My principal thought about this book is that it's nothing like The Hunger Games despite the cover proclamation that fans of Suzanne Collins's trilogy...moreMy principal thought about this book is that it's nothing like The Hunger Games despite the cover proclamation that fans of Suzanne Collins's trilogy will love it. Other than falling generally into the category of YA dystopian fiction, there are no similarities. Additionally, I'd say that the quality of writing here falls significantly below Collins. Decent concept; dismal execution.(less)
Excellent. Maybe 4.5 stars. I like the new character of Nikolai and the surging pace he brings to the story. He's also the reason for the new bookshel...moreExcellent. Maybe 4.5 stars. I like the new character of Nikolai and the surging pace he brings to the story. He's also the reason for the new bookshelf marking: steampunk. There's an undeniable taint of the tinkerer about him, but I like it.
Mal is heart–breaking but real as the love connection takes a beating. I'm not sure that I buy Alina's refusal to tell him about the Darkling's visitations. Especially the first one on the fold. That didn't make sense to me.
Alina's characterization seemed to slip out of focus for me at times during this installment. I like that Bardugo tempts her with power, real power and its seductive/destructive implications. What I don't like is Alina's basically shallow responses: pretty much the equivalent of "I know I shouldn't tell a lie" when the truth of the evil and the dangers it presents are patently more extreme. Baghra has told her explicitly that she's walking the same road the Darkling walked. I'm waiting, and not very patiently, for a Mirror of Galadriel moment when Alina finally admits that if she seizes this power to destroy the Darkling she will inevitably replace him. When does smart, good, strong Alina who would not take the Stag's life find the strength to confront her own inner demons? Face the part of herself that thrills to the idea of that deadly, all–consuming power or doesn't care what it will make of her or rejects it to preserve her own humanity. All this "I know I shouldn't, but I still want it" rubbish doesn't satisfy. (less)
I'm beginning to think, in these days of YA fan–girl and fan–boy intensity, that anyone with a little imagination who can pen a decent sentence sudden...moreI'm beginning to think, in these days of YA fan–girl and fan–boy intensity, that anyone with a little imagination who can pen a decent sentence suddenly wins a book deal. Pardon me if I retain the notion that good story–telling actually requires more. I'm not sure why I stuck with this one through book two, but I've officially had enough. Poor character development, strained dialogue, jerky and inconsistent pacing... I could go on.
The most serious deficiency for me as a reader lay in my never feeling really connected to the main characters or their "love story"; frankly, halfway through this book I started hoping for a "rendering" sort of connection between Aria and Roar. I don't like love triangles, but I liked the idea that things could get messy, that betrayal and divided loyalties might enter the picture of an otherwise too perfect world that is supposedly terrible and brutal and falling apart. So, that's it. I'm out. The story playing in my head for these characters is so much better that, quite frankly, I'd prefer Rossi didn't spoil it. (less)
So. The truth of this reading experience, plain and simple, is that I read a kick–ass review of the book on GR and decided to give it a shot. The revi...moreSo. The truth of this reading experience, plain and simple, is that I read a kick–ass review of the book on GR and decided to give it a shot. The reviewer is a better writer than Veronica Rossi. Substantially better. Under the Never Sky? YA mediocrity. (less)
Another favorite from high school. I think it's the beauty of Conrad's language that draws me in. The characters and setting are so dark, but the narr...moreAnother favorite from high school. I think it's the beauty of Conrad's language that draws me in. The characters and setting are so dark, but the narrative itself glitters with that brilliance of language that the best of the classics tend so often to hold above and beyond contemporary writers, even many we call "literary." Again, incredible to reflect on the fact that English was not Conrad's native tongue!(less)
I've been thinking a good bit about this series which I rated, initially, rather high. I started by giving 4 stars to all three books because Carson's...moreI've been thinking a good bit about this series which I rated, initially, rather high. I started by giving 4 stars to all three books because Carson's writing is quite good. Much better in fact than standard YA fare.
Something didn't feel right.
The more I've considered, the more I realize that each book satisfied less as I read, but this statement requires some explanation. Elisa's character evolved in a pleasing manner in several key dimensions. I'll confess that I spent the first 100–125 pages of book one wanting to shove my hands through the covers and pummel her if she crammed another pastry into her mouth, but she pressed through all that cloying, self–pity and to discover a flinty, resilient femininity that dazzled Hector and me! Elisa's journey to self–discovery is a bit predictable; still, the transformation from "sausage child bride" as she calls herself in the first book to desert–ruffian/empress in the final book is fun to read. I came to like, even admire, Elisa through those adventures in the desert, magical islands, and Scorpian–infested mine shafts. She proves herself clever and scheming and not afraid to be a queen. To be an empress. A good bit of skilled characterization on Carson's part, I think.
The problem was the Godstone mythology, and to be fair, I think it's impossible to evaluate these books apart from it. The Godstone and all it represents lie at the heart of Elisa's character and Carson's plot development from page one. From the beginning, the idea that God choses or ordains a bearer by placing a priceless jewel in that person's navel struck me as ridiculous. Too much like a belly–button ring. Elisa then defeats the Invierno army and their aminagi with an amulet, filled with dead Godstones, spinning from the Godstone in her navel? Wow. Incredibly...wow. I'm not sure there are words to describe my reaction. I didn't laugh. Torn between utter incredulity and something like distaste. Low point, for sure. Still, that wasn't the real problem.
Elisa seemed to struggle throughout the series with very real, relatable feelings of self–doubt and uncertainty. These feelings Carson linked, quite naturally, to questions of faith and uncertainty in Elisa's relationship to God. This seemed like such rich territory in the first book, especially for YA readers, sensitively explored. I was willing to go with it. By the end, the characters of strongest belief had been discredited as zealots (Ximena & the animagi), and Elisa herself claims to be suddenly "like everyone else," cut off from the Godstone that had given her physical confirmation of faith and a divine purpose for her life. "Like everyone else" appears to indicate something like "Godless" and "on her own" to chose her own path, make the best of things, pray or not to a God who may or may not be there. Once she no longer bears a living Godstone, Elisa no longer appears to bear any true sense of God's reality in the world or her own life. Does Elisa lose or shed her faith with her Godstone? If so, it wasn't faith. Faith is belief in the absence of confirmation. Carson never addresses this. She begs many big, important questions in the end and leaves these threads unraveled and ragged. Perhaps, she'd argue that faith offers no neat or tidy answers. I'd agree with this, but my problem is that Carson does offer a neat, clean answer. One that unsettles me.
So. Elisa carries the Godstone around inside of her body for years not knowing why or what it will compel her to do, only knowing that she is marked to complete some important service for God. She completes her service in the final chapters of book three, uncovering a small oasis in the desert, and the Godstone falls lifeless from her body. Her companions conclude that, this being her service, this small, strange, "uninspiring" deed, all her other comparably grand accomplishments were not her service, not driven by God or the Godstone, but were done by Elisa. All Elisa. I understand the idea that Carson wants to inspire young readers to find strength and competence within themselves not wear themselves out trying to be something for someone else. Meet the expectations of others. That's all well and good, but she's playing with the ideas of God and his expectations and plans for young people. We're talking about the God who made us, made Elisa and gave her not only some rock in her belly button but also that keen intelligence, razor sharp wit, and strategic mind. It's tragic to me that Carson would bring Elisa through so much, allow her to accomplish so much, struggle to comprehend her place in the world both physically and spiritually, only to dump her unceremoniously in the rubble of the cosmos with no hope for a caring, concerned, personal God that created her with purpose apart from some rock in her belly. I reject the idea that Elisa or the reader must make our meaning, our purpose, apart from God or his plans for us. I reject particularly the idea that God's plans for us are inscrutable and "uninspiring." I despise the implication that once Elisa holds that rock cold and lifeless in her hand God is "done" with her. Was this your purpose, Ms. Carson?
My disappointment stems, perhaps, from a misunderstanding of Carson's worldview and agenda with religion. I thought perhaps she was a Christian, and she may be. It's hard to tell. I can tell that in the world of Erilea, faith and belief is more man–centered than God–centered, and that's a bitter pill to swallow, for Elisa and for me. (less)
Two comments: Ximena annoys me. On a scale of one to ten, she's a twelve. Also, Elisa's inability to assert herself with Ximena or to "see" what is ab...moreTwo comments: Ximena annoys me. On a scale of one to ten, she's a twelve. Also, Elisa's inability to assert herself with Ximena or to "see" what is absurdly obvious about Hector and his feelings for her annoys me. This plot machination seems to me the equivalent of an author who writes a character as intelligent and wily but keeps him/her inexplicably, maddeningly ignorant of critical plot development because that author can't figure out a way to move the story forward if this same intelligent, savvy character actually figures out what's right in front of her face. Bizarre. (less)
Useful, accessible resource that proved invaluable in preparing a recent presentation on early adolescent development. Wood's exposition of physical,...moreUseful, accessible resource that proved invaluable in preparing a recent presentation on early adolescent development. Wood's exposition of physical, cognitive, social, and emotional developmental markers has me thinking, a lot, about what a developmentally appropriate school really would look like.(less)
So. Crown of Midnight was a vast improvement on Throne of Glass. I like everything about Maas's world better: her characters, her plot, her world–buil...moreSo. Crown of Midnight was a vast improvement on Throne of Glass. I like everything about Maas's world better: her characters, her plot, her world–building, her narrative style. I took exception to a few spectacularly cheesy lines, but given the vast wilderness of difference (for the better) between her first effort and this, I must say I really enjoyed this book in spite of them. I'll probably even recommend it to some other readers. How's that for a change of opinion?
Good idea; poor execution. I'd probably give it 2.5 stars if GR allowed that rating. I'm a sucker for high fantasy.
Still, this story suffers from abs...moreGood idea; poor execution. I'd probably give it 2.5 stars if GR allowed that rating. I'm a sucker for high fantasy.
Still, this story suffers from absurdly inconsistent characterization and more than a few laughable plot blunders. How many times does Celaena mention her assassin–trainer–father–figure by name? Still, Maas records that Chaol starts at the name Arobynn Hamel in something like chapter 30.
I've read a number of exasperated comments about Celaena's love of frippery: fine clothing, jewels, parties, and dancing. Honestly, a year in the hell described as the mines of Endovier would more than likely sharpen my appreciation for beauty and elegance, too. What bothered me was the inconsistency of the manner in which she responded to beauty. There's a painful scene in an early chapter when Celaena, "the assassin" as Maas doggedly refers to her, opens her eyes to sunlight for probably the first time in a year and improbably skips to the window, giddy at the sight. That's the kind of moment I just couldn't stomach. That Celaena would be romanced in some secret, guilty way by the feel of silk against her clean skin after what she'd endured? Totally believable. That she'd skip and hop about like a daft teenager as though she'd never endured those horrors? As though she wasn't a trained, skilled killer who'd sooner slit a man's throat as offer "Good morning" to him? (A loose paraphrase of one of Dorian's own thoughts about her.) Give me something authentic, please. A tightened throat, even tears, as sunlight pours across her wasted flesh. A moment of silence, eyes closed, face lifted to the sun. She could even have used it to tease out the first moments of doubt in the stoic Captain's mind: criminal or girl to be pitied? What am I talking about? That would have been much more in keeping with a serious character, and Maas chose to draw Celaena as a bizarre mix of bubble–headed preteen with Byronic heroine. Result: less than successful.
Perhaps, Maas wanted to emphasize both her youth and the resilience that allowed her to survive the death camp even Chaol admits would have destroyed him in weeks. Again, not a bad idea; ridiculous execution. Her inability to pay billiards seems absurd, too. The reader must believe that, given her other wealth of talents and abilities, the subtleties of a cue stick elude her? Mercifully, there was enough action to distract, albeit of a predictable nature. The character of Nehemia was a nice addition to the ensemble; although, none of Maas's seemed particularly well developed. My favorite character was probably Nox the thief. He seemed more interesting and realistic than most of the lot with the exception of Dorian Havilliard who, although arrogant, shallow, and completely unappealing as a love interest, played reasonably true to character. Pity I never liked him.
I will say that it got better toward the end. Good enough to make me consider reading the second book and good enough to make me revisit my two to three word initial review. I think Celaena surprised me when she blew off the Crown Prince so easily in the end. Perhaps Chaol was right about her all along; she does have a brain. Perhaps even some flickering depth of character. That choice at least makes sense: freedom versus a boy? This should be no contest for a woman in her position. Celaena makes her choice without any visible effort of will or regret and, possibly, shows her true colors. It makes me wonder if she (Celaena or Maas?) wasn't playing the reader as well as the arrogant, preening Prince for a fool with all that talk of pretty dresses and parties... One can hope. (less)
This is a beautifully written and compelling story set against the backdrop of World War II which is like a reader'...moreMaybe close to 5 stars. 4.5 stars?
This is a beautifully written and compelling story set against the backdrop of World War II which is like a reader's beacon to me. I love these kind of stories; although, love seems a strange word to describe the experience. War stories seem always to carry a gravitas, a majesty: an innate ethical and moral significance. Even the intimate tales of the individual struggling to survive possess by their nature an epic grandeur when told in the context of a town, a country, a people at war. These stories represent, I think, the essence of the Romantic in literature: stories that stir deep emotional response to characters in situations of duress both physical and spiritual. Brilliant.
Anthony Doerr's novel is top–notch, but I hate the ending. I can't complain that it's not well–written; although, there is a nagging thought in my head that some things about Werner's fate feel forced and contrived in a way that the rest of the story never feels. Certainly, it seemed to me that several chapters wandered a bit searching for a way back to the narrative thread after his departure. I've written something like this somewhere before, so forgive me if I repeat myself (if anyone notices or cares), but I just don't accept the absolute necessity to sacrifice a character on the altar of realism in this manner. Werner's fate seems dream–like and insubstantial and seems to turn on the "reality of war." It's a messy business, yes; but at some point we might be within reason to consider such endings a tad bit cliché, yes? I'm just wondering if really good storytelling could search out a more substantial fate than death, perhaps particularly against the backdrop of war. The heroic fight to return from the precipice of spiritual darkness or a turning away from self–loathing back to life; perhaps the opposite as a character plunges into the abyss or the slow and pain–staking return from it?
Ah, well, I'm glad Marie–Laure got her doctorate. Paris is a cool town. I may just be turning into a "happy endings" kind of reader. Who knows?
Not the most exciting read of all time, but this position–paper, as AMLE refers to it, does offer a thoughtful exposition of the importance of middle...moreNot the most exciting read of all time, but this position–paper, as AMLE refers to it, does offer a thoughtful exposition of the importance of middle level education, its goals and essential attributes and characteristics, in addition to putting forth a compelling call to action. (less)
I love a good P. D. James mystery. This one does not feature the inimitable Adam Dalgliesh, but he makes a cameo at the end. Delightful. I'm thinking...moreI love a good P. D. James mystery. This one does not feature the inimitable Adam Dalgliesh, but he makes a cameo at the end. Delightful. I'm thinking that I'd like to read more featuring Cordelia Gray. Fabulous name!(less)