Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this novel without the expectation of a review. However, I have chosen to review the novel, because of how much I enjoyed it.
In Ariel by Fia Essen, the reader meets the title character well and truly at rock bottom. Three years after an abrupt break up, employment termination, and building up a pile of credit card debt, Ariel still finds herself trapped in a web of lies (not to mention apathy). However, as the novel progresses, Ariel is able to begin rebuilding her life, with the help of her friends and the mysterious Muse Agency, who are known in the expat community for helping down-and-out individuals turn their lives around and even become wildly successful in their fields.
The best way to describe Ariel is a “feel good” novel. Despite the rut that Ariel is in, she remains an engaging and funny narrator, and the reader is easily charmed by her. While at times I found her monologues a bit repetitive, they were still entertaining, and I actually began to accept them as a quirk of the character rather than just narration. Likewise, Essen has given Ariel realistic flaws – she often is blind to the truth around her, judges herself and others too harshly, and has a habit for lying. Watching Ariel recognize these traits in herself and grow out of them is an incredibly satisfying experience.
Moreover, the other characters in the novel are very well-written and have plenty of complexity. Their relationships with Ariel are believable and elicit emotional reactions within the reader. It is easy to envision these characters existing in their own worlds, and several of them would make for interesting protagonists in their own right. Perhaps the only character that I would have liked to have learned more about is “her Colin” (the love interest). Yes, he is handsome and charming and clearly a wonderful human being. However, I did feel like he lacked depth in comparison with the other characters.
Setting sets Ariel apart from other “chick lit” novels. The novel is set in Singapore, and perhaps it is my American background, but I have not read many novels set in Asia, so the new surrounding was a welcome change. Similarly, the fact that Ariel and her family are expatriates ads another interesting (and educational) component for the reader. Seeing how her experience as an expat and world traveler affected Ariel’s perspective was one of my favorite aspects of the novel.
Overall, Ariel has everything you want in a “chick lit” novel. There’s a spunky female protagonist with a great growth arc, funny and lovable sidekicks, a bit of adventure (in the recollections of Ariel’s travels and her unique lifestyle), and of course, a satisfying (and tasteful) romance.
On a personal note, as I finished Ariel, I couldn’t help but think that this is the most fun I’ve had with a novel in a long time. Perhaps it’s that I, too, feel a bit stuck in a rut right now (though, luckily nothing so dramatic!), or perhaps it’s that Ariel exhibits a similar theme to my own novel (rock bottom female protagonist coming into her own and finding potential for love along the way), just in an entirely different genre. Either way, I’m very pleased that I read Ariel when I did, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a quick, fun and charming read.
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