In short: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling is brilliance personified, demonstrating Jo's genius at creating complex and insightful story lines and aIn short: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling is brilliance personified, demonstrating Jo's genius at creating complex and insightful story lines and authentic and intricate characters.
It was with bated breath that I opened up the first page of The Casual Vacancy, all my immense expectations over the course of the previous months leading up to that moment. I was majorly excited to finally have something new to read from Jo, incredibly interested in what she could have to offer for adults, and... admittedly terrified that I wasn't going to love what she had written. That it was going to be too different, too foreign from my idea of J.K. Rowling and all she represents to me.
And it was. Different, I mean. The Casual Vacancy is very ADULT. That's not to say that there aren't any mature themes in Harry Potter, mind you, but all the story lines in The Casual Vacancy were definitely meant for adults only. And it was a shock. We're talking a story that involves hard drugs, teen sex, and rape. To go from the MG/YA story of Harry Potter, with maybe the occasional curse word, to the very mature and occasionally crude use of language in The Casual Vacancy was a bit stupefying at first.
Add to that that I had a hard time becoming invested in the story right at the start. I'm not sure if it was because the tone was shockingly adult and I didn't really know what to make of my childhood hero using such mature language, but I wasn't immediately taken into the story. And then there were all the characters. There are about 15 different main characters who all have chapters written from their point of view. FIFTEEN. And I was struggling in the beginning to keep track of them all. And I was just feeling underwhelmed by the story.
But then about a fifth of the way in, I realized that I was enjoying myself. REALLY enjoying myself. It sort of snuck up on me. I had been trundling along, trying to sort out the characters and becoming accustomed to Jo's new mature tone - and it all just came together for me. I understood it. Not just the characters and their complex relationships - I understood the story, the themes, and the message J.K. Rowling had been trying to get across. And I LOVED it. And that feeling continued for the rest of the book. Just like that, I realized I was invested in the story and the characters and I NEEDED to read more.
The incredibly mature tone and language that had shocked me so much in the beginning became more refreshing to me as I read on. It was authentic, it was gritty, it was REAL LIFE. I become complacent sometimes as I read my more tame MG and YA books and I forget about the gritty reality of real life. The Casual Vacancy is not a story about beautiful teens who realize they're special and fall in love and have incredibly banal romantic feuds, like the stories I am so used to reading. It is a story about real people, dealing with real situations, and there aren't necessarily any happy endings because life is crappy and unfair. And I truly appreciated that (not that I don't love my fun, easier reads at times, as well).
The characters all struck me as very genuine and credible and HIGHLY complex and well defined. Also - and this may be a turnoff for some readers - they were VERY flawed. There was not a Mary Sue or Gary Stu in sight, not in the slightest. They ranged from positively cruel-intentioned (inciting me to Umbridge-levels of RAGE) to well-meaning, but none are saints and none are entirely likeable. For me though, it was Barry Fairbrother, the amiable and benevolent people-lover who's death at the start sets off a wave of unease and turmoil throughout the small town of Pagford, and Krystal Wheedon, the tragic and foul-mouthed teen, who really emerge as the story's champions. Barry's presence - and the lack thereof - and his message that he so passionately promoted in his waking life, had a profound effect on the rest of the town as does Krystal's authentic attitude and raison d'etre.
My worry that The Casual Vacancy would be so different from Harry Potter that J.K. Rowling would be unrecognizable to me turned out to be completely unfounded. Her stamp was clearly over every inch of it - from the complex characters to the gorgeous and clever writing to the political views promoted in the story's message. And just like with Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling was able to create a story that rendered me breathless at times, so powerful were the words I had read. The ending had me gasping, sobbing, and meditating. It was simply MINDBLOWING... and a tad sickening, as well. Jo's brilliance is at full capacity in The Casual Vacancy.
Okay, okay, but as much as I thought The Casual Vacancy was brilliance personified, I can admit that it is not the book for everyone. And because I'm all about realness, I'm going to try to lay this out as plainly as possible in the hopes that anyone still on the fence about reading this may come to a decision: DO read this book if you are a mega fan of J.K. Rowling's even if this isn't the type of book you would normally read. DON'T read this book if you are turned off by strong language and graphic content. DO read this book if you are looking to read outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself. DON'T read this book if you prefer lighter, easier reads. DO read this book if you prefer character-driven stories. DON'T read this book if you prefer fast paced and action-packed plots. DO continue to read this book if you stopped and gave up reading near the beginning. DON'T read this book just because of all the hype. DO read this book if you love insightful, highly intelligent stories that make you think and leave you breathless....more
In short: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon has a highly ambitious and imaginative concept, but the execution of the world building was not up to par.
I am not one of those people who gets scared off from reading a book because of the immense buzz surrounding it. Quite the opposite: I am a total lemming and I become instantly curious in any book that receives massive amounts of hype. And with a seven-book six-figure deal, a nineteen-year-old debut author, film rights already optioned, and a ton of early buzz reviews, The Bone Season definitely fits the bill. I needed to involve myself in the hype of this book to see for myself what all the fuss is about.
And the result was that I was both impressed and disappointed by The Bone Season. The highly ambitious and complex world building in The Bone Season was somehow both its strength and its weakness. Samantha Shannon - at the tender age of nineteen, still a student at Oxford, when she wrote this book - has crafted one of the most original and visionary fantasy worlds I have ever come across. It was so unlike anything I have read that it was hard at first to even wrap my head around the concept. But it's hard not to appreciate such breadth and richness of imagination.
It was the execution of the creation of such a unique world that I found issue. Notice how I have not even attempted a brief summary of the world in The Bone Season. There is just SO MUCH there and it's all very complicated, and I couldn't possibly adequately explain even the basis of it. The world building was not nearly as clear as I would have liked. It felt like a chore at times, keeping track of all the lingo and rules. There is a glossary in the back, which might have been helpful, except I wasn't aware of its existence until the end and it would have been a pain to flip to in ebook format anyway.
Perhaps I would have liked The Bone Season better if I had more patience. As it was, I didn't feel like trying to take in massive loads of complicated information and making sense out of this highly complex world. I actually really like complicated concepts and world building, but only if they seem effortless; this seemed laboured. If I were the type to DNF books, I probably would've ditched this one early on when the info dumps were numerous and the many details convoluted. But as it is, I am utterly unable to ditch books part way through, so I stuck it out. Thankfully, the story did get a bit easier to follow in time, and therefore way more enjoyable.
Don't get me wrong, The Bone Season was a good book that I liked and admired for its ambition and imagination. It is also a very fast-paced and exciting book once you get past the initial intro to the world. Characters were another highlight here; many were complex and enigmatic. There is the beginnings of a romance here and I have a feeling it's one that a lot of people will really love for its tension and intensity. So there was a lot of good in The Bone Season. I'm just not completely positive I am ready to commit to a seven-book series when I am still a bit fuzzy on the details of the world....more
In short: Unfortunately, The Iron Trial just smacked of unoriginality to me.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's certainly true, and it may have been the thought process behind The Iron Trial, the first in a Middle Grade series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare with a storyline that is remarkably similar to that of Harry Potter. We've seen how successful the story of the young boy going to magic school - marked at birth for greatness by an evil dark overlord who wants to be immortal - has been with Harry Potter, so why not just repeat this exact same storyline and make a few changes along the way?
I probably don't need to tell you that I'm pretty crazy about Harry Potter and its premise and concept. It's everything to me. But do I need to see it repeated almost exactly in another book? No, there's no point to that. The Iron Trial just smacked of unoriginality to me. It was hard not to constantly be making comparisons to Harry Potter while reading it. And what's more, not only was it an HP doppelgänger, but it was not a particularly great one. When compared to Harry Potter - which as I mentioned, is impossible NOT to do - The Iron Trial is undoubtedly the weaker of the two.
Would I have liked The Iron Trial if I had read it in a world where Harry Potter didn't exist? Yes, absolutely, the premise and concepts in that case would have seemed wholly original. And I find I can always appreciate the work that Holly Black and Cassandra Clare put into the engaging personalities of their characters. I still don't think I would have LOVED it though because I still found The Iron Trial to be missing that extra special something in the end. Overall, I'm sorry to say I was pretty disappointed by the unoriginality of The Iron Trial and I will not be continuing with this series....more