I'd heard of Philippa Gregory—I mean, it's hard not to after the huge success The Other Boleyn Girl became. I knew she was mainly a historical romance writer who tended to write historically 'factual' novels with a few embellishments. I happen to enjoy the occasional historical novel, especially those that focus on women and/or teens of the time (see Tamora Pierce and Robin LaFevers). So when I heard that this renowned author was tackling a YA-focused historical series, I was pretty excited for it.
And then I read it. And then I shook my head and sighed.
The book first introduces us to Luca, a handsome and highly intelligent young man who is rumored to be a Changeling (one with fairy blood). After questioning the validity of church relics, he is recruited by The Order of Darkness (or Order of the Dragon?) to investigate strange and/or blasphemous occurrences around Italy and report whether or not the Bible's End of Days is approaching. So he goes out and investigates, joined by his outspoken servant, Freize, and an uptight record-keeper, Brother Peter.
We are then introduced to Isolde, a noble woman whose father has just passed. However, instead of being willed his lands as she had always been promised, her brother announces that their father changed his mind and said she was either to marry or become Abbess of the land's convent. After a failed rape by an 'approved' suitor, she and her closest friend (and servant), Ishraq leave for the convent.
And wouldn't you know it, the two cross paths! And though they're both sworn to the church, they kinda sorta have a thing for each other...
But if you want to have any fun with the book, ignore those two completely. Sure, Luca is smart and handsome and is leading this important quest for knowledge, and Isolde is beautiful and caring and the victim of the misogynistic times, but that's really all there is to them. There isn't any growth from either of them. No, the real stars turn out to be their confidants, Freize and Ishraq.
Freize is a kitchen-boy-turned-squire who joined his friend in order to help him. He's street-smart, funny, boisterous, crafty, and has a gift with animals. He also sees himself as a bit of a ladies man, but is quickly put in his place, often hilariously, by Israq. He may be a bit cocky, especially when he has information others don't, but his intentions are in the right place and he is loyal to a fault.
Israq is of middle-eastern descent, brought back from the crusades by Isolde's father. She was raised as a servant, but also protector and constant companion for Isolde, such that she learned all manner of skills—both physical and knowledge-based—to ensure she and her lady were safe. She is often distrustful, especially of men, but slowly learns to accept kindness and strength from others, especially Freize.
Compared to the two bricks that are the book's "main characters", these two companions have all the best dialog, the best growth, and the best chemistry. Heck, they have the most character of anyone in the whole book!
Which made the romance surrounding Luca and Isolde the most flaccid thing I have ever read. Firstly, they have absolutely no time spent between them, at least not alone, so any feelings generated between them are on looks and actions alone. Secondly, the book is written in 3rd-person-omniscient and most of the details are focused on the world, such that we have no idea what's going on in the character's heads. We don't feel any drama, any heartache from them at all. And lastly, they're both in the church, so everything is prim and proper and distanced between them at all times. On the bright side, there's no love triangle, on the other side, there's barely even a love line connecting these two!
And that's part of what leads me to call this a failure of a Young Adult novel. No, a YA story doesn't need a romance, but it does need the characters to learn and grow throughout their stories. If a main component of this story was supposed to be love, then one or both of the lovers need to come to some realization about their feelings. Admitting they have them, realizing that love is more important than religious vows (or visa versa), learning that love is complicated but worth trying for... something.
A YA book doesn't just need teen characters, it needs teen characters dealing with teen issues. Even historical teens had issues (romance being an obvious one) that they had to deal with. Changeling doesn't have its characters deal with anything. Even the titular character, Luca the presumed Changeling, never struggles with finding his origins, his truth. It comes up once at the very beginning, and is then thrown away entirely. And Isolde, who suspects that her brother betrayed her, never struggles (on-screen) with this betrayal, either of her father or her brother. In fact, she hardly does anything in the entire course of the novel.
Really, it didn't matter if the main characters were young, middle-aged, or old. None of the mysteries or strange events had anything to do with teens, self-discovery, growth, coming of age, or anything. It seemed as if the author simply wrote a story, made the main characters church-tithed to eliminate sex, and then threw in a few mentions of how young the characters were in order to break into a new, lucrative market. Nothing about the book read YA at all, which was both disappointing and infuriating.
Thing is, I can't even call it that great a story without the incorrect YA classification. As I said, it seemed like the wrong characters were written as the leads, but even they didn't come to the forefront until over halfway through. With no characters to root for, I didn't find the intrigue of the mysteries all that riveting, and so much of the novel was a bore to read. I don't know if this is typical of the author's writing style, or if this was different because it wasn't true-story-based, but I will definitely not be reading any of the sequels any time soon.
Overall, Changeling was a struggle to get through. If you're looking for a historical novel that's kid-safe, or you're starved for anything Philippa Gregory writes, you might give this a try. No language, sex, or violence, here, though there were a couple mentions of rape. Add in the thick historical details and the slow pace, and I'd suggest high school and older would be able to enjoy this. Patience is not only a virtue, but is almost necessary if you want to try getting into this series. Historical novel first, and a romance or YA novel only if you squint, Changeling will hopefully find a happier audience than I.
I haven't been much into historical fiction as I used to be. Sure, I get a taste every now and again, but with so much urban fantasy and paranormal teen material coming out lately, I'm sorry to say that the historicals have been crowded out. So you can see how discovering a new young adult historical novel focusing on lady spies and protectors of Queen Elizabeth might intrigue me. Crafty girls armed with blades and surrounded by historical intrigue? Sign me up! If only it were that awesome.
Meg was an easy enough girl to sympathize with. Headstrong, crafty, and a bit lawless, she values her freedom more than almost anything. And yet, when push comes to shove, she's actually extremely loyal, even to her own detriment at times. I guess you could call her snarky, but thankfully not in a modern way. She's got a lip to her, but is still very much set in the 16th century, so she's not completely outspoken or brash. Still, I liked that she knew her skills, both physical and mental, and wasn't afraid to use them.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed by how...passive Meg turned out to be. I know spies are supposed to hang in the shadows, always observing, not springing into action, but Meg hardly did even that! I think she spied a grand total of two times, and even then she hardly gathered any information from it. I guess 'passive' isn't the right word, maybe 'ineffective' works better. Any information she did gather (most of it from pick-pocketing) had to be translated by another person because it was in a foreign language or coded or both. Which meant that too much of the time Meg (and therefore the reader) felt assaulted by loads of exposition.
But even when she was doing something, she never did it on her own. Between receiving orders, passing information off, pairing up with another of the Maids to explore or research, or getting rescued (twice!), she didn't seem all that "talented" to me. And to top that off, there's also a mystery involving this book her grandfather passed on to her on his deathbed. But rather than researching it on her own, or adding context to the deciphering or something, it's instead solved off-screen and the solution handed to her. So as much as her "natural talent for spying" is hyped up, and she's supposedly set on a path toward self-discovery, I didn't really see Meg achieving much at all.
At least not on her own, which is where the other maids factor in. I liked the other girls well enough, but I didn't get much character from most of them. Mostly they seemed to fit different archetypes and never strayed from that archetype. Jane, the Blade, was Tomboyish, so made a good companion for Meg when exploring secret passageways. Anna, the Scholar, liked codes and puzzles, so served as a convenient tool to translate Meg's findings. Sophia, the Seer, was timid and weak, so served as someone to protect as well as make Meg look better by comparison.
And lastly, Beatrice, the Belle, served as the other extreme, the bitchy, prissy, socialite and guy-magnet. Honestly, I was most confused by her character. One minute she'd be all mightier-than-thou and seeming to take pleasure in others' misfortune, and the next she'd be their best friend. There was one section in particular where Meg was forced to lie to Beatrice about being chosen by the Queen for a task, and Beatrice was instantly chummy and apologetic for all her earlier bitchiness. But when she's told another lie about Meg's true intentions, she is even more catty and horrid than before. And the next time we see her, she's perfectly fine again. I can't tell if she was actually a complex character, was too simple to question the validity of the information given to her, or was simply written into various roles to serve the plot.
I was also sorry to see the two spymasters' characters never expand into anything more than plot devices. One man is in charge of Meg and the other Maids of Honor's training, and one is the Queen's spymaster. Both add conflict to the story, partly by threatening Meg's friends should she decide to run away, and partly by assigning Meg to spy on the Queen herself. We get a little of the logistics of why someone would want the Queen's movements tracked, but we never get any motivation from these two specifically.
In fact, we get very little interaction with them at all. Meg receives her lessons and her orders, and is then left completely on her own. Oh wait, no, they do step in again toward the end of the story, but nothing ever becomes of their actions. Well, nothing on their side, anyway. They aren't ever held accountable for their spying on the Queen, or their actions and threats towards Meg. In fact, they get off scot-free for everything. So not only do we know next-to-nothing about them, but their actions aren't even important enough to be addressed.
But perhaps this lack of intimacy between Meg and men was simply a product of the time, for even her relationship with Rafe Luis Medina, Count de Martine was somewhat brief. I'm not much for the love-at-first-sight kind of romance, which this most definitely was, but I can tolerate it as a way to kick things off if there's some growth and bonding afterwards. But all we get from Rafe is nonstop flirting, some stalkerish behavior and threats spy talk, and the claim that he would have rescued Meg after the fact. So all Rafe really has going for him is his gorgeous looks and hawt Spanish-ness. Not really my idea of heartthrob material, there.
I did, however, like how Meg's denial was written. Oftentimes in YA, the heroine will be against men or love and then fight her feelings out of confusion more than anything else. "I've never felt this way, it must be a bad thing!" Meg, on the other hand, knows the attraction for what it is, and fights it because she doesn't want to be owned. She knows as soon as she agrees to marriage, her freedom goes out the window. She would own nothing, not even herself. And though that freedom has already been taken (supposedly temporarily) by the spymasters, she's not about to willingly give herself up like that. A refreshingly logical view for a heroine to take.
Which is what made the treatment of Queen Elizabeth so disappointing for me. I had thought there would be much more interaction with the Queen than there actually was. The fact that Meg talks with her and receives an assignment from her in the 4th chapter helped that impression along quite a bit. But truthfully, the Queen has very, very little to do with this story. On the one hand, I understand that this isn't her story, but on the other hand, these Maids are supposedly her personally picked guards/arsenal, so I would have expected there to be a little more intimacy between her and our heroines.
As it was, though, I think there's enough intrigue in the historical facts for readers to want to do more research and reading on the subject. There was a lot of political strife at that time, both religiously and between the genders, and much of it is simplified or glossed over here in deference to Meg's personal plot. But there are enough references and glimpses here and there that I think this will pique the curiosity of anyone previously unfamiliar with the period. Which is always a good thing, in my opinion.
In terms of a series starter, I'm not sure I'm hooked quite yet. Meg's story wrapped up fairly neatly, though is still quite open ended. The next book, Maid of Deception, actually picks up a couple weeks after this one, and follows Beatrice instead. But while I'm interested to see what part of Elizabeth's reign is covered next, I'm not sure if I'll enjoy experiencing it through Beatrice's eyes. Then again, who knows? I might get some questions answered.
Overall, Maid of Secrets provided me with a fun jaunt into Elizabethan England, but lacked the character depth I crave. I'd recommend it for fans of YA and historical fiction who don't mind some romance as well. It's free of language and sex, but does contain some violence and a good amount of kissing, so I'd say high school and up would enjoy this the most. With a fairly slow pace, a lot of details in regards to settings and clothing, and somewhat stereotypical characters, this definitely won't appeal to everyone. But if you've got a soft spot for historical England or spies or girls overcoming adversity, then you might want to give Maid of Secrets a try.
This book hits the ground running. Coming fresh from Grave Mercy, I knew a little of what to expect, but that introduction threw me for a loop. Whereas book one started slowly, building up the world and introducing the characters one by one, Sybella's story starts right in the thick of things and doesn't slow down once. Even continuing straight off the last book, I still had to take a breath, get my head in the game, and start over after the fourth chapter.
But enough of comparisons, let's get down to what this book offers on its own.
Sybella is a heroine unlike any I've read before. Enveloped in a past too dark for even her own mind to handle, she must put duty ahead of terror in order to gather information and ultimately kill those who wage war against her friends and her Duchess. And did I mention that the target of assassination is her own father? Sybella's past weighs heavily on her throughout the book, and yet she still manages to be witty, sarcastic, dutiful, and strong in both body and will. There are times when she can be a bit mopey (and justifiably so), but these are few and far between and only serve as a reminder at how much she has to overcome both from within and without.
While Sybella is very independent, even she needs a little help now and again, and she receives most of her help in the form of Benebic, the Beast of Waroch, or just Beast for short. Though he had a small part in the last book, here is where we really get to see him in action. Beast is essentially the medieval version of The Hulk: whenever his battle lust is triggered, he won't stop until he's taken down everyone in his path. But outside of his legendary battle-mode, he is kind, compassionate, and every bit as dutiful as Sybella. Though he's not the most gorgeous hunk you could fall for (quite the opposite, actually), he's definitely going on my dream-guy list for his heart alone.
Obviously these two characters are meant for each other, which brings me to their romance. I thought it worked out pretty well on the whole. I was glad to see it wasn't re-hashing the love-hate relationship that Ismae and Duval had in Grave Mercy. It's still a bit cliche, but it still feels natural both in development and in how the characters react to it. It doesn't change them, at least not in how they act, but rather in how they see themselves and their futures. It's definitely more mature than what I've read in more contemporary (including modern fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal) young adult literature, but it's still very relatable and understandable.
Speaking of more mature romance, there is the issue of sex in this book. Let me assure you, there is absolutely, positively nothing on-screen in terms of sex in this book, but there are quite a few references to it happening off-screen both in forms of rape and incest as well as consensual. Seduction is one of the main tools that Sybella uses to her advantage, even though it doesn't always end in a bedroom. And there is even a mention of a pregnancy well below 20, which technically is fairly normal for the time period. Still, if you don't think your children are quite old enough to discuss these sorts of topics, you might want to wait until they are.
On that note, it should also be said that this book's title is a great indication of the contents: this book is dark. The main character suffers from a past she can't even fully remember, her brother makes sexual advances on her throughout the book, she has to deal with fearing and hating her own father yet seeing so much of him in herself, not to mention the war which is going on. There are issues with faith, with duty, love, lust, bloodlust, death, madness, sorrow, fear, self-loathing, and trust. All are well worth reading about and addressing, but again, not all ages are quite ready to deal with them yet. Not to discourage anyone from reading it, just encouraging those who do to be in the right frame of mind going in.
I think the argument could be raised of whether or not this book, and really the series as a whole 'fits' the Young Adult label. The author has talked on this herself, defining the genre (or age-range) as more a coming-of-age for mid-to-late teenaged characters. I personally support the classification of YA for these books, but I can definitely see the mature content and dark tones of the books getting them pushed to adult shelves. On the one hand, I think it's great because these books should be read by adults — they are complex and fun, contain historical characters and events, and are phenomenally written. But on the other hand, I hope these books' target audience isn't deprived of the same complexity, fun, history, great writing, and insight that can be gained from these stories.
Backing it up a bit, I really appreciated how Ms. LaFevers addressed the historical issues in her story. It's true that some liberties have to be taken in order to write a story about Assassin Nuns, but the fantastical aspects really are kept to a tolerable minimum, with more emphasis being placed on the political and strategical nature of running a country and conducting a war, that is when we're not focusing on the personal stories of our characters. Still, a lot happens in this book as far as the escalation of the war, which makes it a very exciting story, but a little too exciting when you really examine it closely. LaFevers explains in an author's note that she took some liberties with the dates, compounding about 2 years of 'political happenings' into a few months. She also includes some facts about the Count d'Albret as well as a bit of the etymology of 'saboteur'. Isn't history (and writing about it) fascinating?
In terms of being a sequel to Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph both works and breaks those bonds. I believe because of focusing on a completely new character, someone could pick this book up first and backtrack to Ismae's story without much issue. Obviously by reading the events out of order, they would know much of what happened in the first book, but they wouldn't know how or why it happened. Each book gives its character a starting point and an ending point completely separate of the events surrounding them. Also, Sybella is a completely different person than Ismae, requiring a different path to bring her to enlightenment, giving us elements that are both familiar and yet completely new. I can hardly wait to see what the next installment has in store for Brittany and for the last of our trio of assassins, Annith.
Overall, a fluffy book this is not, but Dark Triumph is definitely a worthwhile read. Fans of Grave Mercy will find many familiar faces, and are sure to fall in love with many new ones as well. I'd definitely recommend this to YA readers who enjoy strong heroines, historical settings, romance, and a hint of fantasy. Mature themes involving seduction and sex (occurring off-screen), and assassination and war (occurring on-screen) might keep some younger readers at bay, but I'd say it's appropriate for high school and older, which is its target audience anyway. This is a heavy book which is sure to stick with you well after reading it, but despite the darkness which lurks throughout, you'll most certainly take away the feeling of triumph.
In Victorian England, there is a special institution where two men intend to help lycanthropes suppress their nocturnal transformations, while searching for a more permanent cure. One evening, they discover a rare type of werewolf - one trapped eternally in a half-human, half-wolf form - that they believe could be beneficial to their research.
'Martha', however, believing her shape is due to her being a Messiah to her brethren, wishes to see the other werewolves embrace their curse. Can she be treated and cured? Or will her 'Lord' have his way?
First and foremost, this is a novella. At 104 pages (including the title and acknowledgement pages), there isn't a lot of room to go off and explore the entire world, nor to grasp much of the complexity in the main characters. And yet Barsby managed to pack in a lot into a small package.
The story is told in the perspective of journal entries of a nameless doctor. Actually, it's unclear if he is a doctor since his work involves a strange mix of psychology and studying lycanthropy. At the very least, he and his associate, Harlston, run an asylum for werewolves. It is our narrator's hope to cure this affliction and allow his wards to return to their normal human lives.
In this world werewolves are men who, after receiving the bite, turn into wolves every night. While in that form they have no control over their bodies, though some do retain their minds through the experience. The transformations are painful and wild, and some of the patients have killed as the wolf. It is primarily for this reason that they, or their loved ones, have sought help here.
One night, however, the two doctors (for lack of a better term) discover a young female who is permanently fixed between the two forms - and anthropomorphized wolf who still has the power of thought and speech. Knowing that she might be key to helping the other patients, they bring her back to the asylum for further study. But our narrator quickly discovers that her unique form is only half as interesting as her mind.
The narrator, for being nameless, was surprisingly complex. He's seen firsthand the harm that these creatures can do, but instead of condemning them to death he seeks to help the man return to control. He's also looking somewhat into the origin of the creatures - whether it is divine interaction or a condition of the psyche.
This struggle of thought is only complicated by the newfound female's message, which has a new God choosing her to help usher in a new world where werewolves rule. Her story was doubly intriguing for me, since I took a literature class on madness in college. Is she mad, or are those around her simply refusing to look at a new perspective?
I thought, even for a novella, the world-building was exquisite. The details that were missing only made me hungry for more. And the writing style only helped to sell it. Harkening back to the style of Stoker's Dracula, the matter-of-fact tone of the initial journals only makes the later emotional entries that much more evocative. Again, some details such as country, climate, etc. etc., would have been nice, but keeping it open made it so it could have been almost anywhere.
I did have a couple problems with the book. Putting aside the few typos, the journal entries made it difficult for me to discern what tense was proper, and I noticed it change randomly a couple times, jolting me out of the book. I also was disappointed with the ending — we go through the entire book with this nameless narrator, learning his story, only to jump to a completely different person's story for the end of the book? Sure, it answered some nagging questions throughout the book, but I wanted the narrator's reaction! At least a line or two. But instead all we get is "The End?".
Still, if I heard there was going to be a sequel or an expansion of this novella, I'd jump on it. Barsby's writing proved to be entertaining, and his story was both thought-provoking and emotional. Given a little more attention to characters and the length to include more details, I'd be happy to dive back into this world.
Overall, The Werewolf Asylum was an interesting mix of psychology and theology. Though it contains no language or sex at all, due to some violence and the tone of the novella it's probably more geared toward an adult audience, but I could see some young adults reading it as well. And while I found the questioning of theology to be thought-provoking, I can see some readers being turned off instantly. Still, I think fans of the werewolf genre should definitely sink their teeth into a copy, even if it is just an electronic one (be careful of shock!).
Approximate Reading Time: 2 hours
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this e-book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.(less)
When I got the e-mail from NetGalley offering a limited (2-day) offer for the ARC of Grave Mercy I jumped at the chance. The premise sounded interesting, and if not completely unique, then a welcome change from the majority of YA lit being released these days. I applied and was accepted within a day or two.
Upon discovering that the book was 500+ pages I'll admit I was pretty intimidated, especially since I was only two weeks away from the April 3rd release. Nevertheless, I promised myself I would try to get it read near the release date.
I started reading on March 27th and my heart sunk. The narration was dry and choppy, details were minimal, and, most importantly, I couldn't find any personality in Ismae whatsoever. I couldn't believe I was dooming myself to read over 500 pages of this.
And then I hit Chapter 6—glorious Chapter 6—which takes place three years later. Now Ismae is seventeen and has had three years of training, friendship, and (most notably) learning to read and write. I absolutely loved the contrast of the two Ismaes and the ingenuity of the transition. Suddenly I couldn't wait to dig into the rest of the book.
Ismae turned out to be a fiery character. Determined to prove herself to her betters and Mortain, God of Death, she at first appears confident and cocky. But once she's out in the real world, her confidence takes a nose-dive and she's much less sure of anything, especially her own feelings. Normally a huge change in personality would throw up red flags—it's so rarely done well—but thankfully, this was one of the rare exceptions.
I think it's partly to do with the pacing of Ismae's story. Too often these days you have a character trying to go through their arc within two-or-three hundred pages. Honestly, that's not much room for change, so we're often given near-perfect characters becoming nearer-perfect characters. Grave Mercy has 549 pages to take us through Ismae's self-discovery, and it uses every single one of them.
But as much as I loved reading through Ismae's struggles and triumphs, I did think the 'overcoming her past' segments were covered extremely quickly. I would have liked to have seen more struggling with it besides when she was in her home village. The mother segment, especially, felt kinda out of the blue and rushed to me.
Nevertheless, I was hard-pressed to put this book down—in fact, I only did so twice. Between the assassinations, political intrigue, and romantic undertones, there was a lot to keep me interested. And that doesn't even cover the historical setting and information that kept being woven through. I've always been a bit of a history buff (even minored in college), so I savored each and every new tidbit I found—including the only swear word used in the whole book, Merde (pardon my French).
The fantasy of this book, even though it's a major plot point, is actually pretty subdued in comparison to the rich history. There aren't any spells or incantations, no witches brews or magic wands, and the closest things to magical creatures are the crows used as messenger birds. Pretty much, the only magic here is attributed to Mortain, God of Death, and it's pretty simple. He casts a marque upon someone—a black spot of sorts that shows how the victim will die— and his daughters follow his commands. Throughout the course of the book the mythos does evolve slightly, but on the whole I wouldn't worry about it if you're adverse to fantasy.
Similarly, I have a hard time calling this book a romance. Though Ismae eventually does fall in love, I found it to be more a part of her journey towards self-discovery—finding she's able and allowed to love—than an actual romantic plot. Conversely, there are many mentions of sex (Ismae masquerades as a mistress for much of the novel) and a couple allusions to rape but, keeping in the YA genre, there aren't any actions of either. Well...actually, there may have been one, but I honestly couldn't be sure.
After all this, I don't know if I've conveyed how much I loved this book. There's so much there that I don't know how to cover it all, nor do I really want to since it's just too good to spoil! I will say this about the ending: perfection. I'm excited to see what the next book, Dark Triumph, has in store for us, especially since it's about— Oop! Don't want to give too much away...
Overall I found Grave Mercy a refreshing and intriguing start to what I can only imagine will be a wonderful series. I'd recommend it for those who love Historical Fiction and YA, but don't mind a little Fantasy and Romance thrown into the mix. There is a fair amount of violence and many references to sex, so I'd place this as appropriate for late high-school and older, despite the young characters and inconsiderable language. Daunting as the length may be, Grave Mercy is one book you surely don't want to miss.
Approximate Reading Time: 9.5 hours
Disclaimer: I received this ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.(less)
First off, if you hate spoilers of any kind, you may not want to read this book's Prologue. Don't get me wrong, I liked how it introduced the narrator's (Zoe's) voice, and I thought the action was a great hook to get me reading. But I will admit that it gave away a good portion of the book's plot, erasing the tension in much of Part 2. So I guess if you're unsure of whether or not you want to read it, give the Prologue a read; if you're set on reading it, go ahead and skip to Chapter 1.
Zoe is our main character and narrator for The Dig, and I connected with her fairly early on. She reminded me a lot of myself: reserved, a bit socially awkward, sort of a wallflower, extremely observant. But instead of sitting on the outskirts of high school (or boarding school) culture and wishing she were a part of it, she wishes she could run as far away as possible.
I get it, she's a loner. But I got tired of the flip-flopping between, "woe is me, I'm so awkward, I hate being alone" and "everyone else is so shallow/preppy, I'm glad I'm not like them." I swear, I kept waiting for a Holden Caulfield "phony" to show up somewhere. All her flashbacks and ancient-to-modern comparisons painted the world as having three types of people: Jocks, Preps, and Archaeologists (oh, and her). I'm sorry, but that's an awfully narrow worldview for a seventeen year-old who's actually traveled the world, don't ya think?
The other characters left me begging for more, and not really in a good way. It's pretty bad when I know CeeCee (who appears only in Chapter 1 and flashbacks) more than any of the people she meets in ancient Greece. Creusa felt like more of a plot tool than a real character, or friend for that matter. Just another thing for Zoe to comment on. I will admit that Blondie was nice to read about, but he never threw me any curve balls, so I lost interest after a while.
And the Gods and Goddesses? Chalk them up with a paragraph apiece, and that's pretty much all we get. There was sooo much potential, like say after she finished summing up their personalities in 2 seconds maybe having them prove her wrong? Even in some tiny insignificant way? But no, it was cut and dry as soon as she saw them, and hardly any interaction afterwards. A major letdown.
Two seconds was about all the attention afforded to most of the descriptions, actually. Being an historical fantasy, I was expecting to be immersed in the intricacies of the ancient world—the architecture, the clothing, the customs, possibly the food. Maybe I'm just spoiled by Tamora Pierce. I honestly couldn't tell that we were in ancient Greece aside from Zoe's insistence that that's where we were. No identifiable landscapes, no clothing details (other than maybe a couple togas and a cape), no interesting customs, and frankly the mythical creatures only made me more confused. And the cantina? What?
Romance was extremely thick in this one. For being so judgmental of her classmates' boy-crazy behavior, Zoe jumps into the love pool pretty dang fast. I'm not saying it's completely out of character, especially in a YA book, but it did dominate the story a bit more than I expected/wanted. What is covered is extremely tame, no lusty thoughts or actions here, but it gets pretty gushy towards the end.
And speaking of the end, a little warning: The Dig is the first in a trilogy. Now, being part of a series doesn't automatically mean that the ending is going to be cut off...but in this case it is. Just thought I'd warn you.
And yet, despite all my issues and complaints, this was an enjoyable read. No, really, I liked the book. I put it down maybe twice, and once was only because I was dog tired. Honestly, my biggest problem with it was seeing all of what could have been. The concept was intriguing and I very much liked the voice and style of writing, but then I'm left with all the shortcomings. It was a great book to stir up the imagination, just not the best to dissect and analyze. Still, I'm looking forward to the continuation of the series, I just hope to see more overall. Especially the side characters.
Ultimately, I'd recommend The Dig to younger readers who enjoy romance, fantasy, adventure, and snarky girls. Underwhelming on the historical front, but a quick and easy read nonetheless. Language, romance, and violence are all G-rated, but I think the heavy emphasis on romance and cliques would keep it at minimum at Middle Grade level. The first of what looks to be an entertaining trilogy, The Dig (aka Zoe and Zeus) is a fun romp through a world of fantasy.
Elizabeth Darcy has everything a woman could ask for: a large estate, a steady income, a husband she loves and who love...more~ Amazon ~ Borders ~ Powell's ~
Elizabeth Darcy has everything a woman could ask for: a large estate, a steady income, a husband she loves and who loves her... Then why is it that lately she can't even bring herself to smile?
Not that there's much to smile about with the zombie menace still vexing England. But the lingering threat is made deadly personal when Darcy is bitten by one of the stricken! Despite knowing it is her duty to behead and burn any soul befallen the plague, Lizzy cannot bring herself to kill her beloved. Not if there could be the slightest chance of a cure.
However, to obtain this supposed cure Elizabeth must place everything on the line. Her honor, her pride, and her family hang in the balance... Love is a strong motivator, but will it be enough to save all she holds dear?
The real question is: If Mr. Darcy became infected, would Elizabeth have the fortitude to behead him in time?—Salon.com (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies)
Apparently, Steve Hockensmith decided that question was well worth answering. In this sequel to the zombie-infested hit, we find Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy four years into their marriage. But while the unmentionables are still roaming the countryside, there's little room for wedded bliss. Especially since, as a married woman, honor and decorum has forced Lizzy to give up the blade.
That, I think, was my first problem with this book. Even if society demanded it, I can't see Lizzy succumbing to stupid mandates such as these. Nor could I see her husband enforcing them. Their understanding of each other at the end of the previous book seemed to indicate an equality and respect toward the deadly arts. I just don't think it reasonable (or believable) that four years have passed without Elizabeth wielding blade or staff against Satan's army.
This complaint aside, we don't have to wait too long before Lizzy dons her weapons again. In fact, by page 34 we are treated to an artful slaying using a razor-bladed parasol with sword-handle! Unfortunately, that is just about all we see of Elizabeth Darcy's fighting for the entire novel. On the whole, her role disappointed me the most. I was intrigued by her reluctance/fear of bearing children (learned on page 14), but that was really the only nuance her character offered through the whole, despite the main plot being initiated/centered on her plight.
Actually, the majority of the narration was spent on Kitty, Mary, and Darcy. Kitty and Mary were fun to follow as they matured and grew into independent women. Unfortunately I also felt their journeys weren't nearly as satisfying as Elizabeth's in the previous book, probably because they were compacted into side-plots. If they had been given their own books... Darcy's story, on the other hand, was less an exploration of his character and more an exploration into the psyche of a dreadful as it turns. Slightly intriguing, but not altogether welcome as a distraction from the plot we are teased with from the summary.
Most of the secondary characters are familiar to us through either Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or its post-written prequel, Dawn of the Dreadfuls. Anne de Bourgh struck me as very similar to Luna Lovegood at first—a bit wistful and dreamy—but she quickly veered off that course and became much creepier than anticipated. I can't say her story was completely unexpected, but I did find it satisfying for as little space as she had. Mr. Quayle was identifiable instantly, and I was also pleased at his finish, though again I wished more space was available to him. New characters suffered similarly.
Unlike the other books in this series, Dreadfully Ever After is not really a comedy. Much more of the prose is focused on gore and horrid depictions of death, disease, and mauling. There is definitely a lot more blood spurting here than in previous installments, and some were lingered on long enough to make me queasy. Language was stronger as well. Though only one remembered instance of a curse (female dog), there are also many untranslated French sayings, Japanese speech, and antique British words that readers may need to research their meanings.
On an editing note, I was extremely perturbed at the amount of typos. Luckily, there weren't too many altogether, but there was one recurring one that I never could quite figure out. The mental hospital where the cure is supposedly housed is referenced throughout the novel...yet it's done one of two ways. It is either the "Bedlam" Hospital or "Bethlem" Hospital. On page 141 it's called by both names in the space of two paragraphs! And it was mirrored in the audiobook as well, so I couldn't find preference there either. I can only wish that a final decision is reached in future editions.
Perhaps most disappointing to me was the end of the novel. The final chapter, taking up the last 5 pages, uses the perspective of, God help us, the ever oblivious Mrs. Bennet. We are merely given a rundown of the current physical state of the family members, effectively robbing us of any main character resolution whatsoever. I'll grant that this does give an 'open ending' to the novel, letting the reader draw her own conclusions, but it does absolutely nothing for the uncertainties that have arisen throughout the novel. The last line of the previous chapter was much more satisfactory an ending, such that I wish the last chapter had been left off altogether!
As I've touched on above, I think this book suffers mostly from disorganization and overcrowding. There are five storylines vying for attention—Elizabeth's quest for a cure, Kitty's maturation/romance, Mary's maturation/romance, Darcy's progress toward Dreadfuldom, and a commentary on England's plight as a whole—and with only 287 pages none of them really gets their full due. Not only that, but with them switching from one to another each chapter, you end up hating the current storyline for intruding on the previous, then just as you come to accept/tolerate it, it switches again! Perhaps if less were included, more focus could have been given to what was left.
Overall, this novel is not nearly as strong as its predecessors, but serves as an interesting exploration further into the Pride and Prejudice and Zombie universe. While the developments to some of the previously secondary characters were welcome, the excess of competing storylines serves to diminish the full impact the book might otherwise serve. I would recommend this to readers who already enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombiesas well as it's prequel, Dawn of the Dreadfuls, penned by the same author as the sequel. This book is not nearly as humorous as its previous installments, so would most likely be enjoyed by those more zombie-inclined than fans of satire. Still, it was a welcome final chapter in the saga of Bennets vs zombies, though I'm sure some fans will be as unwilling as the undead in giving it up.
The Ba-Coro tribe has enjoyed two years of peace and prosperity following the defeat of the Wasp People. And yet Zan can't help but feel suspicious at...moreThe Ba-Coro tribe has enjoyed two years of peace and prosperity following the defeat of the Wasp People. And yet Zan can't help but feel suspicious at the vicious tribe's long-kept silence. With such a lush landscape and an ample food supply at their disposal, could it be that they are amassing another strike?
Determined to find the answer, Zan returns to the land of his captors. Little does he know that the biggest threat might lie closer to home...and his heart.
Dael's mind is more troubled than ever. After losing his wife during childbirth, all his inner torment and pent-up rage seems to have finally broken through to the surface. Now it's up to Zan to keep him in check. But how much is Zan willing to do when his brother's rampages turn deadly?
Right from the start, I could tell this book was going to be darker than the last. Whereas the first book focused mostly on Zan's journey and becoming a man, this one was more about the morality (or lack thereof) of war and whether a damaged psyche can ever recover. Such weighty themes make it harder for me to see this as a middle-grade novel, and possibly ranking it up in the high school ages would be more appropriate.
The violence is ramped up a lot in this book. Not necessarily its depiction (that was still rather tame) but the amount and tone of it. Dael's rampages in the first book are merely a precursor to what he does here. And while I felt Dael's actions were believable and/or understandable, I found them much harder to read emotionally.
I was pleased to find a wider focus in terms of the characters. Zan is still a central character, but he shares much of the light with his friends and family. Rydl was especially fun to follow, even though his sections were often short and secluded from the rest. However, Pax and Siraka-Finaka (Aka) were what made this book for me. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed following Zan and Rydl and Dael around, but I loved when the girls showed the men what they were capable of. It's always nice to see the oppressed get their chance to shine.
Unfortunately, the whole feel of this book was off. In comparison to the first book, it was just lacking. There was no overarching storyline driving us forward, and the plot points seemed to appear haphazardly and without reason. At times I felt as if the author was sticking things in because he thought it would work, not because the story was leading there. Even the major themes of the novel (war, morality, women's rights, etc.) seemed preachy at times because of their awkwardness.
Furthermore, there was no 'coming together' at the end. In fact, I found nearly all the conflicts were resolved unrealistically. Be it a quarrel between husband and wife, or an "evil" character suddenly and inexplicably turning good, these resolutions came suddenly. There was no build-up, no redemption, and thus the 'resolutions' weren't satisfying for me.
Overall, I'd recommend this book for an older audience looking to explore more serious themes. While the previous book had an uplifting tone comfortable for maybe 10+ years, The Beautiful Country is geared more for high school and up. If you introduced A Prehistoric Adventure to a younger audience, I'd stick with the wonderful ending it has or proceed to The Beautiful Country with a parent reading along. Older readers I think will enjoy continuing forward with Zan and his friends, but might find the tone-shift a little daunting in comparison to its predecessor.
Thousands of years ago, before there were roads or fences or even languages like English, Latin or Hebrew, there lived a boy named Zan. For Zan and hi...moreThousands of years ago, before there were roads or fences or even languages like English, Latin or Hebrew, there lived a boy named Zan. For Zan and his people it is a time of unrest. The tribes are consumed in an on-again off-again war, and temporary treaties are only forged to battle immediate threats.
When a lioness attacks and kills a child, the tribes have no choice but to confront the danger together. Zan, though normally too young for such an endeavor, is included in the hunt and, much to everyone's surprise, is the one to spear the lion.
Spurred on by this sudden accomplishment and his new-found prestige among the tribes, the newly named Zan-Gah sets out on a quest to find his long-lost twin. Along the way he'll encounter hardship, friendship, captivity, love, uncertainty, and triumph as his skills and wisdom are put to the test.
Before I begin, there's something I've got to get off my chest... The animal on the cover looks like a squirrel. I know it's supposed to be a lion(ess). I know it's blurred because it's in motion. But the fact remains that every one of my friends and family who saw this book asked about the squirrel on the cover.
That being said, it was a wonderful story. I honestly don't know why it took me so long to get through it. I first received it for review back in October and it's been rotating through a place on my shelf, on my desk, and my purse ever since. I'd read the first chapter online before accepting the books for review, and found it intriguing—in fact, it reminded me a lot of Peter Dickinson's The Kin, which I loved in middle school. And at 150 pages, the thought of sitting down and reading it was hardly daunting.
I think what struck me as a bit odd at first was the disjointed story style. Though Zan-Gah focuses on the title character for the majority of the book, at the beginning of each chapter the omniscient narrator tends to zoom away from our hero. Even the first chapter introduces the Zan from an outsider's perspective (almost to the point of using 2nd person narration).
These 'character lapses' were most often tools that provided the reader historical context, or foreshadowed future events. Younger readers might enjoy these segues back into the action if they'd stopped at the end of the last chapter, but since I was reading it all in one go, I found it rather jarring. Once I had delved into Zan's journey, it was easier to power through these sections in order to return to the main plot.
The story itself is very realistic and engaging. Though Zan is very young (around 13), I found his maturity growth throughout the book to be believable, as well as his skills and choices. Zan's world is a harsh one, and at times the terrain or inhabitants are especially unforgiving, but I thought the instances of violence (hunting and battle) were handled well for a younger audience. Even the psychology that comes later in the book, which can be particularly confusing, was depicted in terms easily understandable.
I think what I enjoyed most was how everything came together at the end. Honestly, I wasn't sure how the hunting of the lion connected to anything else in the book, other than as an exciting beginning to introduce you to Zan and his world. But as more and more elements fell into place, I was very satisfied with how all the elements had built up to the ending. In that sense, the whole was much greater than the sum of its parts.
Overall, this book was an enjoyable and engaging read. I don't know that someone accustomed to older material would find it as stimulating, but it's definitely a fun ride. Suitable for young audiences, I'd highly recommend it as a classroom read or a parent/child read-along for teens and pre-teens. In addition to some intermediate vocabulary (anxiety, grotesque, ululation), there are depictions of hunting and battle, so do use your own discretion. If you have a unwilling reader, I think the story of Zan-Gah is definitely an adventurous and inspirational book to try.
Catherine Morland is a heroine. You know, one of those unfortunate girls who have to deal with awful families, are locked up in castles, or have to ov...moreCatherine Morland is a heroine. You know, one of those unfortunate girls who have to deal with awful families, are locked up in castles, or have to overcome deadly plots, but manage to power through it all and fall madly in love with an extraordinary boy? Only problem is her family is lovingly ordinary. Oh, and she lives nowhere near a castle. And she doesn't seem to have anyone plotting against her. And none of the boys around town seem to be anything extraordinary.
And, what's more, Catherine is lacking the heroine's mind and skill. She's never attended to animals or plants, music evades her interest, lessons come at a normal speed, drawing is merely doodling, and she has never once known something inherently.
But all that could should will change when family friends Mr. and Mrs. Allen invite Catherine along on a trip to Bath. Surely this is the adventure she's been waiting for. These two will soon prove to be wicked, and she'll be locked up and finding her handsome hero in no time!
...Or they could be two very agreeable people who bear the girl no ill will and have only her best interests in mind.
Drat. Well, if her companions are set on being agreeable, she'll just have to find a dreadful situation to overcome. Surely there should be plenty of those in Bath! Shouldn't there?
I loved the parody aspect of the novel. It's supposed to be a play on the popular Gothic novels of the time period (early 1800s), which is what Catherine longs to star in. Personally, I couldn't help but think of Twilight (and its parody, Nightlight) as the subject for comparison. You've got to admit, besides taking place in Forks, there are a lot of Gothic qualities in Twilight. But that novelty wore off quickly enough once you got into the meat of the story (well, except for the similarities between Catherine and Bella). Still, it was still easy to chuckle throughout, especially when Catherine's imagination runs away with her.
I found Catherine simply marvelous. She's a bit of an airhead throughout the book, and everyone (save for the less intelligent Mrs. Allen) knows it. Though I'm normally not a fan of the ditsy protagonist, Catherine was in-character for the entire novel, which made her all the more endearing. Where some characters are stupid one moment and suddenly brilliant the next, Catherine managed to slip through all her problems with the same air of innocence and simplicity throughout. So, while I may have liked a little more of a head on her shoulders, at least she was consistent.
But Henry Tilney more than makes up for Catherine's fluff-for-brains. He's charming, intelligent, kind-hearted, and humorous. Forget Darcy; give me a man who has a sarcastic wit any day! Granted, there are times where he's a little too intelligent for his own good, especially with politics (yawn/gag), but he shuts up without too much fuss. Definitely my favorite Austen man so far!
The pacing of the book was pretty good overall. Surprisingly enough, Northanger Abbey doesn't play a prominent part in the book. In fact, it takes more than half the book to even mention the abbey, let alone get there. The story still works, but the title and the summary are a bit misleading in that respect. Really, it's just your standard Austen romance with less politics and mess.
Every so often there were small interruptions in the narration by the author. No, it wasn't overly descriptive, it was the author actually making statements and referring to herself as "I". The first time I encountered it, I had to go over it again and make sure I was reading it right. Once the shock wore off, the little rant was actually enjoyable. But each time the author poked her nose into the narrative, it had the same jarring effect for me. The worst came at the end, when she's actually giving her reasons for writing it thus. Frankly, I'd rather she'd kept out of it and just let the story continue.
Another complaint I had was the ending. It was far too rushed. So much so that I wasn't even sure what was happening. Austen narrated a summary of the resolution in 2 pages...and it was over. With all that build-up, I would have liked something fuller, involving the characters, and not the author. I don't know if it was because it was her first novel, or if it was perhaps another rip on the Gothic. Either way, it didn't satisfy in the least.
Overall, I'd read it again. Sure, the ending was a let-down, but the rest of the story was a lot of fun. The characters are endearing, the villains are fun to hate, and the plot isn't too horribly run down by details and etiquette. If you're a fan of Austen, of Twilight, or of romance, you should definitely give a couple hours to this one.