I should point out that I blame Tumblr for leading me to this. I had seen a post promoting this book, thought it sounded interesting and bought a copy...moreI should point out that I blame Tumblr for leading me to this. I had seen a post promoting this book, thought it sounded interesting and bought a copy for my ereader. (And then it turned out that the wrong synopsis was posted, but I thought “Eh, we’ll still give it a shot.”) And then, in the middle of this, I got to the scene with Ben’s rant about “If teenage girls like a thing, it’s automatically derided,” and I went “Wait a second, I’ve read this before! It’s that Tumblr post!”
So there’s that.
This is an incredibly hard book to sum up in a few paragraphs. Not that it was confusing or hard to follow, but feels like the kind of book that’s just so good you can’t describe it behind “Just trust me on this one.” It’s probably not going to work for everyone, but when it does work, oh my God does it work. Borsellino’s writing is this hypnotically haunting piece of work with so many layers and twists to the story, that even though I was muttering “The fuck did I just read,” I meant that in a good way.
There’s four different narratives in this, intertwining and bleeding through each other, and I genuinely did not know what the truth was going to be until I got to the very end. Like, I honestly thought up until the mid-point that Ella was writing her letters in jail, but she’s seeing it as her own personalized hell. The whole story of Amy and Sally traveling across Australia and trying to figure out what they were looking for took such a hard left turn, that I was sitting going “Wait, what? What the fuck?” And this is all background for a series of articles on a band called Hush, whose members are intrinsically linked to Ella and Sally and Amy.
This is a book about finding family in the darkness of the world and finding that love in spite of the darkness. And that people who do terrible things sometimes do them out of loneliness or fear—they’re not absolved from the things that they’ve done, but it doesn’t mean they can’t try to repent. Most of the heart of this comes from Ella, or at least it was for me. Here’s the thing with Ella—her story is a very thinly veiled version of the Columbine shootings, here called Cobweb, to the point where there are specific details (like her school being in Colorado and that her friends would make custom Doom levels). I’ve mentioned that Columbine had probably a bigger effect on me than 9/11 did (not saying one event was worse than another, but there’s a reason that I get so upset when I hear about mass shootings and how often that they’ve happen), so for me to say that I found myself sympathizing with Ella is huge. Especially because she is unrepentant for what she’s done, and that feels like the shootings were the right thing to do. But what I liked about it is that Ella’s not absolved for what she’s done, she doesn’t expect to be absolved, she knows why she’s in Hell and that she can’t take back what she’s done. (view spoiler)[The scene of Ella and Stacy sitting in front of the memorial at their old school is just such a powerful moment, because they’ve been painted as the Demon and the Saint by time and media, but they’re just two ordinary girls who made two different decisions that ended up destroying them. And then when you learn that Cherry and Tash are their little sisters who ended up becoming best friends and creating something new with Hush—there’s so much that could be clichéd with how things are revealed but it feels so organic within the plot.
(I should mention that the only thing that doesn’t quite work for me is that you have the thinly veiled Columbine reference, and Borsellino makes thinly veiled references to Matthew Shepherd and Coco Chanel, but reveals that no, she’s actually talking about the real people. The moments they got mentioned kinda jarred me out of the book because there’s at least some differences between Cobweb and Columbine, and yet the stories told about Sam Brightwater and Vivi Verdun are the exact life stories. Those were the only moments that I stopped reading and went “But…okay, why would you do that.”) (hide spoiler)]
While Ella’s story directly ties into Hush, the Sally and Amy backstory is a slow burn into revealing what roles they ultimately play in the end. I think this is the one part that really won’t work for a lot of people, because it feels so disconnected from the rest of the book until we got to the reveal at the very end. But Sally and Amy’s journey is much more hypnotic and drew me into the story more trying to figure out what their connection to the plot is. (view spoiler)[And then there is the actual WHAT THE FUCK reveal that Amy is an actual demon—I actually thought that Sally and Amy were going to be the Lesbian Vampire Murders mention by Charlotte in her articles, but when Ella mentioned Amy’s brothers Caim and Murmur I was going “Wait what’s going on here?” But what I did like about the reveal isn’t that Amy isn’t wrecking hell on Earth, she’s just trying to make her way through life, and taking away other people’s pain. And that when Sally figures out that something’s up with Amy, she’s genuinely conflicted about the state of her soul. I really loved that this book ends with them starting their own family, and that it ends up being the grandparents who raise Ben and Jacqui. (hide spoiler)]
While the Hush sequences feel like the weakest part of the book, I actually enjoyed them the best out of the three major storylines. I really liked how Borsellino portrays the band through Charlotte’s articles—we get just enough characterization of all the band members, and enough hints to their backstory and what their connections are to the other plotlines. And I also really liked that Borsellino captures the fandom of Hush and how the band reacts to it—I’ve said that YA books dealing with music sometimes don’t really give a grasp on a fictional band’s fandom and music, and I loved how Borsellino wrote about Hush. And she also makes them feel more realistic, and not just token characters—Jacqui’s being trans is dealt with in a near-scandal, but she talks about it frankly and the world moves on. And even Cherry and Tash’s connection to Cobweb is mentioned, but it’s not lingered on until things become clearer in the text of Ella’s letters.
This is an incredibly ambitious book, and I don’t think there’s a lot of writers out there who could pull it off as well as Borsellino has. Aside from a couple of things that kind of break the world of the book, this just pulled me in completely, and wouldn’t let go until I got to the end. I highly recommend tracking this one down, and I’m very interested in reading more of her work. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I should point out that in the last six months, Seanan McGuire’s books have become my literary street drug—out of my friends, there’s only one that I...moreI should point out that in the last six months, Seanan McGuire’s books have become my literary street drug—out of my friends, there’s only one that I haven’t thrown Discount Armageddon at (and only because she moved away before I could get the chance), the other three have gobbled up the first three Incryptid books (and one mainlined the entire Toby Daye series in two weeks) and I’ve managed to handsell a bunch of her books at work. The fact that she also writes so much short fiction helps a lot with the addiction.
While routewitches and road spirits got namechecked in the first three Incryptid books and Sparrow Hill Road had a few Healys running around, the two didn't seem to tonally fit. There’s some shared characteristics between them, but as I said in Sparrow Hill Road, Rose Marshall’s world of twilight and back highways is as far from Verity Price’s urban monster population. “The Ghosts of Bourbon Street” manages to throw the two together in a blended, and comes out with a perfect mixed cocktail of haunted houses and ghosts, and dealing with strange creatures who should not be of this world, but are living in it anyway. It does read like it’s supposed to be a bridge between the two series instead of being its own story that involves both books, but I still really enjoyed it. (Although I was severely disappointed that in regards to it being referenced in Half-Off Ragnarok, Verity and Dominic weren’t crashing a dead man’s party. Drinking with the dead is still awesome, and it could have run the Oingo Boingo jokes into the ground, but oh man that would have been awesome.) I loved the use of New Orleans and how the city’s structures are ghosts themselves. And I loved the idea of the ghost krewes—I kinda wanna see a Rose Marshall story about that. The plot of the story itself isn’t that much, it’s basically a Scooby-Doo episode as written by RL Stine, but it’s fun and the little touches of world-building that we get are worth it. It’s a fun tale to bridge the long months in between now and Pocket Apocalypse. (less)
**spoiler alert** As I mentioned in my review for “How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea,” the thing that I love about the Newsflesh novellas is that...more**spoiler alert** As I mentioned in my review for “How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea,” the thing that I love about the Newsflesh novellas is that their purpose isn’t to solely to satiate the fans who want more (even though I do) or fill in the gaps of backstory/world-building, but rather a continuation of the ATET’s motto: The truth demands to be told. And while “The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell” is a lot more of filling in the holes for certain characters, this really does showcase the amount of detail Grant/McGuire puts into her series.
This is one the few true zombie outbreak stories in this universe, with the except of the events occurring post-Rising. It really does make sense that schools would be such a dangerous place, and that homeschooling would be more favorable especially with the chance that anyone could suddenly amplify at any moment. What really grabbed me here is that the setting is in an elementary school, which while there’s still danger, it does represent that last shred of innocence in this world where everything is sealed off. And this being Seanan McGuire, everything gets destroyed. Horribly. Your emotions feed her writing and I’m pretty sure she’s cackling whilst doing so.
The whole absolute worst part of this is that it’s very much like “The Last Stand of the California Browncoats” in where you’re told what happened up front, and that knowledge lingers in your head as you’re reading, but there’s still that tiny part that is hoping that all of the kids are going to make it out alive, or more so that are unaccounted for. (I should mention that I do get upset when real life children are carelessly slaughtered. This isn’t as upsetting because even though so many kids die, we only see very few onscreen deaths, and the weights of the kids means no zombie kindergarteners.) But you want Elaine to make it to the roof, and for the kids to get out. Even though I knew what was coming, I still was rooting for her until the very end.
And what I also really liked about the whole set-up was that when you stop to think about it, the reason why everything happens is that this is the first post-Rising generation—even though they’ve grown up with the Rules and what not to do, it’s still not a part of daily life and normal for them. The whole fact that recess still exists at this point, even when it’s carefully controlled, there’s still always that chance. And at the heart of it all is the fact that kids are going to be kids, and that they’re going to disobey. Whether they do so out of spite or ignorance doesn’t matter. Because, as Elaine herself observes, they haven’t learned how to be afraid yet.
This is also all framed by Alaric’s piece on the site, and his discovery of what really happened to Elaine Oldenburg disappeared. (Yay Alaric!) It’s another thing that you know going in fairly early on (because boo on the synopsis), but it’s a little like the Masons when we see them in “Countdown”—we know who Foxy is now but we don’t know what it was like before for her. And we don’t need to know the entire step-by-step process of how she feel in with the Cat or what happened in the time between this and when the ATET crew showed up, because we don’t really need that story.
I really loved reading this, even though the gut punches were expected and I ended up yelling at my ereader frequently. (Again, I know what I’m getting into, it’s a Newsflesh story.) It’s a great addition to the universe, and I can’t wait to see what layer we’re getting next. (less)
I have a problem when I completely fall head over heels in love with a new author—my very first instinct is to run out to the closest bookstore and BU...moreI have a problem when I completely fall head over heels in love with a new author—my very first instinct is to run out to the closest bookstore and BUY ALL OF THE BOOKS. Even if I’m not planning on reading them all straight away or attempting to pace myself on one book at a time. It happened when I first discovered the Discworld books, and then with Robin McKinley, and last year it happened with Seanan McGuire. I read Rosemary & Rue last year on vacation, and the second I got home, I snapped up the rest of the series (despite the fact that I was planning to put them in the rotation and considering how long that took me).
(In comparison, my best friend, whom I had been saying for ages “Omg you HAVE to read Seanan, you’d love her,” read the first two InCryptid books in three days, then proceeded to go to her local Barnes & Noble and bought out their ENTIRE Toby Daye stock. And read ALL SEVEN BOOKS IN A WEEK AND A HALF. To be fair, she doesn’t get to go to BN as often as I do.)
A series like Toby Daye, where we’re nearly eight books in, I tend to be more forgiving of filler books especially when they’re so early on. And also because I’ve read a lot of McGuire’s books before this one and I know that she likes to have long-term plotlines. So, while this and what I’ve read of An Artificial Night so far do feel like fluff and padding, I’m not going to side-eye it as much. Plus, this is still a ton of fun to read! Just because it’s filler doesn’t automatically mean it’s bad. There are times when I want to have the literary equivalent of a Kobe beef burger, but I’ll settle for a good literary cheeseburger if it’s done well and the way I like it.
I really like that A Local Habitation opens with Toby being settled in somewhat with her quasi-return to fae society while she’s struggling with her lost sixteen years. Well, actually it opens with Toby stumbling home after a night of drinking, but the point still stands—things have gotten back to her brand of normal, and she’s going to make it the best way she can in this world. The fact that the major plot of this book is also a by-the-numbers murder mystery helps with that as well; it gives a more normal look into what Toby has to do in her daily job (even if it will get her killed). Plus like I said before, having a breather book before Shit Gets Real helps more with not establishing the world, but also means that McGuire doesn’t blow her wad three books in. (Well, not completely.)
For starters here, I love that the main plot deals with a faerie-run computer tech company that helps the faerie world integrate with the modern world and technology and its cover is that they make fantasy RPGs. I’ve come across more often than not in modern settings with immortal races, the immortals are typically frozen in time and are generally ignorant of modern technology. (Even Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series had shades of this.) Sometimes there’s a handwave of “Oh, magic and technology don’t work well together!” but on the surface, I do love what ALH is trying to do. We’ve got a Dryad integrated into a computer server (which is a lot of body horror when I stopped and thought about it). And then when we first meet the general ALH staff, Toby and Quentin stumble into an argument over whether or not Lord of the Rings Elvish counts as a real language. (Can we have faerie Tolkien geeks that cast wards in Quenya? Can I have that? We’ve already got Toby using “Speak ‘friend’ and enter” in one of her ward casts, I just want full on nerds in this verse.) (view spoiler)[But I also liked that even though what Jan and her team are trying accomplish isn’t good for Faerie in the long-run—having Faerie uploaded to the server is just the other side of the coin of what the purebloods want—it’s never treated as “Technology is terrible and we shouldn’t be using it at all.” And doesn’t really demonize the fae who are working on the project. Yes, they’re complicit in creating the devices and it’s for the Greater Good that ultimately has a bad end, but it doesn’t mean that they were wrong and evil for thinking that it could work. (hide spoiler)]
And although this book doesn’t really give too much away for the later books, I did really like that McGuire cut to the chase on certain aspects on the world-building. We could have saved the reveal of the night-haunts and why they were created for a later book, but given the plot line, we needed to know right now. (view spoiler)[What I also loved is the fact that the night-haunts took on the form of Toby’s dead—like Dare and Devin—and it hits not only Toby hard but the reader as well. It’s a lingering remainder that there are consequences from the previous books and that they’re going to be there for a long time. Same with the Luideag paying off her debt to Toby—that could have dragged on for multiple books (with the same outcome), but I liked that it’s taken care of here.
The only thing that I didn’t really like was the reveal that Gordan was the killer. Mainly because even though her personality was brash and nasty, I did want to like her character. I don’t fault her reasons for being angry at the purebloods or at Toby for “turning her back” on changelings, but it felt too obvious given her characterization. I wanted Gordan to have more depth to her than what we got. I’m also split on Alex as well. I caught on early that something was up with him with his whole “I’ll tell you if you guess what race I am” and Toby noting the smell of his magic during their first kiss. The twist with Terrie, I didn’t see coming, and I did like that. However, Alex dancing around the subject with Toby is still not okay even if he did genuinely like her. (hide spoiler)]
As I said, Toby felt a lot more settled in this book, and there really wasn’t much of change between this and Rosemary & Rue. I did really love her big sister/mentor relationship with Quentin. And by the way MORE QUENTIN IN ALL OF THE BOOKS—I loved him trying to balance being the courtier who’s trying to uphold the family honor and being a sullen teenager trying to impress girls. Also, as of this book, I totally ship Toby/Tybalt. (The point I had to put the book down from laughing so hard was Tybalt’s outrage of “You thought the best way to contact me was to go around the park saying “Here kitty, kitty?!” He’s so offended I love it.) There wasn’t as much of Sylvester and Luna in this volume, despite this being centered around Sylvester’s niece. And I did really enjoy Jan—I do think she had genuinely good intentions for doing what she did, and that she obviously cares about her staff. I also really liked April, the Dryad/computer server (view spoiler)[despite the fact that I called early on that she was partially responsible for the murders. (hide spoiler)] I’m really curious to see what kind of role she’ll play in future volumes. I also liked that we got more of Connor in this book, and this did a much better job at establishing his former relationship with Toby than in the first book.
I just really loved going back to Toby’s world after a year, and having a breather book in which to do so was a better than jumping in with PLOT POINTS EVERYWHERE. And not to say that there’s nothing important going on in here. I think that this did a better job of illustrating some of the things that Toby’s missed out on her sixteen years as a fish, plus we got more world-building and political workings. (The politics largely ended up being in the background, but I did like that Jan being Countess of an independent county wasn’t brushed aside.) Considering that I’m essentially binge-reading the rest of the series for the next month or so (yeah, I’m not going to get to The Winter Long in two weeks), it’s a good way for me to settle in for the long haul. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Of all the characters who inhibit the universe of the Parasol Protectorate, there is probably none so intriguing and shrouded as Alessandro Tarabotti....moreOf all the characters who inhibit the universe of the Parasol Protectorate, there is probably none so intriguing and shrouded as Alessandro Tarabotti. (Possible exception of Lord Akeldama, or at least his past is shrouded and it shall be kept that way.) While there was a more humanizing element to Alexia’s father that we learn in Heartless, Alessandro still remains as distant a character as he is a parent. (I’m very much hoping that the upcoming Custard Protocol series will concern itself somewhat with Alessandro’s past oh please oh please oh please why do I have to wait until MARCH?)
While “The Curious Case…” doesn’t delve deeply into Alessandro’s backstory, it does serve as a nice insight into the work he did before defecting from the Templars, as well as set up some of the universe history that we saw in Timeless. We do see where Alexia gets a lot of her traits from—lack of a soul notwithstanding—but I did like Alessandro as his own character. There is also a younger Floote, but whenever there are Tarabottis to be waited on, there is always Floote. (I did love the scene of Floote “engaging in fisticuffs” while holding a preserved cat in a jar.) The story plot is a little too thin, but serves its purpose of being a single incident in an enigmatic character’s backstory. (view spoiler)[And then there is Leticia. I should note that I don’t actively hate her but…but…there goes my theory, down in flames. (I WANTED MRS. LOONTWILL TO BE DIMITY WHY IS IT NOT HER?!) (hide spoiler)]
Overall, I really liked this story, but I will say that for the moment, I wouldn’t consider it be essential reading to the Parasol Protectorate universe (unless this is going to play into the Custard Protocol at some point. I’m not ruling it out). ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
There are reasons why I insist on my boss keeping a couple of copies of John Scalzi’s books in our stores—he’s one of the single best writers working...moreThere are reasons why I insist on my boss keeping a couple of copies of John Scalzi’s books in our stores—he’s one of the single best writers working in sci-fi right now and he just keeps getting better. Sometimes his humor can be a little too meta, and sometimes his premises leave me going “What the absolute fuck is going on here?” but at the end of the book, no matter what, I’m still highly entertained and given some food for thought as well. While on the surface, Lock-In seems like a more serious work than some of Scalzi’s other standalone novels, there’s still all of the humor and biting commentary that he typically brings to his work; it’s just that Lock-In does have a more serious premise to it.
What I’ve always loved about Scalzi’s writing is how he takes the time to humanize his characters. Sci-fi is, for better or worse, a commentary on present society and yes, the writer’s views are going to play a large part of that. But Scalzi rarely populates his novels with sneering, one-note strawpeople for him to crow “My opinion is better than yours!” And that holds definitely true given that a large chunk of Lock-In is centered around civil rights, androids (aka threeps), and the cost of medical care for a small percent of the population. And although we are seeing events happen from a threep’s perspective, with a pro-threep message, we still get to see multiple sides of the arguments—the radicals like Cassandra Bell who are basically embracing the Singularity, the people who are creeped out by threeps (although they don’t get much of a viewpoint aside from Chris shutting down Captain Davidson, and the people who want to profit off the privatization of the threep market. And there’s no blanket characterization for them either.
And then there’s the world-building in itself—when we learn exactly what the symptoms of Haden’s syndrome are and how dangerous of a virus it is (being as one of the symptoms is meningitis, which saying not fun is an understatement), and that it was wide-spread and the world moves on. Things are irrevocably changed for good, but it’s not so earth-shattering that everything goes to pieces (End of times! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!) and that life moves on. The events of this book felt more realistic in how society approaches the emergence of threeps and what that means for civilization at large.
What helps with this is that we get the book from Chris Shane’s perspective. Having grown up as the poster child for Haden’s Syndrome, Chris’s experiences feels normalized, even though that experience has been in the spotlight due to having famous parents and being one of the first victims of the disease. And I liked that even though Chris decides to go work for the FBI, it’s not out of spite and Chris is still involved in hir father’s life. (For the record, it’s impossible to write this without using gender specific pronouns. And on that note, an agendered, mixed-race main character—SUCK IT TRADITIONAL SCI-FI.) I really liked Chris, there’s no wangsting about having the burden of being the face of Haden’s for a generation or being forced into the spotlight, but Chris doesn’t really want to do it anymore and wants to do something more in life. I also loved that even with how Chris grew up, I really liked hir sense of humor, especially when confronted with anti-threep bigot. (Although the part that made me crack up was when Chris brings Tony and Vann into hir liminal space in the Agora. “You have a literal Batcave!” “YES I KNOW, MOVING ON.”)
I also really loved Chris’s partnership with Vann. I loved how Scalzi dealt with Vann—she’s pretty much a walking trope of the loose cannon cop who’s going to implode at any moment, and not only is she humanized, but it’s acknowledged that Vann has this massive character flaw and she’s never punished for it. Vann and Chris’s partnership doesn’t hinge on Vann sobering up and/or healing her personal issues, but rather that Chris is going to stand be and put hir trust in Vann. Vann doesn’t apologize for what she does, and there’s no tragic backstory to why she drinks and has a lot of sex. (There’s a tragic backstory as why Vann quit being an Integrator, but she’s already been engaging in self-destructive behavior long before that.)
What may turn some people off on this book is that it is incredibly obvious as to who’s behind the murder plots, but what I found more interesting is Chris and Vann trying to uncover how the villain is able to pull off this mass conspiracy. I think there’s a lot of literature (not just genre fiction) to make plot reveals so needlessly complicated, where everything’s mucked up with a lot of red herrings that writers can lose focus on the driving force of the book. (Not saying that there’s aren’t any good books with major twists, but I do think a lot of people try to do this and can’t pull it off.) Having the main mystery here be “Okay, we have a good idea of who’s behind this, but it’s technically not possible to pull this off so what’s exactly going on here?” And it also helps strengthen the world-building because this is a story about technology and what happens when that technology can be easily manipulated. And although Scalzi’s technology has been on the outlandish side, what makes it sound plausible is that Scalzi applies real world concepts and reactions to them. (Except for the tech in Redshirts, but then again…Redshirts.) And then you have the undercurrent of the Abrams-Ketterling bill that goes in-depth that all of this tech is expensive and what kind of costs it has on society. (The gag of Chris repeatedly renting high-end threeps actually has a great little world-building moment, because all of the visiting threeps are bad models because the FBI offices are underfunded.)
This is one of the books that I’ve been really looking forward to reading all year, and I’m really happy with the end result. While it’s definitely less meta or outwardly cartoony than Scalzi’s other stand-alone novels, he still manages to pull off his sense of humor and biting satire into the world of Lock-In. I highly recommend checking this, especially if you’re just picking up John Scalzi for the first time. (less)
**spoiler alert** I personally don’t like the idea of literary masochism. If other people want to do and write reviews ripping apart terrible books, t...more**spoiler alert** I personally don’t like the idea of literary masochism. If other people want to do and write reviews ripping apart terrible books, that’s fine by me, but I don’t set out to read books that I know that I’m going to hate because why knowingly waste my time on crap? (I’ve read maybe two books in the last five years with the intent and knowledge that “This is going to be hilariously awful. Get the popcorn.” But then again, I also didn’t write reviews because I don’t think that’s a fair bias. Also, it’s more fun to rip apart a book while I’m discovering how bad it is.)
The exception to this rule of picking up books I might not like is if it’s a book by an author I love. I know what I’m getting into, and most of the time, the books that I don’t like are usually because of a bad period (personal or professional) and we just don’t like those. (And considering how prolific most of the authors I read are, it’s not a huge surprise that there’s going to be more than a few flukes in there. Stephen King has them, and I’ve ranted more than enough times on Meg Cabot’s bad period.) So there’s a very slim likelihood that I will swear off an author forever and ever just because of one bad book.
Now, this is not to say that I thought the third go at the Long Earth series, The Long Mars, was a terrible book. Pratchett is one of those authors where I’ve set the bar so high that when there’s something of his that I don’t like, it’s still pretty good. (No, I haven’t read any of Stephen Baxter yet. Look, I’ve literally got 500+ books to plow through, I don’t need to add anymore to the pile /hypocrite) But even on the third try, there’s just something missing from this series that’s just not grabbing me. (And to illustrate how much I’ve been disappointed with this series, I checked this out from work rather than preordering the ebook like I usually do.)
With The Long Mars specifically, one of my main problem is that this—much like the last book—is the exact same plot. There’s some setting and character differences, but regurgitating another mysterious exploration but on Mars this time! or a new threat to the Long Earth’s population is just boring to me. This is such a massive universe that’s populated with so many people and species and to keep telling the exact same two plots with the same four or five characters is just so boring to me. The only major difference I can see between the two plots is that Sally Linsay is the one to go on the mass expedition. Even Maggie Kauffman’s plotline is similar to hers in The Long War, right down to the climax where she has to make a moral choice of wiping out an “innocent” town. I’ve said since the first book that I didn’t really care about Joshua or Sally or Lobsang (thank God Lobsang is a non-presence in this book; his only role is to warn about “evolving humans” and a final deus ex machina at the end); I want to know more about the Helen Greens of the universe, the everyday people who are displaced from Datum and what they’re going through.
And can we talk about the Next? Similar to the first book’s antagonists of anti-steppers, the Next are supposed the evolutionary line of humans—a group of teenagers with the same genetic family line who are intelligent, charismatic, and dangerous. Evolutionary next step teenagers could be a really fascinating concept, because teenagers already think that they’re smarter than everyone else and that the whole world’s out to get them. But the ball is dropped so hard with the Next. We’re supposed to both fear them and pity them…except that I have a hard time pitying them when we never see any of the Next do anything sympathetic. (With maybe the exception of Roberta Flagg, but even then it’s mainly “Oh, because I figured not to lash out at people.”) I’m sorry, I don’t feel empathy for a group of kids that willing murder and rape “dim bulb” humans. (OH AND comparing the Next to the Nazis and victims of apartheid in the space of three pages. I had to double check the author page when I got to that part. I’ve read worse books that invoke Godwin’s Law, but I’m just stunned I read that in a recent Pratchett novel.) And much like The Long War’s climax, the involvement of the Next just felt like a last minute addition of “Oh, we need human conflict!” I mean, they’re set up throughout the book, but the conflict just doesn’t feel natural to me.
The thing is (and has been with the first two books) is that I don’t go into the Long Earth novels thinking that they’re going to be such a letdown. This is a series with so much potential—multiple universe Earths! And now multiple universe Mars! And intelligent life and people who can naturally jump between worlds. And I get why we’re sticking with the same three or four main characters, but even after three books, there really wasn’t that much developed with them. Like, it’s mentioned that Joshua and Helen have divorced since the end of The Long War and Joshua is pretty much emotionally detached about that. Which it only proves my issue with that relationship in the first place. (Honestly, I wanted the Helen Green story for The Long Mars. That would be really fascinating.) The Mars sequences felt boring to me, and I just didn’t enjoy them as much as I was hoping.
I can’t say that I won’t read the next book in the series, because let’s be honest, I probably will. I’m probably going to opt getting the book from work or the library, because I don’t want to spend money on a series that I’ve had bad reactions to. Of course, the sensible answer would be “Well, don’t read any more of the series!” But…it’s one of my favorite authors, and there’s a part of me that feels bad about missing a new book because I don’t like the others. And there have been series where I’ve slogged through the first couple of books and then finally everything clicks for me. (And again, maybe it’s because I haven’t read Stephen Baxter so I really don’t know what to expect. On the other hand, I don’t want to chalk it up to “Oh, I don’t know the other guy so BURN HIM!” because that’s really not fair.) I really do want to love this series, but for now, I’m going to have to concede to the fact that this is just not working for me. (less)
For as much as I adore steampunk, I also don’t ignore the fact that the concept of steampunk fiction is problematic as fuck. Let’s face it, steampunk...moreFor as much as I adore steampunk, I also don’t ignore the fact that the concept of steampunk fiction is problematic as fuck. Let’s face it, steampunk is a glorification of the Victorian Era, but without all that pesky British Imperialism politics and racism muddling up all of the awesome gadgets and clothing. And despite the fact that most of the steampunk I’ve sought out as been very good about representation (not only with POC characters, but gay/bi/gender-fluid characters as well), I also tend to point out that the leads have been straight and white, and that the settings have been largely Western-based, with the occasional jaunts to other countries (see Timeless and Behemoth).*
So when I saw the term “Bollypunk” in the description for Third Daughter, my immediate thought was “I’m in.” I’ve seen a few people utilize Indian-inspired steampunk designs (which are awesome, btw), but I haven’t really seen a lot of specifically Indian aesthetic in popular steampunk fiction. To which I say, do you people not see the potential of that? (Think of the alternate historical fiction alone! Of course, it would take an immensely skilled writer to pull that off well, but still take my money.) The world that Quinn creates in Third Daughter is distinctly unique, using the familiar trappings of steampunk gadgetry with the more traditional Indian culture. The Dharian royal attire feels like a perfect marriage of what I would imagine upper-class Indian steampunk to be: the typical bustles and corsets paired with saris. The gadgets here felt more practical instead of being cool for cool’s sake; the biggest being the MacGuffin airship Aniri is tasked to find out about, but it’s presented as an anomaly rather than a constant staple of this world. Can I also mention how I really liked that the plot of this is about the creation of airships and their global affects? Seeing as how airships are a staple of steampunk, it’s interesting to get a book where it’s new tech and we get to see the pros and cons of OMG NEW TECH for something that I take for granted in the genre. Not to mention the fact that while it’s acknowledged that the airship is a military game-changer, they also discuss the positive affect having an airship can have in this world.
I really liked Aniri. Even though she’s adventurous and wants to leave her life of royal duty behind, she’s also naive and not used to the life of spying. But I don’t think that Aniri being naïve is a negative trait—it really illustrates how sheltered she is and how she really isn’t used to politics. I don’t think that her being manipulated by Devesh is bad in regards to her character (mainly because it’s kind of the point of his character), because it shows how Aniri isn’t used to the idea that people are going to use her for political gain. And it also helps to illustrate how loyal to her country Aniri is as well—while she’s incredibly conflicted about taking up Prince Malik’s offer of marriage on a personal level, she also knows that she has to put her country first. I also really liked that Aniri’s skills as a swordswoman and sneaking out are put to use by spying for her mother, but it’s never played up that Aniri is an amazing swordswoman or that she utterly fails at it in a life-or-death fight. (I really liked that whenever she needs to sabotage the airship, Aniri takes care to disable it for the time being, and the thought of destroying it completely never fully sits well with her.)
Ash. Oh my. I’m slightly disappointed that he’s not the hot engineer prince I was expecting from the cover, but I will take the sweet hot prince. (He does get into the engineer get-up once, so the cover image gets a free pass.) I automatically started falling for him whenever Ash explains to Aniri about the position he’s put her in, and recognizes the fact that he’s putting himself into a loveless marriage. (And the fact that any form of the phrase “In time you may grow fond of me” does not appear at all. I mean, I know that this is a romance and that’s going to eventually happen but still Ash doesn’t want to pressure Aniri into loving him. I love him already.) I really adored how their relationship grows and developed throughout the book—how Ash easily recognizes Aniri’s adventurous spirit and Aniri realizing that, while Ash has peaceful intentions for the airship, he has really good reasons to keep it a secret, and Ash is willing to show Aniri it once he’s admitted the truth. And much like Aniri, he’s caught between his personal desires and the duty to his country. I love that this a relationship built on mutual backgrounds and how that plays into their growing romance.
The supporting cast is a delight. I loved Priya, especially whenever she’d pull out her pickpocketing skills in front of Aniri. I also really liked the dynamic between Priya and Aniri; even though we got the idea that Aniri cared for her older sisters (particularly Seledri), but I felt there was a closer bond between Aniri and Priya. And speaking of Aniri’s family, I liked the fact that although there’s frostiness between Aniri and the Queen, it’s revealed that the Queen isn’t outright antagonistic of Aniri and does care for her very deeply; and the same goes for Aniri. (I loved the moment at the end when Aniri gives her mother the blessing to remarry.) I really wanted more scenes with Karan, mainly because it felt like he was scene stealing every time that he showed up. Which sadly, was not enough for me. (Also I totally ship Priya/Karan.) Janak was tough to warm up to in the beginning, but I think that it’s a large part of his character development, and particularly once you find out what really happened with him when Aniri’s father died. (And what really happened there.)
If there’s anything negative that I do have to say about the book, I really didn’t get that much out of the antagonists. It never felt to me that General Garesh had enough presence as a villain, and while he’s given reasons as to why he wants to overthrow the Jungali royal family (and eventually the royal lines of Dharia and Samir), they just felt like general reasons without any personal background. The same could be said of the idea that Jungali is a very divided country barely held together by its royal family. We did get a sense of the differences between the provinces, but I didn’t feel like there was anything that was going to eventually lead to all-out feuding. (view spoiler)[The reveal that Devesh and the Samirian ambassador were looking to overthrow the various governments also felt out of left field a little. I’m hoping that this angle is going to be explored more in the sequels, seeing as there’s not really a solid reason for the Samirian ambassador to commit treason. The reveal that Devesh was sleeping with the Samirian ambassador, I did see coming, but that doesn’t bother me as much. (Again, kind of the point of Devesh’s character.) (hide spoiler)]
That said, this is an absolute delight to read. I really loved the world-building and aesthetic, the characters and all of their relationships (not just the central romance), and the plot is engaging without leaving too much of a cliffhanger ending. (Which is still there.) And it’s just plain fun to read, as well as bringing something really different to a genre that relies a little too heavily on the past. I loved reading this, and I can’t wait to get my hands on Second Daughter.
*It’s also a really disappointing that of all that I’ve read in steampunk, the only series I can think of that took a frank look at Western Imperialism and “No, you guys are screwing things up, GTFO” has pretty much been the Leviathan trilogy. And even then, it was only really regulated to the plot of Behemoth. The Parasol Protectorate acknowledges British Imperialism, but it’s more in the cloak of “Look how awesome we are for embracing immortals!” I do hope that the Custard Protocol is going address this aspect more. Again, I do really love these books, and I highly recommend them, I’m just not ignorant of the problematic elements.
Copy acquired via the author through Goodreads giveaway.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Although The Girl of Fire and Thorns isn’t a book that’s reached blockbuster levels of hype, I’ve heard enough people hyping it up to be a little wary...moreAlthough The Girl of Fire and Thorns isn’t a book that’s reached blockbuster levels of hype, I’ve heard enough people hyping it up to be a little wary of it. Mainly because of the whole “Oh, well the main character’s fat but she’s still awesome!” Look, I am 100% for plus-sized heroines, in YA and especially in sci-fi/fantasy books. I’m just usually wary of these characters because it usually feels like the main character is either not really fat at all, she’s just bigger by impossible standards OR she has to shed the weight to be beautiful all along. (And again, in sci-fi/fantasy, or hell, even modern day paranormal. That’s not even touching straight realistic fiction—talk to me some day about Fat Like Me and how much I loathe that book.)
Much of this book was a genuine surprise to me. The first half of the book felt like it was following the certain YA trends—the girl who doesn’t feel special but it turns out she’s super-special (although here, Elisa has always known that she’s been a Chosen One), the appearance of a love triangle, evil government to be overthrown by the rebellion, and secrets being kept about what being a Chosen One means. And then right before the big climatic battle of the book, half of these got thrown out the window with great force. (view spoiler)[Like, I was not expecting Humberto to be killed, but it also didn’t surprise me. What surprised me that not only were we set up to think that Alejandro was potentially evil, but no, he’s just stressed out about the oncoming invasion and is a really good guy at heart. And then HE dies. I was honestly expecting Alejandro to be one of the Big Bads (or the Dragon at least) for the whole series. (hide spoiler)] There’s the fact that Elisa has been kept in the dark about what’s to be expected of Godstone Bearers by what she’s been taught by her priests and tutors—I was expecting that her sect was going to be secretly corrupted and willfully keeping Elisa ignorant, and no, it just turns out that the sect didn’t believe that and none of the tutors Elisa grew up with knew the truth. I really liked how the revelations in the second half of the book turned out because they felt realistic, and that there wasn’t a massive conspiracy or secret Elisa has to uncover. (This is not at all a backhand compliment, but it is weirdly refreshing to have a straight YA fantasy without falling into current trends. I was really happy that we didn’t get any last minute face-heel-turns or massive “Everything you knew is liessss.”) Plus the fact that, although this is the first in a series, the main plot is wrapped up by the end and everything is neatly resolved by the book’s end. (Again, I know I shouldn’t be shocked, but do you know how long it’s been since I’ve read a stand-alone YA genre book?)
I do think that Elisa’s characterization in regards to being a bigger girl is actually one of the better representations of what it feels like to be an overweight teenage girl. Granted, she’s a princess in an alternate fantasy Earth, but there were parts that I definitely related to—the stress-eating, the internal shame of having everyone judge you all the time because of your size (and continued comfort eating because of that)—and that made me feel so relived. Yes, Elisa also drops weight throughout her journeys, but not only does it feel like a realistic weight loss, Elisa shedding some pounds doesn’t directly tie in into finally figuring out that she is worthy and important. Which thank freaking God. Although there are some elements of “Oh, but she’s really been beautiful all along!” (particularly in consideration to her relationship with Humberto), Elisa’s acception of herself isn’t tied with her physical appearance, but rather her strengths as a military strategist and own smarts.
I’m not as huge of a fan of most of the supporting cast. They were fine, and I ended up liking pretty much all of the characters, but the majority of the supporting cast didn’t stand out as much for me. I ended up really liking Cosme—even though she feels like she’s set up to be the bitchy foil to Elisa, I liked that they ended being good friends and working together for a similar goal. (Besides, I do agree with Cosme’s reasons for not being supportive of Elisa in the beginning—Elisa’s been pampered her whole life, how would she know of what’s going on with the people of the mountains? But I really liked that they both get over their prejudices and end up being good friends. More of her in sequel please.) I liked Humberto…but he really didn’t stick out in my mind as I kept reading. Of the three potential love interests in this book, I actually preferred Lord Hector over Humberto (look, how the book ends, tell me Hector isn’t a potential love interest. Also I spent three-fourths of this book convinced Alejandro was going to be evil, which is why I ranked it Hector > Humberto > Alejandro.) The only other character who really kept my interest piqued was Prince Rosario. It could have been really easy to write him off as an annoying little kid character, but I did like that we could see how lonely Rosario was even when he was being a spoiled brat. If I pick up the sequel, I’ll be really interested in how his character develops.
I also really enjoyed the world-building. Much like the “OMG fat girl protagonist!”, I had heard a lot about that this was a world with dark-skinned characters and a non-European background. This is a Hispanic-flavored (I honestly thought it felt more like Spanish-occupation of Northern Africa in how the setting was described) setting, and I really enjoyed it. I thought that Carson’s descriptions popped and made the world feel more realistic. I also liked the role of religion in the book, not just in how it relates to Elisa’s character, but overall in establishing the world. Again, I really loved that it didn’t turn out to be that the church was secretly corrupt; different sects didn’t have particular texts or outright ignored certain writings. Also, Elisa’s piety was really well done—she doesn’t come off preachy or “holier-than-thou”. Religion is a big part of her life, not only because of the fact that she carries a Godstone, but it’s how she was raised in her father’s house. If there’s anything overall about the book’s world-building that I wasn’t wild about, it is the concept of the Godstones and how they function. A lot of this is due to the fact that Elisa herself doesn’t know much about the Godstones and what they’re meant to do, but it was still frustrating as a reader to get to the end and still not have a lot of information on them.
I went into this book with a lot of doubt and skepticism, but this ended up exceeding my expectations, despite a lag in the middle part of the book. I wouldn’t put this on my “OMG MUST READ THIS NOW,” but I will say that it’s worth checking out, if not only for what it does differently in terms of character and world-building, but also in how the plot develops. I may eventually get to the sequel, but I am interested in picking it up, hopefully in the near future. (*looks over at reading list and cries*) ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
(Note: So…I actually finished reading this about a month ago. And I was going to write the review earlier, except that my whole April was busy and I’v...more(Note: So…I actually finished reading this about a month ago. And I was going to write the review earlier, except that my whole April was busy and I’ve been slammed at work that I actually forgot that I hadn’t written a review. Yeah. This is to the best of my memory.)
I’ve mentioned on and off that I feel there’s a dearth of horror in YA that’s not paranormal/sci-fi related (and even then, I don’t think there’s even a lot of paranormal horror in YA.) Serial killers carving up teenagers is just as unrealistic, and yet, how many slasher movies are based on that premise alone? With Fearscape and Horrorscape, I think Nenia Campbell’s come the closest to having more realistic YA horror, just by highlighting the immensely problematic trends of alpha male domination as the love interest. Fearscape was probably the more realistic of the two, Horrorscape does feel more like a throwback to 80s-90s slasher horror, albeit with a lot less gore and death of the main characters and more psychological torture. (Hell, Val’s pretty much a final girl in name only—if it wasn’t for Lisa making it out at the end of this book.) However, between the two, I do think that Horrorscape is the weaker of the two books (that I’ve read so far.)
My biggest issue is that there’s a lot of plot holes and continuity problems that fully didn’t pay off for me. Picking up four years after the events of Fearscape, it turns out that Val’s continually harassed by people because of her involvement with Gavin. Except that a lot of the harassment is because of Val’s turning Gavin in and his trial—which doesn’t make sense, because Gavin was supposed to be a loner and unpopular at school. Also, even though I liked the characterization of Lisa and James in the last book, their actions here made me lose a lot of sympathy for them. Considering everything that Val had been through, the fact that she’s close to having a panic attack and wants to get out of there, James’s assertion that everything’s fine was just infuriating. I get that there needed to be a reason why James and Val didn’t work together as a couple, but this felt really weak. I also have no idea what was Gavin’s entire plan by hiring the other teenagers—there feels like there’s a lot of backstory with them but we never find out why Gavin sought them out. It’s also never made clear as to how in the hell would Gavin expect that even after four years, Val wasn’t going to realize it was him—I don’t think there’s any mention of plastic surgery or facial reconstruction, and even after four years, Gavin’s going to still look the same. And the fact that Val even outright asks him who he is at the beginning of the game just does not make sense at all. I do still like Val, but the beginning of the book is way too reliant on misdirection, that the eventual reveals just do not make sense at all.
Much like the first book, I think the strongest aspect is with Val. I liked that this does explore the emotional fallout of the first book, and that even four years later, Val’s still unsure of herself and can’t really connect to anyone emotionally or physically. Plus, when you get to her actual rape scene, I really liked that this frankly deals with the conflicting psychology—that “Oh, it’s not rape if you liked it,” Val feeling dirty about having Gavin touch her and her body’s reactions to—I liked that it’s a frank portrayal. And as an aside, I liked that this again deals with the fact that teenagers can be absolute dicks and twist the truth. I don’t know if the third book is going to delve more into what happens, especially with the major fallout of the deaths in this book, but I’m curious to see what’s going to happen next with Val.
But so much of this book doesn’t feel like there’s a lot happening. Sure, there’s a lot of psychological torture towards Val, but I really don’t see where this going for an endgame. And as I said, there’s a massive gaping plot hole at the beginning that relies so much on misdirection that it ends up telegraphing the reveal that Gavin is behind the party and the games, that it doesn’t feel like as big of shock when we find out that it is Gavin. I didn’t like the supporting cast as much, and overall this felt a lot weaker than the preceding book. I think there’s a lot of interesting ideas in this, but ultimately, it feels like a lack of payoff. (less)
I do actually like fluffy, predictable books. Yes, a chick lit romance where I look at the back cover and guess immediately what all the story beats a...moreI do actually like fluffy, predictable books. Yes, a chick lit romance where I look at the back cover and guess immediately what all the story beats are going to be sounds boring and trite, but a talented writer can take something that’s bland and boring on the surface and make it fun and fresh for me. It’s like the literary equivalent of going out to a chain restaurant for me—it’s not going to be amazing and blow my palate away, but there’s going to be something that I enjoy and I’m going to order the hell out of it.
On the surface, this is what Here’s Looking At You felt like. We got in the advance copy in at work, I read the back cover and went “Okay, this sounds fun.” Yes, you could guess the entire plotline from the synopsis, but there were parts that sounded fresh and different to me. And it’s about a woman dealing with a high school hangover of bullying on her upcoming reunion, which…hits a little close to home currently. (My tenth year reunion is apparently coming up soon. I…yeah, I’m really not planning on attending.) This should have been at the least a fun book for me to read and cleanse the palate a bit.
It’s not outright terrible, it’s just so bland and boring and trite that I struggled with the idea of just giving up on the book. There’s a few glimmers of hope in the plot and character development, but it’s quickly squashed down in the course of events. And there’s just so much in this book that’s just…I hesitate to call it filler, because the most of the plot tangents do eventually pay off, but they’re so drawn out. And for a romantic comedy, it’s really not that funny; the romance is there, but it’s so overwrought with ~drama~ that by the ending I was glad that the book was over rather than the implication that the two leads were going to have so much sex now.
Let’s talk about the characters, shall we? The one thing that I did like about Anna’s characterization is that this does deal with the fact that high school bullying does leave emotional scars and yes, even after twelve or so years, they don’t just go away. Even after Anna’s losing all her weight and becoming the beautiful swan she’s been all along. Except that although Anna’s gone through a physical transformation, her emotional state hasn’t improved since high school either. (Oh, and by the way, Anna is apparently so oblivious to her current appearance that she doesn’t get that EVERY SINGLE HETEROSEXUAL MALE IS IN LOVE WITH HER. I’m really surprised that her best male friend—who’s been secretly pining after her because of course he is—didn’t start blasting One Direction to get Anna’s attention.) We’re told that Anna is supposed to be a vivacious history professor with a secret love of Mills & Boon romances, but she acts like she’s still sixteen years old. I get the idea of wanting revenge on James Fraser, but Anna is so petty and freaks out about “OMG HE SAW MY OLD SCHOOL PICTURE AND I CAN’T LIE TO HIM!” Okay, he was going to find out eventually because their relationship isn’t set up as a fling, even at the beginning. And for the record, I would have loved to read the hell about a history professor who loves romances and had a bad time at school if she acted her age. (And I read a ton of YA.)
James was only slightly better than Anna, if only because he has the fortitude to point out that sixteen year olds aren’t exactly the best judge of one’s character and no really, you should move on with your life. Unfortunately, James is also fairly infuriating, especially at the beginning. His major character arc is that he’s going through a separation because his wife—after one year of marriage—thinks that he’s boring and she’s a free spirit and I don’t really care. (What bothers me more that they’ve only been married for a year—do you not know what you’re getting into when you marry someone? I’m not saying that unhappy marriages should stick together, but if Eva’s left James after only a year, exactly how long were they together before that? I would understand it if they were engaged and she’s gotten cold feet or if they married shortly after graduating, but…argh.) And there’s so much in this book that’s going “Look! James is a good guy! He’s defending Anna from his dick best friend! He’s paying for her sister’s wedding dress!” Yeah, if he didn’t act like a judgmental prat in the beginning. Not the whole backstory with Anna, mind you—James hates his best friend, hates his job, and hates his coworkers.
And the thing is that I can’t blame James for hating his coworkers either, because I wanted to punch every single character in the face. The entire supporting cast in this book is just awful. First of all, nobody, not even stereotypes, talks like anyone in this book. I’m really supposed to believe that Anna’s sister Aggy uses the term “ermergerd” and “ZOMG” nonironically; there’s a nerdish turndown phrase “Your princess is in another castle”; and there is the absolute worst, white male approximation of “Your mama…” jokes that don’t even make sense. And also, if you thought Anna was emotionally stunted, apparently half the cast was too. Coworker-friend of Anna’s (who’s in love with her) decides to get back at James by sending James’s company a very nasty rant James said to Anna about how he hates all of his coworkers. And James’s coworkers act like a bunch of pissy twelve year old girls because OMG DID YOU HEAR WHAT HE SAID ABOUT ME? (Thank GOD that the company response to this is “Yeah, and he didn’t say it to your faces, it was a private conversation and shut the hell up.” Mind you, the heads of the company aren’t any better characters but thank God that was the reaction rather than a overwrought blow-out.) Do not get me started on Aggy or any of Anna’s friends, because none of them felt like real people to me. Not one of them. I wanted all of them to just shut the hell up.
This book had so much potential for me to enjoy, and so much of it was killed off by the writing. Like, the climactic scene where James shows up for Anna’s sister’s wedding was just ruined because the line that follows is “Despite the fact that James looked, as Aggy would put, ‘ZOMGs’…” [pg 419]. Yes, it’s one little thing, but it jarred me out of the moment and I couldn’t get swept into the romance of that scene. There’s so much padding in the book that’s supposed to be funny, like Anna being continually hit on by a skeevy guy who’s into polyamorous relationships, or let’s have three pages of Aggy’s ridiculous wedding vows, or let’s go on about this annoying girlfriend of Anna’s friend Daniel who has no impact on the plot whatsoever! And then let’s make stupid aside comments like how Anna’s boss dresses like a butch lesbian but oh she’s actually married to a man for forty years! (Btw, not funny.) And then there’s so many freaking stupid plot twists that are just thrown in there happenstance with little to no build up or foreshadowing whatsoever. For example, James’s wife Eva decides to come back to him, and she’s only appeared once in the past hundred pages. It also doesn’t help that we learn this when the book is on Anna’s perspective, and not James, and the fact that we never get to see James and Eva’s reconciliation. (Oh, and the whole “Anna really likes Mills & Boon novels?” James then starts mocking her for liking them, and Anna concedes that even though that she buys into the romance fantasy, she does think of them of guilty pleasures. *ahem* JUST BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T PUT SEX IN THIS BOOK DOESN’T MEAN YOU’RE BETTER THAN ROMANCE NOVELS.)
I wanted a fun, flirty book about a woman who was really into history (seriously, Anna’s life research on the Empress Theodora only sets up on how James is really thrown back into her life and is barely ever brought up as a character point in the majority of the book) and wants big romantic gestures and is dealing with bad memories of high school, and what happens when she has to confront her past also realizes that the hot asshole from high school can change. And that’s here, but it’s so weakly handled that I didn’t get that book. Again, it’s not terrible, but it’s so blandly written and the plot is so obvious to the point that I was rolling my eyes at all the various twists. And I hated every single character in here. There’s better fluff out there that I can occupy my time with, and this is not one of those books. (less)
I don’t really read as much middle grade as I do YA. I make a lot of the same arguments for middle grade, but I usually don’t read middle grade unless...moreI don’t really read as much middle grade as I do YA. I make a lot of the same arguments for middle grade, but I usually don’t read middle grade unless there’s a reason for me to do so. (Namely, if an author I like writes a middle grade novel, I’ll go and check it out.)
I picked this up after we had gotten it in at work and a friend of mine said that she really enjoyed it. And to be fair, after looking at the back of the book, this was pretty much candy for me. I love fairy tales, I love gleeful trope playing, this has “Dark is not evil, light is not good”; basically this has the words “READ ME” emblazoned on it.
One of the first things that grabbed me is the setting of Galvaldon, where everyone knows about the fairy tales, but the citizens want absolutely no part of them. I love that right off the bat, we have children who are trying to be absolutely ordinary, not too bad or good, lest they attract the school master’s attention. I also really loved that the children who are abducted from Galvaldon turn up in the most familiar fairy tales (to us), and that in the School, they’re referred to as “Readers.” (The town of Galvaldon really reminds me of Princess Tutu, with another town that’s trapped by fairy tales and by a mysterious force that the heroines have to overcome. Also if you haven’t watched Princess Tutu, omg do it’s brilliant.)
It is here where we meet our two leads, the incredibly genre-savvy (and yet incredibly oblivious) Sophie and town outcast with a begrudging heart of gold, Agatha. I did like Agatha a lot more because Sophie’s obliviousness got really annoying and overdone at times, but I did actually like both girls. Even for all the times Sophie insists on how good she is and doesn’t realize that her actions are only justifying her place in the School for Evil. But it is keeping in her character—Sophie’s grown up learning that good characters are beautiful and pure and get everything that they “want.” And she doesn’t quite realize that even when she’s out doing good deeds, that having an agenda behind those deeds doesn’t make one a paragon of virtueness. And by contrast, there’s Agatha, who might not be a people person, but she wants to do the right thing. Even if that means helping Sophie out, and remaining at the school to save them, even after Sophie betrays her. I really liked Agatha, she’s clever and snarky, and she has genuinely good intentions.
The titular School for Good and Evil is one of the weaker aspects of the book, but what I like as the plot goes on, Sophie and Agatha’s continued presence makes the flaws of storybook’s concepts of “good” and “evil” are not only shown, but are decimated as the plot unravels. I didn’t like a lot of the side characters in this because they never really show much depth beyond being seen as generically “good” or “evil.” I do like some of the minor characters more, but the majority of characters fell too readily into their tropes. I did love the various classes, though—if there’s anything that’s really satirical in here, it’s the description of all the classes. I love that each school explicitly set only twenty characters are going to be main characters in their stories, and the rest are going to only end being minor helpful characters. Which leads to the horrifying moment when Agatha is told that “Well, dying for a princess is a goodly reward in itself!” Oh, and if you Mi>fail, you get transformed into a fairy or a wolf and enslaved to the opposite school. The classes are really were a lot of the poking fun at fairy tales really shines in the book, and it’s one the aspects that makes me interested in reading the sequel.
The other big problem I had with the book was the Storian and the School Master plotline. Yes, it’s what drives the main plot along, but so much is left unexplained throughout the book that by the time we got to the climax, I really didn’t care too much for it. Yes, it’s an interesting concept to explore the balance of good and evil, but the Story Master just wasn’t enough of a presence for me to get engaged in.
Because what really drove the book for me was Agatha and Sophie’s storyline. Yes, Sophie is a selfish brat who only cares about her happy ending, but I did believe that she has a genuine friend in Agatha. And given the atmosphere that she’s surrounded in, it does make sense that Sophie is going to be hurt and jealous when people only see her as evil. It doesn’t excuse a lot of what she does to get revenge on Agatha, but the fact that Agatha’s able to see beyond that jealously and forgive Sophie. And I love Agatha’s way at looking at things, and how she’s still able to see the good in Sophie. Sure, she’s angry that Sophie wants to stay in this fairy tale world, but Agatha still wants her friend to be happy. And even though that this is a book that has two girls fighting over a boy (well, technically Sophie getting hung up over Tedros; Agatha just does not care about him), I liked that this shows a strong female friendship at the center of it.
I am curious to pick up the sequel. I’m hoping that the subtitle “A World Without Princes” is going to further subvert everything, because I am fully on board with that. I’m also curious on how the newly integrated school is going to work now that the borders have been torn down. Because despite the really bad cliffhanger at the end of this book, I do want to see more of the fallout of this world, and what the School Master’s full plan is. (If there’s one thing that I’m hesitant to recommend this book on, is the fact that this just ends with no real denouement.) That said though, this was an absolute delight to read, and I can’t wait to get back into this world. (less)
I’ve heard a lot about Gwenda Bond from the various authors that I follow online, but she was always an author that I’d read the synopsis of her book...moreI’ve heard a lot about Gwenda Bond from the various authors that I follow online, but she was always an author that I’d read the synopsis of her book and just end up putting back on the shelf. I don’t know what it is, but there’s always something about the synopses that just turn me off on the book. And having read Blackwood, I’m still unsure if I want to give Woken Gods a shot. (I will also admit to being incredibly busy this month, which is why it took me so long to get through this book. Amongst other reasons, but there’s a good chunk of “Yeah, can’t read two books right now.”)
This is one of those books with a strong concept, good characters, and terrible plot execution. The first quarter of this pulled me in with the sudden new disappearances on Roanoke Island, and I was curious to find out the meaning of the black ship and how it ties to Miranda’s family, but by the time Phillips returns to Roanoke Island, the plot momentum screeches to a halt and drags on until the last quarter. And in the last quarter of the book, the climax and resolution are so completely ridiculous that I wasn’t sure what I was reading. I could almost excuse the meandering middle part of the book where Miranda and Phillips are discovering Deep Dark Historical Secrets if there was a good payoff for the ending. Instead, we get death by drowning because of curse limitations. (And when I thought about that ending, technically it shouldn’t have worked.)
As I said, I liked the premise. While I ascribe to the tribe integration theory of the colonists, I do like that Bond is trying something different with her premise behind the colonists’ disappearance. I like the concept of “Okay, well, there’s a interdimensional rift where the souls of the colonists are waiting to possess modern day bodies.”; I can run with that. I can even run with the idea that all of the missing were followers of John Dee and alchemists. My problems start with the whole history involving John Dee trying to usurp Elizabeth I with a race of immortal colonists. That’s when my believability meter cracking because yeah no. I could go off on how much this mucks about with Elizabethan history because no. No. John Dee was wandering Europe and communicating with angels at the time of the colony’s founding. That’s just the start of the problems. (Also, saying Raleigh was a favorite of Elizabeth’s =/= they were banging. There’s actually no conclusive evidence of them having an affair.) And then there’s a magical gun that imparts immortality in a two-step process that never really gets explained; not to mention, the gun never actually or metaphorically goes off and plays any importance to the plot.
The main chunk of the book just has some of the weirdest plot points that I just had to put my head down for a few minutes because my brain started hurting from trying to unravel it. For example, Phillips is accused of murdering Miranda’s father by the FBI! Oh no! Except that this plot thread makes NO FREAKING SENSE because it’s outright stated that Phillips wasn’t even in the same state at the time of the murder. I just…what? And their reasoning is that “Oh, well you broke into the funeral home and touched the body! And now the body’s gone!” I…look, lock him up for breaking and entering then. And then we find out that John Dee is possessing Miranda’s father, which NOBODY QUESTIONS.NOBODY. Apparently the only three people in town who recognize the former Mr. Blackwood are Miranda, the town sheriff and the guy who runs the liquor store. I mean, the police are going to investigate all of the missing people, right? No? You’re just going to let them go off to the Blackwood house and nobody is going to question why the dead guy who is well known around town is suddenly walking around and missing a very distinctive birthmark? And let them put on a play? (Yes, this is the climax of the book. The antagonists hold a ceremony at the local town play.)
(And again, the historical fail with a nice heaping pile of DO NOT WANT is that John Dee was apparently in love with Miranda’s ancestor, Mary Blackwood, and thinks that Miranda is her reincarnated. And hits on Miranda while in her father’s body.
Yeah. I'm going let that sit here.)
And to defeat the evil John Dee, Miranda’s big grand solution is to have her father walk into the ocean and drown, because her family’s curse stipulates that a Blackwood can never leave the island. Which 1. Shouldn’t work because Dee’s proven that he can jump into other bodies at will, and 2. Apparently, having the snake birthmark means that Miranda now has the curse, so would that mean her dad is wandering the ocean floor forever until he’s depressurized? Not the immortality gun which Miranda does tamper with, it just does nothing in the climax.
The thing is, I would have given a lot of this book a free pass, because I did genuinely like the characters. Both Miranda and Phillips do err on the side of bland a lot of the time—she’s a small town girl who wants more than her dead end life; he’s the charming troublemaker with a heart of gold (and a daaaark secret). But I found both of them to be endearing and funny and I love that the two have instant chemistry with one another. I really liked Phillips’s relationship with his parents—yes, even though he caused hell for them so he could get away from the voices of Roanoke, they still care a lot for Phillips. Plus I think it does say a lot about how much his father really trusts Phillips to bring him home to help with the new disappearances. The fact that Phillips’s parents know about his psychic abilities is actually a welcome change in most of the YA paranormal I’ve read; they might not believe in it 100% but they acknowledge it exists, their son has to live with this and they’re willing to help him. (Which goes right out the window whenever the murder charges show up, because no, really, that’s the stupidest accusation in the whole book and Phillips’s parents would damn well know firsthand that it’s stupid.)
As I said in the beginning, there was a lot to this book that I was looking forward to. I liked the concept even if my inner history geek was crying in corner and I really liked the main characters. But…look. I can handwave a lot of things if there’s good plotting that makes sense within the book’s context. I have no idea what happened to the plot in this book. The way things are explained and revealed seem so happenstance and it comes out of nowhere, and the way Bond introduces conflict is kind of insulting to the parties involved. (Seriously, the whole making Phillips a fugitive. What was that. You had a perfectly good reason to lock him up, we didn’t need murder charges.) The ending has a plot hole big enough to drive an eighteen wheeler through it.
I really don’t want to say that “Oh, well, the reason I never picked up Gwenda Bond before is that my instincts are right!” but I am less curious to check out Woken Gods. I do want to see what else she can do, but I think it’s going to take a lot more for me to check out her books now. (less)