Levitating Las Vegas was an interesting experience for me. As a Jennifer Echols fan who has read all her previous books, I felt like I had some idea of what to expect. While in some ways those expectations were met, in other ways this book was a (not necessarily unwelcome) departure for Echols.
Levitating Las Vegas is being marketed as a new adult paranormal book. “New adult” is generally considered an extension of YA; focusing on characters in their late teens and early twenties and usually containing more “mature” themes. In this case, our main characters are recent college grads who had unique upbringings in Sin City. Holly Starr is a bikini-clad magician’s assistant for her father’s casino magic act, and she has been since she was 14. Elijah Brown has worked at the same casino for many years, doing carpentry and repair for shows and sets. Both Holly and Elijah have a mental condition labeled MAD – Mental Adolescent Dysfunction – and are being medicated for it. This is where the paranormal aspect comes in.
MAD is just a cover. Holly, Elijah, and several other characters in the book have unique abilities including levitation, mind reading, and mind changing. I would classify these less as “paranormal” and more as “science fiction” (possibly only because it makes me feel better about the whole situation), but that’s beside the point. A dangerous group of outcasts with similar abilities (with a home base called “The Rez”) threatens the casino and the characters’ livelihood, so Holly’s best friend/head of casino security, Kaylee, steps in to try to put the kibosh on the takeover with Holly and Elijah’s help. It’s a lot more complicated than that thanks to the fact that Kaylee’s allies have been drugged and convinced they’re crazy for 7 years, so they’re not exactly in the most trusting state of mind nor do they really understand how to use their powers.
There are a lot of other things happening here, but that’s the gist of it. It’s difficult to go into too much detail about the plot without spoiling, so I’ll leave it at that. Here’s what you need to know: the style of this book is quite a bit different from Echols’ YA romantic comedies and dramas. It did, however, have quite a bit in common with her recent adult romance, Star Crossed. Most of her books are character studies. Plot is important, but figuring out the characters is central even in those light romantic comedies. Levitating Las Vegas doesn’t disregard character development by any means, but it is a lot more plot-focused overall. There’s a sense of action, adventure and mystery that is unique to this book.
Also, it’s in third person, which I both loved and hated. On the one hand, I liked how it tended to put me one step ahead of the characters, so I was able to root for them to get to the bottom of things. I also liked how it was a bit of a wink to readers – like, “a disease called MAD cured by a drug named Mentafixol; surely these characters don’t take that seriously? WINK.” On the other hand, I always miss a direct connection to the main character’s mind. Logistically the third person made the most sense here, but not being inside Holly’s head limited how much I was able to connect to her, and that was just the nature of the beast.
What I loved, though, was that Echols’ trademark character banter was still central to Levitating Las Vegas. She does witty dialogue and flirtatious exchanges better than anyone, and I really enjoyed reading the conversations between Holly and Elijah. It really helped me feel the chemistry between the characters and is also good for an occasional laugh in the midst of all the drama. And, despite not technically being in any character’s head, there were little tidbits that helped me relate to them, especially Holly. Her relationship with edamame was continuously amusing, and little touches like that helped make her feel more three dimensional.
I also appreciated the selection of powers the characters had – there were just a few specific things people could do, so it contributed to this sense of “power politics,” where characters knew so much about each other’s powers that they had some really unique ways of manipulating each other (or teaming up to manipulate the less-informed or power-less.) The idea of all the people with powers migrating toward Vegas is genius – of course the levitator makes his living as a magician and the mind-reader deals blackjack. It’s a safe haven for these people where they can incorporate their powers into their lives instead of being alienated because of them.
So often “new adult” can become a pseudonym for “gratuitous sex,” which is really sad because the concept of new adult, if executed thoughtfully, is really fantastic and fills a big gap in popular fiction. The age range it covers is often abandoned by both YA and adult fiction, yet can be one of the most interesting and important periods in a person’s life. There are new adult books out there that do the genre justice, but lately it feels more and more like an excuse to write about college-age kids having graphic sex with no real story to back it up, and I’ve started to avoid books labeled “new adult” rather than getting excited about them. My point being: Levitating Las Vegas is not one of those, for lack of a better term, story-less sex books labeled as new adult. It isn’t entirely innocent, but it is a quality story above all else. While I expected nothing less from Ms. Echols, I still feel like it’s worth mentioning in case anyone else out there has similar reservations about the current state of new adult. You don’t need to worry about that with Levitating Las Vegas.
While it took me a while to really get into this one (there’s a substantial amount of set-up before the action really takes off), once I did I was really pleasantly surprised at how well I settled into the world of Levitating Las Vegas. The story has resolution for its core plot, but there are definitely enough loose ends for possible sequels. Now that all the set-up has been taken care of and I have a better understanding of what’s happening, I think any follow-up books would be able to avoid the pitfalls of a slow start and really take advantage of the unique world and eclectic characters Echols created here.
While I had no doubt I would enjoy this book on some level, I’ll admit I was a bit concerned with how much I would enjoy it after the first few slow chapters and the mixed reviews I’d seen from other fans. I shouldn’t have worried – this book is just different. I’ve never really read anything quite like it, and since it had Jennifer Echols’ name on the cover I had a certain expectation. That expectation was met, just in a different way than I anticipated.