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.
Definitely amped things up from the last book/episode. Whereas The Promise felt like it was meant...moreRead my review of all three parts at The Wolf's Den.
Definitely amped things up from the last book/episode. Whereas The Promise felt like it was meant to be just one, maybe two episodes, this one part felt like it had everything an episode needed unto itself. Why couldn't these be on TV???
Am absolutely loving the Mother's history being interspersed throughout. So many questions finally getting answered!(less)
Tory Brennan is just your typical high school freshman. You know the type: so smart she skipped two grades; lives on an island with a father she just...moreTory Brennan is just your typical high school freshman. You know the type: so smart she skipped two grades; lives on an island with a father she just met; niece of a famous forensic anthropologist; spends most the time boating around with three older geeky guys. Yeah, sure. Typical.
And it's on a typical trip to the neighboring Loggerhead Island, home to a super high-tech biology research lab and off limits to outsiders, that she and her friends discover a clue to a 50-year-old mystery as well as evidence of cruel animal experimentation. Apparently not everything on Loggerhead is as official and clean-cut as it seems.
After rescuing the wolfdog puppy from the labs, Tory and the group start experiencing strange symptoms. But heightened senses, hunger for raw meat, and yellow eyes are the least of their worries when their investigation efforts start attracting the wrong sort of attention. The deadly kind. They'll have to work together if they want to stay alive and put this mystery to rest.
Fortunately, they are now more than friends. They are a pack. They are Virals.
This book was impossible to put down! I started reading this at midnight, thinking I'd spend an hour or two at the most before turning in. Four and a half hours (347 pages/57 chapters) later I finally found a place I felt I could comfortably leave them and go to sleep. I grant that the pacing isn't the best at times—I found it impossible to tease the book using the first 50 pages because nothing had happened yet—but the absence of action in the beginning was completely covered by the characters. And once the action started, it never let up—especially not at chapter breaks.
But speaking of characters, I loved each and every one of them. Tory, our freshman-at-fourteen narrator was everything I love in a female lead. She's smart, sassy, strong (though she often plays it down for the boys' sakes), wounded but trying to overcome. And her language, her pattern of speaking/thinking was exactly like I'd expect. In some ways it matched my own, such that tagging along in her head was a pretty seamless experience. Plus she's a redhead, automatic +2 points.
Tory's boys were just plain fun. Hi, probably my favorite of the bunch, was the comedian of the group. If the situation's getting way out of hand, trust him to throw in a line that lets everyone take a breath. Shelton and Ben blurred together a bit at first, but I straightened them out eventually. Shelton's the techno-wiz, but tends to spook easily. Ben's definitely the muscle, but he doesn't boast it. All three of them had great senses of humor, and though they're older, they're all intensely loyal to their leader, Tory.
It's YA, so you know there's gotta be some romance, right? Well, yes and no. There are some boy-girl scenes with flirting, some boyfriend/girlfriend references, and some definite crushing going on. However, in comparison to most girl-narrated YA, this was surprisingly tame. There was a bit of a triangle popping up now and again...and maybe it's just me, but I sense Ben might have a little crush of his own...but on the whole, everything is sub-subplot at best. It's there—it's pretty near unavoidable when dealing with high school—but it's maybe 30 pages of a 450-page book.
Instead of teenage angst, the book mainly focuses on mystery, sci-fi, and action plots. Doesn't seem to be typical YA genres these days, especially for what looks to be a sci-fi or paranormal book. I'll admit, I was surprised at how well everything was woven together. Just when you're thinking Mystery Plot caught a huge break, Action bursts in, shakes everything around, and then lets Sci-Fi take the lead. Each of the three plots seems separate, which might be offputting for some, but with the characters leading you through it all it's not too hard to follow.
The action starts off immediately, right from page one in the form of a prologue. Technically, the prologue takes place in the middle of chapter 25, so it was a bit confusing trying to figure out what the heck was going on. On the other hand, it certainly gets you hooked right away, and Reichs does a good job referencing back to the prologue in the chapter (in case you need a refresher), so I think it works alright. The action throughout the story kept my heart pounding pretty fast (the music* ensured that pretty well too).
The science/science-fiction of the story is fairly understandable. Since none of the characters specialize in the same fields, there's usually a fair bit of explanation between them for any science-y stuff. I'm a bit biased toward wolves (gee, ya think?), so I'll admit that the wolf-DNA change plotline was what drew me to the book in the first place. Didn't know exactly what to expect—full-blown werewolves, monsterous mutation, canine-centered super-powers, or mere insanity—but I was pleased with the results. Even as science-fiction, it seemed believable, obtainable at our current level of technology.
I was especially impressed with the pacing of the mystery. With the characters somewhat going about their daily lives, the pacing actually felt realistic, which only helped build the suspense. I never felt like there were convenient breakthroughs, nothing was handed to them, they had to work for every clue they found. But I suppose I shouldn't have expected anything less from the author of the Bones series.
Speaking of which, I feel I must make a clarification for those who are familiar with Bones, the TV show. The Temperance Brennan referenced in this book is NOT the one from the show, she is the one from Reichs' novel series which inspired the show. So before any Bones fans start complaining/questioning about how Tory is Brennan's sister's granddaughter (TV-Brennan is in her 20's and has a brother), please reference the books. That being said, other than that one reference to their relation, there is absolutely nothing concerning "Aunt Tempe" in Virals. She's mentioned a couple times as a minor tag to Reichs' other work, that's all.
But I think I've blathered on long enough. If you haven't gotten the gist that I loved this book, I don't know what you've been reading. Overall, I'd recommend this for fans of sci-fi, mystery and/or action who don't mind a YA style. I'd say that, between the younger-but-still-high-school narrator, lack of romance and the good amount of action, this book is definitely geared for middle school and up. If you're looking for a break from the norm, something you can really sink your teeth into, Virals will definitely keep you intrigued, mystified, and entertained.
Definitely amped things up from the last book/episode. Whereas The Promise felt like it was meant...moreRead my review of all three parts at The Wolf's Den.
Definitely amped things up from the last book/episode. Whereas The Promise felt like it was meant to be just one, maybe two episodes, this one part felt like it had everything an episode needed unto itself. Why couldn't these be on TV???
Am absolutely loving the Mother's history being interspersed throughout. So many questions finally getting answered! Also, Azula is fascinating to follow through the course of the story. It'll be interesting to see if she ever does find 'her true destiny' or if she's too blinded to see it.(less)
I've owned this book for quite sometime, though it's taken Reading With Tequila'sgroup read to finally delve into it. I've also been long overdue, ac...moreI've owned this book for quite sometime, though it's taken Reading With Tequila'sgroup read to finally delve into it. I've also been long overdue, according to certain friends, for reading Gaiman's books. And having seen the movie, I was interested to see how the book/movie stacked up, and if I preferred one over the other. With all that in mind, I dove into Stardust.
Tristran, who I would rename Tristan if I were reading out-loud, was not much of a character to follow. He's a hero of unique and mysterious lineage, who possesses gifts he didn't know he had, and who embarks on a quest of true love without much thought at all about what he might need along the way. Any other book, he'd be dead in two seconds. But here, everything works out for him. It's almost sickening how easy things are for him.
And then there's his prize, the "attractive woman with a hot temper" who he discovers is in fact the fallen star Tristran set out for. When she's first discovered and captured by our hero, she (rightly) refuses to aide him in dragging her away. But a few minutes later, she begrudgingly agrees to join him, hobbling along on a broken leg. That was sure easy. Honestly, for being a person, the star (sometimes called Yvaine) doesn't do much more than an inanimate object. She sure didn't have any more of a personality.
In fact, I'd have to say the most interesting characters were the villains. There's this side story involving seven brothers vying to become the heir to the throne, which involves them all trying to kill each other. And then there's the main villain, the Witch Queen who is out to capture and kill the fallen star in order to regain her eternal youth. These villains are all dark and wonderfully evil, and it was fun to follow them through their dark journeys. Their endings were somewhat disappointing, but not completely unforeseen given the type of story this was.
Oh, yeah. Did I mention this is a fairytale?
Having said all of that, I really can't fault the book for sticking to the fairytale tropes. Having it read to me via audiobook took me back to when my mom used to read me Grimm's Fairytales*. This was a much longer, much more intricate fairytale—one that was obviously written for an older crowd. And yet it had all the same elements that we grew up knowing and loving. The hero who could do no wrong, the fair maiden who was to be his prize, and the villains who we loved to hate and, in some cases, fear.
And make no mistake, this is a fairytale that strives to be just that. It isn't a modern fairytale, it's not a new imagining, a twist, or an expansion on ones you might know. As such, you'll no doubt find problems in characterization, huge coincidences, and conflict resolution if you go at it like it was a regular fantasy novel. This isn't a really a novel in anything more than binding**. So if you're looking for something deeper, you might want to try something else. Perhaps the movie?
I mentioned before that I'd already watched the movie adaptation of Stardust. Honestly, I wish I hadn't. Mind you, I haven't seen it in ages and didn't think I'd remember much at all. But as I read, I found myself remembering quite a bit, actually (primarily the ending). And since I knew/recalled how things fitted together, I'm sorry to say I can't report as a true first-time reader.
However, with my strange combination of reading/hearing the book for the first time while following the story for the second, I can report that I still greatly enjoyed the reading experience. I found the story clever and whimsical enough that I didn't mind re-learning things as much as I thought I might. And really, the language and tone of the book differ so much from (what I remember of) the movie, it's two completely incomparable experiences. Both enjoyable, but definitely different.
And speaking of experience, I think my experience was greatly impacted by the fact that I listened to the audiobook as I read. Hearing another person telling the story instantly brought me back to my childhood, putting me in the right frame of mind. It's said that poetry needs to be read aloud to be experienced properly, and I think some stories are the same way. Fairytales, ghost stories, old legends, all require the right ambiance to evoke the best response, and I think verbal storytelling is the right ambiance. Just something to keep in mind.
Overall, I loved this adult fairytale. I'd recommend it for fantasy lovers who are in the mood for a fun adventure, Brothers Grimm gore, and a teensy bit of romance. There is one sex scene (comprised of two paragraphs) and one F-bomb, along with quite a bit of violence. Still, I think a crafty storyteller could easily make this a great story to read to their kids, so I don't really have an age recommendation. If you're craving something nostalgic, whimsically simple, and with just enough of an adult spin not to feel guilty about it, I'd go pick up Stardust.
Approximate Reading Time: 3.5 hours
*You know, the one where Cinderella's step-sisters chop up their feet to get the slipper to fit and get their eyes pecked out at the end. Or where Snow White chokes on the apple and is revived when the dwarfs drop her on her head. Great bed-time stories, huh?
**Actually, it turns out this was originally released by DC Comics as a four-part illustrated story. I think people seeing that binding would get the storytelling/fairy-tale reference a lot easier, don't you?(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)
You remember in school when you were given a picture and told to write a story about it? Or maybe you've had a writing exercise where you have to use a picture and a phrase within your short story. Well, regardless of whether or not you've done it yourself, I think we can all agree Ransom Riggs has gone above and beyond the minimum requirements.
I'll admit, the photographs did creep me out when I first received the book. The majority of them are of children in carnival clothes, all with blank or staring faces, almost like they're daring you to judge them. It gave me a horror-esque vibe when I first saw it, which I'm sorry to say put me off reading it for quite some time. But regardless of whether this book was inspired by the many Ripley's Believe It Or Not-esque photographs or whether they were sought out after crafting the peculiar tale, I'm glad they were included. It gives the entire work a uniqueness that not only enhances the reading experience, but is sure to remain in the minds of readers for some time after completion.
The story focuses on Jacob, a teenager who has grown up hearing strange stories from his grandfather. Stories of children who have fantastical abilities, a kind old bird who watches after them, and horrible monsters who would like nothing better than to gobble them up. Much like believing in Santa Claus, however, he eventually grows out of the fantasies his grandfather tells. That is until his grandfather dies at the claws of one of the monsters he knows can't be real. Now it's up to Jacob to journey to the orphanage from his grandfather's past in order to uncover the truth.
While the age of our protagonist and the type of journey he takes is very similar to the typical YA fiction these days, I found the tone and style of this book fitting for a much broader audience. The writing is very matter-of-fact and reflectional rather than conversational or stream-of-consciousness. It's almost like reading a journal, or a research journal rather than having a narrator who is speaking directly to the reader.
As such, compared to most modern-day YA adventure fiction, I felt a little distanced from the narrator, Jacob. Sure, I could still tell his personality, and most of his emotions at certain points, but it did feel very much like he'd had some time between the events happening in the book to when he is telling us. It's not a bad thing, just different from what I imagine most YA readers would be expecting.
The supporting cast was equally distant, in terms of the writing, though I still got some instances where personalities shone through. Four of the 'peculiars' in particular had especially great dialogue that made me fall in love. And does every invisible man nowadays require a snarky personality? I'm not complaining, mind you, but I had to chuckle at the stereotype that seems to be forming. The rest of the children had enough description to let me differentiate them by name, but not quite enough to make me all that interested. And Miss Peregrine was...a bit more underwhelming than I would have liked, serving as a typical knowledgeable adult who won't reveal anything until 'the right time'. I don't know, I never got a clear enough read on her, so I'm still not 100% sure of her yet...
Which I suppose worked well with the whole mysterious feel the book had going for it. If the creepy pictures weren't enough to make you uneasy, the majority of the book centers on Jacob's quest to discover what is real and what isn't. It's a bit of a mystery, a bit supernatural-fantasy, with some action and adventure sprinkled in now and again. Ultimately, I was never absolutely sure what to think of anyone or anything, which made the entire experience the right kind of unsettling.
Which made the twist towards the end of the book all that more jarring. I really don't want to go too much into it here, since saying much at all would only diminish its impact for those who haven't read it yet, but suffice it to say that I had to applaud the jaw-dropping realization that Jacob has to face a good 3/4 through the story. This book truly drives home the fact that our world is full of magic if only we know where to look, though not all of that magic is good.
And speaking of things that may or many not be good, I've got to talk about a couple problems I had with the book. First off, the romance. Yes, it's YA and 9 out of 10 books have to have some boy-meets-girl (or visa versa) love story, but the style and pacing of this book didn't allow for much growth between the two. Jacob seems pleasantly surprised at best that the girl has feelings for him, and yet we're to believe that she factors majorly into his decisions? I suppose it's a major draw for those who aren't interested in angsty YA romances, but then keep it as a mutual crush, don't try to pin life-altering decisions on it. Hopefully this will be fleshed out further in the sequel(s).
Another thing I hope gets a lot of fleshing out is the time-travel magic. Granted, time travel is going to be confusing and paradoxical no matter what, but I would have liked a little more explaining at times. Yeah, I understand why things were kept vague/mysterious, but I'm really hoping that we get more solid answers as the series progresses.
Still in spite of, and in some ways because of the time travel elements, there is a timeless quality about this book which is partly why I think it appeals to both younger and older readers. The journalistic narrative style, the historical references, and the period pictures and dialogue all combine to make the story seem like it could take place any time, with any person. With so many books attempting to appeal to the now, trying to get the clothes, the slang, and the pop-culture right, it was great to read something that didn't pay attention to any of that. And in doing so, not only did Riggs create something unique from much of today's YA, but something I believe will continue to stand out in years to come.
Overall I found Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to be a surprisingly pleasant journey into the unknown realms of our own world. Fans of fringe science, creepy photographs, and paranormal mysteries will no doubt enjoy this book immensely, but I'd also recommend it to those who like YA fantasy or adventure, since this book doesn't necessarily look it on the cover. Between the creepy photos and some disturbing/violent scenes toward the end, I'd recommend this for middle grade and above, though you might want to stick to daylight reading depending on your disposition. If you're looking for a book that's a little unique, or dare I say peculiar, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an edge-of-your-seat story that will have you questioning what you know to be real, what is possible, and what might be lurking just out of view.
Past Review: I'm thinking I'll have to review the whole 'series' on the blog instead of going piecem...moreRead my review of the three parts at The Wolf's Den
Past Review: I'm thinking I'll have to review the whole 'series' on the blog instead of going piecemeal. But here's my thoughts so far...
Part 1 was an okay setup. You introduce the problems, get a little bit of backstory, and start in on the progress of the plot. Unfortunately, actions, emotions, jokes, everything seems very rushed, which is a shame because there's no ending whatsoever. I feel like if there wasn't going to be an ending, or even an attempt at a resolution, then there was no reason not to stretch things and take some time.
As it was, we had secondary characters given maybe a page before being pushed aside/forgotten, characters going through emotions within a couple panels then pulling 180's, and jokes... Okay, the jokes were actually handled pretty well. Sokka/Toph rocks, even if they don't end up together. Still, somewhat disappointing for the series' continuation.
That's not to say I'm not planning on continuing on. If there's one story component that Part 1 does well, it's making you want to come back for more. The questions posed are all carried over from the end of the show, so many fans are already interested in them from before starting this. And now that we know they'll actually be addressed, we're even more invested.
Unfortunately, I feel that some of the questions (will Aang have to 'deal with' Zuko?) are a bit dated since the new Legend of Korra series has already answered those very clearly. But for those of us who are still invested in the characters, it will be interesting to see how these conflicts are resolved instead of if they are.
As for the art style, I was pleased overall. Everyone was recognizable (except for maybe Suki, who I think was there for a scene but have no way of telling) from the show, despite a slightly altered appearance. The drawings were a little chibi, very young-looking, which was strange considering this is supposed to take place after the show. Zuko's really the only one who truly looks older, which I think is mostly because of stress, not actual aging. I was also a little miffed at Smellerbee's new lips, instantly identifying her as a girl whereas she was more androgynous in the show. But overall it was recognizable, detailed, and a nice trip back to the Avatar world.
Ultimately, something fans of the show will no doubt be itching to get their hands on, but not something I'd see a newbie seeking out.(less)
I've been on a bit of a "girl power" kick lately, so reading a book both written and narrated by guys was a very nice change of pace. Not to generalize at all, but I enjoyed reading a story where life or death didn't hinge on falling in love with the right/wrong guy. But I'll come back to that later.
It's been a few years since the ice caps melted, the majority of the atmosphere dissipated, and humanity was forced into hiding from the sun. Most people live either below the surface in underground colonies or in five BioDomes which filter out the worst of the sun's harmful radiation. They can generate their own night stars, clouds, and even rain underneath the dome; it's almost like the global collapse never happened. So obviously, it's the perfect place to run a summer camp for kids.
The star of our story is Owen, an average 15-year-old kid at summer camp. Owen is a bit of an outcast, not because of his interests or physique (well, maybe a little) but because he's from one of the fringe colonies, whereas everyone else at this camp is a dome native. You'd think winning the lottery was a good thing. He's not out to overthrow the camp bully or find lost treasure or anything. He'd just like to make it through the summer with his bones intact, his skin not fried, and maybe a little attention from that hot councilor-in-training wouldn't be so bad.
And then he drowns. Way to go.
One of my favorite character quirks of Owen is how he pictures what's going on on his insides. While drowning, and a couple times when he gets what might be called 'a gut feeling', he pictures these technicians inside brain running around. Most times they're trying to avert a crisis, but occasionally they just stand around and calmly process new data coming in. It certainly takes some of the drama out of your lungs filling with water. And it also takes some of the drama or eye-rolling out of those 'gut feeling' scenes. You know, those times where a character leaves their room in the middle of the night, not because they know something is happening, but because they have a strange feeling they should leave now. The brain techs don't completely resolve the problem of plot convenience, but they did make it much more palatable and entertaining for me.
And that humorous, eye-winking tone is reflected throughout the story. In many ways, I could compare The Lost Code to Harry Potter in its prophecy and power of three elements, but I also saw a bit of the Hunger Games in its dystopian government with a rebellion that the kids are kinda thrown into. What differentiates it from both, however, is its tone. There's a light-hearted quality to everything that's happening, even when things take a turn for the gory. And trust me, things do get pretty gory there at the end. But even with the whole world hanging in the balance, Owen still has the determination and the hope that pushes him (and the reader) along. Even in the face of the complete destruction of all of humanity, I'm still more hopeful than I ever was with The Hunger Games.
I think a little of that light-heartedness also stemmed from the drama-free romance. A huge difference when compared to so much of the girl-centered YA out now. Sure, this had a romance, and there were moments at the end where it was almost 'I can't live without you', but at the same time the book wasn't afraid to have a little fun with it. There's a scene towards the middle where Owen is freaking out in his head about how this kiss is going to happen. It's all set up, they're leaning in, and he's just going nuts. And then she shoves a brownie in his mouth instead. I couldn't help but smile at the clever deflation of what could have been a completely mushy love scene.
I will say I was a little surprised by one of the semi-romantic thoughts that ran through Owen's head, though. It's still fairly early on in the budding romance/crush, and the thought of 'raising babies together' comes up. It's hard not to draw comparisons with female authors writing female characters here...but I can't remember the last time I read a book where babies even crossed the mind of a YA character. A girl may consider spending the rest of their life with the guy, but the last book I can remember that even mentioned the possibility (or not) of children was The Hunger Games. I don't know whether to attribute that to the author's idea of teenage boys, the characterization of Owen, or the fact that in this series humanity is facing complete obliteration.
Another thing that kinda surprised me was the Owen's and the other teens' extremely fast acceptance of 'facts'. Owen drowns in chapter one or two. No doubt about it, he legitimately drowns. But through some strange force, he's still alive. Not only does he have this mystery to solve, but he also has a cryptic message from the girl who pulled him out of the water (and has a crush on) that he is struggling to decipher. Ultimately, he meets up with the girl and a group of three other teens who are going through the same thing.
Everything they know is described in a couple paragraphs. Okay, maybe a page of dialog. And it's just accepted. They know next to nothing, not why or how, and yet are perfectly content to keep doing what they're doing.
You'd think Owen might be confused or eager to move ahead in the mystery, but nope. He's perfectly content to just join the club, and it's only when more weird stuff happens that he actually learns more. Okay, they don't have to be The Scooby Gang, but you'd think they would be a little less passive with what's happened to them. I know fear is a strong motivator for keeping the status quo, but you'd think fear would also prompt more investigation into their strange condition. Not a huge problem for me in terms of the narrative, but something I definitely scratched my head at.
As you might imagine, the environmental message here is anything but subtle, yet at the same time it's not preachy either. It's not telling you to go plant trees or stuff like that, but it does paint a picture of what extreme climate change might/would do to the earth and, in effect, humanity. The main plot is still following this kid and his journey into the fate of the world, but it's impossible to get to his story without the devastation that the planet has already faced. I still wouldn't call it preachy, but it's something to take into consideration if you don't want an environmental story.
For the start of series, I thought The Lost Code accomplished a great deal an did so effectively. The setting is introduced and gone into with a lot of detail, yet with more that can still be fleshed out in the sequel(s). We have characters who are engaging and who I'm excited to see their growth as the books continue, though I was disappointed that one of the characters introduced later on won't be as recurring as I initially thought (still holding out hope for him). There was some predictability to it, just from having read other YA series, but there were still a lot of twists and turns that provided uniqueness. I'll be interested to see if Owen remains the sole narrator in the sequel, or if it changes altogether. And ultimately, I'm excited to see what else is in store for our heroes and what resolution can come to stop the end of the world.
Overall, I enjoyed The Lost Code immensely. Emerson's story was simultaneously fun, thought-provoking, action-packed, and sweet; an adventure I'd highly recommend to any teen, guy or gal, who is looking for a little mystery, a little romance, some dystopian, paranormal/sci-fi, and environmentalism, all wrapped up in a story about summer camp. Character age and complete lack of sex or language have me putting this safely in middle-grade level, but if violence or gore is an issue for you, I'd keep this for high school readers. So if you're looking for a book to make you thankful you can still enjoy the sunshine, or if you're curious how Atlantis factors into a book where the world is primarily a fiery wasteland, you should definitely pick up The Lost Code for yourself.
Firstly, I think I need to present a little background on my experience. I typically like to re-read series before tackling the latest release—it serves as a refresher and helps me zone-in before I start reading the new one. So before picking up Traitor's Son, I revisited and reconnected with Kelsa and Raven in Trickster's Girl. Unfortunately, I think that was a mistake.
In Traitor's Son, Kelsa is no longer the focus; now it's all Jase. And I didn't really connect well with Jase. Maybe it's because he's a guy, maybe it was the car obsession, maybe it was the ambivalence towards nature, or maybe it's simply that he wasn't Kelsa in any way, shape, or form. In fact the Author's Note sums it up perfectly:
Finally, I owe the state of Alaska an apology for...shortchanging it. In Trickster's Girl, my protagonist traveled from Utah to the Alaska/Canada border—and Kelsa is a nature girl who could appreciate and marvel at the gorgeous places she passed through. Jase, the protagonist in Traitor's Son, is not a nature boy. In fact, he's the kind of kid who can drive the Glenallen Highway, otherwise known as Glacier Alley, and not even see the ethereal ice floes that look like they're floating on the other side of the valley, because he's thinking about his car. (It's an amazingly cool car, but still!)
In a novel, you see the world through the eyes of your protagonist. Jase is who he is, and that means I can't describe the [long list of grandiose landscapes and amazing experiences in nature I've experienced in Alaska]. [...] Alaska is fantastic. And through Jase's eyes, there's simply no way for me to do it justice.
It took reading the entire book and the Author's Note to finally stop thinking of Jase as a poor replacement for Kelsa and finally think of him in terms of himself. In that light, I did come to appreciate and respect him as a character. But I also think I might have saved myself a lot of trouble had I not read these books back to back.
Which is strange when you realize these two stories are grouped together in a series. On the one hand, the stories share a majority of the same characters, the same world, and essentially the same quest. But everything else, from pacing to protagonists, are completely alien to one another. I've read multi-character series before, but I've never read a story that changed so abruptly from one character to the next.
But perhaps I should back up and give you Jase's story.
Traitor's Son picks up exactly where Trickster's Girl left off, with a medicine bag being thrown over the border to a boy. But this time, we're in Jase's (the boy's) perspective. Jase is an Alaskan Native—3/16ths, anyway—whose life pretty much revolves around his car. And his car is nice. Those maglev (magnetic levitation) cars might be the way of the future, but who wants to hover when you can burn rubber in a vintage Tesla Roadster?
But as much as he hates to admit it, Jase's life isn't just cars, work and school. He's also the son of the lawyer who helped disband the Native corporations, and the grandson of the man who fought to keep them in place, thereby helping preserve their culture. In other words, he's caught in the middle of a generational and cultural rift that has all but torn his family apart. He's got enough trouble with trying to stay out of this fight, so you can imagine the last thing he wants is to get involved with another one.
Of course, that's just what this medicine bag and a beautiful girl named Raven force him to do. Apparently the girl who tossed the bag at him was on a quest to heal the magical energy stream that runs through the planet, and now that duty has fallen to him. He just has to activate three more nexus points and the healing will be complete. But the shape-shifting enemies who can hunt him even in his dreams may be the least of his problems if he doesn't start believing in himself.
That's right, this is a coming-of-age story, so a lot of it focuses on Jase coming to terms with who he is and what he can do. In terms of pacing, it works pretty well. There's some action here and there, but most of it focused on Jase's decisions—whether he thought he should run away and hide or whether it was time to stand up and fight. I'll admit that the whole disbelieving Raven part dragged on a little long for me, but I think that came from just finishing the previous book and already knowing everything. In terms of Jase's character arc, it worked.
What I had the hardest time understanding were the politics. There's an exposition-dump conversation between Jase and Raven, basically explaining why the title of the book is what it is, and how Jase factors in to everything. I never fully understood it. I think I got the gist of it in my explanation above, but even reading it four times through I don't know if I completely understand the situation. Heck, Raven's politics are more straight-forward than the tribes' were. Thankfully, the political backstory is only to clarify the fact that the majority of the Natives hate Jase. If you can understand that, you can understand the story.
Another thing that threw me was the romance. Firstly, I found it strange to think of Raven as a girl when I'd just finished a book in which she was a boy. I get it, Raven is a shapeshifter who doesn't even live in our world and who probably doesn't care about genders anyway. But in the last book, it was made perfectly clear that that's what Raven was - an alien and definitely not someone to get romantically interested in. Here...even though Jase is told the whole story, and is at one point even convinced that Raven's an alien, is still kinda romantically interested in her. Maybe it's just that he keeps seeing her nude and that's how this guy's brain works?
And going off on a slight tangent for a moment - why was it when Raven turned girl she was also suddenly delegated to damsel-in-distress? While I was sorta weirded out with the flirting and whatnot, I was also excited to see what Raven-lady would do. He was pretty kickass in the last book, and now we'd see a kickass chick to fill in for the lack of Kelsa, right? Well, if kickass suddenly means being out of the picture for the majority of the book and then ending up inexplicably in a cage, then... Wha—NO! Why?!
Though I will admit the baddies were pretty bad-ass. Otter-Woman is back and badder than ever. Her henchmen were big and bad, but they seemed the typical grunts. Otter-Woman was the brains behind the operation, and when that operation includes manipulation, lying, attempted murder, kidnapping, and the eventual destruction of the human race, you've definitely got a great villain. I only wished I could have gotten a little more backstory on her, like her own telling of how humans might have lost her trust other than through ignorance. But really, it's a small quibble, and she's scary enough that I don't really mind.
So that's Traitor's Son in a nutshell, but how did it hold up in terms of a series continuation/conclusion? Well, as I said at the beginning, I connected so much with the characters and themes of the last book that I was disappointed not to see them again. Trickster's Girl was much more a story of environmental healing and a quest-type storyline. Traitor's Son is more of a story about discovery and struggling with oneself with a war-type storyline. Does it work? Well, it's definitely unique. And so long as you can accept that the protagonist's story is contained within their respective book, it makes it so you can read the 'series' in either order.
Overall, Traitor's Son was an engaging, imaginative, and inspirational read. I'd recommend this to those interested in Native American culture, coming-of-age tales, or anyone who read Raven's first story. Strong language is non-existent (unless you find offense with "carp") but there is a lot of talk of sex/lust and quite a bit of violence toward the end, so I'd advise this for high-school and up. Even set in a world where futuristic tech blends with ancient magic, Hilari Bell still manages to make the story seem real through her characters, whether it be Kelsa or Jase. So as long as you don't mind becoming attached to a guy who happens to drive a Tesla Roadster, you might want to give Traitor's Son a try.
Approximate Reading Time: 5 hours
PS. I had to go through and fix the majority of times I wrote "Jase" because I had accidentally written "Jace" from The Mortal Instruments series.(less)
The latest installment in the Robert Langdon series may not talk about the secret life of Jesus, plots of Popes, or hidden rituals of the Freemasons, but don't let that lull you into thinking it has nothing provocative within. Rather than chasing questions about the hidden past, this book looks toward the future of humanity, posing questions about morality and the greater good, all while following the clues of a mad scientist who threatens the world from beyond the grave. With the clock ever ticking, Langdon may have finally met his intellectual match.
Robert Langdon is, and has always been, very much the intellectual everyman. He doesn't go out of his way to find trouble, nor does he hold a very exciting position. But somehow, some person in power always drags him into a puzzle where lives are at stake and the clock is working against them. It's as if he's the Arthur Dent of time-sensitive historically-based terrorist threats. And frankly, I found him boring. He's not witty or clever in the way he speaks, he's not particularly dashing in looks, he's polite, he's knowledgeable (almost unbelievably so), and, as I said, he isn't one to seek out trouble. So we're left with an Indiana Jones stand-in who solves puzzles without bashing skulls.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the nerd getting the spotlight for a change. But I do find it hard to believe that every person he meets (especially the women) are instantly charmed by him. It happens every time; he always has an attractive woman hanging onto his arm to marvel at his intellect and scream at the dangerous parts. But whereas Indiana Jones had pure eye-candy trailing him, Langdon somehow manages to charm extremely intelligent women who still drool at his every word. Okay, I'll give the ladies more credit than that, but I'm still perplexed at how such a dry (albeit polite and knowledgeable) personality can garner so much instant affection.
If there's one thing that tries to balance Langdon out, it's his inevitable trusting a bad guy. It happened before in all three novels, it happens again here. Some deceptions are shorter than others, but it never fails that Langdon is trusting someone he shouldn't with crucial information. I guess if he's so smart about everything else, his one weakness would be in reading people. And yet, it never seems to leave that much of an impact.
Which leads me to the major flaw I have with the Langdon series as a whole: everything always plays a little too perfectly. Each piece falls into place at the exact right moment, every character acts and reacts perfectly, Langdon always has the answers or knows the exact person to talk to, he always falls for someone's deception/trap until it's almost too late, and despite having no training or reason for it, he's always in the middle of the action-packed finale so that he can get the final motives. It's all a well-orchestrated plot, but after reading through four of these adventures, it's getting easier to notice the flailing baton conducting the symphony.
Not that I don't marvel at the work as I'm reading it. I always enjoy the complexity of the puzzles, learning new things, watching the characters and the plot come together piece by piece. Brown certainly does a good job of pulling you into the action, the chase, the intrigue, and the scenery such that putting the book down becomes more of a chore than wading through the 450 pages. It's really only after the action lets up and you're given a moment to reflect that all the conveniences, the fantasy, and the effort becomes visible. It's a fun ride while it lasts, but the adrenaline buzz might leave you wishing for more.
Hopefully that's where the book's many, many questions will come in.
Is humanity getting too big for its own good? Is it moral to cut off the leg to save the body? Would you kill half the population to save the species? Should governments put a limit on reproduction in order to stem overpopulation, even at direct opposition to religions against contraception? Is genetic engineering ethical, moral, too close to playing God?
These are only some of the questions that you might enjoy discussing amongst friends, enemies, and book groups.
But what I found most interesting about Inferno as opposed to previous Langdon novels, was that many of the questions posed above weren't answered. Certain characters came down on one side or the other, but most of the main cast either didn't have an opinion, or simply didn't voice it. It was very much a story about grey territory and ambiguity. When it comes to history, events either did or didn't happen, it's very cut and dry, but in regards to morality, ethics, and looking toward the unknown of the future, it's much harder to give solid answers. I found this both interesting and a little lazy on the part of the author, especially when it came to key characters not knowing what side to fall on. I would have liked a little more solidity from them, even if it didn't necessarily reflect Dan Brown's own opinion. Not a huge failing, but a little disappointing.
Overall, Dan Brown's Inferno was an exciting ride through historical puzzles and modern intrigue that any Robert Langdon fan won't want to miss. A thriller that skirts the line between reality and science fiction, I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys chasing down clues and solving puzzles a la Indiana Jones. As with all the Langdon books, Inferno relied a lot on visuals. Descriptions of architecture, paintings, maps, and historical objects were all wonderful, and I can see a visual companion (or movie) being extremely helpful down the line. It does contain some violence and very polarizing moral questions, so you may want to take that into consideration before diving in. A great discussion book which is sure to leave you turning pages well into the night, you won't want to leave Inferno smouldering on the shelves too long.
Perhaps I've been reading too many well-written and utterly fascinating Dystopian books lately. Maybe I've grown too used to the idea that the world is doomed, humanity has all but killed itself, and the future holds nothing but torture and injustice. Or perhaps I've heard too much praise for the series. Because when it came to Uglies, I just didn't get the punch I was expecting.
The world of Uglies was both dark and fascinating. Inequality is a thing of the past because after age 16 everyone looks beautiful. If you think about it, it's kinda true. To quote from the book:
"Everyone judged everyone else based on their appearance. People who were taller got better jobs, and people even voted for some politicians because they weren't quite as ugly as everyone else." [...]
"Yeah, and people killed one another over stuff like having different skin color."
It's sad to say so, but who doesn't judge a person based on their appearance, take in that first impression? You may not always act upon that initial judgement, but it's in our mindsets. So it would seem that there are no downsides in creating a society of equality, where everyone can be gifted with equal beauty for free.
But in a world created by humans, are there such things as equality and freedom for all? Yeah, the book's labeled Dystopian: you do the math.
As far as Dystopians go, I thought this one was less relatable than most others I've read. Oftentimes I read a book and see parallels, or read a scathing social commentary that makes me want to change what I'm doing, to go out and make a difference now, before everything goes to hell. Here, though, everything is so distanced from the world today. All we see of today's culture is ruins, artifacts, and the characters can only wonder how we survived. It's as if we're seeing ourselves from an alien's perspective instead of a descendant's.
Which in turn made it less heavy-handed and much more focused on the story at hand. Because I didn't feel like I had to go stop things myself, I was able to engross myself in the world and characters more fully. On the one hand, I appreciated being able to relax and just enjoy the story, but on the other hand, I wasn't as distracted from things I didn't like...
Tally Youngblood was our eyes to this world of Uglies and Pretties, but honestly I found her a little hard to root for. A bit of a prankster, she starts off as being all about fun and excitement. She'd break the rules, but only as much as was expected, never enough to jeopardize her own future as a Pretty. But when that future is endangered by Shay, she's pretty quick to throw her under the bus.
I suppose that all added to the journey in which Tally is supposed to change. But when a good half of the book is spent with a narrator who is a shallow, disloyal, promise-breaking liar, it makes it harder to shift your thoughts and root for her when she changes. Also, other characters continually make her out to be special, when she does little-to-nothing to deserve such praise. The villain seems to think she has some great influence over people, her boyfriend thinks she's wiser and more serious than anyone else, but I never figured out why.
Still, I didn't hate Tally. I thought she was relatable, with flaws as well as kinda major brainwashing/conditioning to account for the more serious faults. And she was brave and loyal when the moment really called for it. I was put off by how often she would promise things, only to knowingly break her promises a few pages later, but I can overlook a few things for her fighting spirit and sacrifices she makes for others later down the line.
Unfortunately there's not much to say about the other characters in the book. Shay is written mainly as a plot device for Tally to act off of. She's passionate and opinionated one moment, pushing Tally to a new level of rebellion, and the next she's a shallow and jealous ex-friend because Tally stole 'her' boy. David, the romantic interest, is basically just that. He shows Tally the truth behind the government conspiracy, praises her up one side and down the other, and then serves as the guilt to drive her to action later. There were some more incidental characters, but none of them got nearly enough screen time to develop personalities of their own.
So with my feelings of partial indifference toward both romantic leads, what did I think of the romance? Well, it had it's ups and downs. Thankfully, the love triangle was squashed rather early. Yes, Shay liked David and held a grudge against Tally about it, but it was very clear that David would never reciprocate her feelings. I also liked that Tally didn't have love at first sight. In that sense, I did think she was rather mature and serious, though she did have a lot of guilt and thoughts of "How can I tell him what I did?" which got annoying after a while. Still, I approved of how the relationship developed and their treatment of one another, so I guess I'd endorse the pairing.
I'm actually surprised to have found this much to harp on. Believe it or not, I think fondly of Uglies, and am very much looking forward to continuing with the series. Perhaps it wasn't the most thought-provoking or heart-wrenching of Dystopians I've read these days, but I did find the story and characters engaging while I read, and I'm eager to see what happens next.
Now for the ending... About three-quarters through, once I started thinking about the series as a whole, I'm sorry to say that I was able to predict the ending. Thankfully, I didn't know exactly how it would come to pass, but I did get the gist correct. And if anything, it helped me prepare for the cliffhanger that was to come. Yes, there's a cliffhanger. And yes, you should have the next book handy. But while Tally's story is unfinished, her journey of growth and self-discovery comes to a satisfying conclusion (pause) at the end of this book.
Overall, Uglies was an enjoyable Dystopian. I'd recommend it to fans of YA, Dystopians, SciFi, or any combination of three with some romance on the side. Though no language or sex, there are a few fight scenes with mild violence and some character deaths, but I'd say middle school and older will enjoy reading this. With another intriguing what-if scenario, if you're wanting a change from the heavy-handed and depressing fare that the Dystopian genre has pitched to us lately, you'll definitely want to check out Uglies for yourself.
Eoin Colfer is indeed back at it again. Upon the completion of his widely acclaimed Artemis Fowl series, I genuinely hoped he would come back with something equally as charming. He's always had this way of writing compelling characters. Whether they are serious or humorous, human or alien or demon or fae, they've always felt real; like you wanted to be their friend, or were relieved they were on the other side of the page. And sure enough, once again Colfer doesn't disappoint.
Riley has been an unwilling apprentice to a murderer for as far back as he can remember. But though fear keeps him at his master's heels, don't take him for a simple lackey. Quick-witted, agile, and cautious, Riley is the street-smart Victorian urchin with a heart of gold who you'll find yourself rooting for immediately. Joining him on his journey toward freedom and self-discovery is Chevron "Chevie" Savano, an equally street-wise gal from this century who is eager to prove herself. Don't let her looks or stature fool you, Chevie is a fighter and will stop at nothing to protect the victimized or capture the crooks, even if it doesn't always mean playing by the rules.
But by far the most compelling character in this book was the villain, Garrick. Honestly, if he weren't completely evil—that is if he wasn't power-hungry and enjoy killing people—then I wouldn't mind having him for a friend. He's smart, witty, jovial at times, and apart from the whole killing thing, seems genuinely fun to be around. And his backstory only makes you want to like (or at least sympathize with)him more. I guess in a way I can now understand how people might be attracted to Dexter or Hannibal. Even if you abhor their methods, you can still sorta kinda root for them.
And true to form, these characters shape every aspect of the story. Every action they make is based upon their own history, morals, reactions. There is never an out-of-character moment, or one where you're screaming at the characters to stop acting stupid (unless they're actually being stupid) because you can't believe they would do something like that. You believe everything they do, everything they say, because they never contradict themselves. They never act uncharacteristically stupid, romantic, brash, or anything. They don't feel like puppets of the author or the plot, but rather like they're the ones telling their stories.
Did I mention how much I love Colfer's plots? It never ceases to amaze me how much the characters drive his stories. No natural disasters, no random catastrophes, everything that happens in this book is because someone decided it would happen. Okay, maybe except the time-travel thing with Garrick. But all the puzzles, the tricks, the games, the chases, they're all put in motion by characters. There are no coincidences, or at least none that aren't justified by motivations or science. It's a regular Good vs Bad, Sherlock vs Moriarty -style showdown. And figuring out just how everything pieces together, learning that it does all piece together, was my favorite part.
In terms of being a SciFi story, time travel does play a significant role in the plot. But in terms of explanation and paradoxes and such, it's actually quite minor. Mostly it sets up the backstory, begins the chase, and then is used as a means of escape a couple times. As far as techno-babble goes, there is really very little to worry about. And the same goes for historical terms as well. Though maybe half the book takes place in 1898, there's not much one has to know beforehand. Just know that telephones didn't exist back then, and you should be fine.
As a series start, I'm very curious as to what future books have in store. The ending wraps up fairly neatly, with all the mysteries and puzzles solved, all the backstories revealed, and goals still ahead for our heroes. But then the last couple pages happen. I thought perhaps we'd be following the W.A.R.P. team on new time-traveling adventures, but now I don't know what to think. Still, I suppose it works as a stand-alone in terms of character journeys, but for anyone as gripped as I was with the ending, we'll definitely be coming back for more.
Overall, I was happy to read The Reluctant Assassin for its intriguing characters and finely woven plot. I'd recommend it for SciFi or time-travel buffs or anyone who likes character-focused YA adventure stories. Absolutely no language or sex to speak of, and non-gorey or off-screen depictions of violence lead me to suggest this for middle-grade and up. Whether you're already a Colfer fan, or just looking for the next great book/series to start, you shouldn't hesitate to pick up The Reluctant Assassin for yourself.
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.
This book has it all. Space battles, estranged twins coming together, psychic powers, love/hate relationships, government conspiracies, human rights activism... But, honestly, where the plot was full of action-packed things happening, I found it slightly lacking in substance.
Where characters were concerned, I just didn't connect. Lissa was our main character, the one we were supposed to relate to as her world is turned upside-down and she's thrust into this spectacular adventure. But with her, we're never given a base of normalcy to attach to. I mean, I get what Howson was trying for: an ordinary girl thrust into extraordinary circumstances. But from the start she's already experiencing abnormal events, already ostracized from her peers, already facing a life-changing decision. I never got a feeling for how she was before everything happened in order for her personal-growth journey to mean anything.
Lin was by-far the more interesting of the two. A girl with strange powers growing up in near-isolation, being told she's worth nothing, with strange visions of another life being her only source of hope. And then, getting to experience her escape, her triumph, her confusion at the outside world, at these 'morals' being instilled in her—now that would be fascinating to read. Observing her was okay, but without seeing the inner workings of her mind there were too many times where she felt underdeveloped. I mean, for having broken free, run away, and having a survive-at-all-costs mentality, I would expect a far less pacifistic personality, even if it was only with her sister.
And really, the two sisters' bond was the best part of the two characters. Watching the two of them interact, having absolutely nothing in common yet having to cooperate and compromise to reach a goal, was easily my favorite part. I especially enjoyed the soul-searching moments when Lissa was faced with the thought that perhaps her sister wasn't human, like when she had to explain fundamental moral concepts such as why killing/harming another person was wrong. Seeing her struggle to understand, and ultimately to love someone so intrinsically different from herself was by far the strongest aspect of the book. Do I think it might have been stronger from Lin's perspective? Perhaps...
Additionally, I thought the book had some other interesting insights in regards to morality, human rights, sociology and even a little psychology. I will say I was very skeptical of Lissa's treatment by her friends/peers. In my experience, confirmed medical conditions (especially those that result in bruises and blackouts) aren't seen as jeering material unless you're much younger, and even then it's not like the whole class would be that heartless. But besides that, I enjoyed the debates regarding what made a human, if killing was ever justified, and detachment from feelings.
Unfortunately, that all wasn't enough to make me "feel" this book. As I said, there's a lot here to keep your attention. A lot of things happen bang-bang-bang, one right after the other. But the disconnect from the characters, especially the main character, just left me feeling kinda "meh" after I was done. Perhaps it was the choice of writing in 3rd-Person Limited rather than 1st? I mean, I was interested to know more about the world/universe they inhabited, and I had fun while I was there. I didn't dislike the book, or Lissa, I just didn't really care at the end.
As far as the ending was concerned, I liked it. It was open enough to leave room for sequels, but also complete enough not to leave you feeling gypped or overly anxious for the next book. Honestly, I was a little disappointed when I discovered that there is indeed a Book 2 scheduled for 2014. And not because I have tons of books already on my plate, but because I was genuinely happy with where it ended. Our characters went through their adventure, changed, became stronger people, and, as with most stories, still had their lives ahead of them. Sure, there's more things left to be done, but I don't know what else there is to explore about them. I'll probably check out Unravel for curiosity's sake, but I think other readers could easily leave this as a stand-alone novel without too much heartache.
Overall, Linked was an interesting story, though I found the characters a bit lackluster. I'd recommend it for those who enjoy YA science fiction with some romance and morality issues thrown in. It does contain some violence and a low-scale PG romance, and a few descriptions of human testing may disturb the more squeamish, but everything is very brief. If you're looking for a futuristic society where it seems the wrong people were put in charge, and it's fate rests on the shoulders of two young girls, then you should give Linked a try.
For 12-year-old Genevieve, life is made up of knowns and unknowns. For example, she knows that witches, trolls, and winged horses don't exist anywhere...moreFor 12-year-old Genevieve, life is made up of knowns and unknowns. For example, she knows that witches, trolls, and winged horses don't exist anywhere but in fairytales. She knows that the map on her wall is the product of her own imagination. And she knows that things like swords and crests went out of style ages ago.
On the other hand, she doesn't know why her mother didn't return home from work last night. Or why her ceiling just now decided to reveal a secret room. Or how it's possible that passing through the gate of Dumbarton Oaks has transported her to a world that has her questioning everything she knows.
You'd think they'd include something about that in the tourist guides.
Now Genevieve's caught in a race against time to find three missing artifacts and save the kingdom. But with monsters chasing her, mazes trapping her, and mysterious new powers popping up, she'll need help from her new friends if she wants to survive the week, let alone find a way back home.
Time Witch is a classic fantasy adventure. You have a hero(ine), a quest, a villain, some self-discovery, and friends to help, all contained in a world where magic reigns and the unexpected happens all the time. Genevieve is your typical unpopular, shy, middle school student. When her mother goes missing, she's devastated but still manages to find the courage to take up the search, and ends up wandering into a magical world she thought she'd only imagined. Dropped in the middle of a quest to stop the end of time, she's got to overcome her own insecurities and discover the power she holds in order to defeat evil and save those she loves.
Written in a similar style to The Chronicles of Narnia, this is a straight-forward, dialog-heavy, plot-powered adventure story. Intricate details are on the scarce side, leaving much of the world to the reader's imagination, and allowing for a faster action-packed read. The plot takes quite a few twists and turns, making for an especially unpredictable and exciting journey. Though there is a bit of romance, it's kept fairly light and is at most a subplot of the story, so I don't think boy readers will be turned off at the get-go.
I especially enjoyed the time-themed quotations at the beginning of each chapter! I only recognized a couple, but I knew absolutely every one of the authors quoted and that in itself made me smile. Also, each quote was a little clue about what was happening in the chapter, so when something strangely familiar showed up, I'd remember the quote at the beginning and grin again. Plus, I'm curious enough to look up all those quotes and see what works they came from. A great teaching tool, I'm sure. *wink*
Unfortunately, there were a few things that didn't work for me in this one.
This story was extremely plot-heavy. Between the mystery of Genevieve's mother disappearing, the quest for the missing artifacts, running from the witch, and discovering a lost history and magic, there was very little space for character development. With events happening one right after the other with little down-time, it certainly makes for a thrilling read. On the other hand, it also makes it difficult to gauge character growth, such that most escapes or victories seem contrived or unearned.
With the characters being secondary to the action, I always wanted more from them. Genevieve was believable as a young girl—I understood her insecurities and concerns about being separated from her mother—but there were times I thought she should be more scared. I mean, she finds herself in a world she knows can't exist...shouldn't she be freaking out instead of merely curious? Rowan was also fairly static in his advancement through the story. The only things he seems to care about are his sword and killing something ("Those two girl trolls stole my sword before I could even baptize it in battle." - pg 91). In fact, I think Eve, who was nearly the last character to be introduced, was my favorite in that she had the most sass and intelligence of the bunch. Really wish we'd gotten more time with her.
Still on the subject of characters, the similarities between Genevieve's friends in the real world and in the fantasy world was a neat concept. The dopplegangers seemed to suggest that these two worlds are somehow connected at a base level, and yet the further implications of this were left completely unexplored. Does Genevieve's connection with Eve correlate at all with Yve? Or was this a Wizard of Oz type scenario where real-life elements are merely infused onto the fantasy-world elements? This is left unanswered at the end, and frankly, I'm perplexed.
I'm not sure what to say about the ending. I think it felt a little rushed—I'd even say abrupt—though I liked that it kept possibilities open for one's imagination. There are issues yet to be tackled and questions yet to be answered, which is always a great quality for a young-reader novel, however I'm not sure if the ending is in fact open-ended or leading toward a sequel. If there isn't a sequel planned, I wish there had been more explanation. I guess we'll have to wait and see.
Still, despite my own issues with the book, I enjoyed the story and the time I spent reading it.
Overall, I'd recommend this for young readers who like, or are interested in exploring fantasy. It's probably a little more aimed toward girls than boys, but there's enough action and adventure that it should entertain either. This fast-paced, twisty plot is sure to keep readers on the edge of their seats. So what are you waiting for? Time's a-wasting!
This book must have been a nightmare to edit. The cover copy says it has "a poetically minimal writing style". Put in layman's terms, it has a simple vocabulary, absolutely no quotation marks, no traditional chapters, and a ton of phonetically-spelled words. For example, "I figger if only we could unnerstand crow talk..." It's almost dialectical, except its throughout the narration and dialog, which I'm sure will put some readers off immediately. I admit it took some getting used to, training my mind to be lazier and not wince with each misspelling, but after a few pages (and with the audiobook's help) I managed to wade through and get to the heart of the story.
Saba is our narrator and heroine of this story. Brought up simply and fairly isolated in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, I have to admit, the writing style is fitting. Saba is your typical tough heroine. Thrown into a tough situation, she turns tough to deal with it. There are times she borders on cold and unlikeable, especially when it comes to her little sister who she can't help but blame for their mother's death. Maybe it's the fact that I'm an older sibling too, but I didn't hold her initial coldness towards her sister against her too much. Plus she's on a quest to get her brother back, so she's obviously got family values in the right place. And it's not like she goes out of her way to hurt her sister or anything...
Unfortunately, that's mostly all we get from Saba. She's tough, determined, loyal, and a great fighter. She's got some major flaws to work through, too, but really that's the summation of her character. And she's the most well-defined character of the bunch.
That, I feel, is the fault of the pacing. The story starts slowly enough. Saba and her sister begin their quest slogging through the desert after their brother. Then they're captured. Then a month flashes by off-screen. Then we return to a timer of four-or-so weeks getting set on the rest of the book. I was happy for the faster pace, and it really does pick up in a good way after that, but there's so much to do. In that time they've got a huge chunk of traveling do to, obstacles to overcome, battles to wage, and a villain to fight, leaving little time left to introduce and establish the other five (six if you count sis) main characters.
Much of that time was spent on Saba's love interest, Jack. Jack was easy enough for me to like: he's your typical man of mystery with a sense of humor, a rogue of sorts. And I do like me some rogues. But nothing was ever really done with him. He kept these secrets, but when Saba finally pried the information out of him, I never saw any reason he'd be keeping the information from her in the first place. The reveals never felt all that deserving of the intrigue surrounding them. So, I guess I approve of Jack in the sense that he had a sense of humor and wasn't a bad guy, but even he wasn't as fleshed-out as I would have liked.
The romance between the two is pretty standard fair, apart from it's strange formation. It's a bit of love at first sight, but what really gets things rolling is this heartstone Saba inherited from her mother. Story goes that the heartstone stays cold until the owner approaches their heart's desire, then it warms to hot until they touch. So whenever Saba gets closer to Jack this stone starts heating up. I guess instead of having a pushy, matchmaking best friend, this stone works instead.
Which begs the question, is this story a Fantasy? Or at least Paranormal? At the beginning of the book, the issue of star reading, and having fate written in the stars is discussed. It's believed that their father learned how to read the future from the stars and perform magic rituals, but his latest efforts have been failures causing the siblings to doubt. Saba also has a couple of prophetic dreams, one of which pertains to Jack. So with the heartstone and the star reading and the dreams, is that enough to call it outright Fantasy, or just a post-apocalyptic novel with paranormal elements?
And speaking of the post-apocalypse, I loved the setting. Some time after our modern society (known as the Wreckers) has somehow wiped itself out, all that remains is our landfills and a few hollowed husks of our cities. But unlike other books I've come across with this setting, there aren't hoards of zombies ravaging the wastes, nor vampires ruling the few hubs of cities. No, it's just humans left, and they can either help you or hurt you.
I wouldn't go so far as to call it a dystopian, seeing as there's not much of a government running things. We eventually come to find that there's a "King" running things in this area, but his "rule" never felt as absolute as in typical dystopians. Plus there are the Free Hawks and other factions fighting for territory rights, so it has more of a lawless feel than a faux-Utopia. (The Free Hawks - now there's another thing I would have loved to have known more about!)
Unbeknownst to me when starting, Blood Red Road is the beginning to a trilogy. I suppose I should have guessed it based on the YA trend of trilogies lately (not to mention the title page). But really, the ending feels very complete. There's still some loose ends to tie up, but in terms of the narrative, it's a clear stopping point. I guess on the bright side, if you didn't love it there's no cliffhangers propelling you forward. But I don't honestly know what else there is to do. I guess I'll have to find out when I pick up the sequel.
Overall, Blood Red Road was an intriguing story with some unfortunate pacing and character development issues. I'd recommend it to those who enjoy tough YA heroines or post-apocalyptic questing novels, and don't mind some romance on the side. No language or sex to speak of, but there is cage-fighting and some battles waged, plus the writing style to contend with so I'd put this in the high school and up range. If you're in the mood for an unorthodox writing style but still want a story with some grit to it, then you might want to check out Blood Red Road.