Lately I’ve been binge watching Criminal Minds on Netflix. It’s probably my favorite crime drama to date (not including Lucifer, which is both a crime drama AND paranormal show that I absolutely adore to bits.) So, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine the giddy excitement I felt when I picked up The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. While I’ve made it a goal to forgo series and spend some time with well written stand-alone novels this past year, but I made an exception for this first novel in a growing series, and I wasn’t disappointed!
I’ve already completed the first three books of the series: The Naturals, Killer Instinct, and All In. Rather than reviewing one book, I’m going to review the series as a whole.
To start, the series follows the story of Cassie Hobbes, who finds herself naturally talented when it comes to profiling strangers. She is dragged into the world of the FBI and other naturals like herself to help solve cold cases. Alongside her is Michael, a natural emotion analyzer; Lia, a human lie-detector; Sloane, the statistic analyzer and human thesaurus; and Dean, another natural profiler like Cassie.
The first book focuses on a live case that seems to link back to her mother’s unsolved murder, the second focuses on a copy-cat killer who is mimicking Dean’s incarcerated father, and the third takes place in Vegas where a serial killer uses the Fibonacci Code to plan his kills.
Going in, it felt very much like my first read through of Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series: a young teen thrown into a dangerous government environment because of the strange talents they have learned from their dead parents. The first few chapters of The Naturals were a bit slow, as we had to learn about the world she was entering (and for those who watch Criminal Minds practically every day, re-learning what an UNSUB, MO, and Signature are can be a bit boring.) However, the moment we meet the other Naturals, things pick up very quickly and suck you in.
In regards to the pacing of Killer Instincts and All In, these two books were quick to get the story started. The first few chapters were laced with normalcy and joy before everyone was thrown into their next case, but this didn’t slow down the story. Of all three of the books, I felt that All In was the strongest.
The writing of these books does feel like it was written for a younger YA audience in style; think Alex Rider, Maximum Ride, Warriors, or even the first Harry Potter book. However, the content of the stories mature and prove itself to be suitable for older readers like myself who love YA. The books are written in first person (one of my personal pet peeves as a writer) but it was handled very well. I saw no mistakes or errors, and Barnes did a good job of staying in Cassie’s head, as well as the killers.
My only caveat is perhaps the convenience of the events that take place in the books. Cassie truly is the center of everything in The Naturals, and I feel that in a “real world setting” the changes of the new natural being closely involved with the latest active case is slim. As for the other books, suspension of disbelief was necessary to really enjoy the books. I won’t spoil, but some connections that are made caused me to stop and think “really?” However, despite these pauses, I still greatly enjoyed the plot of each of the books (and again, All In was probably the most interesting because it didn’t focus on one person specifically like The Naturals focused on Cassie and Killer Instincts focused on Dean.) Of course, everything did lead back to Cassie in the end which was mildly annoying but good to progressing the series.
Character wise, my favorite is Michael. He was the one who drew me in the most and made me want to keep reading. I fell in love with his playful yet mysterious personality. His polar opposite, Dean, intrigued me as well. At first, I didn’t know if I was going to like him due to his brooding mood, but once I started to see the softer side I was hooked. By the third book I was in love with his character. I especially loved the dynamic of the love triangle between Cassie, Michael, and Dean. It’s my guilty pleasure and honestly my favorite part of the novels. I won’t say who I ship more, but I’m pleased with the outcome (although I wanted to see it lean the other direction.)
Lia and Sloane had great characterization and personalities as well. At first I wasn’t impressed by them, as Lia was just a bitch and Sloane was increasingly awkward. However, by the third book I was really invested in both of them and I’m eager to learn about their past.
Strangely, I also didn’t seem to get too invested in Cassie either, which may be another downside to the series as a whole for me. Despite being the protagonist, she felt you’re your standard YA heroine who is “not exactly beautiful or popular” yet immediately adored by the two main love interests. Also, as I’ve said prior, all the books revolve around her and stem back to her mother’s murder. While this is good for cohesiveness for the series as a whole, it was mildly irritating as I wanted to learn more about the other characters.
Overall, the characterization, friendships, and backstories of all the characters were unique and handled very well!
Now, the romance and characterization isn’t the focus of the book. The focus is the main case that is taking place, and that is where my keen eye for detail and clues should have had a field day! However, I was blinded sided not once, but THREE TIMES, while trying to solve The Naturals before the characters did. The same happened while reading Killer Instinct and All In. Looking back, I see where Barnes dropped the clues that I failed to piece together. I was in the moment with Cassie and could really connect with her once the plot escalated. I’m so pleased with how well the twists and turns were handled and how subtle the foreshadowing was! I find that mystery and crime novels are extremely difficult as there are dozens of clues to fit together, and Barnes continues to do well with each book.
Another piece of the novels that I greatly enjoyed was the interjections of the murderer’s thoughts. Yes, we get in the mind of “You,” the voice of the serial killer. I thought these are well dispersed throughout, and while not completely unique (I have recently read another book about serial killers that did a similar trick) it does build up the story and provides its own twists and turns.
In the end, I felt like this is a great series for young readers going into high school who are looking for a great mystery and romance. Older adults like me may feel like it’s a bit childish at times, but once I shed off the “elitist” and “adult” glasses and opened myself up to the story I adored every moment. I would definitely give this series a try, and let yourself sink in.