element of reality that I'm quite close to and the best that imagination can offer and it's made me wonder “Why weren’t you creative enough to dream that up, Jess?” Now I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, seeing as it’s only January and all, but that may have been the best book I’ve read in a long while. Alright, so since last week. But as you can see, I’m rather smitten by this book. Because it combined a concept that I know all too well about together with the joys of the thriller genre and an ounce of conspiracy. 

We all know that I’m weak with the contemporary. Truthfully, I’m weak with all contemporaries but one. While I detest those sob fests (I can’t connect) that are meant to mirror life and all its imperfections and whatnot, I adore contemporary thrillers. Because I like murder tales. Not the murder (oh joy, here’s my murder disclaimer once again. I don’t like murder. I’m just interested by the thrill of the chase for justice.) Ally Carter does something that has yet to be touched in YA. Which is a feat in itself, because what out there hasn’t been given the YA makeover. Embassy kiddies and a murder mystery. Sign me up. 

Fun fact: January 2015 was only ever about two books for me. Conspiracy of Us and All Fall Down. Reading for this month is pretty much complete for me. In between waiting for the two, I’ve been slumping. Nothing’s been holding my attention. But these two, I devoured them in a matter of hours. I inflated my own expectations. They exceeded it. 2015 has been good to me, thus far. 

Ally Carter presents us with Grace. Child of a dead mother and deployed military father. Sent of to live with her Grandfather, US ambassador, stationed in Adria. It’s all about diplomacy on Embassy Row. The thing with embassies is, they’re always clumped together. And seeing as each block of land is representative of the nation itself, tensions are always high around the embassy blocks. One wrong step, one mistake on foreign soil and it’s an international scandal.

 “We must respect our host country and we must respect our neighbours.”… “Sometimes the walls that stand between us and our neighbours are all that stand between our country and war.”

Grace hasn’t been back on Embassy Row since her mother was murdered right before her eyes. And now she’s plagued with a bunch of memories that she’d much rather forget and a desire to bring justice to her mother, to defend her honour, to unearth her killer—the Scarred Man. Only, the thing with being a kid is that you’re less likely to gain respect. Especially from a adults who are trained, and who base their career off being vague, politically correct and morally ambiguous (your country first, and if anything disastrous should happen, you, and by extension your country, should assume a facade of innocence). 

The portrayal of Embassy Row is completely on point. While it’s all manners and polite and courteous smiles, the air is tense. One step out of line and it’s a domino effect. Carter builds this atmosphere with utter delicacy. I adored it. I’m a tad skeptical of the fact that you can be posted in one country for so long (it’s a moving job), but hey, that’s fiction. You gotta give a little and let the imagination take over, right? 

We follow Grace’s journey as she attempts to prove her credibility. As a character, I adored her. We get an extremely unreliable narrator, which may do a couple of heads in, but to me, it added to the charm of All Fall Down. The book is littered with what appears to be flashbacks, but as we proceed, it becomes rather blurry and hard to differentiate between flashback and hallucination. It becomes difficult to keep the truth pure. Grace’s sass, however, won over my heart. Holy hell, that girl is just perfectly sarcastic. What segregates me from YA protagonists, and often becomes a barrier for empathy, is the fact that many of our protagonists are rather submissive. Which isn’t a bad trait. But it’s just hard for me to personally understand. Grace isn’t demure and shy, she doesn’t lack confidence and fear the spotlight. Which is something that I’ve been searching for in a protagonist. Because if they’re meant to be a reflection of the young adult, it’s a rather one dimensional view of us. While it makes for great character development, not all of us sit quiet about everything in life, unwilling to question, to challenge, to break the cycle of conformity. I don’t want to speak on anyone else’s behalf but man, I used (sometimes still ha!) to think I could own the world. And there was no way I was going to let someone else topple me over. She’s got sass and now that I’ve had a taste of it, I demand more. 

We’ve also got a great selection of secondary characters. They’re all rather individual, and I believe that with time, and the following sequels, their backstories will surely be developed in greater detail. There are two males named. I mention that because everyone likes to jump ahead and toot the big love triangle horn. There is no love triangle. There is one potential love interest and a newly acquired best friend. Noah is an absolutely hilarious and rather endearing character. He’s the type that just grows on you. He’s a perfect contrast to Grace’s characterisation, and a fantastic friend. While she is plagued with mystery and ambiguity, he is all about clarity and a dose of reality. And he's a complete sweetheart. 

Those who are familiar with Carter’s work will know that she does love extremely lightly. All Fall Down does not stray from that pattern. Carter knows a thing or two about slow burn, let me tell you. She’ll let you burn on forever and you’ll be begging for a something—a sign, a touch, a look. That also translates to: Grace, our protagonist, does not use love to procrastinate from her mission for justice. She does not fall prey to transcendental love. For our little Gracie here, we have Alexei. Yes, a Russian kiddie. You should all know that I have two week spots in life: royalty and Russian men. While we got both elements in this one, Alexei completely whisked me away. Brother’s best friend. That’s who he is. And between the bit of witty banter shared between the two and the fact that he’s a complete gentlemen, I’m kind of sold. I told you, Carter knows her slow burn. 

The thing with Carter is, she does simplistic writing. But it’s extremely addictive. It’s a formula that I’ve yet to read elsewhere. Normally I like my writing with a bounty of obscure metaphors (I’m kind of partial to those) and lyricism that would surely drive you all up the wall, but when it comes to Carter, I give that Jess a break. Because Carter’s writing always has me hooked. She knows her dialogue, she knows how to describe actions and movements and secret glances with absolute accuracy. It’s all about realism when it comes to her writing. Her dialogue is always extremely witty, which is something that I love. And her scenes transition with fantastic fluidity. So forget the metaphors, for once in your life. Carter knows how to sell the whole “less is more” idea. 

Be warned though, with the conclusion to All Fall Down one thing is for sure with this series: it's heading down a completely different direction. One that I’ve been screaming at YA to do for a while. So I’m totally alright with it all. I won’t say much about it, just because you’ve got to experience it for yourself (although, some may just know, now that I’ve been all vague and whatnot). Carter may have my soul because I want that second book. 

Basically All Fall Down has ruined me. It pulled me out of my slump, gave me the best story of my life (an element—not the murder—of this book hits home for me, so be warned, like all things, this may not be for everyone), and has now said, see you in 2016 kiddo. Carter brings forth a completely delicate and precarious setting and places a protagonist who is willing to burrow for the truth at the heart of it. Things get shaken up in this delectable read. Jess reads too deeply into the interactions of two certain characters (and hopes that Carter will give her more to work with in book two). All Fall Down has stolen my heart, and head, for the rest of January, if not the rest of the year. Read it for a breath of fresh air. Read it for a slow burning romance. Read it for the impeccable cast.