**spoiler alert** Even though this is clearly a science fiction novel, it was perfectly tailored to a young adult audience. The science-y stuff (see h...more**spoiler alert** Even though this is clearly a science fiction novel, it was perfectly tailored to a young adult audience. The science-y stuff (see how technical and savvy I am?) is kept to a definitely readable and enjoyable level. Instead, Gills focused on the style of a sci-fi book – the feelings it evokes in the reader. Durango was brash and space cowboy-esque. He frequently let out his feelings in exclamations in foreign languages. But not alien languages, French or Chinese etc. This was not only helpful in adding some familiarity, but it told us a lot about the world Gills created on Mars, one in which humanity has simply popped itself across space and kept a lot of the same history. And the action in the novel was excellently done – fast-paced but still readable and intense without resulting to gore (which was a feat considering the fact that the enemy likes to eat people). Oh! And having just a couple chapters of villain point of view really set the pace of the book – it gave enough background to raise the stakes for the reader without spoiling the overall plot by losing the mystery of what was going on with the bad guys.
My favorite part of this book was Durango. I liked that he had a troubled history but refused to let it define him. I liked that he wanted to be his own man and was willing to break the “rules” – even if it meant giving up on something he wanted – to do the right thing. He was strong without being perfect. He was funny and humble and it was so clear that he was someone to respect and look up to. And I love the fact that he treated his subordinates as equals, that he was quick to point out and rely on the strength of the people in his group.
Which brings me to Vienne. It’s nice to see a female supporting character who has the same strength and brains possessed by the male lead. And it’s nice to see the male appreciate it. Part of the reason Durango works so well with Vienne is that he does know that he can count on her. But he also knows she isn’t made of glass and when he has hard decisions to make he can make them without worrying about her going to pieces on him – and he can make them even if he knows it will make her hate him. Because she has the strength to put that away and focus on the big picture.
The rest of the supporting cast was also fun and well done. Each character had a niche, but they filled it well and they all came together to make a really fun group dynamic. Mimi especially – the “Artificial intelligence” unit transplanted in Durango’s brain and the one who calls him Cowboy – was an added level of intrigue. She is such a part of Durango yet separate and apart, torn between a human part of him and a mechanical tool which played perfectly into the story. I wanted to know more about Mimi throughout the book, and getting to see her evolving relationship with her Cowboy was a lot of fun.
My only problem with Mimi was that there was some inconsistency in how Durango talked to her. Sometimes it was in quotes and sometimes it wasn’t, so it was often hard to tell if he was saying something aloud to her or thinking etc. And really, my one complaint about this novel actually had nothing to do with the story. Scattered throughout, and especially towards the end, were a variety of typographical errors etc. There weren’t a ton, but they occurred at intense bits. On the one hand, it made me smile because I’d guess even the editor was so caught up in the end that they might have missed it. But I saw them, and they pulled me out of the magic that was the final fourth of the book a bit.
My only other complaint is that I want to know more. More about Durango. More about Mars. More about the history of humanity that led them there. More about the regulators. And I can only hope that enough people other than me read this book so we can find out more. Because if the author isn’t planning a sequel, I’m going to pout for an unseemly amount of time for someone my age.(less)
I always start my reviews talking about characters because characters are what tie me to the books I read. It is a testament to the brilliance of this...moreI always start my reviews talking about characters because characters are what tie me to the books I read. It is a testament to the brilliance of this book that the characters are what I go to first here, as well. I loved Nailer. Too often, characters are black or white, good or bad. Nailer lived firmly in the gray areas, where all of us real people live. He wasn’t always completely altruistic, but even if he considered the less savory option, he usually did the right thing. And Paolo Bacigalupi does an excellent job of showing us, not telling us the kind of person Nailer is. He comes from a rough background and we see the way that changes the way he sees things rather than being told every page that look, he had a rough life, cut him some slack. We know he did and it’s obvious that his history determines how he sees things. I also felt like he went on a good journey in this book – not that he had some aha moment about how the world really works, but that he learned things about himself that the reader knew were there all along.
I also liked Pima and Nita, who in a lot of ways were two sides of the same coin. Both girls, but from two completely different worlds – Pima a ship breaker like Nailer and Nita the richest girl on the planet. Pima was loyal and fair and, like Nailer, she didn’t always want to do the right thing, but she did it anyway. And Nita was more than her swank upbringing, but she wasn’t this perfect compassionate person. She judged and thought she was better than the people who were trying to save her, even if she didn’t want to and even if she worked twice as hard as they expected. It’s Paolo Bacigalupi’s real strength, I think, drawing whole characters who are true to the background and history he gives them.
The details of the world built in Ship Breaker were what put it a cut above so many other books. From the tattoos that brand Pima and Nailer like sheep, like the property of the crew bosses who treat them like slaves to the way the “city” they lived in was described was perfection. I loved the idea of the clipper ships, and I could see how easy it would be for someone like Nailer to romanticize them – I did too. The “Half-men” in the novel gave it a real sci-fi feel without overwhelming things, as did mentions of the “Cult of Life” and the harvesters who bought organs and eyes and any body part that might have a value.
My one complaint is entirely centered on the fact that I live in Louisiana and I’m sensitive to the talk of hurricanes etc., but sometimes the talk of the city killer hurricanes and how people drilling destroyed the wetlands felt a little preachy, a little too political and out of place with the rest of the book. In the end though, I doubt people outside of this region would notice, and even though I ended up not caring at all because I loved this book so much.
Overall, Ship Breaker was a balanced book. It had a strong plot that kept me turning the pages with characters who were all likable and relatable. And the characters perfectly fit the plot, which is something I find that too often novels don’t do anymore. When I got to the last page, it felt like a complete book, too, but I was hoping for a sequel anyway. And my wish is apparently the universe’s command, because the next installment, The Drowned Cities, is due…sometime in 2011. I’d guess in May, though there’s no release date and how I will wait that long I don’t know (See? There was no cliff hangar and still I’m desperate for more of this world).(less)
**spoiler alert** This book grabbed me right from the beginning. I loved how gloomy it felt, like Gentry was a town over which an Eeyore-esque cloud c...more**spoiler alert** This book grabbed me right from the beginning. I loved how gloomy it felt, like Gentry was a town over which an Eeyore-esque cloud constantly hovered, but no one was willing to admit that it was there or that no one else had to suffer it. The setting and feeling of the novel is really unique – dark without trying to be edgy or scary, just gray enough to leave the reader uneasy and a little creeped out.
Mackie’s situation cements this unease. He doesn’t belong in the above ground world of Gentry, but you also get to know him well enough to know that he’s too human to not. It’s sort of like a kid being raised by wild wolves – sure, he’s not a wolf, but you can’t just send him home to his human parents anymore either. And the human elements of Mackie were what I loved best. I love that he’s a kind of typical teenage boy, eyes drawn to the pretty girl – that girl who high school kind of revolves around but anyone out on a Pluto orbit kind of loathes. And I also deeply loved that he could see past that – he could appreciate her for what she was, a pretty thing with no function. To me, that signified the sort of perfect balance that epitomizes Mackie’s character.
I also loved Roswell and Emma, Mackie’s best friend and sister. They were both loyal and their unquestioning love for Mackie added a very real, very human element to the story, as did the very different ways they expressed this love. And Tate, who I grew into loving as the book progressed. The rest of the background characters were all fun and had personality, but they stayed far enough in the background that the book didn’t feel bogged down by people you had to follow.
My favorite character, though, was The Morrigan. She reminded me of every creepy thing that somehow you kind of want to cuddle anyway, which is strange, I know, but so am I. She was such a great contrast between the innocence her appearance belied with the something sinister simmering underneath. She wasn’t all good, but she wasn’t all bad, and that kind of depth is important. Sure, the villain of the novel didn’t have that balance, but she didn’t need to. The Morrigan was enough to show that the world the people of Gentry were so good at ignoring wasn’t as black and white as they might have liked to think of it. That world lived in the same shades of gray that they themselves existed in every day.
The one thing I wish I could change about this book was how often we’re reminded of the blind-eye the people of Gentry like to turn on the odd parts of their town. I felt like I couldn’t go more than a few pages without being reminded of the fact that people don’t like to talk about things that are difficult or things they can’t understand. Maybe a lesser book would have needed these reminders, but I don’t think that The Replacement did – the story and Mackie and the Morrigan were all enough for us to see that rather then be reminded of it.
As far as first novels go, this is a pretty compelling debut. Hell, as far as novels go in general, this is pretty compelling. When someone new comes onto the YA scene, I look for a couple simple things: can their writing suck me in and do they have an imagination. Brenna Yovanoff succeeds on both counts. She’s come up with a world that draws on the legends we already know and expands on it in a way that’s never really been done before. (less)
**spoiler alert** The plot for this book is complex and well done, but what makes this book one of the most beloved of all time is the characters and...more**spoiler alert** The plot for this book is complex and well done, but what makes this book one of the most beloved of all time is the characters and the love Madeleine L’Engle had for them and shares with us. Meg, along with Cassandra Mortmain, is one of my top five female leads of all time. She’s also the character I related to the most when I was younger. She was ostracized for being a little nerdy and a little bit smart and maybe pretty awkward and shy. She couldn’t see any of the good in herself, especially when she looked at her gorgeous mother. On the one hand she struggled with the fact that her twin brothers were so normal – what she wanted to be. But then Charles Wallace, who is so clearly special (if seeming a little strange) that Meg can’t help but be a little jealous of him too. But she is still courageous and loyal and loving and crazy smart.
Re-reading this book as an “adult,” you can’t help but want to shake Meg and let her understand how amazing she is. Re-reading this book as a young adult though, you want to invite her over for bad movies and ice cream so you can commiserate about how lame you both are.
I knew I’d love Calvin the moment he appeared. On the surface, he has everything. He’s cute and smart and an athlete and everyone loves him. But that’s just what other people see. Underneath all of that, he struggles. He has problems at home and he feels the same sense of insignificance that plagues Meg.
Most of all, I loved the way Calvin and Meg learned these lessons together, as a team. It’s always easy to imagine that the grass is greener on the other side until you can see it. This book isn’t about changing yourself or trying to be better or fit in: it’s about learning to appreciate what you already have. Calvin helps Meg see how wonderful her family is and how strong she is – that maybe she isn’t the “monster” she imagines herself as. Meg helps Calvin find out that he’s special for more than just what everyone else sees, and she helps him realize that even if his family are a bunch of jerks he isn’t alone.
I once read a review of this book that said there’s a little bit of Meg in all of us, and I can’t think of a better way to think about Meg (or any of the characters). No matter how successful or happy someone appears, there’s almost always a little piece of them inside that questions whether they really matter in the grand scheme of things – if they’re all that important to the universe. Madeleine L’Engle says yes. Because Meg and Calvin and Charles Wallace show all of us that no matter how small or insignificant we may feel, there’s more to us than meets the eye – that we’re special and important in our own individual ways.
Don’t listen to the social critics. A Wrinkle in Time isn’t about undermining religion. It’s not a book about witchcraft or the occult. It’s a book about three kids going on an adventure to find themselves. And somehow, they’ll help you find yourself too. (less)
The mysteries in Mistwood surprised me. It was the kind of plotting and suspense that you won’t ever guess but when the answer is suddenly in front of...moreThe mysteries in Mistwood surprised me. It was the kind of plotting and suspense that you won’t ever guess but when the answer is suddenly in front of you, you find yourself flipping back pages and wondering how the hell you missed all the clues. The whole book is like a slow-burn building you up to a simmer and, all in one moment, you’re boiling. I loved it. The pace gives you time to fall in love with the characters, something that so many fantasy novels forget about.
I’ve always said characters are important to me, and I loved the entire cast of Mistwood. I loved Rokan, who was kingly but not perfect. He was intricate and had layers. And, most of all, he was able to see the shades of gray that exist in the universe and use them. He didn’t live in a world of absolutes, which was so refreshing. More refreshing was how fiercely loyal Rokan was. A male lead who has feelings and isn’t afraid to tell people about them, even if they judge him? Fabulous. His sister, Clarisse, was also a complex character who surprised me many times. So often, strong women in fantasy novels come across as straight-up shrews. And, at times, Clarisse did. But we knew why. More than that, she was more than just a cunning manipulator. She was certainly both of those things, but she was smart and capable and she understood things her brother did not. It’s nice to see two characters so balanced. Even the villains were well drawn and complicated (I know I’m saying that a lot, but I don’t want to spoil anything!).
The best thing about the Shifter was that she was the novel. In a book about discovering the mysteries of who you are, Isabel was a perfect star. She was insecure and struggling with the very literal question of who she was and what her purpose in life was supposed to be. Watching her grow and get her answers and figure out what to do with them made this book for me. It was a great balance of strong female lead with the insecurity that everyone feels.
My very favorite thing about this book though is that the romantic plot is secondary to the self-discovery Isabel is seeking and the mystery. It’s there and you feel it (keenly) but it doesn’t smack you in the face. The fact that it wasn’t all sex and making out (not that I have anything against books that do feature those kinds of things), made the resolution even more intense for me.
The one thing about this book that I’m not sure about is why it’s classified as young adult. The characters are given ages suitable for the genre, but they read as sort of ageless. For a good portion of the book, I forgot that the characters I was reading were supposed to be young adults. This was enhanced by the fact that the shifter is thousands of years old and immortal. And sometimes, because of the situation the characters are in, they seem more mature and older than you’d expect a young adult cast to be. Still, this isn’t really a complaint because in the end I loved this book and I loved pretending everyone was aged up just a little bit.(less)