There were drastically more awful people in Froi of the Exiles which meant that I liked this book a lot more. In lieu of bland-as-oatmeal Trevanion an...moreThere were drastically more awful people in Froi of the Exiles which meant that I liked this book a lot more. In lieu of bland-as-oatmeal Trevanion and Topher, we instead had Gargarin and Arjuro and Lirah who were complicated and flawed adult companions for Froi. Froi himself was a much more difficult protagonist; his reactions were often inappropriate, he had dark thoughts, and above all he had to actually work at being a decent person. He reacts badly to slights that are both real and imagined, and unlike Finnikin, who often felt too perfect (aside from being a jealous dick, which half the time I can't tell if that's meant to be a flaw or a quality), Froi has an unfinished feeling about him, like a boy still trying to find himself, still trying to grow into his skin.
Quintana was also an excellent heroine, though I do feel kind of uneasy about her magical mental illness. I loved that Marchetta introduced/gave greater roles to more female characters. I absolutely adored Phaedra, and I loved the different forms of femininity being expressed by such a variety of women. Froi of the Exiles alternates perspectives pretty deftly, and while I did feel like the plot could be tightened up a little bit, and some extraneous pages cut out, I was never torn out of the flow of the book.
Charyn is better developed in Froi, as that's where the bulk of the action takes place. The culture of Charyn starts to take shape in this book, and the worldbuilding, while still unsatisfactory in a few ways, feels much stronger in Froi than it did in Finnikin. I loved the scenes in both Charyn and Lumatere, even though I found the jingoism of the Lumatereans to be trying and dull. I know intellectually that the Lumatere's attitude for Charyn is if not justified then at least understandable, but it was hard not to feel frustrated with characters who I naturally found to be really self-righteous to be even more insufferably self-righteous.
Beyond that, I thought there was a lot more humanity in this book than the previous one. The shape of the relationships in Froi felt both deeper and more organic to me, and for once I found myself actually invested in the mentor/adult figures of a YA novel. I would adore a book about Arjuro and Gargarin and Lirah and their circle so much, and it is refreshing to see LGBTQ relationships portrayed so normally in a book that is not about LGBTQ relationships (through frustrating because I felt like everyone paired up nicely in het relationships and worked through their issues while Arjuro and De Lancey decidedly did not resolve their issues; oh well, I have hope for book three).
All that said, I do want to say that I find the narrative of "blood calling to blood" in these books a little irritating. As someone from an unconventional family, I really dislike how Froi's found family and found heritage is somehow less legitimate and fulfilling that his birth land/birth family? And I suppose if Marchetta had written that Froi found his birth family more like him, more familiar, more comfortable it would be different, but that's not the impression I got from the book. Obviously people's lived experiences are different, and I actually hesitated to even mention something like that here, but it is something that keeps me side-eyeing the book.
All that said, and with the stupid gender issues bothering me, I enjoyed this book immensely. I loved Froi and Quintana's slow growth into each other, I loved the plotting and the intrigue, I loved watching awesome characters like Phaedra and Beatriss find their footing again. I'm not sure how this series can end in a way that is both satisfying and realistic, but I'm looking forward to Quintana of Charyn all the same.(less)
This book might've been more gripping had the summary on the inside cover not told me 3/5ths of the plot. While (what was left of) the mystery was fun...moreThis book might've been more gripping had the summary on the inside cover not told me 3/5ths of the plot. While (what was left of) the mystery was fun to untangle, and while the plot was well-paced and engaging, the end of the novel left me feeling cheated. It felt like nothing was really lost or gained over the course of the story. Juliet has her answers, but those answers were not difficult to intuit. She hasn't gained any new insight to her situation or herself, nor has she made any inroads into saving herself from life on the streets of London. Nothing is truly resolved at the end of the book, and while I understand that this is the first book in a trilogy it actually feels more like a prequel.
Coupled with the surprising lack of atmosphere, characters for whom I couldn't muster a whole lot of feeling, and a frustratingly tepid love triangle, The Madman's Daughter becomes an enjoyable, but ultimately unsatisfying, read.
*Also what was with the weird "oh I can feel my father's madness inside me" like ... most of her father's issues stemmed from arrogance and hubris not ... any actual insanity. While I guess this could be a symptom of the time period (whatever the time period was actually supposed to be) I just ... that's not how madness works.(less)
This book was a fun diversion, but it lacked the complexity and urgency that would've made it phenomenal. The mystery is very easy to guessed (I picke...moreThis book was a fun diversion, but it lacked the complexity and urgency that would've made it phenomenal. The mystery is very easy to guessed (I picked out the killer the moment they were introduced) and the character arcs are telegraphed pretty transparently. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes the stakes feel pretty low - I was never worried about the outcome of the story because I was almost positive what the outcome would be. That said, The Nightmare Affair is a fun, quick read with a likable protagonist and a fun world.(less)
I am pretty uncomfortable with the way LaFevers constantly and consistently uses sexual assault (or the threat thereof) to motivate and terrorize her...moreI am pretty uncomfortable with the way LaFevers constantly and consistently uses sexual assault (or the threat thereof) to motivate and terrorize her female characters. That Ismae's story was that of a survivor was perhaps forgivable. That it was not just integral to, but an overarching theme of, Sybella's story creates a pattern, not just of lazy my-rape-motivates-me storyingtelling, but of Mortain as a predator, who apparently allows his daughters to suffer these super-traumatic events and then allows them to fall prey to the emotionally and psychologically manipulative convent.
These books on the whole feel like the latest fad of really gross, screwed up themes wrapped up in a veneer of pseudo-feminism. "Look, it's assassin nuns! How cool! How badass!" when really both Ismae's and Sybella's motivation sprung up from sexual abuse and their awakenings as beings with free will and choice are motivated by the men who are their romantic love interests. While the book plays lip service to female friendships (Dark Triumph more so than Grave Mercy) it is the male love interest who inspires the female lead, who teaches her the value of making choices, who influences her world irrevocably.
And perhaps I would have forgiven the utter importance of these male leads if the romance had managed to advance beyond "lukewarm". Ismae and Duval were both stunningly bland in their coolness, but I should've loved everything about Beast and Sybella -- murderers in love, beautiful lady falling for chivalrous, violent knight, mutual distrust and eventual healing of wounds on both sides, &c. And while it was refreshing that I didn't have to deal with five hundred pages of "my heart beats fast when I see this guy and I feel warm and fuzzy and safe whatever could this feeling be!?!?!" it was frustrating that nearly all the romance and attraction happened off screen. Sybella and Beast seemed to go from "tentative respect" to "torrid love affair" in thirty-five pages.
There were more problems with the book -- the writing wasn't particularly interesting and Sybella's struggle to overcome past traumas felt shallow. There was a heinous amount of slut-shaming in this book (Sybella has only slept with five dudes and only wanted to like once it is so important the reader know this because we wouldn't want use to think she's a slut!!!) and I do get tired of the petty, scheming court ladies thing. Perhaps what bothered me the most was the super exploitative les-yay fakeout between Sybella and Tephanie. While I'm interested in LeFever's world and I love the historical bent of the books, I can't imagine reading the third one. Who knows -- perhaps Annith's story will be less reliant on lazy, misogynistic tropes, but I'm worried reading further in the series will only turn into hate-reading the series, so I'm going to wash my hands of these books here.(less)
My girlfriend just asked me how I felt upon finishing this book. My response was that I feel like I've been punched in the gut fifteen times, peed on,...moreMy girlfriend just asked me how I felt upon finishing this book. My response was that I feel like I've been punched in the gut fifteen times, peed on, and set on fire. I knew this was going to be a story without a happy ending, though I don't think I was quite prepared for how devastating an ending The Final Descent would be. On a purely personal level I think I would have liked to see more redemption and more emotional connection between Pellinore and Will Henry, but I also think that The Final Descent is flawless as it is -- a horrific foray into the natural phenomenon of monstrousness.(less)