Books that the kids I teach are talking about get bumped to the top of the YA reading list, and I hadn't actually heard much about this one before I s...moreBooks that the kids I teach are talking about get bumped to the top of the YA reading list, and I hadn't actually heard much about this one before I started reading it. After, I read a bunch of reviews to see if it was just me, and my faith in the world is restored a bit in seeing that no, it's not just me.
See, Beauty and the Beast is an archetype. And I GET it, I really do. Beauty and the Beast-type stories are my favourite, and the darker you start off the hero, the more dramatic his change at the end. I get it. But there are ways to do that well (Black Jewels, off the top of my head), and there are ways to do that badly. And this book does it very, very badly.
First off, the "hero" is abusive. He sexually harasses and stalks the heroine, to the point of chasing her around a car in an underground parking garage. AND SHE'S STILL ATTRACTED TO HIM. As it turns out later, he was actually intending to either sexually assault or kill her (sometimes both), but because he didn't follow through on that, it's somehow okay that she was attracted to him while being afraid of him. And yes, I know that in the real world, women can be attracted to men who are abusing them. But those situations DON'T HAVE HAPPY ENDINGS.
Let's say for a moment that I can forgive all that. The "hero" undergoes his moral shift and saves the heroine and they all live happily ever after. In a good Beauty-and-the-Beast-type story, the "beast" character falls in love with Beauty not just because of the physical, but because Beauty has proved to be an exceptional human being. But Nora... is just bland. And kind of stupid. She does all the "don't go down there" things that a bad horror-movie heroine does, and though she's supposed to be an exemplary student with a job on the school e-paper, we don't actually see her DOING any of that, except for some Googling that passes as "research" (YA authors, seriously. You can't crack the great fantastical mysteries of the world by googling "weird stuff" and having "here's why weird stuff is happening in your town" be the first hit) and asking really clumsy and awkward questions to try to figure out whether guys who are creepy and mean and threatening toward her are actually bad seeds.
And the supporting characters are even worse. If you go to a real best friend and say "this guy is making me feel really uncomfortable and threatened," a good best friend helps you figure out how to get away from him and figure out whether or not you need to involve the authorities. She doesn't say "awww, but why don't you come camping alone in the woods with him and another guy who also makes you feel creepy and threatened, it'll be fun!" And as a teacher, the biology teacher in the novel makes me want to break something. Not only is he a crap biology teacher ("Okay kids, you have an assignment on what you look for in a mate"??? Seriously?), but if one of your female students comes to you and tells you she's feeling uncomfortable and unsafe with her male lab partner, your response is NOT "oh, then I'll give you extra time alone with him by making you tutor him." WTF? Maybe the author was trying to show that he is a really bad teacher, but his bad decision making is on par with the decision-making skills of everyone else in this book, so it's hard to tell if that's the case.
I've read the author's blog post on being nice to others in the industry, and really, I'm sure she's a very nice person. Criticism of themes in an author's work is not criticism of the person. But when a book takes all the "abusive relationships are sexy" aspects of Twilight that I hated (down to "girl meets dark scary guy in Biology class"), dials them up to 11, and presents them as desirable? I'm going to object. This is NOT sexy. Yes, he ultimately changed at the end. But in the real world, you do NOT stick around that long in hopes that your abusive boyfriend will turn out to be a super-sexy hot guy with wings and NOT want to rape/kill you after all. You get the hell out of there and get a restraining order. And if you absolutely HAVE to put this kind of relationship in a book, you have to include reasons WHY the heroine sticks around. "He's sexy with his shirt off" is not a good enough reason. Yes, he does turn out to be an angel and changes his mind about killing the heroine (...seriously, did I just write that?), but there is absolutely NO reason why Nora should have been in there long enough to find out. It should have been more of a "Hell yeah, Mom! Let's sell the house and move to Iceland!" (less)
For anyone who has been longing for a book in which the central relationship around which the story revolves is a really amazing friendship rather tha...moreFor anyone who has been longing for a book in which the central relationship around which the story revolves is a really amazing friendship rather than a romance/love triangle (because let's face it, you can only listen to the Wicked soundtrack so many times, and romance is all well and good but one can't live off a diet of romance alone), this is the book you have been waiting for.
RADIANT is a book full of wonderful things, and there is so much about it that I love. I love the detail that the author has built into the world that has grown out of the remains of a ruined city. The tiny elements of world-building that lurk in crannies and around corners like the mysterious creatures heard shuffling around the streets at night. I love how the author explores ideas of morality, the contrasting worlds of light and dark, as the shining towers of the City above contrast with the ruined skyscrapers and caved-in subway tunnels of the Lower City. The Lower City lives and breathes -- its sights, smells, textures, and tastes present both in vibrant colour and in the shades of grey seen through the eyes of our protagonist.
But more than anything, I love the friendship between Xhea and Shai that forms the heart of the book. Two wildly different young women from two entirely different worlds, who would never have been friends in life, connected after Shai's death by a bond that surpasses the boundaries of the job for which they were originally brought together and becomes something wonderful and new. These are beautifully realized characters with hopes, dreams, faults, and flaws, and watching their friendship as it blossomed organically between them was my favourite part of a story full of wonder, mystery, fear, intrigue, and adventure.
With an ending that resolves just enough to be satisfying in a way that makes you sigh as you close the book, while simultaneously whetting your appetite for the next book and the answers to questions that still remain, RADIANT has earned itself a spot on my favourites shelf for a long time to come.(less)