“I clench my jaw and narrow my eyes. I am no wilting Alben, I am a fierce and strong Melenese woman. And I am not the victim of any cruel jokes. Spirits below, I will make certain he knows I am not to be toyed with.”
3 1/2 stars. It was, in fact, a solid 4 stars leaning towards 4 1/2 before those last couple of hastily pulled together chapters in which the author rushed us towards a conclusion and narrowly avoided necessitating a sequel. Messy ending aside, I enjoyed this novel a lot and am thankful I didn't realize initially that the author was the same one who bored me with both Paranormalcy and The Chaos of Stars. This was an all round much better book.
It's an ambitious premise that blends a fantasy world with historical parallels, which clearly allude to colonialism. Amazingly, this wild combination of fast-pacing, fluffy banter, magic and an underlying look at colonial struggles somehow works well. Kiersten White works in social and political issues like racism, sexism, and cultural stereotypes, whilst simultaneously keeping the banter light and funny. There was so much to like here that I feel very forgiving towards the rushed ending.
1) It was a pageturner The story zips along at a wonderful pace. We are introduced to action, magic and mystery almost immediately, and I was pulled in from the very first chapter. The chapters have that annoyingly addictive habit of finishing on a cliffhanger, so you find yourself forced into the next chapter in order to discover what happens. Between the supernatural omens, the evil ministers and the budding romance, it's hard to look away.
2) I LOVED Jessamin Jessamin is strong, smart, ambitious and won't melt in a puddle just because a guy with a pretty face looks her way. She's in the middle of a world that doesn't welcome her, both as a female student and as a colonial subject from Melei. Dark-skinned and vivacious, she stands out amid all the paleness and propriety of Albion. Little does she know that racism is about to be only half of her problems when she suddenly gets pulled into a world of magic, murder and mayhem.
3) A romance I actually liked Firstly, I liked both characters of Jessamin and Finn. There was no instalove or instaobsession or general falling into hormonal mushiness after their first meeting. The build was gradual and realistic, peppered with witty and flirtatious banter (my favourite kind). Jessamin also frequently challenges the way others treat her and doesn't allow Finn to use protection as an excuse to control her:
“You couch your motivations under the banner of protecting me, when it comes down to the fact that you think you are better than I am and more equipped to rule my life.”
4) Healthy portrayal of female friendship I have no idea why this is so rare in YA, but I am thankful for the friendship between Jessamin and Eleanor in this book. There's no bitterness or jealousy between them, they stick together and look out for one another, despite being two very different people. Plus, I love this exchange (Jessamin speaks first):
“They’re wrong, you know. About you. Your uncle and Lord Downpike. You are smart and brave and terribly important.” She laughs. “Oh, I know that, silly. But it’s easier not to let them realize it, because then they’d stop ignoring me, and they’d realize how much mischief I really get up to.”
In short, I enjoyed the book a lot. The twist towards the end is a little ridiculous; it attempts to tie everything up in the penultimate chapter and part of me wonders if the ending might have been stronger without the chapter after it. But it didn't matter that much. This is a strong fantasy; fun in its dialogue, friendships and romance, but also important in its look at racism and stereotyping on both sides of colonialism. ............................................................................................
On a note unrelated to the actual story, I can't be the only one bugged by the white girl on the cover when the protagonist is clearly described as having "dark skin" and "black hair"... right? You don't fool me with your shadow effects, Ms book cover, I can see you're white.
“There comes a day when every girl loses the stars in her eyes. And then she can see clearly. This is Lily’s day.”
Believe me when I say: This is not Lily’s day. Lily is not losing any bloody stars from her eyes anytime soon. In fact, I would say the stars breed, multiply and become a damn constellation by the time this book is finished. There's a love triangle, insta-angst and a whole lot of general stupidity to look forward to along the way.
Please could someone tell me how a girl like Lily, who is so sappy and obsessed with douchebags, somehow manages to become a powerful witch by clicking her heels together and saying "bibbity bobbity boo"? 'kay, not literally. But it more or less amounts to the same.
The basic premise of this novel is intriguing: what if parallel universes did exist? And what if in one of these other universes you were a powerful witch? Even more exciting - what if the boundaries between your world and the other universe started to break down? Oh yes, very cool stuff. Or it would be... if this random mishmash world actually made any sense.
What kind of bizarre shit is even going on here in this alternate Salem? Yes, of course, Salem because witches, people! This world is crazy. It’s literally described as a random assortment of old fashioned and new, metallic buildings. It’s like a bit of everything, vomited all over the place and not making any sense.
Lily ends up here because she caught sexy dude #1 - Tristan - cheating on her in a bathroom at a party. In true Bella Swan collapsing-into-a-coma-for-months-because-my-boyfriend-left style, Lily suddenly decides that her actual life is no longer worth sticking around in (chyeah, because of a boy) and she gets pulled into another parallel universe by parallel Lily who is a powerful witch.
Still with me? Cool.
Enter sexy dude #2 - Rowan. What's worse than a YA love triangle? A YA love triangle between a Mary Sue, a cheating douche, and a broody and aggressive douche.
“She knew it was Rowan’s arm—the same guy who had said he would happily kill her—but she couldn’t seem to get herself to pull away from him in disgust. Every part of her felt like it was in exactly the right place.”
I didn't even hate the story itself. It was fine; the everything thrown into the pot world-building left something to be desired but other than that it was inoffensive standard paranormal YA. No, my problem was with these stupid, annoying characters. Especially Lily.
Lily is weak. I'm not talking about her allergies and health issues, I'm talking about the fact that she defines her life by whether or not her crush is interested in her. Sexy boy douche cheats with someone else? Naturally, her life is over. She's pushed around by everyone else and is in serious need of a backbone. Also, I hate it when MCs describe themselves in a way that is supposed to imply they’re unattractive but only emphasizes their obvious beauty.
Lily is, of course, “too thin”. Too. Thin. Is that seriously the best you can do?
“Oh, it’s so sad when i trip over my long eyelashes and full breasts, give me sympathy please.”
Despite coming to pieces literally and figuratively every time she leaves her house, and being "too thin", Lily is the centre of the universe. And not just this universe! Every universe, it would seem. Men are falling over themselves to love her. She is an important piece in the big plans of other people. Not to mention that she is suddenly the best witch ever. Her witchiness is the equivalent of Dorothy tapping her damn heels together. Seriously, it’s like instantaneous witchy badass.
Trial by Fire is a laughable addition to an overcrowded genre full of the same old YA tropes. I’m not giving it one star because that seems way more dramatic than the book deserves.
My grandad is the very definition of curmudgeonly. He's an eighty year old man who likes to complain about anyth...moreI'm going to share something with you.
My grandad is the very definition of curmudgeonly. He's an eighty year old man who likes to complain about anything and everything: youth today, UK politics, my dad, the weather, technology... you name it. He calls me and my siblings up most days to tell stories punctuated with rants and numerous "bloody hell"s. I'm not worried about him seeing this post because he doesn't trust computers and hasn't even grasped the concept of the internet. Most new technology is referred to as "those bloody things", except for FaceTime, which he has recently taken a liking to. He makes use of it by popping up on my iPhone multiple times a day to deliver a bout of doom and gloom in which I see nothing on the screen but his chin.
All my friends are a little afraid of him and are never quite sure when he's joking. He is nothing short of a grumpy old man. Except, in truth, that's only half of it.
The other day I opened the mailbox to find an envelope which contained this picture of me and him from my graduation:
And with it came this note:
Thing is, behind whatever my grandad may seem on the outside, he is a loving man who lost his wife - my grandmother - several years ago. He bugs us constantly with his moaning about life because he's lonely and because he misses us. He has a heart and he has a sense of humour, even if most people don't really get it. And it was in Ove, the protagonist of this novel, that I recognized pieces of my grandad.
“People said he was bitter. Maybe they were right. He’d never reflected much on it. People also called him antisocial. Ove assumed this meant he wasn’t overly keen on people. And in this instance he could totally agree with them. More often than not people were out of their minds.”
I loved Ove. Parts of this novel punched me right in my emotions. I think I would have been okay if this novel was merely a sad, moving tale about a man who has to get on with his life after his wife died. I could have shaken off the emotional manipulation - as I did with The Fault in Our Stars - and not shed a tear. But this story is so much more than a tearjerker.
Ove shouldn't be a character we love; he's so miserly and grumpy and skeptical of everything... but he's also hilarious. He charms us with his completely uncharming ways. Because, though I don't share his worldview, what he says actually makes sense and sometimes it's really funny. Take this:
“Ove glares out of the window. The poser is jogging. Not that Ove is provoked by jogging. Not at all. Ove couldn’t give a damn about people jogging. What he can’t understand is why they have to make such a big thing of it. With those smug smiles on their faces, as if they were out there curing pulmonary emphysema. Either they walk fast or they run slowly, that’s what joggers do. It’s a forty-year-old man’s way of telling the world that he can’t do anything right. Is it really necessary to dress up as a fourteen-year-old Romanian gymnast in order to be able to do it? Or the Olympic tobogganing team? Just because one shuffles aimlessly around the block for three quarters of an hour?”
Plus, there's a wonderful cat who our lovable protagonist grudgingly befriends, which just improves this book even more.
I think perhaps the saddest part of this book is not found in the most obvious place. Ove's loss of his wife touched me, but I was even more affected by the underlying tale of old age and how many old people can be left feeling lonely and out of place towards the end of their lives. How difficult it must be to live alone in a world that becomes more foreign to you every day, with its new gadgets and trends that you don't understand or care to entertain. It was moving and thought-provoking.