I have a reputation for being something of a literary masochist. It’s my own fault, really. I began book blogging through a project where I would deli...moreI have a reputation for being something of a literary masochist. It’s my own fault, really. I began book blogging through a project where I would deliberately look for stuff that I knew I probably wouldn’t like – in this case, post-Twilight paranormal romance young adult novels – and review them in a highly critical manner not usually directed at the genre. I don’t really do this anymore (my dystopian YA review project is on hiatus due to extenuating circumstances) but the reputation remains. I’m fine with this because I do have this overwhelming urge to finish every book I read, no matter how much I hate the experience. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t finish a book. I’m not entirely sure why I’m prefacing my review with this weird disclaimer, but it feels necessary.
I have a very high standard for books like this and I see no reason why I should lower my standards because a book’s aimed at a younger audience, or is self-published. I’ve also been very vocal in my criticisms of the burgeoning New Adult category, and the inherent exploitation of its audience within. I’ve read a lot of awful, sexist, insulting, damaging and deeply disturbing YA novels in my time. I’ve seen the worst stuff passed off as romantic or normalised as part of the sexual teen experience.
But until I read “Thoughtless” by S.C. Stephens, I’d never seen rape treated as passionate and sexy. I’d never seen the heroine be kicked in the head and knocked unconscious by the man who was supposed to love her. These incidents were horrific enough, but what made it worse was the way in which they were so casually shoved aside, justified and dealt with by the characters, with almost no understanding of the real world or how basic human nature works. I’ve read a lot in my time, but nothing as truly loathsome and despicable as this book.
Let’s start with the basics. Kiera, supposedly over 21 yet possessing the emotional maturity of a seven year old, moves to Washington to be with her Australian boyfriend Denny, who she is completely devoted to despite not really having anything in common with him. They move in with Denny’s friend, local rock-star Kellan, and soon sparks fly between him and Kiera. It’s not long before Kiera falls into bed with Kellan and continues an affair with him right under her boyfriend’s nose.
I know many readers are automatically opposed to cheating characterised as romantic in such stories, but I hold no such prejudices. If it is handled maturely and imbued with the complex emotional and societal implications such situations involve, then it can make for an interesting story. Many great stories throughout history have included extra-marital affairs. However, what we see in “Thoughtless” is so lacking in dimensions that it’s almost invisible. Kiera and Kellan are incredibly unlikeable and immature characters, and spending over 500 pages with them is exhausting. You could write their motivations on the back of a postcard and still have enough room to write a few sonnets. Kiera is shallow, insensitive, cruel, selfish and incredibly stupid. She’s the blushing virgin without the virginity, the sort of woman who blushes at the very mention of the word “penis”, despite being over 21 and in a sexual relationship. I knew nothing about her or her interests, other than her boyfriend and her lover. She’s also a big fan of slut-shaming other women who even approach Kellan, who seems to be draped in adoring fans constantly. Kellan is your typical YA/NA tortured bad boy romantic archetype. There is nothing there that you haven’t seen a million times before. Denny, the adoring cardboard cut-out boyfriend, is entirely forgettable. His defining characteristics seem to be his devotion to Kiera and his Australian accent, which the author mentions almost every time he talks. We were hardly likely to forget. If you tell me he’s Australian once, I’ll believe you. the secondary characters are barely worth mentioning. Kiera’s sister is promiscuous and pretty, securing herself a job at Hooters, whilst Kellan’s band-mate Griffin literally does nothing but talk about sex. He’s beyond caricature. There’s a particularly charming scene about 10% into the book where he brags about shoving a bottle into an inebriated woman’s vagina. No character calls him out on this disgusting act, or enquires as to whether or not it was consensual. Here’s the scene in question. I’ll let you come to your own conclusions:
"...this girl, damn, she had the best rack I've ever seen." The bassist paused to make a crude gesture with his hands, as if the guys would need that statement clarified. "And the shortest skirt too. Everybody around us was completely wasted, so I ducked under the table and shoved that skirt as high as it would go. Then I grabbed my beer bottle and stuck--"
So she’s wearing a short skirt, has large breasts, and has been drinking, so that gives a man credit to do as he pleases with her?
“Thoughtless” suffers from fan-fiction syndrome. While not fan-fiction, which makes a change in this genre, the book did originally start life on FictionPress.com, the original work equivalent of FF.net, and as such, the same expected problems arise. The plotting is stretched out beyond belief to fill out aimless chapters that were clearly intended to be read on a serialised basis. This also explains the characters’ actions. The relationship between Kiera and Kellan is stretched out repeatedly, with both making idiotic decisions so the story can go on another 50 pages. It doesn’t help that Kiera’s relationship with Denny is so dull and incomprehensible. I had no idea why they were supposedly so in love, or why I was supposed to sympathise with them or feel any real angst in her decision. We know she’s not going to pick Denny because that’s how this plot-line works. There’s no tension here whatsoever, which is a shame because there is a slither of interesting plot here. It would be different and truly emotional to see a story where someone comes to the realisation that their partner, the one they’ve given up so much for, isn’t the one, and that they don’t really have anything in common. However, such a story would require a skilled authorial hand, one which is entirely absent here.
Now, we move onto the big glaring problem here.
Kiera isn’t a whore. She’s a cheater but she’s not a whore. Such terms are thrown around to hurt women for being sexual in any way. I’ve been pretty vocal in my opposition to such anti-women tactics in fiction aimed at teens and “new adults” (but still sold as children’s fiction in Amazon, may I add) because I think that, in the 21st century, we should be more progressive and considerate in these matters. There’s no excuse for calling Kiera a whore.
There’s certainly no excuse for Kellan doing so (he, of course, is a “man-whore” throughout the book, because that’s totally different).
The fact that Kiera forgave him for calling her a whore made me so angry.
I wish it was the worst thing he’d done to her in the book.
I’ve seen one reviewer describe the car scene as “vaguely rapey”. There’s nothing vague about it. It’s rape. Kellan drags Kiera into a car and begins to undress her, despite her repeatedly saying no. there’s this bullshit “My mouth says no but my body says yes” justification coming from Kiera’s unbearable narration throughout this scene, but it’s moot. What happens is rape. She does not give her consent to Kellan. She is very vocally saying no. Later on, she cries and apologises to Kellan, saying she led him on.
This is wrong on every level.
In real life, women are raped, and in the shockingly low number of cases were the charge actually makes it to court, it is common for the defence to shame the woman. She’s slammed for her actions in her everyday life, be in wearing revealing clothing, being drunk on the occasion or daring to flirt with other men. All these are used as defences of rape because they’re seen as indicative of the victim having led him on. That mind-set is present in “Thoughtless”, and it’s used to normalise rape as something more akin to a display of uncontrollable passion. The scene is hastily explained through some tears where Kellan apologises but Kiera tosses this aside claiming she is equally to blame for what happened, and then they continue as normal.
It’s not “vaguely rapey”. It’s rape. It’s not romantic. It’s rape.
And it doesn’t end there.
Once the affair is finally revealed, Denny goes from being the gormless nice boy to a full on rage machine, and practically tears Kellan to pieces. Before he can deliver a final kick to Kellan’s head, Kiera jumps in and takes the kick. She is hospitalised and almost dies.
She forgives Denny.
She is almost killed by a man she is supposed to be able to trust. This massive and entirely gratuitous event serves no greater purpose to the plot other than to drag out the ending for even longer. The event is barely discussed. Kiera does not seem particularly distressed by what’s happened. It’s all tossed aside.
The author used domestic violence for dramatic angst purposes.
This is not okay. It’s not tense or dramatic or angsty. It’s horrific, entirely unnecessary and, from a literary point of view, embarrassing to read. There is no subtlety to this story, or anything even vaguely resembling real tension. What we have here is a violent, confused and damaging mess disguised poorly as romantic drama. What we have here is the inevitable conclusion of a genre that has continued to romanticise and justify the most horrifically misogynist examples of rape culture for the sake of chasing trends and making money. I can say, without a hint of hyperbole, that this is the most loathsome and despicable thing I have ever read. From a literary stance, it’s shoddily written, badly plotted and filled with characters that make shadow puppets look well developed. New Adult literature is supposed to fill the liminal period between adolescence and adulthood, and deal with the emotional and social situations within. Instead, this book romanticises rape. Nothing could justify the content of this novel. “Thoughtless” is completely void of redeeming qualities.
I’m giving this book one star here simply because that’s how the GR system of ratings works. However, to paraphrase Roger Ebert, this is a book that lives in a world where stars don’t shine. (less)
Seriously, I was pretty horrified by the glorified violence in Divergent, but this manages to be close to psychotic. Am I sup...moreWHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!
Seriously, I was pretty horrified by the glorified violence in Divergent, but this manages to be close to psychotic. Am I supposed to sympathise with this man? He's nasty, completely incapable of making any sort of comment without immediately tacking on some sort of insult, has a very messed up moral core, and is incredibly whiny.
Here's my big issue with this and Divergent. They seem to think that violence is cool, and advocate its use pretty strongly. There's a horrific scene in the book involving a gun, which is the climax of the heroine discussing how secure and in charge she feels with a gun in her hand, that makes my blood curdle. Can we please stop it with this crap?
This is a short and utterly pointless piece of writing that serves absolutely no purpose. It's bland, clunky, questionable in tone and intent, and completely fails as a character exercise. Tobias/Four started out as a jerk and remains one throughout Divergent. Here, nothing changes. In fact, he comes out of it being somewhat more psychotic.(less)
It’s a sadly rare occurrence these days for a YA book to not only surpass my expectations but entirely blow them away. At least this means that when i...moreIt’s a sadly rare occurrence these days for a YA book to not only surpass my expectations but entirely blow them away. At least this means that when it does happen, I appreciate it all the more, particularly when said book is the sequel to a book I had found to be underwhelming. “Quicksilver”, the sequel to last year’s “Ultraviolet”, is a truly special YA experience – a well-crafted and socially novel that continually surprises, takes risks and keeps the reader gripped.
For me, the real strength of “Ultraviolet” lay in the prose, and R.J. Anderson continues to demonstrate her skilful approach to writing, with a degree of confidence I felt was missing from the first book. “Ultraviolet” felt jumbled and unsure of what it wanted to be (although I understand that I am in the minority in thinking this), whereas here, “Quicksilver” knows exactly what it wants to achieve as a piece of fiction. This book is more tightly plotted, a pleasant surprise given that the plot is also quicker paced, and full of moments of genuine tension.
I particularly admire Anderson’s approach to telling this story – it’s so unlike anything in YA right now, it crosses the genre boundaries repeatedly and is populated by fully fleshed characters rather than puppets or tropes. Anderson doesn’t let up on the fast moving plot, but she never sacrifices moments of genuine, natural human interaction in favour of such things (or romance, which was a huge relief). Tori/Nikki, the protagonist, is such a skilfully crafted character, one who is trying so hard to understand herself. The supporting cast is equally well crafted, with the heroine’s friend and confidante Milo Hwang standing out as particularly interesting. The pair’s interactions feel so fresh in comparison to so much stuff in YA right now. Their relationship is not one built on insta-love attraction or how pretty they find each-other. It’s one of mutual respect, curiosity and the simple joy of finding someone to trust.
I also give major props to Anderson for creating a diverse YA that draws attention to important social issues. Racism, sexism (particularly in fields considered mainly male) and sexuality are all touched upon in a way that never feels preachy. This is a novel that is aware of its socio-cultural context, and it’s a breath of fresh air to see a YA novel doing what the industry so often preaches but never practices. The inclusion of an asexual protagonist was just the cherry on top of the cake. While I cannot speak for all LGBTQIA people on this matter, I felt that Tori/Nikki’s asexuality was dealt with maturely and handled pretty well. She’s a fully fleshed character who happens to be asexual, and it was wonderful to read. Overall, Anderson handles diversity issues very strongly, and I would recommend “Quicksilver” as an excellent example on how to do it right in YA.
My review is deliberately vague because I really don’t want to spoil this for potential new readers. This is not a series with low expectations and it’s certainly not one that automatically awards its characters a happy ending, regardless of how much they deserve it. “Quicksilver” is not a novel that a new reader can jump straight into, one of the very few negatives I can think of, so I would recommend reading “Ultraviolet” first. Anderson has built on the foundations she lay down in the first novel and created something suspenseful, tense, well-crafted, and cliché busting. YA novels like this don’t come along very often, and in an industry currently churning out overhyped assembly line style stories of join-the-dots levels of predictability, we owe it to ourselves and the industry to go off the beaten track.
With thanks to NetGalley for the ARC. I did not receive payment or compensation for this review. (less)
I have come to a very important conclusion that has been a while in the making. It may be a controversial opinion amongst some but I stand by it. It i...moreI have come to a very important conclusion that has been a while in the making. It may be a controversial opinion amongst some but I stand by it. It is impossible for a writer to take their fan-fiction and make it “original”. You’d think this would be a relatively sensible conclusion to come to, and yet we are now in an age where pulled-to-publish fan-fiction, mainly that of the Twilight brand, has become the new normal. Of course, we’ve got “Fifty Shades of Grey” to blame for this, but it’s not the sole culprit. From “Gabriel’s Inferno” to about 80% of Omnific and TWCS’s output, these works are filling up the best-seller lists and leaving the traditional publishers scrambling for the profits.
What is interesting about “Beautiful Bastard” is that it was purchased by the publisher in its original form. It didn’t go through an indie publisher, it wasn’t self-published, it didn’t go through any of the “alterations” EL James put “Master of the Universe” through before publication. The publisher saw a fan-fiction, paid for it and put the writers to work fixing it up a bit. I’ve skimmed through a PDF of the original fan-fiction and can confirm that the work has gone through some editing, certainly more than the search-and-replace hack-job “50 Shades” went through. However, once again, I find myself disappointed with the state of publishing. The truth is that the work just isn’t good enough and that is partly because of its previous fan-fiction state.
If you’re a romance reader, or even if you’re just a casual fan of the occasional rom-com, you’ll recognise this plot and set-up pretty well. You could join the dots from a mile away: snarky but hard working assistant begins an affair with the beautiful but dickish boss that starts out as letting off steam and turns to undying love. There’s nothing wrong with a derivative plot-line if it’s executed well. The big problem here is that it’s delivered in a manner as pedestrian as the story itself. The big problem most P2P work suffers from is the inability to fix the pacing. Fan-fiction is serial in manner, intended to be read on a chapter by chapter basis. While the authors of “Beautiful Bastard” have at least offered the reader the courtesy of some reworking of the “original” material, the pacing issues remain unresolved. While the book is readable enough, in terms of pacing, it’s weirdly erratic. The book starts quickly and rushed, things happen quickly without much explanation and the time-scale is a little confusing. Whether this is down to the editing job or just the general quality of the writing, I don’t know.
While the sex scenes are mostly quite good (although I wasn’t a fan of all the underwear ripping, particularly given how much La Perla pants cost), certainly a lot better than anything else in P2P right now, the relationship between our Bella and Edward stand-ins, Chloe and Bennett, suffers from fan-fic syndrome. There is very little characterisation of both characters, and their relationship moves quickly and predictably. Once again, fan-fic syndrome strikes. Here’s one of the main reasons I just cannot get on board with P2P, particularly on a creative level. When you write fan-fiction, you take characters that already exist and you use them as you please. Your story may be close to the original material, or it may be completely AU in every way imaginable, but you have been provided with the foundations. You didn’t write those characters, someone else did. Even if they only bear the smallest of similarities to the original source material when compared with each other, your audience come with the previous knowledge of those characters and fill in your gaps themselves. Here, the gaps to make it “original” haven’t been filled in. The pair may not be Bella and Edward, but they’re stock romance characters in every other way.
(The one thing that did make me smile was the appearance of a background character called Ed, whose colleagues were called Daniel and Sam, which officially makes me Britain's dullest woman. And if you can figure out why that made me smile, you can join me in dull geek land!)
There are a few good lines, and I’m relieved that the story avoids most of the irritating clichés expected of the genre (no blushing virginal heroine, no domestic abuse masquerading as kink, no soap-opera style back-story), there’s just nothing here that rises above stock category romance, and I like stock category romance. However, I don’t know many romance authors in that genre who got a 6 figure for something I can essentially find on Ellora’s Cave for a couple of pounds, if that. If you’re in the mood for a category romance, I suggest you read an original one. If you’re intrigued by this story, get the original fan-fiction PDF from Google. Honestly, this really isn’t worth the time and money that’s been spent on it.
I received my ARC from Edelweiss. I did not receive any payment or compensation to write this review. I am not paid for my reviews, and I do not set out to destroy lives or careers with my reviews. If I had that level of power, I wouldn’t be living at home and writing book reviews in my pyjamas at midnight! (less)
To say that I didn’t like “Fifty Shades of Grey” is the understatement of the year. It was one of the worst books I’ve ever read –...moreSo… this was awful.
To say that I didn’t like “Fifty Shades of Grey” is the understatement of the year. It was one of the worst books I’ve ever read – a sexist, woman shaming badly written fan-fiction that romanticised an abusive jerk, made “Twilight” look like Dostoyevsky and left us all a little relieved that our own pornographic fan-fiction wasn’t so terrible in comparison. For some reason I have yet to figure out, the series has become wildly popular, with all three books occupy spaces in the top five biggest selling Kindle books of all time, and has led to a smorgasbord of self-published erotica sensations filling the bestseller lists. The big 5 publishers, suffering greatly from the rise of the e-book and seeing their importance in the industry diminish, are scrambling to survive and throwing big advances at self-published big sellers as if it’s going out of business, and one of the biggest books to profit from this has been Scottish author Samantha Young and her Edinburgh set contemporary romance “On Dublin Street”. If I were the publisher, I’d be asking for my money back.
Contrary to popular belief, I actually love romance novels. The romance genre is one of the hardest to do well, although I’d argue that most genre fiction is far tougher to write than the literary establishment gives it credit for. However, there are many elements in the genre that have become very popular recently as “Fifty Shades” continues to dominate the industry, no pun intended, and most of them are my personal form of literary hell. Unfortunately, “On Dublin Street” ticks off almost every single square on my bingo card, from the prose to the characters to the ridiculous plot and the so-called romance.
Let’s start with the general quality of the writing. This book supposedly had two editors. I can only assume that both of them are prone to frequent bouts of unconsciousness. From the far too frequent misuse of punctuation to the simplest of spelling errors (there were at least three instances of you’re/your mix-ups that I can remember), the book fails on the basic literary level. I don’t care if a book’s self-published or done through the traditional manner. If it’s being sold and marketed as a novel, I expect it to meet the simplest of standards, particularly now that a big publisher has showered this with money and doesn’t seem to care about the quality. Then again, if you’re going to attempt to make a fast buck then perhaps there isn’t time for a quick spell-check. The book is also about a third too long, with massive contrivances, leaps of logic, and just straight-up stupidity from the characters occurring just to get the plot moving. For what is supposedly a relatively simple contemporary romance, there’s a lot in the book that doesn’t make sense. The final quarter of the novel is a jumbled up mess of cheap emotional punches, emotional and illogical flip-flopping, and forced drama, all in the name of dragging the action out a few more pages. It’s unnecessary and in the end just plain boring.
There’s no easy way to say this, but the protagonist is irritating beyond belief. She’s so derivative of the genre that I can still see the serial numbers from the assembly line. Joss (renamed Jocelyn by the romantic hero despite her repeated protests – because lack of respect is sexy) is the proto-typical messed up perfect girl – beautiful, snarky but only when convenient, with a traumatic past that conveniently keeps the family out of the scene (Disappearing Parent Syndrome strikes even in adult romance) and absolutely no financial worries. We frequently hear about her big breasts and panic attacks but that is the extent of her characterisation. The dead family is a very convenient plot device to use in fiction because it’s assumed that it will automatically give the character some depth. It doesn’t. It’s just lazy, and in “On Dublin Street” it serves no purpose other than to occasionally move the plot forward and add more angst. Joss frequently goes to therapy to provide some handy summaries of events we’ve just read about (much in the same way fan-fiction does, but this book is 100% original, from what I’ve been told), but the therapy itself does nothing to advance Joss’s character. These scenes also felt slapdash at best. I’ve been to counselling for something similar to what Joss has, but on a much milder level, and it mainly involves crying and spewing out your problems whilst someone listens and hands you tissues. It’s cathartic and incredibly boring to everyone not directly involved. Here, it just doesn’t achieve its intended purpose. Joss is also an incredibly judgemental character, particularly in regards to other women. When I say other women, I mean anyone that’s vaguely considered a threat to her burgeoning relationship with Fifty Shades Alpha Douche Model #3217, Braden. Fortunately for Joss, the author is equally as judgemental towards these women, who are all automatically characterised as gold-digging selfish whores. Joss and Braden happen to be very wealthy, but of course they’re good, generous people. In contrast, every woman who’s interested in Braden seems driven by money. The class element of this really got to me – Dublin Street is part of a rather wealthy area of Edinburgh, and Joss works in the nearby George Street. I’m fine with the typical rich guy romance, even though it’s not my thing, but I truly resented the elitism on display here. Of course, pretty much everything bad that happens in the novel is the result of a woman, because that stereotype’s apparently still fresh for reuse.
Braden is a nasty piece of work. Once again we have the wealthy, entitled, extremely handsome and slightly older alpha male imposing himself on the heroine despite her repeated protests, with a conveniently angst-filled back-story packed full of mummy issues, drug-addicted rape victim girlfriends and beating someone to within an inch of their life because it’s the “honourable” thing to do. Braden, of course, has frequent bouts of temper that manifest as violence, and these are far too quickly swept under the carpet for my liking.
Violence is not acceptable in these circumstances, particularly when it’s part of the “Get your hands off my woman!” plot strand. Of course (there’s a phrase I’m going to be using a lot), he has absolutely no respect for the heroine’s boundaries, despite her repeated demands. Pretty much every conversation they have follows the same pattern of him imposing himself on Joss, only to be met with protests, then Braden’s smarmy smugness that he knows best and will fuck her until she can’t walk. Once again (OF COURSE!), we have the love interest making possessive demands of the heroine, which include, but are not limited to, walking into her flat without permission, making demands of her choice of clothing and how she does her hair, beating the crap out of another man for approaching her then making veiled threats about how he doesn’t like to share, stealing and destroying her property, initiates sexual encounters with her while she’s sleeping (no discussion of consent, by the way), and, solely to get a reaction from her, tells her she’s a cold, manipulative bitch and says he slept with someone else.
None of those things are okay. None of them have a place in a trusting relationship. None of these things are “hot” or “sexy” and none of them are excused or justified by the character’s pitiful backstory. The “messed up bad boy” trope is not a blanket cover for justifying possessive, borderline abusive traits of a relationship. I don’t care how good the sex is (and really, you can read better stuff on Archive of our Own). Telling a woman, after you’ve tricked her into going on a date with you, that if “you try to leave, I’ll tackle you”, is not acceptable. The fact that we continue to normalise such things as romantic terrifies me.
At the end of the day, “On Dublin Street” is nothing new. It’s derivative, sloppily written, poorly plotted, dull, full of women shaming, thinly veiled elitism, and the alpha jerk dynamic that we’ve become sadly all too used to in the genre. If the publisher hopes to make a quick buck from this then good luck to them, and hopefully they’ll forget it as quickly as I did. It’s awful, but luckily entirely frivolous and easy to push from your mind. We must take these small pleasures where we can.
There has been a famine of originality in mainstream YA for a while now. Paranormal romance has long lost its sheen, the dystopian craze never entirel...moreThere has been a famine of originality in mainstream YA for a while now. Paranormal romance has long lost its sheen, the dystopian craze never entirely took off and, as I discussed in my previous Book Lantern post, the assembly line of contemporary romance is on the rise. The glimmers of hope must be accepted with open arms, and, despite not entirely succeeding in its aims, “Crewel” has ambition to spare.
The appeal in “Crewel” lies in its concept – a world where reality is woven by a group of elite women known as spinsters, who have control over everything but are controlled themselves by a patriarchal system. There’s absolutely no reasons why the genres should remain separate and “Crewel” has elements of science-fiction, fantasy, dystopia and a touch of Greek tragedy, with the obligatory YA romance (a love triangle – is there any other kind?). There are parts that really work, and the book is bursting with ideas and often intricate explanations of how this world functions, but it takes far too long to really get going. The book opens with an incredibly clunky info-dump where the catalyst of the story – Adelice revealing her weaving talents – is barely mentioned before the story moves onto her family. I understand the need to quickly establish the heroine’s love and closeness to her family, since they’re largely absent throughout the novel and act as her main motivation, but the pages of exposition dragged down any momentum. The same happens with the explanations of the weave. The prose is pretty inconsistent but when it’s on form, it’s very beautiful, particularly when describing the weave. In sheer visual terms, this would make a gorgeous film (my choice for director – Guillermo del Toro).
I was disappointed that the book contained several examples of casual women shaming, particularly in regards to the two female antagonists, because “Crewel” has some interesting gender themes throughout. Patriarchy is a common feature in dystopian fiction, notably in Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”, because it’s a terrifying and not infeasible concept to imagine a world where women are controlled entirely by men. In Adelice’s world, only women can work the weave, and society is focused heavily on the family unit, complete with passive women. As the story is told from Adelice’s point-of-view, we witness her very judgemental moments, particularly towards the other spinsters. For some reason, make-up and fancy clothing are judged very harshly, as are the women who choose to wear a lot of it. The faux-opposition of traditional femininity from a heroine who herself fit that mould felt very hollow and misjudged, especially since the book dedicates a lot of time to beauty preparation, balls and the like. At one point, Adelice smugly declares that she wants to tell one of the male characters (who all became indistinguishable from one another about half-way through) that “unlike the other simpering idiots here I’ve actually read a book or two in my life”. She’s incredibly judgemental of the other young women who aspire to be spinsters, forgetting that they’ve been raised to aspire to this aim. At times, I was greatly confused by Adelice’s actions, and by others reactions to her. She seemed special for the sake of being special.
The supporting cast don’t fare much better, particularly the three main male characters, all of whom are romantically interested in Adelice in some form. I genuinely couldn’t tell who was who at several points throughout the novel. Their backstories, motivations and even their appearances (all charming and handsome, of course) were rather derivative, and I didn’t care about any of them, to be honest. Once again, we have a case of a love triangle where the outcome is painfully predictable. It’s not so much a love triangle as a romance with a third wheel for decorative purposes, and I couldn’t think of any reasons as to why all these men would be so enamoured with Adelice. The female characters fare a little better, if only because they’re given a little more to do. They also seem surprisingly lacking in motivation.
The final quarter of the book really saves it. The pace picks up dramatically, the action goes into full force, and the author puts her all into the unfolding of the world. Adelice comes into her own, which really improves the novel, but also highlights the weaknesses of the novel’s opening. I also seriously appreciated reading a dystopian-type novel that actually contained some LGBTQ representation, however fleeting it was. All too often, such novels just don’t even acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ people and their place in the society depicted, so props to Albin for practicing what all too many YA authors only preach.
There are a lot of questions that “Crewel” leaves unanswered, common for the first book in an intended series, but luckily the novel ends with a bang that left me hopeful for a strong sequel. The reader’s desire to read more will really depend on their reaction to the rest of the novel. For me, the huge scope of the novel does leave me intrigued, and the final 25% of the story worked enough for me to want more. However, the big issue with “Crewel” is that it doesn’t really know what it wants to be, and how to do so. There’s so much creativity and so many ideas screaming for attention in “Crewel”, and one can’t help but admire the ambition, but it’s weighed down by a lot of inconveniences, contradictions and derivative elements. However, in the grand scheme of modern YA dystopia, it’s up there as one of the more intriguing.
An easy to read dissection of the myths, tricks and perceptions that permeate the media's portrayal of sex issues such as pros...moreBetween 3.5 and 4 stars.
An easy to read dissection of the myths, tricks and perceptions that permeate the media's portrayal of sex issues such as prostitution, sex addiction, pornography and the sexualisation of young people. The book I'd most compare it to is Ben Goldacre's Bad Science, in that it shows you the techniques most often used to spin a story out of proportion - dodgy statistics, eye grabbing headlines, emotion over fact, etc - and how to combat them. Magnanti emphasises the common desire for people to reach for morality over facts, which I think is an important thing to remember. Some of it feels a bit slight, and there are areas here Magnanti could have written entire books about, but what is here is worth your time. I'm disappointed that the conclusion reads more like a settling of scores, as Magnanti goes after several feminist writers of the past 15 years or so, somewhat contradicting her own previous statements - women shouldn't support other women's heinous behaviour just because they're women (the example Magnanti uses is Michele Bachmann, and I entirely agree), but criticising women for potentially problematic and over-sexualised actions is anti-feminist? (She is right on some of Ariel Levy's slut-shaming choice of phrases, and I'm disappointed in myself for not picking up on them when I read the book). Magnanti tends to generalise all feminists by the occasionally bonkers and all too wrong radical wing, and while I do think such problems should be called out (comparing transgender women to rape, anyone?), it feels odd to shove them all in the same basket. Insinuating that radical feminism encapsulates several generations of evolving feminism feels like saying the Westboro Baptist Church represents all of Christianity (also, please don't shove Julie Burchill in with feminism. That woman is racist and pretty evil). Magnanti was treated pretty shoddily by many in the media who proclaim themselves to be feminists after she was revealed to be Belle de Jour, and that was very unfair to her (I'm a feminist who thinks prostitution should be fully legalised, regulated and taxed), but if she has grudges to air out, she should do it in a blog post. It's definitely a worthwhile read if you can pick up a copy, so give it a go if you're interested. (less)