Review: The Inheritance Games trilogy

2 out of 5 stars

3-star story wasted on 1-star writing. The Inheritance Games (#1), The Hawthorne Legacy (#2), The Final Gambit (#3), by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Please do not listen to the audiobooks for this series. Narration exacerbates the poor writing and creates additional problems of its own. Clearly, no one heeded their high school English teacher and read this book aloud before it was turned in. (For the record, I listened to books 1 and 3, read 2 in print.) Alas, to the books.

Avery Kylie Grambs is a teenage girl with a bad life situation. Her mom died, her dad’s a deadbeat, and she lives hungry most of the time in a rundown apartment with her kind-souled sister Libby, and Libby’s awful boyfriend. When she can’t stand the boyfriend, Avery lives in her car.

Then she inherits $46.2 billion from a complete stranger named Tobias Hawthorne. It’s a surprise to her – and the two daughters and four grandsons Hawthorne left behind. (Each of the handsome sons has a pretentious three-part full name. More on that later.) Desperate to figure out why, and why her, everyone’s immediate investigation reveals this to be another of the Hawthorne patriarch’s favorite things: a complicated puzzle to solve.

Overall, I enjoyed the story in The Inheritance Games. The premise is simple but solid. The mystery takes a bit to get started, but once it was running, it drew me in. Overall, the first book is twisty and compelling, pretty smart and with some good surprises. It rolls its eyes just enough at haughty, rich-people-problems until they turn into real danger for everyone. The second book gets outlandish quickly, but I bought into the story and was happily bumping along from game to riddle to next clues everywhere. The requisite love interest side plots didn’t interest me, but they didn’t slow the story down. Unfortunately, the plot goes completely off the rails in the last half of the third book. It turns into a multigenerational, Dr. Evil-cartoon-level mastermind scheme that is both confusing and dull. Much like the end of James Bond’s SPECTRE, which is easily both the worst movie and biggest waste of a villain opportunity of all time.

As for characters, Avery is fine. She’s predictably whip-smart in some ways (great at solving puzzles), is not greedy for the money, and is genuinely confused/overwhelmed. The rest of the cast is has more emotional problems than money (and they had 42 billion dollars), with not a single therapist among them. (Non-spoiler: They had a friend who died. They are still obsessed with her. No one seems to notice she was a narcissistic sociopath who manipulated the f&%$ out of them.) Also, the narrator ruins them with accents that are supposed to be Texas but all sound like California Valley Girls (even the boys). Thank God there’s only one British character, and the narrator doesn’t even try.

The real downfall of this series is Barnes’ writing. Right off the bat, Avery has the single worst-ever character trait: She’s a stupid repeater. At least 100 times, Avery parrots back someone’s exact words with a question mark on the end. All the characters do, multiple times per page. “We’ll take the plane.” “There’s a plane?” “I’ll have a coffee.” “You want coffee?”, ad nauseam. Take this actual exchange of dialogue:

  • Oren: “Give me 24 hours.”
  • Avery’s internal monologue: “24 hours? I was just supposed to sit here? Doing nothing? For 24 hours?”

Stabstabstab. And it’s made so much worse – ear-bleedingly worse – by the constant repetition of the Hawthorne boys’ complete names. Jameson Winchester Hawthorne. Grayson Davenport Hawthorne. Alexander Blackwood Hawthorne. Nash Westbrook Hawthorne. Jameson and Grayson are the main male protagonists, and they never just come into a scene. Instead, their full names are declared like it’s fucking Bridgerton and a servant is announcing their debut to the ton on every damned page. It’s repeated shortly thereafter in case Lady Whistledown didn’t quite get it the first time. (Can you word count on Kindle? Someone do it for “Winchester”. Barnes must write Jameson’s full name 200 times.)

The effect is mind-numbing. Barnes, who has a fine mystery on her pages, opts to treat her readers like 10-year olds with the attention spans of puppies. Plot advances one point? Quickly review every single thing up to this point. Conversation resumes? Better recap the entire book’s worth of dialogue first! She doesn’t trust her readers to focus, meanwhile it’s this terrible device that’s allowing their minds to wander. And it doesn’t even work. By the hugely convoluted end, I wasn’t 100% clear because I didn’t really care. Without all this repeating, the series would have been half its length. So while each book ends at a natural cliffhanger in the story, there seems to have been a clear desperation to abide by the mythologized “YA must be a trilogy” rule.

Barnes also has worn out a few pages in her thesaurus. She uses “excise” incorrectly twice as a verb. She says “opined” a lot. Avery’s heart “brutalizes” her rib cage far too often for someone left alive by the event. Any of these alone would pass unnoticed, but by mid-third book I was groaning out loud and praying for the strength not to fast forward.

It’s a shame, because I did enjoy the story through two installments. I might have been able to care about the end. I even got the third book on the day it came out. But the writing didn’t get better and the story got worse, taking my overall opinion of The Inheritance Games trilogy down with it.

On screen: A series adaptation was announced in 2020 for Amazon. [link] No casting or further info has been announced.

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