The fourth Throne of Glass prequel novella opens shortly after the conclusion of The Assassin and the Desert, with Celaena Sardothien, assassin extraordinaire, finally returned to Rifthold, to the capital city of Adarlan, to the Assassin’s Keep, home of her manipulative master Arobynn Hamel. And she is pissed:
Celaena has every intention of marching into Hamel’s office and quitting. Not only did he betray her, he betrayed Sam Courtland, her fellow assassin and the boy (she’s slowly come to realize) for whom she has deep romantic feelings. But when Celaena finds Sam happy and healthy—not to mention in the arms of another woman—she can’t help but think she’s misjudged him. Was she wrong about Sam? What about Hamel? He seems intent upon making amends, lavishing her with gift after gift, even offering her a plum job that would more than atone for the incident at Skull’s Bay. So whom should she trust? Hamel or Sam? Now that’s she back in Adarlan’s criminal underworld, she’ll have to pick one of them. But the wrong choice could be deadly . . .
Spoiler alert: Celaena is not wrong about Hamel, any more than she is wrong about Sam. Of course, Sam loves her. That’s been obvious since The Assassin and the Pirate Lord, and watching Celaena reciprocate those feelings over the course of the prequel novellas has been a great slow burn. But you know what’s even better? Finally seeing all those sweet, swoony emotions come to a head in this story.
For make no mistake: though this plot has action and betrayal aplenty (that Hamel really is a right bastard), it’s dominated by the romance—and I don’t mind one little bit! I’ve never shipped Celaena with any of her love interests from the main novels, and after meeting Sam in the prequels, it’s clear to me I never will. He’s the only one who accepts her flaws and all, the only one who has seen her dark past without blinking, the only one who truly loves her without hope or expectation or agenda. He’s her one true love. He’s her happy ending.
17-year-old Kaitlyn never should have agreed to donate her body to science upon her death. Because one day, after a horrendous accident, she wa1 star.
17-year-old Kaitlyn never should have agreed to donate her body to science upon her death. Because one day, after a horrendous accident, she wakes up to discover she is now part-human, part-machine. But the scientists who turned her into a cyborg didn’t mean to leave her with any human emotions—emotions she dare not display, for fear they will delete what little remains of her humanity. Of course, it would be easier to hide her feelings if she weren’t so attracted to Lucas, one of the very scientists who converted her. He seems different than the others, though. Will he tell her what they’re plotting? Can she trust him? Can she even trust herself?
Sounds like a decent enough set-up, right? Unfortunately, its execution suffers from a whole host of problems, including issues with pacing, an agency-less heroine, a lack of plot, a sophomoric love story, and the kind of cheesy writing one would expect to find in a romance novel.
Consider, for example, how Crane begins Kaitlyn’s story. A logical start would be with Kaitlyn waking up post-surgery to discover her new and unwanted mechanical body parts. She would be shocked and confused, just like the reader, and together they would slowly learn what, exactly, happened to her. Or Kaitlyn’s story could begin in medias res, with her breaking out of the top-secret lab, possibly with Lucas’s aid. Flashbacks would then reveal Kaitlyn’s life, death, and cyborg afterlife, eventually catching up to the present—i.e. Kaitlyn mid-break out—when it would finally be revealed if her escape attempt proves successful.
Crane, however, begins with Secret Option #3: Kaitlyn walking down a hallway. Granted, she does meet sexy scientist Lucas at the end of that hallway, but it isn’t their first meeting and she already knows he makes her feel things she shouldn’t. No, this is just a routine check-up, with Kaitlyn sitting passively while Lucas examines her. Why on Earth would Crane write such a boring intro, you ask? Because it frees up Kaitlyn—i.e. Crane—to tell us, the reader, exposition, which is apparently what passes for plot in Crane’s mind. Because time after time after friggin’ time, Crane tells, not shows, us important information, sapping her story of any energy it might have possessed.
Even worse, it saps Kaitlyn of both personality and agency. Of course, the argument could be made that she isn’t meant to have a personality—the scientists built her to be a living tabula rosa—but that’s not an appealing trait in a lead character. Besides, she’s supposed to have human emotions. Humans want things. She should want things, too. Things like finding out about her parents, escaping from the scientists, and returning home. Things that might, potentially, lead to a plot. But Kaitlyn doesn’t. All she wants is Lucas, and even then she won’t actively pursue him. She’s rather sit around, passively, until he makes the first move.
The end result? A collection of scenes in which nothing much happens: Kaitlyn walks down a hallway; Kaitlyn walks around the laboratory grounds with her one and only friend, Quess; Kaitlyn walks around the grounds again with Quess; Kaitlyn walks around the grounds with Lucas; Kaitlyn walks around the grounds one more time with—you guessed it—Quess. If you think that’s boring in summary, just imagine having it stretched out for 109 mind-numbing pages!
True, there is one scene that briefly flirts with being interesting. An unexpected dinner party unites Kaitlyn, Quess, and Lucas with the head scientist who designed Kaitlyn. Everyone has ulterior motives for attending, and it seems, for one shining moment, their secret desires and plans will suddenly be laid bare. But Crane quickly puts a stop to that, ending the scene before her characters can do something—anything!—verging on entertaining.
Of course, Kaitlyn and Lucas do eventually confess their mutual hormone-addled lust—sorry, I mean true love—for each other, hopefully putting a stop to Crane writing such cheesetastic lines as:
“What would it feel like to have his big, steady hands trail down her body? His lips on her neck? If she no longer felt pain, could she feel pleasure?”
And: “[H]e need to say something, but nothing would come out. She literally took his breath away.”
And: “She wanted to taste him; wanted to crawl into his body and never leave.”
I also assume this declaration of affection finally forces some sort of plot to kick in. Probably Lucas attempting to save Kaitlyn from whatever nefarious purpose she’d been built for, and probably (based on the fact that this book inexplicably has multiple sequels) succeeding.
But, again, I can only assume. Because honestly? I quit reading this book halfway through. Could it have improved by the conclusion? Maybe. But I doubt it. In the end, it simply wasn’t worth the time and effort required to find out, not when there are far better stories in the same vein out there. Stories like Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, which also features a cyborg girl on the run, but includes important little details, like an actual plot, fast pacing, funny dialogue, well-developed characters, and a romance that doesn’t make me want to vomit.
My advice? Skip Crane’s Freak of Nature and read Marissa Meyer’s Cinder instead. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
Cinder—fugitive, cyborg, and long-lost Lunar princess—is on the run in Book Two of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, which picks up Cinder’s3.5 stars.
Cinder—fugitive, cyborg, and long-lost Lunar princess—is on the run in Book Two of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, which picks up Cinder’s story mere moments after Book One’s cliffhanger conclusion. In fact, Cinder hasn’t even broken out of prison yet. To do so she’ll need the help of one Captain Carswell Thorne, a roguishly charming (or is he charmingly roguish?) fellow inmate with access to a 214 Rampion spaceship—the very thing Cinder needs to make a speedy getaway.
But her story is a mere secondary plot in this novel.
As the title suggests, the star of this book is none other than 18-year-old Scarlet Benoit. And while Scarlet may not have as many problems as Cinder—who does?—she’s definitely contending with a doozie of her own: her beloved grand-mère has been kidnapped from their peaceful little farm in the French countryside. But who would do such a thing? And why? She’ll have to figure out the answers—fast—if she ever wants to see her grand-mère again. Luckily, a new arrival in town seems suspiciously eager to help her. Tall, dark, and dangerous, he’s a street fighter who answers only to the name of “Wolf.” Can Scarlet trust him? Does she even have a choice?
Of course, anyone who has already read Cinder can easily guess Grand-mère Benoit’s secrets, along with who has taken an interest in them and why. And they can certainly guess why it might not be in Scarlet’s best interest to team up with the mysterious Wolf. (This is Meyer’s retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood,” after all.)
But none of that matters.
Because, as with Cinder, Scarlet’s destination is only half the fun. The other half is the journey itself. You like watching Scarlet and Cinder puzzle over the clues that will eventually lead them to each other. You like spending the entire book waiting for these two feisty heroines to meet—and when they finally do, the moment doesn’t disappoint. Along the way, you get to enjoy action and adventure, romance and betrayal, and a colorful cast of supporting characters. (Fans of the first book will be thrilled to know that Iko, the delightfully daffy android, is back and better—and, dare I say, bigger—than ever before.)
So, while I don’t adore this book quite as much as the first one—Needs more Cinder! And a lot more Prince Kai!—it’s still a highly enjoyable, genre-blending read that manages to introduce several new characters and balance two major plotlines. (Three, if you count the scenes from Kai’s perspective.) And, really, you can’t ask for more than that. Bring on Book Three!
In the futuristic city of New Beijing, androids, cyborgs, and humans live side-by-side—but not, alas, harmoniously. Because the latter view an4 stars.
In the futuristic city of New Beijing, androids, cyborgs, and humans live side-by-side—but not, alas, harmoniously. Because the latter view androids and cyborgs as little more than personal property. It’s a prejudice with which 16-year-old Linh Cinder is all-too-familiar, thanks to her adoptive mother, Adri, who treats her like a servant while spoiling Cinder’s two non-cyborg stepsisters rotten. Adri won’t even let poor Cinder go to the ball! Which is only the highlight of the upcoming Annual Peace Festival! Which is held at the emperor’s palace! Which is where the handsome Prince Kai lives!
But bigger problems lurk on Cinder’s horizon. When none other than Prince Kai himself asks her to investigate his malfunctioning android—being the best mechanic in the city is apparently a perk of being a secret cyborg—Cinder will be pulled into a world of political intrigue, espionage, and danger. A world dominated by Queen Levana, an evil Lunar despot determined to invade Earth—and it will be up to Cinder alone to stop her. Because there is more to Cinder than meets the cybernetic eye . . .
Yes, “Cinderella” gets a sci-fi spin in this surprisingly fresh, surprisingly fun retelling of the classic fairytale. For not only does Meyer’s version feature great genre-mixing—effortlessly blending fairytales with dystopian sci-fi, mystery, and romance—it also features a great female lead. Cinder is scrappy and sarcastic and—unlike a lot of the empty-headed heroines loitering in today’s YA landscape—completely capable of saving herself. This doesn’t mean she never needs help (she does) or never harbors romantic feelings for Prince Kai (she definitely does). It just means she’s a complex character. A real character.
Sure, some of Meyer’s plot points are predictable. You know nothing Adri does will stop Cinder from attending the ball, just as you know, from page 44 on, what Cinder’s true identity will turn out to be. But it doesn’t matter. Everything else—the pacing, the dialogue, the character development—is so good that it’s a blast watching Cinder careen her way towards that ball—and to her inevitable moment of self-realization.
The end result? A fun, fresh update on one of the most beloved stories in Western literature. And, even better, it’s the first in a four-book series that recasts famous fairy-tales—“Cinderella”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Rapunzel”, and “Snow White”—into one giant interconnected whole. So bring on more Cinder! Bring on Book Two! ...more