There was much rejoicing when the ARC of this arrived in the mail this week. I devoured it in one night, staying up nearly until 2 AM to finish it.
Thi...moreThere was much rejoicing when the ARC of this arrived in the mail this week. I devoured it in one night, staying up nearly until 2 AM to finish it.
This is a tough book to write up. It's definitely the middle book of a trilogy, and I can already tell that the wait for Quintana of Charyn is going to be killer. Honestly, in a lot of ways I think the jury is out on the overall plot of this one until we get the resolution of some narrative threads in the follow-up.
Froi of the Exiles is definitely concerned with many of the same themes as Finnikin of the Rock (family, culture, violence, loss, trauma, and gender roles, just to start with) but it approaches them slantwise. Everything's a little more ambiguous than it was in Finnikin of the Rock because this about Froi, and Quintana, and Charyn, and nothing about those three is simple. That doesn't make it worse, but it does make it a more challenging read. The writing here is riskier and gutsier; it's also perhaps not quite as consistently successful. Again, I think what happens in Quintana of Charyn will really effect what I end up thinking of this book down the road.
The tone of the writing, perhaps because (view spoiler)[the story takes place largely in a court, rather than on the road, (hide spoiler)] sometimes felt wobbly. And I say this as someone who generally loves Marchetta's prose.
(view spoiler)[For me, the strongest part of the novel was actually the subplots--Beatriss's and Lucian and Phaedre's stories hit me hard. I liked how Beatriss's plot complicated what we already knew of life in Lumatere during the ten years of the curse. Froi's plot was harder to read. This is partly because I really missed Finnikin and Evanjalin/Isaboe; partly because the character of Quintana didn't work for me in a way that Evanjalin did. The worldbuilding was a little shakier; it didn't feel as whole as that of Lumatere, and that pulled me out of the story enough that I started noticing funny character and place names. But I loved what we ended up learning about the other last-borns, and the way Froi was caught between Charyn and Lumatere. The revelations are a bit too easy to guess--sometimes that's not a problem (it's easy for us to guess that Froi is a Charynite, even though it takes a long time for that penny to drop for him) and sometimes it sort of is (it's also too easy to figure out Gargarin and Lirah are his parents, and that does sort of hurt the impact of that moment in the story). (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Middle-of-the-road YA novel about a girl in her last year of high school coping with the unexpected reappearance of her biological father, family dram...moreMiddle-of-the-road YA novel about a girl in her last year of high school coping with the unexpected reappearance of her biological father, family dramas and mysteries, and the romantic interest of two very different boys. It's nowhere near the level of Saving Francesca and Jellicoe Road, though you can see how it's an earlier work by the same writer: the story elements are familiar, even if they aren't as effective. In particular, this lacks the emotional sweep of Marchetta's later work (the central romance is intense, but less convincingly so) and the more polished prose of Jellicoe Road and Finnikin of the Rock, and the revelations of the second half of the book are far too easy to guess in advance. If you're going to read Marchetta, read this first; otherwise, you'll probably be find it something of a letdown.(less)
In a nice change of pace, the hero here wasn't cut exactly from the usual template. It's a shame that he went closer and closer to said template as th...moreIn a nice change of pace, the hero here wasn't cut exactly from the usual template. It's a shame that he went closer and closer to said template as the story went on.(less)
I think of Laurens' Cynster books as pure fluff reading, but I think I may have finally reached the point where I can't read anymore of them. It's too...moreI think of Laurens' Cynster books as pure fluff reading, but I think I may have finally reached the point where I can't read anymore of them. It's too much of the same characters, just with different hair and eye colors. A little variation on the formula, please?(less)
In general, I read Laurens' Cynster novels when I'm particularly hard up for a fluff romance read, but the sheer ridiculousness of this one (witches o...moreIn general, I read Laurens' Cynster novels when I'm particularly hard up for a fluff romance read, but the sheer ridiculousness of this one (witches of Scottish vales!) makes this one a particularly borderline read.(less)
**spoiler alert** I sometimes feel the entire Cynster series should have the tag line "Stephanie Laurens likes alpha males more than you!" That said:...more**spoiler alert** I sometimes feel the entire Cynster series should have the tag line "Stephanie Laurens likes alpha males more than you!" That said: I mock, but I also still read when I feel like fluff. Laurens isn't my first choice when it comes to trashy romance, but she'll do in a pinch.
It's both a shame and a cheat, though, to have the most unlikable family member be the villain in this and in other Cynster novels. (less)
**spoiler alert** I tend to be cynical about promotional blurbs on a book cover; I see enough of them to start noticing when a circle of writer friend...more**spoiler alert** I tend to be cynical about promotional blurbs on a book cover; I see enough of them to start noticing when a circle of writer friends gets caught in the endless "let me blurb your book" cycle! But this book caught my attention because it had blurbs from Melina Marchetta and Megan Whalen Turner, two of my favorite YA authors...and two who don't blurb every other book that shows up on the new shelf.
It's sort of an odd duck of a book. It follows Cam Attling, who survived a war but lost his arm, as he tries to settle into his old life...and failing at that, goes off to seek a new one. That could be a fairly simple story, but Hinwood chooses to tell this one in an unusual way, from multiple points-of-view. There's Pin, Cam's younger sister; Graceful Fenister, his betrothed; Gyaar, the Uplander lord who cut off Cam's arm but spared his life; and so on.
I love books that ask the question "what happens when the war is over?" and I have a lot of patience for narrative tricks, so you might think this book was perfect for me. Not quite. I found it very readable--I went through it on one sitting on a sunny Sunday afternoon--but I never became emotionally engaged in the lives of these characters. (Marchetta's work offers a good contrast here--her books reliably leave me in tears by their ends.)
I think I was distanced from the story partly because I wasn't sure what to make of the backstory and worldbuilding here. Cam is the survivor of a war between the Uplanders and the Downlanders. The Downlanders are vaguely based on pre-industrial European cultures, and the the Uplanders vaguely based on East Asian cultures (I suspect mostly Japan). Neither of the cultures felt entirely authentic to me, but that was especially true of the Uplanders, and I am so, so tired of people co-opting Asian cultural details to do lazy worldbuilding.
Anyway, an interesting effort, but not something I feel like I can strongly recommend.(less)
**spoiler alert** I started reading this book during my lunch break, and when I came home in the evening, I skipped dinner so I could plop down on my...more**spoiler alert** I started reading this book during my lunch break, and when I came home in the evening, I skipped dinner so I could plop down on my couch and finish it.
Five years after Saving Francesca, Tom Mackee has hit rock bottom. He's dropped out of uni, working dead-end jobs (with former friends, no less), and living with his aunt Georgie. Georgie, who's unmarried and pregnant, has troubles of her own. And the entire Finch-Mackee clan is still grieving from the loss of Tom's uncle Joe two years earlier in the London tube bombing.
I liked all the ways this novel resists sequelitis. Example: Francesca still battles depression--it's not magically cured with the happy ending wand. That's why I can even forgive the novel for something at coy as having a wee crossover with the otherwise unrelated Jellicoe Road (and okay, I sort of loved it that Justine's violinist ended up being Ben Cassidy).
Marchetta lets Tom be unlikable and a genuine fuck up. But even in their brokenness, the humanity of Marchetta's characters shines through. And that's why I found myself reading so intently. Maybe it was sort of safe bet that Tom and Tara would find their way toward some sort of reconciliation, that Tom would land on his feet, that Tom's family would come back together. But I still had to know exactly how all that would happen, and I kept reading until I did.(less)
Francesca's in her first year at a school she hates, separated from the friends she relied upon at her old school, and dealing with her mother's battl...moreFrancesca's in her first year at a school she hates, separated from the friends she relied upon at her old school, and dealing with her mother's battle with depression.
I've been reading Melina Marchetta's books in reverse chronological order, and going backwards, I can see how she's grown as a writer. Saving Francesca is a very good read--the school life feels authentic, the characters are vivid, and the depiction of the spiraling effects of depression on a family is true enough that it makes me want to cry. On the other hand, it's a much more conventional work than both Jellicoe Road and Finnikin of the Rock. It's less ambitiously structured. To someone who's read the later books, sometimes the characters--as interesting as they are--feel like rough drafts of characters that Marchetta does later. And Marchetta's rough drafts are better than most people's final work, but still.
I do like that the protagonist of this story isn't always strong or likable. It's an interesting contrast to Marchetta's later books, where the protagonists are almost impossibly intense about life. Francesca isn't intense in that way at all; in fact, when we meet her, she's always hiding who she is and what she wants. She makes decisions out of cowardice and uncertainty and fear. So she's actually a more authentic portrait of what it's like to be a teen than someone like, say, Taylor Markham or Evanjalin. And as a reader, sometimes you want to read about a Taylor or an Evanjalin. And sometimes you want to read about a Francesca, because you understand exactly why she wants to go back to her comfortable existance at Stella's, even though it obviously was pretty terrible all along.(less)
When Taylor Markham was 11, her mother abandoned her in the 7-11 on Jellicoe Road. Six years later, she find herself as the unwilling leader in her sc...moreWhen Taylor Markham was 11, her mother abandoned her in the 7-11 on Jellicoe Road. Six years later, she find herself as the unwilling leader in her school's traditional battle with the Cadets and Townies. But Taylor has a history with the leader of the Cadets, and teen war games begin to take a back seat toward Taylor's journey to discover the truth about her family.
I like stories that weave together seemingly separate narratives. Here there's a novel within the novel, and because of that the first bit of the story can seem a bit disjointed. It's a long while before you get clues as to how things fit together. But Marchetta is such a strong lyrical writer--and I say this as someone who is always complaining that too many YA writers barely manage workmanlike prose at best--that I was sucked into the story along the way. I started reading this during a lunch break, dived back into it during my 15-minute break, and then sat down as soon as I got home and finished it. It was utterly absorbing, and I cried through the last few chapters.
In some ways, this novel is so far removed from the high fantasy of Finnikin of the Rock, but the bones are the same: themes of home and family, both families of choice and families of blood; about surviving loss; about guilt and forgiveness.
I can't wait to read more of Marchetta's work.(less)
I read most of this book in one long sitting (on a train trip), and as soon as I was finished, I began flipping back to earlier bits to reread them in...moreI read most of this book in one long sitting (on a train trip), and as soon as I was finished, I began flipping back to earlier bits to reread them in light of what I now knew.
This definitely reads like fantasy written by someone who is not steeped in the genre, and that's both a good and bad thing. The worldbuilding feels very generic Eurofantasy; this is not a book that I'll be telling someone to read because the setting is so cool. (I especially winced at the depiction of the spirit warriors...) At the same time, a lot of traditional fantasy is so much about the worldbuilding that it makes my eyes glaze over: that doesn't happen here.
This is plot- and character-driven writing. The two lead characters, Finnikin and Evanjalin, are both charismatic--especially Evanjalin. They are exiles/refugees who actually feel like such; their angst doesn't feel pasted on. There are many thoughtful details in the characterization and plotting about the costs of war and what it means to be a survivor of war and/or violence. I also especially like some of the things that Marchetta does with gender in the second half of the book; I wasn't watching out for it at the beginning and didn't even notice she was doing it until it had become a major theme in the book.
Am looking forward to reading more of Marchetta's books! It's probably a good thing that I have Jellicoe Road lined up on my iPhone.(less)
This reminded me a wee bit of Connie Willis's work, thanks to the time travel angle; I liked how it approached the worldbuilding, only filling in the...moreThis reminded me a wee bit of Connie Willis's work, thanks to the time travel angle; I liked how it approached the worldbuilding, only filling in the necessary details and not boring the reader with the rest. Unfortunately, the plot was a little obvious to me though: I guessed most of the developments as they happened, and wished the author had gone for somewhat less obvious characterizations of some key players.(less)