Review: Once We Were by Kat Zhang

Once We Were
Kat Zhang
Series: Hybrid Chronicles, #2
Released: September 17th, 2013
Publisher: HarperCollins
Rating: 3.5 stars
Word Rating: Slow, but good
Reviewed by: Blythe

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"I'm lucky just to be alive"

Eva was never supposed to have survived this long. As the recessive soul, she should have faded away years ago. Instead, she lingers in the body she shares with her sister soul, Addie. When the government discovered the truth, they tried to “cure” the girls, but Eva and Addie escaped before the doctors could strip Eva’s soul away.

Now fugitives, Eva and Addie find shelter with a group of hybrids who run an underground resistance. Surrounded by others like them, the girls learn how to temporarily disappear to give each soul some much-needed privacy. Eva is thrilled at the chance to be alone with Ryan, the boy she’s falling for, but troubled by the growing chasm between her and Addie. Despite clashes over their shared body, both girls are eager to join the rebellion.

Yet as they are drawn deeper into the escalating violence, they start to wonder: How far are they willing to go to fight for hybrid freedom? Faced with uncertainty and incredible danger, their answers may tear them apart forever.

Once We Were has left me feeling a whole bunch of conflicted feelings. I did enjoy it as a whole (hence the 3.5 star rating), but it is undeniable that the reading experience I had with Once We Were differs greatly from the one I had while reading its predecessor, What's Left of Me. Going over my notes as I am writing this review (which is, and will continue to be rather unconventional for me, as you'll soon discover (but speaking of which, let me know how you like this format)), what worked for me in Once We Were did largely outweigh what did not work for me, but the two things that did not work for me impacted my reading experience well enough to warrant the 3.5 star rating, even though I have many things to praise when it comes to this novel.

What didn't work for me in Once We Were:

THE PACING: The pacing in Once We Were is, beyond the shadow a doubt, the largest issue at hands for me. Now, I like to think of myself as a fairly patient reader. If a book takes a quarter of the novel for at least a semblance plot to get going, that is generally fine by me. As I near the halfway mark and there is still not a definitive plot or any shred of action aside from dialog, that's where my patience will begin to wear thin. And that's what happened in Once We Were. Throughout the vast majority of Once We Were (three quarters of the novel), everything is all talk. The character plan all these revolts, and take action with one or two of them, but the revolt sequences are quick and not very thrilling. I almost feel like this novel was a tease over 250 pages long, dragging me along for the action to finally come in the last hundred or so pages (or the last quarter, which I will discuss later). Needless to say, because of this, and the next thing that didn't work for me in Once We Were, I felt pretty detached at times.

THE LACK OF AN EMOTIONAL CONNECTION: This issue is, surprisingly, not nearly as great as the issue I had with the novel's pacing, but my lack of an emotional connection with the characters this time around certainly left a mark. In What's Left of Me, I really, truly cared for Eva and Addie and the secondary cast of characters. I, unfortunately, can't say the same when it comes to Once We Were. With this installment, I found myself caring about what happened to Eva and Addie, but I was never really actively hoping they'd be okay, because, bringing it back to the first point, there wasn't much action to make me consider that they wouldn't be okay. Just as a whole with the characters, I didn't feel wholly engaged in what was happening to them, regardless of how truly well written the character development in this novel is. Which brings me to...

What did work for me in Once We Were:

EVA AND HER CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Just like she did in What's Left of Me, Eva really did grow a lot in Once We Were, and her subtle character development was genuinely well-written. (Eva's gradual decline in referring to herself and Addie as a unit, as she begins to refer to herself as one separate entity, using the words "I" or "my" at portions when earlier on she would used the words "we" or "our.") The unfurling of Eva's insecurities, and watching her begin to embrace herself was truly something I enjoyed experiencing, and it only reinforces that Kat Zhang is excellent at character and relationship development, which brings me to my next point...

THE RELATIONSHIP DEVELOPMENT/ROMANCE: The relationship development, namely Eva and Addie's relationship, is just as exceptional as the development of Eva's character. I'm going to keep this portion of the review blunt, as it won't be too difficult to divulge into some minor spoilers or insinuate minor spoilers, but Once We Were puts a good chunk of the characters' relationships to test. Seeing some of the relationships tumble, then slowly rebuild themselves in a subtle and believable way was something I really enjoyed reading, and along with that, the romance was really well-written too. Clearly, a romance may be hard to write between two people who essentially are really four, and you could expect a lot of angst and drama, but Kat Zhang manages to pull romance off very well in Once We Were.

THE LAST QUARTER: This portion of the review will also be pretty brief, considering...well, I'll be discussing the last quarter of the novel, and don't want to spoil anything for anyone. But, this is the part of the novel when all that dialog is for something--when everything happens. It has its thrilling moments, and its poignant moments, and all around it is just a great ending. Whether or not it made up for having to wait three quarters for it to happen, though, will vary from reader to reader.

Final verdict:

Although it is at times achingly slow and uneventful, Kat Zhang makes up for the issues with the plot in Once We Were with her impeccable writing and character/relationship development skills. Zhang's prose is just as amazing and engrossing in Once We Were as it was in What's Left of Me, and Once We Were ends on enough of a cliffhanger (but a bearable one), that I am eagerly anticipating the final book in the Hybrid Chronicles, despite the issues I may have had with this second installment.

Side-note: what do you think of this positive/negative review format? 


  1. I really liked What's left of me, so I can't wait to read this one too. It's a shame that the pacing is so slow, because I love the sound from the characters development :) Thanks for the honest review!


    1. I hope you like this, Mel! It's really good, but just really different from WLoM.

  2. Hmmm....doesn't sound good that the book is so slow and nothing happens for so long. But I do like the fact that the romance was well-written and that Eva's character develops. Another cliffhanger...I don't think I can take it, I'm so sick of them! But you said it's bearable. I really enjoyed What's Left of Me so I will definitely be reading this one. And I liked the positive/negative format! ~Pam

    1. Mostly it's just planning for the last quarter. There are definitely some things that happen, but for the most part the first three quarters are uneventful. And it's a very, very bearable cliffhanger. No one's life is in jeopardy or anything. It's one of those cliffhangers where an important conversation is about to begin.

  3. I can relate to the lack of emotional connection. Actually, I think that was my biggest issue with this book. I loved the first one, but just didn't get the same kick from the story here, for whatever reason. But I'm glad that you still enjoyed this overall, Blythe. I hope you like the final installment! :)

    1. Yeah, it's a shame considering I loved the first book mainly *because* of the emotional connection I had with the characters. And here it was just...not there. I was prepared to give it 2.5 stars until the last quarter, which I gave one star for. Will you not be reading the final installment?

    2. At the moment, I don't have plans to (this book really dampened my enthusiasm for the series), but I guess if the reviews look promising, then I'll give it a try. We'll see. :)

    3. Yeah, I definitely see where you're coming from. And I agree, my anticipating for the rest of the series has dampened significantly, but I'm curious as to where the third book will go.

  4. I haven't heard of this book before, but hearing that the romance was good definitely makes me interested. Although, I'm not sure if I would read it with the slow pacing. Maybe if I liked the first book a lot, I could soldier through this book's pacing.
    Nice review! The formatting was nice =)

    1. Ah, the first book is really good. I have to say I prefer the first book to Once We Were, but both are good.

  5. Ohh, this is disappointing to hear - I've been really looking forward to this book. Hopefully with the warning, I'll be able to put up with the slow start a little better!

    I really like the review format, as well, especially since it was easy to skip over the bits that might be spoilery because it was broken into chunks. Definitely approve.

  6. Blythe first off, I must say, I really liked this review format! I think it's great for those skimmers (although I never try to skim), and it's especially helpful when I'm commenting and go up to get a refresher as to what I wanted to say- those bolded words helped jog my memory. So wonderful! <3

    Anyways, I like to think I'm a patient reader, but when it comes down to it, patience isn't one of my best virtues, haha. ;) Dialogue can easily start to grate on me, especially because I'm a reader who loves her action. So the fact that this book takes such a long time to start? Not a good thing for me. If there's not much action, then I absolutely must be devoted to the characters, at the very minimum. But the fact that you weren't even that emotionally invested in them has me concerned as well.

    But Kat Zhang's writing style? It seems gorgeous, and it also seems like she is a phenomenal writer, based off the fact that she was actually able to handle this very complicated romance, haha. The subtleties in her writing also have me drooling...

    Lovely review, Blythe! I really must pick up What's Left of Me, it seems. ;)

  7. I think the reason I DNFed What's Left of Me was because I found it SO unbearably boring, which definitely annoyed me a lot. So I'm sorry that the first three fourths of Once We Were had the same idea going on, I definitely see why you would get bored of all talk, although it definitely must work out pretty well in the midst of Eva's character development and Eva and Addie's relationship, because I know how important that is :) Maybe I should give this series another try sometime soon, especially since I've heard so many positive things about the characters behind the slow plot. Also, I love the review format it's super organized! :)

    Fantastic review, Blythe! <33

  8. I enjoyed the first book in this series, but the pacing was a problem in that one for me as well, so to hear that it has the same problems is saddening :( But I'm excited for Eva's character development and the romance factor. I'm thinking I'll still read this book, because I enjoyed the first one and the whole concept is interesting, and hope that the pacing isn't too big of a problem for me. Great review!

  9. This is a great review format, Blythe! Perfect for people who need to skim reviews especially if they're about to read/review the book and don't want to steal your awesome wordiness (whatever that's s'posed to mean...)

    Anyhoo, I'm not much of a patient reader so this may not go too well but I love a good character development.

    Fab review, chick! <33

  10. I'm not reading this in detail because I'm reading What's Left of Me right now and have this one up very soon. I'll have to stop by again and read this after I finish and post my review. I am excited to see further development of the characters.

    My Friends Are Fiction

  11. I couldn't quite get into the first book but i might give it a try again because the story does sound interesting.

    Good review!

  12. I love the new format. It's clean and helps me to see what your overall thoughts are.

    That said, I am nervous to go into this. I love WLoM and I have high hopes for this. I can see an emotional disconnect ruining this for me. A slow pace WILL not help that. I will definitely still read this, but I may adjust my expectations.

    I agree that Zhang handles characterization very, very well. The issues I have with her stem from worldbuilding in the first, so it's great to see her strengths remain.

    great review, B. <3


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