When friends of mine raved about your book, I didn't really pay that much attention. I was hip-deep in revisions at the...moreSarah Rees Brennan I love you.
When friends of mine raved about your book, I didn't really pay that much attention. I was hip-deep in revisions at the time, and had sworn off new books (being a naturally lazy procrastinator, if I'm faced with a choice between curling up with a book or getting some hard work done, the curling and reading wins every time). Once those revisions were finished, I have to admit that I forgot about the recommendations I'd heard heaped on THE DEMON'S LEXICON. I am sorry. I am not worthy.
Then I happened to catch sight of TDL during a mammoth book-buying session, and on a whim, I picked it up. I cannot express how glad I am that I did. Your book rocked my world Sarah Rees Brennan. It made me snork with laughter. It made me cry. I made me think deeply. It challenged my preconceptions, played with my prejudices and, in the end, left me feeling transformed.
Your writing skill is deeply humbling. I'm not saying that you're a particularly flowery writer. No. You use words as a surgeon uses a scalpel, forcing me to blink in shock again and again as you pierce straight to the heart of the matter. Your plotting is superb. I hear that you credit this to reading all of Agatha Christie's books? You do yourself an injustice. I too have read all of Ms Christie's works, and I cannot plot as you do. I'm also in awe of the depth and compassion in your characterisation. I loved and hated the characters in THE DEMON'S LEXICON, but more than that, I understood them. Each of them, good, bad or intriguingly in-between, had a stunning emotional truth.
The fact that you accomplished all this in your first book? Frankly, shows me how very deeply I fail as a writer. But it also inspires me to keep trying to improve my own craft so that one day a story of mine will make someone feel the wonder, the shock, the joy and sorrow that THE DEMON'S LEXICON made me feel.
In Summary: if you are reading this review, and you are not Sarah Rees Brennan, please go and buy this book. Now. If you are reading this review and you ARE Sarah Rees Brennan, please, write many more books. I don't urge you to write faster, to pair up any particular couple, or to keep writing sequels set in this world. No. I just beg you to keep writing for as long as I'm alive, and to please outlive me. You're a year younger than I am. It shouldn't be difficult.
**spoiler alert** This is a really difficult book to review because, while it was compelling, beautifully written and full of interesting thoughts and...more**spoiler alert** This is a really difficult book to review because, while it was compelling, beautifully written and full of interesting thoughts and ideas, it still wasn't quite for me. By which I mean, I'm glad I read it, I enjoyed it, I was deeply moved by it - but I can't imagine that I'd want to read it again, or that I'll be making any special effort to find the next one in the series.
Things I liked:
The strong voice, which was evocative and lyrical - and gave a perfect sense of setting and tone - without being *too* formal or poetic. Mary's narration, her constant yearning to find freedom and the ocean, her unwavering (if slightly puzzling) devotion to Travis, who is (hurrah!) not a soulmate vampire or werewolf but just a mortal man, were all beautiful and moving.
Carrie Ryan did such a skillful job of creating a sense of constant, barely stifled fear and menace that after reading a few pages before bed I couldn't sleep thinking about it. That hasn't happened to me since I saw The Ring for the first time!
Another good thing was that Mary was not always a perfectly sympathetic character. I applaud the author for her bravery in allowing that, and letting Mary grow through selfishness and mistakes as well as bravery and love. Great stuff.
Things I didn't like:
Some of the characterisation in the supporting cast - Jed, Travis, Harry, Sister Tabitha - felt a bit...wonky. I can't quite put my finger on it except to say that everyone always seemed to act in such a way as to maximise the heroine's anguish without necessarily acting in their own best interests. Unless someone is actively evil, usually the damage they do is unthinking and accidental. Not a huge problem, just made me frown a time or two while reading.
Another thing that made me feel the cold creep of cynicism was (without getting too spoilery) Jed's actions at the end and what eventually happened to him. I feel as if a more gradual closening in their relationship would have been more realistic. His charging after her at the last moment and then that final event? Felt less *necessary* to the story and more like the author trying to wring the last drop of angst from the reader. Despite the unrelenting bleakness of Mary's world, it just seemed like TOO MUCH bad luck (especially as Mary kept escaping from impossible situations unscathed).
Who the heck built this huge network of chainlink fences, full of twists and turns and dead ends? And why? How did they have the time, with the hoardes of Unconsecrated coming for them? I kept expecting to get some explanation for this, but although the author may know the answer, we never got a hint.
How is it possible that only the bite of the Unconsecrated infects? If the virus is in their saliva it ought to be in their blood too, therefore when Mary gets clawed and scratched and covered in infected blood, she ought to be infected too. This unthinking 'bite only' thing feels vaguely reminiscent of vampire/werewolf lore, and rather out of place in a story that makes it clear the zombie apocalypse came about through the meddling of scientists.
Anyway, the above quibbles aside, I was thoroughly impressed by Carrie Ryan's THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH and would certainly recommend it to others.(less)
**spoiler alert** I wavered backwards and forwards between three and four stars for this book. On the one hand, I enjoyed it and found it a quick and...more**spoiler alert** I wavered backwards and forwards between three and four stars for this book. On the one hand, I enjoyed it and found it a quick and easy read. I was never bored, and was at times very entertained. On the other hand, I was never particularly moved by the story either, and certainly never surprised. Although this book is marked as YA, at times it felt as if it was written at a much younger level, and despite the author's attempts to plumb some of the darker levels of the original fairytale, the mood and tone of the story stayed breezy, light and cheery throughout, which was a little off-putting at times.
Having read Robin McKinley's novella 'The Twelve Dancing Princesses', I found this re-telling had a very *familiar* feeling. This is because both McKinley and JDG are extremely faithful to the original fairytale (fair enough, it's a beautiful one, one of my favourites) but it basically meant that nothing unexpected or particularly moving happened in this story. McKinley's version does not depart from the fairy tale in the slightest but, with her trademark lush description and fine characterisation, it still works well, possibly because it's in a much shorter form.
PRINCESS OF THE MIDNIGHT BALL, being longer and alternating viewpoints between the Soldier and the oldest Princess, should have been a much richer and more complex story. The author adds several new subplots to the tale in an attempt to accomplish this. Unfortunately none of these new story layers are ever fully explored or exploited. The strangeness of the old queen entering into a bargain with the King Under Stone and practically selling her daughters into slavery, King and country being condemned by the church, the rioting in the streets, the corrupt, fanatical Archbishop - all of these things could have combined to create a story of fascinating darkness and desperation. Instead, no sooner do the riots begin than they end, the archbishop never really does anything too terrible, we never get any real insight into how the Queen struck her devilish bargain, and it turns out the country wasn't really condemned at all. Frankly, everything seems a little too easy.
On the plus side, Galen, the main male character, was interesting and sympathetic, with a sad and believable backstory and an unusual skillset which amused me very much. Unfortunately the main female character seemed mostly to be defined by her situation, with little personality of her own. I couldn't say if she was clever, brave, bad-tempered, witty - the strongest thing I can say about her is 'nice' which is damning with faint praise, really.
Still, this is a smoothly written and fun little story. I can't say I'd go out and buy anymore of the author's work, but if I see another of her books in the library I'll probably borrow it.(less)
**spoiler alert** First of all I need to say: I LOVE Maggie Stiefvater. Not in a creepy stalker way, I hasten to add, but in a respectful, read-her-bl...more**spoiler alert** First of all I need to say: I LOVE Maggie Stiefvater. Not in a creepy stalker way, I hasten to add, but in a respectful, read-her-blog-every-day kind of way. I find her funny and talented and her 'butt-kicking' posts are very useful and inspiring to me as a writer. So coming to this book - the first of hers that I have read - was a strange experience for me. I wanted to love it, but I was frightened that I wouldn't. Could it live up my expectations?
On the one hand, friends of mine, whose opinions I respect, had told me that the prose in this book was eye-wateringly bad, and made them want to bash their head against the wall. On the OTHER hand, critical reviews led me to believe that the book was really beautifully written. Who's opinion to believe?
Strangely, both of them.
There were times when the writing in this book - notably the use of metaphors, often coming one after after another in a crowded paragraph - forcibly dragged out of the story, as I tried to figure out just what the heck was *actually* happening here. Did they just touch, or kiss or...or did they just THINK about kissing? Help! I don't get it! A quick re-read usually solved my confusion a moment later, but by the third or fourth time I started grinding my teeth.
On the other hand, there were times - especially when I was reading descriptions of simple displays of affection between main characters Sam and Grace, or of the changeable woods that surround their homes and shape their lives - when the crystalline loveliness of Maggie's prose brought tears prickling to my eyes.
The same was really true of the characters and the plot. I was divided, loving Sam and empathising with him deeply, but finding it hard to connect to Grace. I liked the beginning of the story and loved the end, but felt my interest straying during some sections of the middle.
Having finished this a few hours ago and let it sink into my brain a bit, I do feel as if those middle sections served a purpose in making the urgency of the last third much more pronounced. But overall, I feel that some scenes could easily have been condensed without losing their usefulness, and that a lot of things were shown which would have been better to have been quickly summed up. During the final third, several incidents that should have had a deep impact were told in narrative rather than action, which lessened their power (no spoilers, but I'm referring to Jack and to Grace and the guitar).
And yet, and yet...there's a magic in this book, I think. It feels special. Despite my gripes, my imagination and emotion were captured by so many things - Beck's last walk into the cold to summon Sam, Sam's backstory, Sam's love of poetry and Grace's gradual opening to it, the story of Grace getting locked in the car by her father. Dark and difficult incidents related simply and without melodrama and used to set the mood and define character perfectly.
I'm not sure I can say yet that I loved SHIVER. It might take a re-read or so for me to feel my way properly into Grace's head, to pick up all the subtleties I'm sure the author hid beneath the surface. But I can say that I enjoyed it, and, more importantly, was moved by it. And that I'm now very eager to read LINGER. (less)