A little bit like Lord of the Flies meets The Breakfast Club meets The Mist, Monument 14 is about a group of children holed up in a superstore after a freak hailstorm causes a chemical leak from the nearby weapons manufacturing site, leading to contamination of the whole town.
On the surface, this book seemed like it had a lot of potential. Books featuring kids in stressful, survival situations always seem more chilling and disturbing to me than books starring their adult counterparts. Children, after all, are the picture of ultimate innocence; in an ideal world we wish to protect them from all the troubles and anxieties of adulthood. Even most adults would be ill-prepared to handle a sudden disaster, so I can’t even imagine how much worse the burden of responsibility would be to a teenager. Without strong guidance and a lack of organization, it’s not surprising how quickly a group situation can devolve.
The kids in this book range from ages 5 to 17, all stranded passengers from a couple of school buses that were wrecked by the severe storm. Naturally, a hierarchy of leadership develops, with the older teens taking care of the young’uns. The dynamics are made more interesting by the differences not only in the characters’ ages, but also in their personalities, backgrounds and upbringing. Unfortunately, this does mean that almost everyone is pigeonholed into rather predictable and clichéd stereotypes. Main protagonist and narrator Dean is the “booker”, a quiet and somewhat awkward late-bloomer who has long harbored a secret love for Astrid, the popular and perfect hot girl. Astrid however is the girlfriend of Jake, the football jock. Among the high-schoolers, there’s also the bully/bad boy Brayden, the solemn and live-by-the-book Boy Scout Niko, who happens to have a thing for the kind and motherly Josie. The roles are cast, and the stage is set for some serious teenage drama.
The younger kids actually proved more intriguing and to have more well-rounded personalities. A couple of them genuinely surprised me, displaying a level of maturity and problem solving skills that even surpassed some of the teenagers’. In fact, I think one of the book’s main weaknesses is its gradual divergence from the “we’re all in this together” theme towards a greater emphasis on the relationships and soap-opera aspects of the older kids. The story was a lot more engaging at the beginning when the whole group dealt with the challenges of surviving together, addressing issues like mob mentality, who should be in charge, and how to explain the situation to the elementary children who are frightened and don’t understand why they can’t go home. Once the focus shifted to become more about “who’s crushing on whom”, the book became more typical and less special in my eyes.
While I loved the premise, another strike against this book is the whole reason why Dean and the other kids are trapped in the superstore. The explanation given – that the chemical leak is a gas causing different reactions based on the exposed victim’s blood type – is a bit weak and unconvincing. Victims with O-type blood will become mindless violent savages, while another type would break out in boils and blisters, while yet another type would experience no outward signs but may suffer infertility and reproductive difficulties, etc. Leaving aside how such an absurd model of symptoms made me want to bash my head against the wall, the theory of the chemical disaster did not feel that well thought out. It felt like the author needed a reason to put the kids in this particular jam, and seized upon the first idea to come to mind without fleshing it out, giving it more logic or detail. Perhaps that’s why the book also threw in the extreme weather and a massive disaster on the east coast, just to make the situation bigger and severe than it is.
As expected, Monument 14 also left off on a cliffhanger (these days, I’d be shocked if a YA novel didn’t). Still, it’s a strong start, with a great idea to work with, and just a tad wobbly on the execution. I haven’t decided if I want to continue with the series yet. Looks like it’ll be another short, quick read, so if the opportunity arises, I may take it. (less)
Self-absorbed, annoying, moody, smug, dissatisfied, spoiled, fake, maudlin, insecure, aimless, whiny, stupid, pampered, emo, vain, egotistical, small-minded, excessive, inconsiderate, thankless, pretentious, snobby, entitled, mercurial, immature, depressed, hypocritical, mean-spirited, cynical, clueless – just a small sample of the words I could use to describe the characters in this book.
No, The Magicians isn’t going to your big smiling ball of sunshine no matter how many Harry Potter comparisons you see slapped on it. Instead, you have a book featuring a much darker, grittier and almost satirical aura, a “New Adult” urban fantasy about letting the unhappiness of wanting something you can never have consume you. We follow disillusioned Quentin Coldwater, a high school student who never really grew out of his love for a series of novels he read as a kid about the adventures of five siblings in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, what can the real world offer him?
Imagine how he feels then, when he discovers that magic is real. And not only is it real, Quentin himself is a promising young magician, accepted into very secret and highly exclusive Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy in upstate New York. It should have changed everything. Quentin should have been ecstatic.
But he is not. But of course he’s not. Magic isn’t going to make Quentin happy. Neither is finding out that Fillory actually exists. It’s a sad moment when the realization hits. There’s really no cure for what ails Quentin, except one thing and one thing only: a few years of life experience and a whole lot of growing up. Well, that or maybe a swift and forceful kick in the seat of his pants.
Thing is though, you can write a miserably unlikeable character for the sake of writing a miserably unlikeable character. I don’t mind. Not even if your character is an insufferably whiny little ingrate. You just have to give me a reason – any reason – to make me care about what happens to him. That’s not too much to ask, is it? My issue with this novel wasn’t so much with the mopey protagonist than it was with the directionless storytelling. In fact, I was quite excited for the first part of this book. I couldn’t get enough of the magical school idea the author’s jabs and funny references to Harry Potter and other humorous injections. That there was no sign of a main conflict didn’t bother me at this point either, as I was relishing the setting and enjoying myself too much.
Around the midway point was when the book started to lose me, coinciding with Quentin’s graduation and life after Brakebills. Until then I never really bothered asking where the story was going, and hadn’t felt the need to – but eventually there was a creeping sense that giving Quentin and his magician friends “real life” problems like relationship hang ups and dismal prospects for the future just wasn’t going cut it. Like, dudes, I get that y’all are bored with life. But I’m bored with you too now. Sorry. Worse yet, there is absolutely no development in their characters or personalities (unless you count decline as growth) and that’s absolutely mind boggling when you consider how a person’s time at college should have been the most formative years. I don’t know anyone who left college the same person they were when they arrived.
Admittedly, the final handful of chapters about the discovery and exploration of Fillory had their charm. Possibly enough to salvage my feelings for this book for a solid rating. And I suppose the conclusion, while incomplete and flinging the doors wide open for a new adventure, also manages to offer a sense of closure and satisfaction in its own unique way.
This book isn’t bad, apart from the pacing issues. The ending gives me hope for Quentin, and the promise of more Fillory makes me feel very optimistic about the next book.(less)
Antigoddess is the second book I have read by Kendare Blake, after the fun times I had with Anna Dressed in Blood earlier this year. And as much as I appreciate a good ghost story, I have to say Antigoddess was more up my alley.
Funny story, though: When I first added this book to my reading list, I only saw the cover and thought it was going to be a story about angels. Damn feather threw me off. It wasn’t until I read the description that I realized I was wrong, but that it was actually about something even better! Not angels, but gods. Greek gods. The mythology buff in me was tickled pink. And that feather on the cover which originally misled me turned out to be a symbol for something much more sinister…
At the heart of this novel and series is an ancient conflict stemming from the events of the Trojan War. So before reading this, it might be a good idea to brush up on your Greek Mythology 101. Or rent Troy. It’s all good! In any case, you don’t have to be an expert on all the details to enjoy this, as Blake uses her prerogative to do some very cool and unique things to the legend and the characters involved. For one, the gods themselves are dying – and in the most bizarre ways. We learn of their plight through mainly Athena and Hermes’ perspectives, the former experiencing impending death by way of random feathers sprouting in her body like a cancer. This is making all the gods a little desperate, and some are driven to insanity.
Even from the very start, we’re presented a mystery. What do the gods have to do with a teenage girl named Cassandra from Kincade, New York? Granted, she appears to have some freaky psychic powers, but the character perspectives going back and forth between Athena and Cassandra cannot be any more different. The latter’s chapters show life in your typical small town high school, while Athena and Hermes’ chapters (at least in the beginning) have an almost abstract, dream-like quality to them which I really enjoyed. While the characters’ connections are revealed early on, the plot doesn’t explode until gods and mortals meet. And then the revelations are even more mind-blowing and unexpected.
The book’s greatest strength is its characters. I suppose if you’re a god you can choose to be whoever you want to be. I liked how Blake gave her gods all different and interesting identities – from Athena’s stern demeanor to Apollo’s loyalty or Hermes’ fun-loving personality and fondness for pop culture.
Most obvious weakness? This had the feel of “first book of a series” all over it. In other words, it read like one big long introduction. Voracious readers of YA fiction will probably know exactly what I’m talking about, and probably won’t find this all that surprising. It’s not hard to guess whether a book will have a satisfying ending or leave things wide open for the sequel; once it became clear that there was no way any of the conflicts would be settled by the end the novel, I admit my interest waned a little as that “let’s just bring on book two” attitude settled in.
That said, I am on board for book two. It’ll probably be one of my higher-priority sequels too, because let’s face it – how often does a book with a good Greek mythology angle come along?(less)
Ruin and Rising was good, but perhaps it was just good…enough? I sat on this review for several weeks trying to gather my thoughts about this book hoping to figure out exactly how I feel about it. And in the end, I finally realized why I was so conflicted. I liked this book – and heck, up to now this series has been one of my YA favorites – but as badly was I wanted this to be the grand finale, I just couldn’t convince myself to love it.
As you would recall, Siege and Storm had the unmistakable feel of a second installment within a trilogy, with our protagonists experiencing a momentary setback. Last we saw Alina, she was in pretty bad shape, having lost her powers as the Sun Summoner. She and Mal have retreated underground with their allies, surrendering themselves to the power of the Apparat and his band of zealots who worship Alina as a Saint. But while Alina may be weakened, she is far from broken. Her mission remains the same: to capture and secure the third amplifier, the elusive firebird that would be her key to defeating the Darkling thus freeing Ravka from his iron grasp.
In truth, I had my reservations from the very beginning. The first couple of chapters almost drove me to return the book. Looking back, these were so clearly “transition” scenes that served no other purpose than to link book two with book three. As an antagonist, the Apparat was almost a non-entity, used to accomplish what was required, and then quickly forgotten. I just wanted this obligatory intro done and over with as quickly and painlessly as possible, and fortunately and unfortunately, it seemed Leigh Bardugo had the same idea. We always knew Alina’s goal was to hunt the firebird, and this brief little romp through the tunnels and caves felt like nothing more than a throwaway distraction.
Thankfully, we soon get back on the right track. We meet up with Nikolai, the outlaw prince of lovable arrogance and smart-assery, and now we can finally ask the really important questions. How are they going to go up against the Darkling? And what would a future Ravka look like if they succeed? Alina has some difficult decisions before her. What is she going to choose? Or rather, ugh, WHO is she going to choose?
In some ways, I feel validated. I still love YA, but not long ago, I told myself I can’t read them for their romances anymore. And I’m a much happier person for it. Enjoying a novel mainly for its story and characters is how I’ve come to approach YA, because if you rely on the outcome of a relationship to satisfy you, you’re bound to be disappointed. Time after time after time, predictability and tired clichés have ruined YA romances for me, and I’ve found it much easier now to just NOT CARE. It also helps that I’ve never really felt much connection to the men in Alina’s life. I’ve failed for three books to see the Darkling’s appeal. And Mal was ruined for me in Siege and Storm (you can’t get stinking drunk and kiss another girl and expect bygones to be bygones, Mal – you only get one chance with me). Nikolai was perhaps the most interesting and had the best personality out of everyone, and that told me right there he was obviously all wrong for Alina, so I never took his role as a suitor seriously.
I’m not going to say what happens, naturally. But I will say Bardugo took the “safe” route. Which was pretty much what I expected, so I’m actually not too upset with the ending. I’ve come to accept the status quo in YA fiction, and it hadn’t even occurred to me that this series could end any other way. It’s entirely possible I would have rated this book higher if it had been a bit bolder and strayed from conventions, but I’m also satisfied if not entirely blown away. And if this had been the author’s plan from the start, I applaud her for sticking to her guns and telling the story she wanted to tell. Everyone deserves their happily-ever-after, and Alina got the one perfect for her which is all that matters.
I’d still recommend this series. It became increasing more predictable as the story progressed with each installment, to the point where there were really no surprises left for me by book three, but it’s an entertaining trilogy as a whole. I wish it had ended with less tepidness considering the incredibly strong start that was Shadow and Bone, but I have to say it’s worth experiencing from beginning to end.(less)
I’m glad I gave this book a shot. I have to admit, I've not had the best experience when it comes to Anne Bishop (I really wanted to like Daughter of the Blood in her Black Jewels series, but just couldn’t seem to get into it) so I initially shied away from Written in Red. However, after multiple recommendations and even an assurance or two that it is very different from Bishop’s epic fantasy, I was finally convinced to pick it up.
I was also told that this series should be right up my alley, based on the type of urban fantasy I enjoy. I daresay that was a good call. I love the genre for its focus on interesting characters and unique worlds, and Written in Red certainly delivers on those fronts. Not only that, Anne Bishop also introduces UF elements in this book that are at once brand new and yet all too familiar. Given my mixed feelings in the past with her other work, it felt reassuring to find this book settled nicely in my comfort zone.
Despite my tepid feelings towards Daughter of the Blood, even I can't deny that Bishop has a knack for creating worlds. Her talent and creativity is evident everywhere in her work, and that is true of The Others series as well, where the mundane and the supernatural coexist in a fragile balance…so to speak. Namely, it’s the unearthly creatures who are in charge, and so long as we puny humans keep in line, they will tolerate sharing the living space with us. It’s different, but makes a lot of sense. Why should “The Others” hide and live in secret when they are so powerful and there are so many of them? And thus people are prey, and they are put in their place.
Written in Red also features a world with more than just vampires and werewolves. Granted, there are shapeshifters aplenty, but they come in many other forms, such as crows, owls, etc. Here you will encounter all kinds of creatures and races of powerful humans, never seen or heard of before. Take the protagonist Meg Corbyn, a blood prophet who has the ability to see the future when her skin is cut. Kind of a morbid power, if you ask me, but it's intriguing. It's simply Bishop working up her gift for creating and describing magic. For me, that dark and vaguely-disturbing but enchanting quality is what I remember of her style. I really like how she's applied it here, to a world so very different from what I’ve previously read from her.
Speaking of which, Bishop’s also not the first epic/high fantasy author I’ve read who has taken the leap into urban fantasy in recent years. In several cases, I felt the pacing was a mild issue with storytelling, and I couldn’t help but feel it here as well. Check out the page count, for one thing. Written in Red is relatively lengthy for an urban fantasy novel, especially a series starter, and I don’t know if it really needed to be so long. Looking back, I can think of quite a few scenes that probably weren’t required. World building is important, sure, but at times I felt it came at the expense of the story's momentum.
Still, I liked the cohesiveness of the plot. So many urban fantasy novels seem to be crammed to the brim with action and a whole lot of ideas and things going on these days, all in about 300 pages. Written in Red may be longer than most, but at least it gives Meg’s plight and her relationships with The Others the full attention it deserves. As a main protagonist, she’s a bit too timid for my tastes, but the writing is very effective at making the reader feel protective of her and invested in her success. As a result, the tension was palpable throughout the novel even without a billion things happening all at once.
As a parting thought, cheers and thank you to those who recommended this to me and told me to read it. This was a fun one! If I’d continued staying away, I would have missed out on a refreshing new urban fantasy series. No need to remind me to put the next book Murder of Crows on my reading list – it’s already there, I promise.(less)
I admit it, I read this book for FORBIDDEN LOVE! Turns out though, it was not exactly the kind I had in mind. I expected a little more chemistry, perhaps? A little bit more of that "it's you and me against the world"? The Winner's Curse ended up giving me two lovers who actually spent more than half the book locked in conflict with each other, and so their romance lacked some of that je ne sais quoi which makes forbidden love so scandalous and delicious.
Meet the two star-crossed lovers in question: Kestrel, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a Valorian general, who one day visits a slave auction and spontaneously decides to buy Arin, a native of the Harrani lands her people conquered. Their meeting, however, was no accident. Unbeknownst to Kestrel, Arin is actually a high ranked member of a group of Harrani rebels, planted purposely at the auction to draw her in. As a slave in the Valorian general's home, Arin would be in a position to gather intelligence and plan his people's uprising.
What neither of them counted on was that their master and slave relationship would eventually evolve into friendship, deepening into love. But that journey was far from passionate for me; instead, it felt tepid and sometimes even bordered on awkward. It's tricky creating chemistry when both your characters are torn between their loyalties to each other or their own people, and the story never managed to convince me that there was ever really any trust between Kestrel and Arin. Seeing as The Winner's Curse is essentially a romance, that's a pretty vital ingredient to be missing for me.
Okay, so their relationship was not as swoon-worthy as I would have liked, but no matter. The world, the characters and the story soon won me over, and I enjoyed this book a lot. While it is what I would classify as "standard" YA, it still contained plenty of surprises within its pages. I did love the setting, with the flavor of a historical fantasy. A martial civilization like the Valorians which also encourages women in their army fascinates me. If anything, I wish the scope of the story was bigger to encompass more of the events in the wider world. There's a lot of potential for world building here; because of the narrow focus on Kestrel and Arin, we only get to see a tiny slice of what's happening.
Forbidden Love just happens to be a trope I can't resist, but the comments I made above notwithstanding, if you are a fan romance I would still highly recommend The Winner's Curse. But if it's excitement or a thrilling adventure you're looking for, you might want to reconsider. The pacing is a lot more quiet, with a decent chunk of this book dedicated to getting Kestrel and Arin together, and it's a gradual process not achieved through any wild or fierce means. There's perhaps a slight pick up in pace in the final handful of chapters, but keep in mind the story itself isn't about providing a lot of action, it's about character development and building a relationship. The careful way in which Marie Rutkoski does it is undeniably this book's crowning glory, and even though the romance itself fell a bit flat for me, I'm sure for many others it will be the most engrossing aspect.
Despite the shaky love story, I really liked this novel, and I'll no doubt pick up the next book when it comes out. I'm still holding out for an exception forbidden romance to emerge triumphant from this series, and I think it still has a chance, not to mention things end just as the story gets even more interesting.(less)
This is the first time I’ve ever read anything by Jeff VanderMeer, and I’ll admit at first I had my misgivings. I’d picked up this book because of the great things I’ve heard about it, and also because the premise sounded fascinating. However, VanderMeer is also best known for his contributions to “New Weird”, a literary genre that’s been hit or miss with me – but mostly miss. Still, I looked at the modest page count of Annihilation and figured, what the hey. Even if it didn’t tickle my fancy, at least it would be a quick read.
Man, and am I glad I gave this one a shot.
Yes, the story is weird and a bit surreal – two descriptive terms for a book that would normally make me take off for the hills – but what I didn’t expect was how thoroughly atmospheric and intense it was. If Annihilation were to be made into a movie (actually, I believe that’s already in the plans), my dream director for it would be Ridley Scott because I think his particular approach would be perfect for the overall tone and visual requirements of this novel. It’s got those Alien or Prometheus vibes.
And really, I say Annihilation is "weird" but it’s really not that weird. I mean, I was able to follow along, so there’s hope for me yet. Still, how to explain this utterly unique and uncanny novel to the uninitiated (geez, that’s way too many “U” words in a sentence)? You don’t even get names for any of the characters. The story is narrated by a woman simply known as “The Biologist”. She goes on an expedition to a place called Area X with the other members of her team, the Psychologist, the Anthropologist, and the Surveyor, to see what they can find in this chunk of land that has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. I think this idea of a scientific mission was a big part of the appeal for me; Anthropology and Biology are fields that fascinate me, and I’m all about stories about treks into the wilderness for the sake of science.
The team also has the task to find out what happened to the expeditions that came before, and here’s where thing get a little eerie. All those involved in the previous eleven attempts to investigate Area X have ended up dead in some way. With the second expedition, all the members committed suicide. Everyone in the third died because they turned on each other with their guns. Members of the eleventh expedition, the one that came before the Biologist’s, came home from Area X as ghosts of their former selves before all dying of cancer several months later. What we find out later on is that the Biologist’s husband was one of them.
This book is strange and unsettling, which satisfied my appetite for horror. But while I’d been prepared to be a little creeped out, given what I knew of the plot from the description, what I didn’t expect was the feeling of heart-wrenching melancholy that came over me as I was reading about the Biologist’s memories of her husband. There’s a tragic, haunted quality to her narration during these parts, and the lonely and isolated environment that is Area X merely served to emphasize this. Knowing that the character is a rather quiet, antisocial and withdrawn woman, the sincerity and forthrightness of her confessions touched me, but at the same time it was also a source of anxiety. Why would she be telling us all this unless she believed something awful and unthinkable was about to happen? An ominous air of mystery surrounds this story like a shroud and its secrets are revealed only bit by bit, compounding the reader’s feeling of dread as the plot line advances towards the conclusion.
Truly, I am surprised by this book. And seriously impressed. I took to VanderMeer’s writing faster and more comfortably than I expected, but then he also makes it easy with his elegant prose. I was right that this was a quick read, and it was even quicker because I enjoyed it so much. Now I’m really looking forward to picking up Authority, the second book of the Southern Reach trilogy.(less)
While reading vN, I was frequently reminded of a mission statement I saw once on Angry Robot’s website – to publish the best in modern adult genre fiction, or in their words, “SF, F and WTF?!” This book certainly falls mostly in the first category, but also possesses a strong generous splash of the third.
At the heart of vN is a story about choice and independence in synthetic humans/artificial intelligences which in itself is not a very original premise in science fiction, but Ashby piles on a ton of new ideas of her own that make this book a fascinating and sometimes disturbing read. Called “vonNeumanns” or vNs after their creator, the original proposal for the self-replicating humanoid robots in this novel in fact came from the most unlikely source – an End Times group who wanted to leave a body of helpers behind for the millions of unsaved after the rapture.
Other bizarre or perturbing things include a graphic scene of robot cannibalism; a harrowing jail break; a male vN giving birth (or “iterating”) in a sticky, gooey process; the implication that pedophiles acquire vN and make them stay forever young by keeping them – all in the prologue and first couple of chapters. The robots have a failsafe that prevent them from doing harm to humans, and witnessing anything violent or upsetting can risk triggering it, shorting the vN out. But still, while it’s apparent that vNs themselves look, act and have emotions much like humans do, their lives aren’t valued the same way; non-functioning or “blue-screened” vN are tossed aside like garbage, a process described in all its unpleasantness. Not to mention the use of vNs in the porn industry, or some of the other sickening and questionable things humans do to them. All this made the book a unique and sometimes eyebrow-raising read, but at least there’s no accusing it of not being able to hold my attention.
That this is an adult novel is no doubt a given, considering some of its mature themes. But within it I was also a little surprised to find a coming-of-age story … in a sense. The book’s protagonist Amy is a vN living in a mixed-family, a young iteration of her vN mother who is of the same clade. Amy’s human father, perhaps a little naively, tries to give his android daughter a “normal” life, controlling her diet so that she physically looks like a little girl, attending school and participating in other activities that real kids do. But when an incident strikes Amy’s kindergarten graduation, Amy ends up devouring her vN grandmother (yeah, you read that right…it’s a long, freaky story), somehow integrating her software. The extra food source also transforms Amy, so overnight she becomes a grown woman sharing her mind with the voice of her psychotic grandmother.
Literally a new person, Amy is forced to make her way through the world and gain an adult perspective on matters her parents had previously shielded her from. In a way, everything is new and strange to her and the reader both. I found myself asking the same questions as her about the things she saw. Was her father deluding himself with the life he wanted for himself and for her? What is a vN’s role: helper, companion or just another technological tool? How should society deal with sentient beings that aren’t really alive? Are artificial intelligences even capable of love? Is Amy limited by her programming, or is there a possibility of growing beyond her code?
Despite some of the weirdness in this novel, it is a fascinating tale of Amy’s self-discovery and emergence from the shadow of others’ expectations of her. Probably my biggest disappointment was the way things ended. It was a pretty weak conclusion, a little random and out of nowhere after everything that came before, but the tepid ending notwithstanding, I thought this was an overall absorbing and poignant read. Definitely one of the bolder, more provocative titles from Angry Robot.(less)
You might have noticed that I featured the third book of The Grisha earlier in the month in one of my Waiting on Wednesdays. It goes without saying, I continue to enjoy this series very much! Still, it's only natural for readers to compare sequels with their predecessors, and the truth is I did not think Siege and Storm was as strong as Shadow and Bone.
There are several reasons for this. I don't want to single this book out because this is certainly not the only time I've felt this way, but it does serve to illustrate a pattern I've been noticing with me and a lot of young adult novels lately: Book One manages to make me fall in love with the characters and impresses me with a sweet, endearing little romance, and then invariably Book Two will show up with teenage melodrama and start stirring the pot.
Thing is, I haven't stopped rooting for Alina and Mal. I still love the fact they started out as childhood friends first, and that their trials and tribulations in the first book brought them together and made them see that their relationship might be something more. But of course, YA conventions dictate that NO ONE can ever be allowed to remain in a loving, happy relationship, dammit! Seems to be the case especially when it comes to middle books of a trilogy.
Now, don't get me wrong; I appreciate a bit of dramatics here and there to help spice things up. But why do they always have to stem from some form of silly misunderstanding or a simple case of miscommunication? You two are best friends, maybe you should try talking to each other. And a love triangle? I thought we'd dodged a bullet with that one when the Darkling turned out to be a nasty in the first book.
Thankfully, Sturmhond, the third wheel in question, doesn't seem like a bad sort, especially given his secret and intriguing background. Dashing, confident, and just tolerably vain, I actually thought he was a great addition to this series. That I preferred his character over Mal is a testament to just how far the latter had fallen. Oh, Mal, Mal, Mal. What happened? I have very little patience for characters who drown their sorrows by getting so severely smashed that they can hardly even remember their own names. Or those who kiss other girls when they are supposed to be in love with someone else, for that matter.
Alina doesn't get away scot-free either. This book sees her going through some big changes, after she and Mal are intercepted from their escape and taken back to the heart of Ravka to gear up for their fight against the Darkling. A darker side of her emerges, and though this is a result of certain events in the story, frankly her personality change disturbed me. Her arrival and new-found status also meant instigating a lot of social posturing within the egomaniacal ranks of the Grisha, giving the court an unpleasant dynamic, one reminiscent of a hormone-fueled high school cafeteria. Slipping deeper into her role of the Sun Summoner and the savior of her country, she begins to lose sight of what's really important. This mostly means Mal, really.
While this review may sound critical, know that I really did enjoy this book. In embracing a lot of the YA conventions, it also fit my mood like a comfortable glove, much like the first book did. The story may have been a tad too focused on the drama between Alina and Mal, but it also did a couple things really well, mainly in 1) expanding the world of The Grisha and 2) ending things with a bang. If the pattern continues with this series, as the third and final book of the trilogy, Ruin and Rising should be amazing.(less)
I wish I could say this book just wasn't for me because I'm not into YA paranormal romance, but that wouldn't be true. In fact, I quite enjoy this genre. Nothing beats a good love story for giving me all the warm and fuzzy feels, and the best ones do just that. On the flip side, however, there are books like Sweet Evil that somehow manage to diminish the mood by pushing all the wrong buttons. There were a couple things about it that I found off-putting, though I'm aware it's a matter of personal taste and that others might not feel the same way.
Unfortunately, the characters Anna and Kai too closely resemble a couple of my biggest pet peeves. Pet peeve the first: a weepy, insecure female protagonist. I have no problems with Anna being the living embodiment of goodness (in fact, I admire her all the more for it) but naivete and innocence does not have to translate to neediness, ceaseless pining, crying or completely falling to pieces over a guy. Especially when the guy in question has done so little to deserve such obsession. So many times I just wanted to shake her and ask her where she has misplaced her self-respect.
Which brings me to pet peeve the second: male love interests that are pure scum, just wrapped in a pretty package. Take away Kaidan's good looks and hot accent and all you'll have left is arrogance and patronizing smugness. I'm not even taking into account his (literal!) life's work to sleep with as many women as possible. Seeing as he is the half-human son of the Demon of Lust, I'll just let that one slide as an ingrained part of his nature. Still, regardless of whether he can help it or not, most sane people tend to find that sort of behavior repellent. So what does that say about Anna, who falls head over heels for this guy anyway?
All right, with that out of the way, now I can tell you about the things in the book that DID work for me. Sweet Evil offers an interesting take on angels and demons and how they interact with us mere mortals here on earth. It's a deliciously sordid affair involving the demons of sins/vices taking over the bodies of men in order to have children with human women, resulting in the half-demon sons and daughters called Nephilim. The intricate system and hierarchy of fallen angels described in this book shows that much care and effort was put into world building, proving Sweet Evil is not just about the romance, and that there is actually quite a lot of substance behind the story as well.
In spite of this, the plot flounders in many places for being too convenient and coincidental for my tastes, as in it's very obviously done for the sole purpose of forcing the characters right where the author wants them to be. Otherwise, you know there would be no story. For example, Anna's demon father who has been behind bars for the last sixteen years suddenly has a parole hearing coming up, well-timed to be just right after Anna meets him for the first time. And then, of course, there is Anna's mom Patti. What mother in her right mind would allow her teenage daughter to go on a road trip alone with a seventeen-year-old boy (son of the Demon of Lust, no less), just the two of them driving across the country and staying in hotels by themselves, to visit a total stranger in a penitentiary? That's just a little too hard to swallow.
I will give the story this, though: at no point did I want to stop reading. That I was going to see this whole thing through was always a foregone conclusion, despite the character flaws and the hitches and holes in the plot. I was entertained, even if I felt little sympathy for either Anna or Kaidan. Like I said, I had some pretty idiosyncratic reasons for why this book ultimately didn't work for me, but I can also see how other readers with a penchant for the young adult genre and paranormal romances may find plenty to like. (less)
The world knows our main protagonist as Eon, a twelve-year-old boy training hard to be the next Dragoneye apprentice. To be chosen by one of the twelve revered energy dragons of good fortune is a great honor; each year many boys vie for the position to serve as the conduit between the dragons and the mortal world. But there is more to Eon than meets the eye. In truth, Eon is actually Eona, a sixteen-year-old girl masquerading as a boy because females are prohibited from using dragon magic. If anyone discovered her secret, she would be killed on the spot.
Stories involving girls disguised as boys are certainly nothing new, so what made this one special? Well, I suppose I’ve always enjoyed fantasy inspired by Asian cultures. In the world of Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, the influence of Chinese and Japanese mythological traditions makes itself apparent from the start. There are twelve energy dragons, for example, each associated with an animal of the Chinese zodiac – rat, ox, tiger, etc.
In Chinese philosophy too, the concept of yin and yang is an important one. Used to describe complementary forces rather than opposing ones, it has also been applied to the many natural dualities found in our everyday life -- light and dark, fire and water, the sun and the moon, life and death, and so on and so forth. Another one to remember is male and female. What struck me with regards to Eon/Eona’s story is the author’s approach to the concept of masculine and feminine energies, and what that ultimately meant for the character and the dragon that chose her. I was surprised that for a young adult novel, especially one which supposedly is just about a girl pretending to be a boy, the themes in it are surprisingly layered.
But okay, enough waxing philosophical from me. You probably want to know about the juicier bits, like with the magic and the dragons, the action and the epic sword fights. The setting Alison Goodman has created is absolutely gorgeous, with a heavy Far Eastern flavor but also bolstered with her own creative touches, the world’s magical history and dragon lore being one of the many highlights. Many YA novel plots also boast political intrigue, but this is probably one of the few I’ve come across that had delivered on that promise, and better yet, the consequences actually mattered and had a profound impact.
Also, the fact there wasn’t an overt romantic side plot was to me a feature, not a bug. Granted, there is some setup for a possible love interest and romance in the sequel, but this first book is mostly concerned with the main character’s personal journey to find herself and connect with her energy dragon, as well as to come to terms with her own disability (her hip is malformed due to a childhood injury). To be honest, I couldn’t be happier with this. I like romance, but I wouldn’t want to see it come at the expense of character development – or worse, in the form of insta-love or some other form of an awkward, stilted relationship. This way, I thought we got a much better idea of who Eon/Eona is as a person.
I wouldn’t say this book was perfect; the storytelling could have used some tightening up, especially in the middle where the plot wandered and did some meandering. But overall this was probably one of the more entertaining and unique YA novels I’ve read so far this year, featuring characters that have a surprising amount of depth, and that includes the villains too. Plot-wise, the structure and some of the concepts aren’t entirely original, but I don’t know if you should let that stop you. If the Asian inspired world appeals to you, or if you’re looking for a book that portrays dragons in interesting ways, then I would recommend this.(less)
Behold, the Young Adult sequel. This is where the real test is for me. First books of a series have the advantage of being new and shiny, and I can usually be won over by the prospect of exploring a brand new world full of fresh and interesting ideas. Second books admittedly have to work a little harder, not only because my expectations are higher now, but also because so many sequel plots invariably end up falling into a very predictable pattern.
So how does Crown of Midnight stack up? Well, in a nutshell, I can’t say it wowed me, and I probably liked it less than the first book. That being said though, I think it’s better than a lot of YA sequels, and despite the shameless rehashing of some of the same tired old tropes, there were still a couple of big surprises that kept the story entertaining.
The bottom line is, I am so done with YA romances. Girl meets boy, and if by book two they haven’t fallen in love already, this is where they will do so. Then invariably, boy will go and do something incredibly dumb – the result of a momentary lapse of judgment or just a gross failure of miscommunication – which causes girl to go ballistic on boy, throwing the entire future of their relationship in question, thereby also keeping the tension of a possible love triangle alive for just teensy bit longer. I can effortlessly name a handful of YA series that follow this pattern just off the top of my head, so I wasn’t surprised to see Crown of Midnight follow suit. Overused formulas suck. They have turned the romantic aspect into the weakest part the book. Nothing kills my enthusiasm and interest in the characters faster. And unfortunately, the book spends way too much time trying to shove the drama of Celaena and Chaol’s relationship down my throat. Maybe I’m just a bitter, jaded curmudgeon, but I just can’t find it in myself to care about such an artificial pairing.
But that’s my rant and the last of the negativity you’ll hear from me. Apart from my issues with the romance, Crown of Midnight was actually a pretty good book. Celaena has won the contest and become the king’s Champion and assassin, but instead of carrying out the king’s orders, she finds increasingly more ways to secretly fight back against his evil will, letting her intended victims go instead (ever notice how YA assassin characters actually do very little killing?) It was a relatively slow plod through the first half of the book, but once you get past this stage with its many clichés and run-of-the-mill romance, things will start to pick up.
I have to say, the plot elements in the later parts saved this book for me. The structure of the story remains somewhat predictable, but it always impresses me to see all the amazing things a writer can do while staying within a certain framework. The second half of the Crown of Midnight becomes a lot more bold and daring, which are certainly qualities I admire in a YA novel. There were a couple of unexpected developments, darker places I didn’t think the book would go. Once the pesky romance was out of the way, you started to get a lot less fluff and a lot more substance. Sarah J. Maas seriously ups her game, building up her world by weaving history and lore and magic into the story, dialing up the intrigue and mystery.
So all right then, sign me up for the third book. Despite a shaky start to this sequel, Maas has built something worthy of continuing with here, and has done some incredible things with her main character. I probably won’t hold my breath for the romantic aspect to improve, but thank goodness there’s so much more to like about this story. It’s definitely going places (literally!) and I look forward to visiting a new setting in the next installment as well as seeing the outcomes of several massive revelations.(less)
After reading this book, I just had to look inside myself and wonder if I’m suffering from YA burnout. But now I’ve gone and painted a negative mood over this review, and that wasn’t really my intention at all! Death Sworn was in fact a pretty good book. I just don’t doubt for a second that I would have enjoyed it even more if I hadn’t already gone through so many young adult novels that displayed similar themes since the beginning of this year.
I actually really enjoyed the premise behind this one. A young sorceress whose powers are waning. A secret society of assassins. When Ileni is tasked by the Elders to tutor a group of killers in the ways of magic, what else could she do? She must do her duty and travel to the caves where the assassins make their home base, and while she’s there she might as well try and figure out what had caused the mysterious deaths of her last two predecessors.
But I suppose once you start getting a lot of the same, even the most minor of flaws become more apparent. Right away I noticed a distinct paucity of world-building. In the author’s defense though, this entire story pretty much takes place in a system of caves. While I found the lives and the culture of the assassins fascinating, there was very little context for their place in the world; for all intents and purposes their society and Ileni existed in this bubble far removed from everything else. There’s talk of outside conflict with the empire and their tyranny, but those struggles may as well have been in another universe. Leah Cypess succeeded in getting my attention – but I wanted to know more! This book was relatively short, so I can’t imagine length restrictions had anything to do with it.
I also liked the main protagonist well enough, but I wasn’t fully convinced she was someone I could root for. Ileni is the latest to join the swelling ranks of YA heroines that I think really should know better. Taking unnecessary risks and falling in love with strange, standoffish boys seem to be a popular trend these days. The romance in particular didn’t sit well with me at all. My frustration with it didn’t originate so much from the insta-love between Ileni and the assassin Sorin, but more with the way it was written.
The thing is, insta-love by itself doesn’t always have to be a negative. Sometimes an author can inject so much passion and chemistry into a relationship, it doesn’t matter if the spark ignites and flares over ten years or ten seconds – it just works. However, with Ileni and Sorin I didn’t feel any of that. Their personalities and values were at complete odds to begin with, and in a way I think Cypess did her job a little too well in making this apparent. You could immediately tell (yet understand) why Ileni and Sorin's interactions with each other would be awkward and strained, as they come from two different worlds. Then all of a sudden, they were together. It was like one moment, Ileni was still struggling with her inability to make Sorin understand her moral objections to his work and lifestyle, the next she was reminiscing about the night of passion they spent together. Wait, what? I had to go back and make sure this really happened. Not only did the timing feel way off, I also couldn’t believe I was robbed of the sweet, delicious build up to the moment.
But make no mistake, there was plenty to like as well. Death Sworn is in part a mystery, following Ileni on her journey to find out what happened to the two tutors who came to the assassins’ caves before her, and the reasons for their demise. You’ll also be led to wonder what her flagging powers have to do with all this, and in the end the answers might shock you as they genuinely shocked me. I was impressed and totally blindsided by the twist in the story. It was impactful, and very well done.
I’m still undecided as to whether or not I will continue the series. I probably sounded harsher than I meant to be, as this was a good book and a promising start. But I made it a goal and a reading challenge to read more YA this year, but the more I read, the higher the bar is set, and my tastes have no doubt gotten a lot more finicky as compared to the start of 2014.(less)
Daniel Suarez has made a name for himself when it comes to techno-thrillers, and his talent for combining science with action has garnered him much praise and comparisons to the late Michael Crichton. And also, let's not forget how much I enjoyed Suarez's Daemon duology. All of this made me pretty excited for Influx, so now that I'm done I still find myself stunned to admit I was disappointed.
Many theories for generating artificial gravity have been proposed for decades, and even more have been presented by science fiction writers using all manner of methods and inventions. Jon Grady, particle physicist and the protagonist of Influx has achieved a breakthrough in the manipulation of gravity that would change the world. But instead of being showered with awards and lauded by the scientific community, his lab is shut down by a rogue government organization called the Bureau of Technology Control, his research deemed too dangerous to be unleashed on the unknowing public.
Grady himself is locked away in a secret prison when he refuses to cooperate, after BTC fakes his death and steals his gravity reflection technology. He's not the only one who has had his life taken away like this. It turns out that the world is more technologically advanced than we think, but the BTC has been monitoring science and technology for a long time, covering up and commandeering numerous revolutionizing discoveries and disappearing their creators to prevent social upheaval at all costs. In his nightmarish prison, Grady meets other great minds who have been held captive and they begin to formulate a plan of escape and to bring down the BTC.
With a snappy plot like that, I shouldn't have felt put off, but I did. Frustration is perhaps the best way to describe my experience, especially with the earlier and later parts of this novel. The author clearly loves technology and enjoys talking up the features of both the real and fictitious aspects of it, which would have been fine -- except often I felt like it was done to the detriment of his story. He places a lot of emphasis on the science and tech, an example being the pages upon pages towards the end of the novel dedicated to describing the use of a device, which coupled with Grady's gravity reflection research would allow a person to "fly". Instances like these do more than disrupt the pacing of the plot, because I think it also takes away from his characters and make them feel less compelling.
It's a shame, because the book is at its best when the focus in on the characters, reminding me what I loved so much about Suarez's Daemon and Freedom™. I was initially drawn to the series because of my inability to resist anything sci-fi and video game related, but came away happy to find the author is capable of doing great things with storytelling and character development as well. I wasn't quite as drawn to Jon Grady or the other characters in Influx (so that even when certain characters died unexpectedly, I was not affected much by their demise) but I did enjoy the story itself. Suarez goes heavy on the technological aspects but he definitely knows how to keep up the action and thrills too. I had a lot of fun with the book when the flow was smooth, or when the story wasn't interrupted by info dumps.
All in all, Influx was an okay book. It could have been great, but some of its flaws prevented me from jumping completely on board. I can definitely understand the comparisons of Suarez to Crichton, though I think the latter had a better knack for driving a story. Still, if you love techno-thrillers, I would recommend this -- especially if you have an inclination towards the "techno" part. If that's the case, I think you'd be well-pleased.(less)
The Burning Sky is a beautifully written novel, told in what I feel is a slightly more formal tone than most young adult fiction. The main plot itself -- about a girl who discovers she is the greatest elemental mage of her generation and who now must avoid being taken by enemies that want her power -- is actually quite straightforward, but the classical style adds on multiple layers to this fantasy story.
I have to say the description of the book doesn't do it much justice; for one, it does not mention that most of it is set in Victorian England, which for me was one of the story's main selling points. This is where Iolanthe Seabourne escapes after calling down a bolt of lightning, unwittingly exposing herself as an elemental mage in her own world. With the help of Prince Titus of The Realm, she goes into hiding at the prestigious Eton College, where she masquerades as a male student.
Iolanthe thus spends much of the novel as her alter ego Archer Fairfax. At Eton, Titus tells her of his ultimate plans to bring down an evil magician named Bane, the tyrant who holds both their lands in his grip. Iolanthe, of course, is reluctant to be a part of it. Incidentally, this leads to one of my favorite scenes, in which Iolanthe tells the Prince, "Better cowardly than dead," after throwing a minor fit and accusing him of using her to his own ends.
And you know what? Instead of thinking less of her, I actually agree with her. When you read as much fantasy as I do, after a while you can get so very used to reading about valiant characters eager to step up and be the hero. So when someone comes along with a strong sense of self-preservation and admits she's afraid to die, it's actually quite refreshing. And who could blame her? Iolanthe is a just a teenager and surely a lot of adults would have reacted even worse. I was surprised at how this one little quote of honestly led me to feel closer to her. Of all the characters, I think Iolanthe was the most well written and realistic.
I wish I could say the same about the story's pacing, but the truth is the book lost some of its momentum after a relatively strong start. It comes down to a matter of taste, really. I've read reviews from readers who absolutely adored the romantic subplot, and opinions from others who weren't so taken with it. I'm of the latter camp, but only because I feel the classic, formal quality of the writing (while very nice) just wasn't that well-suited for a Young Adult love story. Personally, I didn't sense much chemistry between Titus and Iolanthe, and so the romance fell a bit flat for me. And since so much of the book is given to fleshing out and growing their relationship, I probably wasn't as engaged as I ought to be. In spite of this, I have to say there are some great tension-building scenes spread through the novel, including a very exciting climax and ending.
The concepts behind the book are incredible though, so much so that I wish Sherry Thomas had given us even more background about the world. We know why Iolanthe has to stay one step ahead of the Alantean Inquisitor, or that Titus has had his own run-ins with the Inquisition as well, but exactly how Atlantis fits into all this is still unclear to me. Also a part of this puzzle is Titus' Crucible, and his own journey to understand the mysteries that his late mother left behind. There's so much going on here, and while the book gives you just enough information to understand, I wouldn't have minded more. I'm sure that's where the next book will come in. It's likely that I'll continue the series, since I'm all for giving the romance another chance to win me over. (less)
The Graceling audiobook came highly recommended to me and I can see why … it gets the full cast treatment! If you're confident that you can get through the different narrators and music without getting too distracted, this can be great. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to nearly a couple hundred audiobooks to date, and probably only a handful of those have been completely full cast. I admit it took me a few chapters to adjust to this wonderful feature.
Regardless, I thought it was the perfect kind of story to get a full cast narration, with such a wide variety of characters and rich personalities. The title Graceling refers to the rare individuals in this world who are born with an extreme skill or talent. A “grace” can be completely random and … really, anything at all! It’s possible to be graced with something as awesome as reading minds or as mundane as cooking. At the center of this novel is a young woman named Katsa, who was born with the grace of killing. Power like that usually doesn’t go unnoticed, and her uncle the crafty king Randa has made her his personal enforcer and thug ever since finding out.
Then Katsa meets Prince Po, a graceling apparently gifted with the incredible skill of combat, and she thinks she’s found a kindred spirit. But as it turns out, there is a lot more to both their graces than meets the eye, and it takes a harrowing adventure for them to find out the truth.
In so many ways this story reads like a dark fairy tale, complete with your cast of larger-than-life heroes and wicked villains. Still, it all really comes down to Po and Katsa. Their romance was sweet and endearing, even if very predictable. But with books like these, it’s always obvious from the start who will end up together -- it’s the journey that counts. The unique combination of their personalities and the inevitable clashes that result are the elements which make this particular love story special, not to mention a lot more entertaining to follow, especially when you’re throwing in the complexities of their graces.
Though Graceling is technically Katsa’s story, it was Po that stole the show, with his down-to-earth personality. He is the perfect counterbalance to the aloof and sometimes bullheaded Katsa, who is a flawed but also engaging character. It’s hard not to feel sympathetic towards her even when she is being her recalcitrant self, insisting on punching her way through her troubles. Mainly it's because that defiance is so often a symptom of her desire to do good, even when she’s not sure how go about it. As someone raised to be a brute and nothing more than a tool to hurt people, it’s not surprising that Katsa can at times come off as a bit immature and difficult to relate to, but that’s the beauty of her characterization.
Graceling was a good book, but does it break the mold when compared to other works in its category? Probably not. But there are a couple things that make it stand out, the magical elements being one of them. I like the idea of gracelings and the fact graces can be either a blessing or a curse, though the book makes it seem like it is often the latter.
I’ll also be the first to admit to being totally jaded when it comes to romance in the YA genre, but if you’re thinking of reading Graceling for the romantic aspects, it’s definitely not a bad choice. Nicely developed with tastefully written love scenes, the romance scored some major points with me, and I give credit as well to the two voice actors playing Katsa and Po in the audiobook, who did a fantastic job capturing the emotions behind the relationship. Now if only that little jingle that plays between the scenes wasn’t so god-awfully cheesy. But you could do worse. (less)