This review has been a hard one for me to sit down and write. Crewelwas one of my most anticipated books of this year (I mean, hello, buzzwords!), and...moreThis review has been a hard one for me to sit down and write. Crewel was one of my most anticipated books of this year (I mean, hello, buzzwords!), and I was all ready to be impressed and count it among my favorites. But sadly, it ended up being one of my biggest letdowns.
Crewel lured me in almost immediately - the intro was strong and compelling, Adelice's predicament in trying to hide her talent, and all of the chaos and confusion of the beginning chapters were really effective and interesting. The world that was set up had all of the building blocks for something cool and memorable (though I sometimes had to fight through Albin's occasionally muddled writing to see those building blocks), and Adelice's voice was engaging - basically, the elements were there, and I was ready to love the story. BUT.
But then it just kind of fell apart. Albin sets up a world that isvery repressive, with very strict rules on pretty much everything, most especially gender roles and norms. There is strict gender segregation in nearly every aspect of life (especially for the young), a limited amount of jobs women can are allowed to perform, and ways in which they are expected to look while performing those jobs. Flirtation and gender-mingling is pretty much non-existent, and talk of sex and sex-related things is, understandably, taboo. This is the world Adelice has known, so when she's thrust into the world of the Spinsters (which is still really regimented and gender-segregated), and suddenly finds herself moving about in the world of lecherous, creepy Powerful Men, she's pretty shaken. This could have been really, really cool (and sometimes was); it had a Mad Men-esque vibe that made my skin crawl, and I really liked seeing the juxtaposition of naive-in-the-ways-of-the-world Adelice (and all of the other young Spinsters and Spinster-wannabes) with the really, supreme ickiness that men brought into this world. It was reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale (which I love), and it was an element I wasn't expecting, so I was excited. BUT. (Again, there's that but.)
But when these two worlds collided, the characters and the rules became really inconsistent. There was a lot of slang (like, our slang, not slang of the Crewel-world), and attitudes toward sex/boys/attraction that just didn't gel with the world that had been set up. It was really hard to believe that all of these girls who had been raised with strict gender segregation and hardcore rules about sex would suddenly speak very freely about sex and teh hawties, that they'd be borderline predatory - and catty, and jealous, and vapid, and a million other things that just didn't suit - and that nobody would bat an eye. I suddenly found I didn't buy the characters or how they fit into their world - who they are and how they interact, relative to the world, caused a huge disconnect, the world was weakened, and I felt cheated. Things just didn't work with the world as it was set up. They could have* - it would have only taken minor tweaks - but instead things were contradictory and discordant, and they kept shaking me out of my WSOD. I felt deprived of what could have been a really interesting world - but a world very different from our own with characters like us superimposed on it just doesn't work. It feels phony and almost lazy.
Also - this had a serious case of the Typical YA Romance blahs. A touch of romance potential (a lingering look, a fastly-beating heart, a burgeoning curiosity**) to be built up over the length of the series, pitted against the icky aspects of Mad Men-style sexualization would have been much more interesting and believable. Instead, it was all Insta-Love-Triangles™ all over the place, and again, I felt cheated of the build-up and the potential power. Add to this all the jealousies and plots and it all became a little too soap opera for me. It did have some interesting dynamics I'd like to see explored more, but I want to see them explored as I think characters from this world would explore them, and not characters from our world. If you're going to tackle sexualization, sexual intimidation, homosexuality, gender roles, etc., please, Ms. Albin, do it as these characters from this world with this set of experiences would do. That has the potential to be so much more fascinating and powerful and memorable than Crewel as it is now, which unfortunately faded pretty quickly from my mind.
Essentially, I was looking for impact, but I got write-by-numbers - stock characters, lack of believability, and everything built on a foundation of sand. But maybe it wouldn't be such a letdown if I didn't see potential. Then, I could just write it off and be done with it. But the fact that it sort of actively disappointed me means that I saw where it could have been incredible (especially after that strong beginning), and it was so close, that I was left feeling cheated - but also hopeful that the series can somehow get back on track and leave me feeling more fulfilled than this book did. I guess only time will tell.
If you're curious, you can read chapters 1-5 here for free.
*A case can be made that the girls - even in their gender-segregated lives - were raised to be this way. And I would buy that - if it had been shown. There are touches (like girls growing up knowing that they can be only a handful of things, or like the girlish fantasy of being a Glamorous Spinster) that would begin to make a case for...hmm, indoctrination, I guess? into this type of role/behavior. But more was needed if that's the way this story was going to go.
**But good god, nothing so purple-prosey as that. =P(less)
3.5ish. Stormdancer was one of my most eagerly anticipated reads of this year, between the excellent premise and the endless rave reviews I kept seeing...more3.5ish. Stormdancer was one of my most eagerly anticipated reads of this year, between the excellent premise and the endless rave reviews I kept seeing of it - but it almost didn't make it out of the gate. (less)
3.5 I've mentioned before that I was excited for this one (I mean - the title alone...). But I also just read an excellentfantasy maybe a week or so be...more3.5 I've mentioned before that I was excited for this one (I mean - the title alone...). But I also just read an excellent fantasy maybe a week or so before this, so it sort of had a lot to live up to, on top of the hype. That always makes me a little wary. And I think, in this case, deservedly so; at least, in the beginning. For a good chunk of the beginning, I was hesitant and not completely sold. It's not that I ever wanted to put it down, exactly, but there was a sameness to it; a typical YA, unoriginal feel that had me worried for what the rest of the book would hold. And this lasted for awhile, and had me questioning whether I was going to find this one a throwaway in the end: quick and enjoyable enough, but forgettable and predictable. Fortunately, there came a point where that changed and it didn't fall back on formula (or at least, not entirely.) It had a strength of its own and went to the places I was hoping it would go eventually, even if not always fully.
The characters were interesting to me, and what kept me hanging on in the beginning, though oddly enough, they started out much the same. They would come into the story as sort of somewhat fleshed-out stock characters, and just when I would get worried that that's all there was to them, they'd show me they weren't. They had dimensions and personalities and little bits to set them apart and make you care, but it was just something you had to be patient for. (I know not everyone will be patient, but I want to reiterate that the story is not unenjoyable before they start to stand apart from the crowd. It's always engaging enough to keep you going, but it takes awhile to sort of step into its own.) I am a big fan of explorations of the type of belief and fervor that lead people to do bad things in the name of good, and this aspect of some characters really heightened things for me. Belief and fervor, and the murkiness of right and wrong is what could set this book apart, and was one of the things I got from it that I wasn't expecting. [pleased face]
And - at the risk of being very repetitive - the world-building was much of the same. It was good, and enough to keep me engaged and visualizing it, but it started out with a sameness, feeling a touch lackluster and flat, and then becoming something more as the story grew. Bardugo seems to like finding a balance between originality and stock, and sort of building off of that. It works, it's serviceable, but something that doesn't catch me or impress me right off the bat isn't something I'm necessarily going to rave about as I do the world-building or characters or plot of some other books of a similar nature. But as I said, those all come around in the end.
I would have liked the nuances that were there to be explored more fully, though. In a story about light and dark, I want to really explore the shadows. This, for me, is where the wow factor comes in. The nuances and explorations were there and were touched on more than I'd dared hope after the way the story began, but less than I could have wish for. Part of this I'm sure is me being a little hyper-critical because I saw the potential for some heartier fare. Whenever I see that potential, whenever it's so close, I just want to keep pushing, and that sometimes lets me down more than if the potential had never been there to begin with.
But there was some exploration there, and Bardugo did ultimately build up some of the gray areas that I wanted to linger over, and I'm grateful for that. If this were really an unoriginal, "typical" YA, that wouldn't have happened, and the fact that it did at all gives me hope for the rest of the series and her growth as a storyteller. For those of you that are unsure you want to start a series with this sort of back-and-forth type review, let me mention 2 things: 1) I rated it 4 stars on Goodreads, so it's not like I didn't enjoy it by any means. (In fact, I'm going to a Fierce Reads signing so I can get mine all fancied up.) 2) This would work quite nicely as a standalone with the future left open, I think. Personally, I'm curious to see where it's going, as it is the start to a series, but I think you could easily read it and leave it as is, with some threads hanging and possibilites endless; it's a well-rounded enough ending to leave you feeling satisfied. But as I intend to read the next book, I'm hoping (fingers crossed) that the murky gray areas, the vagaries of belief, fanaticism, control and power, etc., will be capitalized on, as I think that's the only thing that would make me want it to be a series rather than an open-ended stand-alone.
[And on a side note, if you are the type to be bothered by an author taking liberties with a culture or language, I'd suggest checking out Tatiana's review before picking this one up. This did not bother me the least little bit (well, except the female names not ending in female forms and v.v.) but I can understand why it would maybe work under someone's skin, especially if they have ties to that culture (in this case, Russian). So, worth checking out.](less)
When The Sea is Rising Red was a little bit of an odd reading experience for me. It was one of my most anticipated reads of 2012, so when...more3.5-4 range.
When The Sea is Rising Red was a little bit of an odd reading experience for me. It was one of my most anticipated reads of 2012, so when I got my hands on it awhile back, I was super excited and maybe holding it to too-high a standard. I think it suffered a little for that, because it couldn't quite live up to my enthusiasm and was a little lackluster as a result. It grew on me but it wasn't as powerful or gripping as I was hoping for. There are times when I thought it was going to be, little moments that shined or things that Hellisen does well that made me almost fall for it, but there was something always holding me back just a bit.
Mostly, I think the thing holding me back was Felicita. As a protagonist, she is hard to like. She's spoiled and self-centered, and even though she does take this huge, admirable leap to take control of her fate and be strong, she's still very much a product of her upbringing throughout. Though I can't really fault her for that (or Hellisen; it is realistic, after all), it does make it hard to root for her. But she does grow considerably, and part of me knows that this was the point of her character, but it still was hard to cheer for her or want to read her story at times. It always made sense that she'd think the way she does, that she'd look down on people and be somewhat narrow-minded, but chances are it will put some readers off - those who are not fans of anti-heroes or aren't patient or willing to wait for things to come around and for her to get with it. But even beyond that, I couldn't help but feel that Felicita was sort of incidental at times, that she wasn't really needed; that she was just the gateway into the story, and that things probably would have happened exactly the same with or without* her. This is not necessarily bad; it can be kind of intriguing, actually. But I didn't get as much out of her as I would have liked, other than that she brought me to these other characters that I loved. But she can be introspective and she is curious, so she does bring things to light and allow us to see this world through her eyes. I was able to forgive her most things because of that.
[*I'm sorry if I just put Bono in your head...]
What made up for Felicita, though, was Pelimburg and the creatures who populated it. The world-building was excellent (for me, at least. I'm sure some will find it confusing and frustrating, but I ate it up.) Pelimburg was genuinely interesting and felt very lively and full. I liked Felicita's exploration of it, and her attempts to let go of "Felicita" and become "Firel" so that she could escape into something else (even though she can never seem to leave Felicita behind). The rest of the characters are fun and I adored a number of them. They made me wish for a longer book because I wanted more pagetime for them; I wanted to get more of their stories, more of their thoughts and actions and how they came to be together (even though the slight mystery, always-has-been-ness of it all really worked). I also really liked the take on magic and folklore, with different cultures, backgrounds and superstitions adding a really nice layer to the story. And it all had a sort of desolate, dreary, hopeless feel to it, which I loved, and which kept me going where Felicita sometimes did not.
Another thing I absolutely did love was the treatment of love - or not so much even that, but attraction. Hellisen avoids a lot of the pitfalls of most YA, portraying attraction and romance in a much more realistic, muddled, confusing way. It's not the stereotypical YA romance, even though there is a love triangle(ish). What love is there, what romance and triangularness and flirtation and confusion, etc., felt more human and authentic in its treatment than you generally find; it's bumbling and cringe-worthy in that really good, awkward, realistic way, and (thankfully) completely ignores the idea of swooning, mushy lovestuff. This alone means that I'll be keeping an eye on what Hellisen does in the future.
But the fact remains, when I finished the last page and closed the book, I didn't feel the need to immediately tell someone about it or push it on anyone. I knew that any pushing I did do would be qualified ("Read this, it's neat, but..."). Again, I think part of this was just because of my own expectations and inexplicable excitement for the book, and that's not really fair of me. And there's part of me that wonders if I may appreciate it more on further readings. There is something there that lingered with me, and there is certainly a part of me that wants more of the world and its cast of characters. So it did sort of worm its way into me, and that's a plus in my book. (I mean, it stuck with me well enough that I'm able to review it and recall things months after reading it, which can be a rarity for me.)
As I said, it was an odd experience. In the end, I do recommend this, but with qualifiers - know yourself as a reader. If you aren't put off by the negatives I've listed, and are intrigued by the rest, definitely pick this up. But if you're easily confused or frustrated with complex, unusual world-building or oft-times frustrating MCs, or you like your romances immediate and swoony, you might want to skip it. As for me, I think I might read it again at some point, when I can come to it with fresh eyes. And I'll certainly be keeping a lookout for what Cat does next, since this was her debut and all; I'm intrigued to see what she'll do next and how she'll grow. (less)
Slightly under a 4, I guess? I had some issues with believability, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the hell out of this. Video review on this on...moreSlightly under a 4, I guess? I had some issues with believability, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the hell out of this. Video review on this one: (less)
The Vicious Depp dammit every time Deep popped up on my radar when this happened, and from that point, I knew I hadto read it. And by the time that un...moreThe Vicious Depp dammit every time Deep popped up on my radar when this happened, and from that point, I knew I had to read it. And by the time that un-happened and a new cover was born, it was so firmly planted in my to-read wishlist that I found myself becoming a member of the Bloggers of the Deep street team. And for that, I am glad.
The Vicious Deep is a very engaging, somewhat unusual take on mermaids. Riding the crest of the wave of what looks to be a pretty good mermaid craze, TVD forgoes the expected female heroine and her mysteries of the deep, and follows instead an unsuspecting male lead who finds himself in over his head. [You see what I did there? Okay, I'll stop.] Tristan is likeable: charmingly flawed, self-deprecating yet cocky, typical teenage fuck-up and stunner all in one. He's one of those guys that, even while you know they're playing you, you can't help but sigh and bat your lashes. That guy. And because of that, when he finds himself tossed into this completely unexpected situation where he has to actually put himself out there and try at something that had never even entered his head, it comes together with the way he'd begun to think about his life and trying there, too. And it just works.
His narration is nearly pitch-perfect. It had a very friend-like feel, like chatting with your besties and the jackasses you hung out with as a teen. It's a little colloquial and just - authentic feeling, for the most part. (I'm not now, nor have I ever been, a teenage boy who has just found out he's a mermaidman, so I can't speak to how completely authentic it is...) It's just very funny and cheeky and teenagery in a not-so-angsty way (and AMEN for that). The voice is just great. It played well off of the other characters, too, which I think was one of the strong points of the novel. I really enjoyed the characters and their interactions, and the fact that there is some gray area within them. Tristan is not always a shining hero, (for all that he is shiny), and some of the more dubious, possibly villainous characters turn out to be pretty okay (I love Gwen! #GwenFTW!)
The characters draw you in, but I think the story is enjoyable in other respects, too. At its heart, it's a good, rollicking adventure story with a bit of heart and charm at the core; a thread of romancifulness and a dash of badassery. It's something that will appeal to both genders, I think, and could easily transition to the big screen. It's a bit of a more grown-up Percy Jackson - a little less wholesome and cutesy, and a little more...vicious, with a mythology all its own and solid, enjoyable world-building.
For awhile, I was held back a little bit by the necessity of the story. There were questions, the foremost being, Why does Tristan need to become Sea King? Why should he even care, and how is he in ANY way qualified? (I come from a Kingless place, you'll remember. We stopped believing in de jure divine some time ago...) But where so many YA books wouldn't have addressed it, Córdova DID, and that won me over big time. Someone flat-out asks Tristan why he gives a flying fuck (? swimming shi-..nevermind), and he actually does stop to consider the choice he could make (to ignore it, to let someone else deal with it, to wonder what his place is in all of it), and then makes a decision based on heart and instinct. I respected that; not only that he is choosing to go down this path, but that he (and Córdova) recognizes that there would be questions and other paths, and that thought does need to go into the decision. This got points, friends. Points* in the meaningless scoreboard that is my head.
I have to say, there will be those that are put off by the fact that there's a lot of build up for not all that much accomplished in the end. I don't want this to sound like nothing happens; I just mean there's a lot still in the air at the end, and the story has really just begun. But it's a trilogy, so that's something any regular reader should see coming a mile (fathom?) away. Also, I think it made for good world-building, and things would have been much less believable and weighty if everything had been solved in this book and tied up with a pretty little bow. Things can happen a little quicker now in the rest of the series, and still have a good foundation as a result of the time spent building the story in this first book. So I didn't have an issue with where things stand at the end, but it just bears mentioning, I think.
So yeah. The Vicious Deep. Fun for a girl and a boy. (Though I still wish it had this cover. Though I know it would pretty much mean =/= fun for boys, cause they'd never pick it up...)
*1000 points redeemable for a slinky or sticky slap-hand. Winners choice!
Last year during Fairy Tale Fortnight, I hosted an interviewfrom this lady, Marissa Meyer, who had a book coming out in the misty distant future about...moreLast year during Fairy Tale Fortnight, I hosted an interview from this lady, Marissa Meyer, who had a book coming out in the misty distant future about a cyborg Cinderella. It sounded quirky and weird and awesome, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on it to share it with you this year for FTF. But uh...turns out I couldn't wait until April to share the awesomeness that is Cinder. (But no worries. We'll find some other way to get Marissa and Cinder involved in FTF this year!)
Clearly from Fairy Tale Fortnight, I love a good fairy tale retelling. I even occasionally love a bad fairy tale retelling. But what I absolutely love most about any fairy tale retelling is when the story can stand on its own. This is where a lot of retellings fail, because without the recognizable elements that some rely on too heavily, the story falls flat. Thankfully, that is not at all the case with Cinder. All of the familiar set-pieces of Cinderella are definitely there, but Meyer doesn't use the fairy tale as a crutch. Even if you don't know or like the original fairy tale, Cinder is complete and interesting enough on its own; it has enough going for it that it should work for fairy tale lovers and sci-fi fans alike (and if you like both, like me, then Cinder is just a treat).
Now, this is not to say it's not predictable. Of course it is. It's a fairy tale retelling - we already know the characters, the plot points, the motivations. But in a retelling, it's not so much about the story but what you make of it. And I have to say, this is absolutely one of the most creative and unique twists on a fairy tale that I've read, but what's even better is that it's not forced. There's good depth and believability for such a potentially outlandish premise. It doesn't feel like Meyer sat down and said "How can I make Cinderella weird/new/different/innovative?" The sci-fi/cyborg elements don't feel forced on the tale, they feel more like a natural evolution, and where Cinderella was our lovable outcast of the past, Cinder is our lovable outcast of the future.
And she's strong. She's smart, she's spunky, she's brave. AND SHE'S NOT A SWOONER. (I mean, other than when her cyborg body sort of overloads and kinda sorta electrocutes her. But that doesn't count.) My point is, she's not simpering, and her elevation from outcast status isn't going to be wholly dependent on a fairy godmother and Prince Charming. She intends to take control of her own life and make it what she wants it to be. [Ignore me while I jump up and down and scream "Yes! This!"] She has her hardships and has to continually work against prejudice, but she's competent and perseverant and I ♥ her for it.
Add to all this that the stakes are legitimately high, not just for Cinder but for her entire world - tough choices have to be made and bad things actually do happen, and there is just enough doubt in the readers mind that maybe things won't be very happily-ever-after. It's not saccharine, and I ♥ Marissa for this.
But above all, it's just story telling that worked for me. It reminded me of Firefly and Ever After, and a million other things that I love. But it didn't feel derivative of those things; more like Marissa grew up with the same loves and interests as I did, and they wormed their way in, just a touch, to give the story this enjoyably eclectic feel that nods to all these things that came before, but builds something entirely its own.
And I cannot wait to see where the story goes in the rest of the Lunar Chronicles series. (So bring on Scarlet!)
*This review was part of the Cinder blog tour (yay!) You can check out an awesome guest post from Marissa on Cinder's cyborg elements here, or view a full list of the stops here.
[Or you can download the first 5 chapters here!](less)