Editorial Review: Obedience: The Guild by Nichole M. Willden
In the new novel Obedience: The Guild #1, by Nichole M. Willden, teenage Emma is growing up in plain sight, but in a secret society. She’s been trained in martial arts, as well as trained in an obsessive, unquestioning Obedience to the Leader of their secret Guild. But as a junior member of whatever the Guild is, Emma doesn’t know the goal of any missions, who the Guild represents, or the overall objective, simply that she’s placed in private schools and sent to social events to perform the part of a perfect daughter for her Guild family.
The discipline in the Guild is strict and cruel, and Emma is under constant surveillance. She’s not allowed to have school friends, join clubs, or really do anything besides excel at coursework and in Guild combat training. The mystery builds in this novel, as none of this is explained and none of the adults in the Guild have clear motivations. Unnamed, powerful enemies threaten the Guild, but the Guild somehow has the resources and safe houses to protect themselves against these threats.
Fortunately for Emma, she happens to meet Benjamin, who is as perfect and appealing as could be. It’s almost too perfect, in a typical YA romance way, which works so well to highlight how not typical the rest of Emma’s teenage life is. When Emma and Benjamin have a date, it’s a wild adventure of sneaking off a field trip and into a closed amusement park. For Emma, this perfect day is also her first chance to try junk food or anything else in typical teen life. Through their relationship, Emma constantly gives Benjamin banter that’s surprisingly witty and snarky for someone who has been kept away from regular socialization with people her own age, and who is routinely deprived of all her comforts as part of mysterious training. These delightful YA romance beats continue to emphasize how strange her Guild life is, with great effect as Emma’s romance unfolds.
The novel Obedience asks intriguing questions: Who is the Guild? What’s their goal? Where did Emma and her “siblings” really come from? How does the Guild get all their massive resources? What is the Guild trying to accomplish?
But then this novel doesn’t actually answer them. It’s a popular style now for the first novel in a series to end on a highly dramatic cliffhanger, with major plot points unresolved, and Obedience is hardly the only novel to promise resolution in the next installment. Still, readers get so many scenes of shadowy life in a Guild where no one has a backstory, unexplained enemies do terrible things but there’s unexplained wealth to handle it, there’s an unexplained code governing all they do, and unexplained motivations for a life of complete servitude to unnamed goals. And without any resolution to those central questions, there’s no real explanation for anything in the story. This detracts from the impact of an emotional ending.
The Guild promises to be an entertaining YA series, packed with mystery, intrigue and romance. Hopefully some unresolved mysteries will be revealed to readers in Diligence: The Guild #2.