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The Holders review

A mysterious Gallic race learn to control their powers at an ancient school in Ireland…

TheHolders-144dpi.102711The Holders by Julianna Scott

March 2013, Strange Chemistry

Book jacket blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Becca has spent her whole life protecting her brother from the people who say the voices in his head are unnatural. When two strangers appear with apparent answers to Ryland’s ‘problem’ – and details about a school in Ireland where Ryland will not only fit in, but prosper – Becca is up in arms.

She reluctantly agrees to join Ryland on his journey. But what they find at St Brigid’s is a world beyond their imagination. Little by little they piece together their family’s heritage and unravel the legend of the Holder race… a legend that decrees Ryland is the one they’ve been waiting for. But all of them, and especially Becca, are in for a surprise that will change everything they thought they knew about themselves and all of their extraordinary kind.


When I saw the description of this book, I was pretty excited about reading it. I loved the idea of the setting of an old school in Ireland, and the premise that there is an ancient ‘Holder’ race of Gallic origins that hold extraordinary powers. The cover evoked Celtic mythology and I looked forward to delving into a mysterious legend. The book delivered on both counts, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

There were two main reasons for this, the first one being that I never really grew to like the protagonist, Becca. I think this was largely down to the fact that, to me, her narrative voice seemed strangely old-fashioned, and not really like that of an authentic seventeen-year-old American. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was, maybe in part her use of expressions like ‘ninny’ and ‘I’ll be damned’. It’s an odd thing when it happens, but if you just don’t ‘click’ with the central character it can really impair your enjoyment of a book. I did develop a soft spot for her love interest Alex, however, and some of the quirky characters she meets at St Brigid’s were quite endearing, if at times a little clichéd.

The other reason was that it seemed to me that there was too much exposition and not enough action. Things didn’t really get moving until about two-thirds of the way in, and up until that point there were a lot of lengthy explanations and conversations about Holders and their powers. I would have liked to read more about all the different powers being used in practice. In fact, I came away from it a bit confused as to the purpose of the Holders – other than learning how to control them at St Brigid’s school, why do they have these powers and what do they use them for?

But something did keep me reading until the end. The real mystery for me was why Becca’s father Jocelyn abandoned her and Ryland, leaving her mother heartbroken. It’s been ten years since Becca has seen her father when the story starts – and then it turns out that he is headmaster at St Brigid’s, forcing her into uncomfortable confrontation of memories and feelings she has struggled to suppress. The author did a brilliant job of exploring Becca’s conflicting emotions about her father – her anger, sense of abandonment, denial and begrudging admiration for the man all swirl about in a heady mix, and you never discover his real motivations and agenda until right at the end.

It’s a shame that the story ended just as it seemed to be getting into its stride – perhaps if the author writes a follow-up it will be much better, now that all the set-up stuff is out of the way.

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  1. Review: The Holders by Julianna Scott | Witchmag's Boekenplank

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