Review: Incarnate by Jodi Meadows


title:  Incarnate

author:  Jodi Meadows

pages: 374

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-0062060754

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 9/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Tamora Pierce, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, dystopian fiction, and old-school dragons and adventure.  

My Ratings Explained

NEWSOUL Ana is new. For thousands of years in Range, a million souls have been reincarnated over and over, keeping their memories and experiences from previous lifetimes. When Ana was born, another soul vanished, and no one knows why.

NOSOUL Even Ana's own mother thinks she's a nosoul, an omen of worse things to come, and has kept her away from society. To escape her seclusion and learn whether she'll be reincarnated, Ana travels to the city of Heart, but its citizens are afraid of what her presence means. When dragons and sylph attack the city, is Ana to blame?

HEART Sam believes Ana's new soul is good and worthwhile. When he stands up for her, their relationship blooms. But can he love someone who may live only once, and will Ana's enemies—human and creature alike—let them be together? Ana needs to uncover the mistake that gave her someone else's life, but will her quest threaten the peace of Heart and destroy the promise of reincarnation for all?

Jodi Meadows expertly weaves soul-deep romance, fantasy, and danger into an extraordinary tale of new life.

the basics
I've read many good books this past few years, but it's still rare for a book to draw me so deeply into its world that I never want to let go.  Incarnate was a reawakening.  It reminded me of everything I love about fantasy, of everything it can aspire to.  I felt like I did when I first discovered Tamora Pierce--excited, thrilled, surprised, giddy.  Meadows' world manages to be both familiar and mind-breakingly original, with a twist on reincarnation that adds philosophical depth to the breakneck adventure.  I don't throw around "original", but this is truly original.  Not to mention, I was in love with every single character, even the despicable ones, because they were all portrayed as people.  Endearing, flawed, impulsive, annoying, and ultimately real people.  Add a slow-burning romance (no instalove here!), dragons, and a unique outlook on prejudice and you have a highly conceptual fantasy with a kick-ass heroine and an atmosphere that lingers.  Needless to say, I ordered the sequel as soon as I turned the last page.  The only question I still have is, what bloody took me so long to read it anyway?  

plot . 5/5
Take a deep breath, because there's no easing into this one.  On the first page, Ana is already off to seek her fortune and to escape the clutches of her wicked stepmother.  Ana quickly finds herself attacked by various beasties in a world she has little experience with, only to be saved by the sweet and enigmatic Sam.  Don't worry--no instalove on the horizon.  Instead, you get a sweet getting-to-know-you followed by an upsetting arrival in the city of Heart.  Which has a rule against newsouls, aka, the "No Ana" rule.  To earn citizenship, Ana must prove that her youth and lack of skill won't endanger them all, with the help of Sam and friends.  Her task quickly proves dangerous, as there are many silent and deadly people who see her as a threat and wish her harm.  

Meadows does a great job of balancing Ana's discoveries and revelations (which are hysterical, since she's at a normal learning curve for our world but thousands of years behind in hers) with danger and intrigue.  The best part:  You're never settled because Meadow never provides you (or Ana) safe footing.  Is something following Ana?  Why are dragons attacking?  What's behind the sinister temple and living walls?  Why won't Sam get over himself and give into his feelings already?  Just when everything is going well, a surprise visitor shakes it up again--and then it all goes "boom".  It's the kind of book where I had to force myself to slow down, because I constantly wanted to know what would happen next.  The ending was explosively satisfying, but left me wanting more more more.  

concept . 5/5
This novel is all about Ana seeking her fortune.  And by fortune, I mean her origins--because she's the only new soul in a land where people have been reincarnating--and remembering each of their past lives--for five thousand years.  WHOA.  That hooked me immediately.  Reincarnation has been used a ton, but this is the first novel I've ever read where people are essentially the same person in each past life.  Once they die, they're reborn to whichever parents are approved and are basically eerie adult-children until they're old enough to live on their own and get back to their own life.  

It creates a lot of fascinating situations, such as: A lover from a previous life being your mother in a later one.  A few children who are misidentified and called by the wrong name until they're old enough to complain.  People who have been developing skills and projects over centuries.  Graveyards dedicated to each of a person's past lives.  Having to stock up on clothes for men and women, because you might be reborn as either.  And poor Ana, the newsoul (or nosoul, as her enemies call her) is reviled by some for replacing their friend Ciana and laughed at by others for being ignorant to skills and truths that they've known for centuries.  The dynamics of this become even richer as the series goes on, but already in Incarnate, you see the dangers of being new and unexpected in a world where routine has so long been the norm.  

characters . 5/5
Meadows' has a knack for writing characters that could be ripped out of your everyday life.  Ana is instantly lovable and pitiable because of her situation, as well as the harsh treatment she's received from her mother, Li, who resents her for being new and has instilled in her the idea that she is undeserving of life and love.  It makes her fragile, but also keenly curious.  I also grew to love her for herself: her bravery, her compassion, her stubbornness.  You should want to slap a good main character at least once a book if they're truly well written, and she met the quota.  Then there's Sam: sweet, quiet, unsure of himself.  Compassionate to a fault and frustratingly indecisive.  Sam's patience contrasted with Ana's impulsiveness strikes depth into their relationship and drives much of the conflict between and around them.  The side characters are equally compelling despite their shorter screen time.  You have the fiery Stef, sweet Armand, conflicted Sine, vindictive Li.  The story is as much character-driven as plot-driven, providing a careful mix between adventure and human interest.  

style . 5/5
You may be wondering when I'm going to complain about something...and it won't be here.  Meadows' style was made for fantasy.  She captures Ana's voice beautifully, combining the typical excesses of a teenager with lyrical metaphors and whimsical observations.  I dog-eared many a page with a phrase that just perfectly captured some unusual thought or feeling.  She also manages to inject the oldsouls' dialogue with a world-weariness and wisdom that reminds you how different they are, though they may look young.  Most of all, Meadows captures the most important part of fantasy: atmosphere.  Her language is carefully tailored to make the story feel fantastic and otherworldly.  

mechanics . 5/5
For such a unique place and complicated narrative, Meadows does a great job of giving adequate attention to the details without letting the pacing suffer.  You're fed backstory in bite-size chunks, doing away with the huge exposition-drops that plague many fantasy stories.  My only complaint is the issue of the oldsouls being so old.  Remembering so much.  There are times when I feel that a five-thousand-year-old person should feel...different.  More distant.  Something.  I can't articulate it, but sometimes the portrayal felt a bit off.  Not near enough to knock down my esteem, of course.  

take home message
A startlingly original fantasy that pushes the limits of the genre while providing excitement, danger, and deeply compelling characters.  

Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


  1. This has just been bumped up to my to be read next stack! I bought it about a month or so ago, along with the sequel. Sounds like I'll be glad I have the second easily at my disposal. Fantastic review!

    1. Thanks so much! I'm confident you'll love it. It's easily one of the best fantasies I've read in the last five years. Stop by later and tell me what you think. (:

  2. I was surprised by how much I loved this book! I can't wait to get to the second one. Are you planning to read the rest of the series?

    1. Wow, just saw this. I did read the rest and it's phenomenal!