The Short Version:
Rapt with deeper meaning and moments, filled with strong characters, and an overall fantastic story, A Touch Mortal is a stunning debut. Though focused mainly on Eden, the third person perspective is beautifully written and gives strong insight into several other characters and forging strong connections to the reader with each. There is an overall large cast of characters, but they are all given bold personalities and serve strong purposes in the story. While a few transitions are shaky and confusing, and some parts come off as rushed, the overall progression and play out is well handled and leading to a potent climax.
The Extended Version:
Eden is snarky and spunky, able to handle herself in an array of situations, and both relatable and likable from the start. When Az first comes walking up, right on page one, her reaction to him is amusing and starts pulling the reader in right away. Clifford doesn't bother with unnecessary build up in their forming relationship, shifting quickly to the root of their relationship and the launching point of the story itself. Eden's quips provide plenty of humor and build her character, and the reader sees several different sides of her as the story progresses, not all of them flattering. There are many times where Eden is frustrating and even annoying, but it fits with the situation, and Clifford handles the varying reactions smoothly. Even when Eden makes mistakes or poor decisions, her reasons are very understandable and justified, coming across true to her character without being explained away as simply being a teenager.
Az is a very interesting character, intricate in ways that can't be explained without spoiling, but truly hits deeply on what it means to hold on to not only a good side of him but humanity. He is a solid character, flawed in gritty ways with nothing held back about him. His friendship and devotion to Gabe is deep and intricate, a relationship that certainly goes both ways, the depth of which are shown more as the story progresses. Gabe, too, is a phenomenally well done character and incredibly likable. He drives a large portion of the plot and plays some unexpected roles, and he more than once left me shocked.
Rounding out the cast of well done characters is Kristen, a loon, so to speak, but who is fantastic in several ways, from personality to reactions to role in the story and definitely someone I look forward to getting more from in the coming books, particularly in light of ending events with this one. Adam and Jarrod have strong presences for a majority of the book and are interesting in nature, and Libby is an especially interesting character, coming in in a surprising way and maintaining attention. Despite the large number of important characters, the personalities are all distinct enough to keep the characters straight and introduced in a staggered manner to keep there from being an information overload. There is strong character development throughout, many coming full circle and showing several sides, all handled amazingly well.
There are some gritty undercurrents to this book, with an overall darker and sad air, but several huge points of deeper meaning. Some are given in a subtle manner and others more straightforward, but the thought and reason Clifford put into things is very clear and worthy of praise. There is a big air of suicide in this book, stemming from what happens to people who commit suicide in the world Clifford has built. Clifford has done something different with suicides in her world, and handled it gracefully without glorifying the act. The different angles and views even within the world and characters are presented throughout the book, from reasons that seemed important when someone committed the act to later realizing maybe it wasn't so great. I truly appreciated the way all this was handled and explained, without sugarcoating. The aftermath is handled in a different but well done way, and even the way one person can be the only reason someone doesn't fall into the temptation is presented in such an unflinching manner.
The ties to real life, particularly the innumerable views, beliefs and mindsets about suicides, are perhaps one of the reasons I felt so much for and with this book. Clifford has blended the fantasy with the real in a very smooth fashion, and there are huge connections and implications into every day experiences and life, coming from different sides, that will give something for most every kind of reader. Even with the gritty notes and the honest and unadulterated look into the deeper parts of everyone, Clifford handles it gracefully and inoffensively. Despite the angels aspect, there is a strong contemporary and realistic element to this book, making it relatable and entrancing for a range of readers.
Suicide angle aside, there are some strong messages and truths. Many of the characters portray such intense emotion and feeling, driving these messages more. The good versus evil battle has been revamped, and the worldbuilding for it is clear, strong and genius without any confusion on its standards and confines. Clifford has created several new classes of angels, and their reasons for being there are clear. Her angels don't fall instantly from Heaven when cast out, and her angelic system is not rigid and without leverage. The overall intricacies come out steadily, but many remain cloaked to leave room for more exploration in future books.
Showcasing Clifford's natural writing talent and an ability to connect things in surprising ways, there are plenty of subtle hints at bigger things to come and other blindsiding and shocking moments. From the humor to intense emotion, Clifford covers a range of styles and moments, and though there is language throughout the book, it is well placed and emphatic, in line with each character. There are several striking and beautiful lines that stood out, from the grotesque to the fantastic, slipped in smoothly and effortlessly. The writing is beautiful in so many ways that cannot be taught and engaging even in third person, with bold explanations and undaunted descriptions.
Some parts of this book seemed rushed, but in truth, Clifford simply doesn't waste time and words. Though there are some places she could have added new scenes to transition, it wouldn't have added much overall. While this might not work for some readers, it wasn't jarring or distracting for me. Her changes in time are clear and well stated, and she does take time to catch the reader up on what was not shown. There are some parts that are confusing but not enough to detract from things for long or overall, and the bulk of the scenes are simply fantastic.
The overall plot is brilliant, and steadily builds with subtle hints to the future and deep intricacies, leading to an explosive, lengthy climax that keeps things moving at a deliciously rapid pace for the last hundred pages or so of the book. The final build up is well worth it, with many completely unexpected twists and turns and shocking truths throw out of nowhere. Even with the strong plot, there is also a constant focus on the characters and their development and reactions, and these two aspects are handled and blended strongly and nearly flawlessly.
The final ending is shocking and unforeseeable, but ties up the events directly related to this book and explains most everything pertinent. The epilogue gives an interesting view of what is to come in the next installment, as Clifford has opened up countless doors and paths for where things are headed. It is clear Eden is not the only one affected at the end of this book, and it is unpredictable how things will ripple out now. The overall work, thought, and heart that has been put into this book comes through very visibly, leaving the reader not only with a stunned feeling but a deep appreciation for everything that is incorporated into what I consider to be a brilliant, highly recommended book.