UNDER THE NEVER SKY is a dystopian third-person dual narrative. To be honest, when I read the description, I wasn't very interested. I hate switching to different perspectives, the whole girl-from-a-supposed-utopia-goes-to-the-wild trope is getting a little old, and I figured I knew exactly how the relationship between the two characters was going to play out. He's a jerk, she gets feisty, aw he's a wounded soul, smoochie smoochie smoochie, the end. I was right... and I was very, very wrong.
The official description quoted above does the book a great injustice. The best taste of the book comes from my favorite quote, found on page 125:
"Do the clouds ever completely clear?" she asked. "Completely? No. Never." "What about the Aether? Does that ever go away?" "Never, Mole. The Aether never leaves." She looked up. "A world of nevers under a never sky." She fit in well then, he thought. A girl who never shut up. That's Aria, inquisitive to the point of irritation, intellectually curious, artsy, and poetic. And that's Perry, rough, blunt, and dry.
The book opens with Aria. Unfortunately, it also opens with a heaping handful of other named characters that I wasn't inclined to care about. Because of the description, I knew she was going to be exiled at some point, and seeing as the first scene is about a group of teenagers about to do something mind-boggling risky and stupid, I figured this "something" was going to be the impetus for the exile. I'm not going to put spoiler tags around that, because it's a bit of a no-brainer. And since I knew she was going to be exiled and therefore unlikely to see any of these other teenagers again, I REALLY didn't care who they were.
Luckily, Rossi finds her stride fairly quickly. The unimportant teenagers are a teensy bit important, because the lead teenager, Soren, is Aria's link to finding her mother, with whom she lost contact several days prior. What's supposed to be a fact-finding mission disguised as a rollicking good adventure in a forbidden area soon devolves into something primal and savage. Tragedy and mayhem ensues, leading to Aria's rescue by a mysterious Outsider who then disappears, and ends with Aria's banishment.
That synopsis might seem a bit dismissive, but only because it is. Aria is fine in her own right, but my heart beats for Peregrine (aka, Perry), the hunky Outsider who saves her not only in the teenage mayhem but also when he finds her exiled and trapped in the middle of an Aether storm. Despite their mutual distrust of and disgust for each other, the two reluctantly join forces to help Aria return home - Aria to clear her name and find her mother, and Peregrine to save his nephew, who was kidnapped by Dweller soldiers.
And snap diddley, does it take off from there! By switching back and forth between perspectives, each character serves as our eyes into a world we don't understand. Through Aria, the girl who finds the Aether fascinating and the fact that fingernails can grow bewildering, we learn about the world inside the pods and the Matrix-meets-Genetics-101 reality she thinks of as normal. Through Perry, younger brother of the tribe's Blood Lord, we learn about the harsh, unbending reality of the outside, where madmen and cannibals roam and a chosen few wield almost supernaturally enhanced senses. Each knows of the other world only what they've learned through legend, which can carry a shocking degree of truth amid the lies.
There were details that irritated me. The very fantasy-like Aether and its effect on Outsiders is never really explained, though the world of NEVER SKY is supposed to be a future version of our own world. Also, Rossi serves up some common stereotypes (of COURSE the heroine of the story can sing like an angel; of COURSE the hero has a rare and valuable skill set) that make me grit my teeth every time I see them in a book. However, the negatives are more than counterbalanced by the positives. Charming and charismatic cannibals that have an established reason for being cannibals? Check! A Jacob-and-baby-in-Twlight type of bond that is NOT solely romantic? Check! A character named PEREGRINE?! Check! (Although I did mumble "Fool of a Took" in certain sections.) Best of all, like other clever authors before her, Rossi shows she is unafraid to kill off a character just because it is expected that she won't.
While the story was in part predictable (the relationship model I expected between Aria and Peregrine? Yeah, it was pretty much like that), Rossi managed to avoid a purely stereotypical ending and left enough valid, compelling loose ends (both plot-wise and character-wise) that a sequel is inevitable and welcome. I look forward to meeting an ever-maturing Aria and an ever-hunky Peregrine in their next episode of their continuing adventure, as well as their array of supporting characters (I won't mention names, as I've already mentioned that she does kill off someone(s).)
Points Added For: Charismatic cannibals (I squee with joy just typing it), hunky boys who genuinely love kids, main characters older than the obligatory 16, pyromania, sensible Jacob-and-babying (here called "rendering"), characters with cool names, "fables" that actually have some truth to them.
Points Subtracted For: Unimportant minor characters (Brooke, grrrr), super-Aether in an otherwise realistic world, missing/dead/abusive parents, girls whose main claim to fame is singing.
SHATTER ME is a first-person narrative from Juliette, a seventeen-year-old girl from an Orwellian future, who is locked in solitary confinement to protect others from her lethal touch. Now really, if that fact alone doesn't grab you, I doubt anything in this review will convince you otherwise, but I'll try.
According to Juliette, her lethal touch (she causes excruciating pain and eventual death in whomever she touches) has been with her since she was an infant, causing a lifetime of alienation and isolation. She is treated either as a freak or a nonentity, both at home and at school, culminating in her solitary confinement after she accidentally touches and kills a stranger.
264 days later, she is given a roommate, a smokin' hot boy named Adam. Eventually, we learn that Adam is a face from her past, and it's no accident that he was placed in Juliette's cell. As the story unfolds, Mafi, through Juliette, tosses us other tantalizing details, such as descriptions of the Big Brother-esque ruling class called The Reestablishment, whose local leader, Warner, is responsible for arresting and confining Juliette.
Warner is also the one who releases Juliette (into his own custody, of course) and tries to persuade her to use her power for the good of The Reestablishment. In his own way, Warner is smokin' as well (isn't that always the way?), but he dreams of power and control, even as he seems to crave Juliette's company for her own sake and yearn for a way to show his new captive how thrilling power over others can be.
So now Juliette has to choose - Adam or Warner? Established power or rebellion? Her choice would be easier if she knew whom she could trust, including herself.
Juliette is a nutcase, and I love her for it, and I love Mafi for letting Juliette find her voice. The prose is distinctive with its stream-of-consciousness, rambling careful wording, babbling fears, and obsession with numbers. The book is her journal, her thoughts as things happen, and as quickly as the thoughts come tumbling out she goes back and carefully edits herself, allowing us a look at things her character would truly never say but would still think. These edits, as well as Juliette's fixation on numbers and counting, are her attempt to control herself and her world, or at least what little she can, as she never can control the power of her touch except through isolation. When a voice is true and consistent, I find myself thinking with that voice long after I've walked away from the book, and Juliette was in my head from start to finish.
Warner is probably the second-most fascinating character. He's the villain, the Hyde to Juliette's well-meaning Jekyll, but Mafi allows him moments of humanity that lend him a depth that Adam lacks. Optimist that I am, I would be thrilled if he found his own (at least partial) redemption by the end of the trilogy, but I will nevertheless be happy to follow him down his crooked path wherever it may lead.
Overall, Mafi receives solid marks for this story. The premise is interesting and the story is addicting, even if the ending falters into somewhat familiar territory. For those who enjoy the angsty, pathos-ridden, somewhat unrealistic romance found in Twilight, this book is for you. I am not one of them, but I will wait for the sequel with measured interest for the sake of Juliette, the fascinating little freak superhero.
Confession: I am a huuuuuge fan of fairy tale retellings. The idea of taking such a well-known, beloved tale and keeping its heart and frame while reframing the story in a way that makes the readers rethink what they previously knew... Mmmm, shivers of delight. I particularly like retellings told from another (preferably minor) character's perspective, but I was eager to give Cinder a try anyways. I mean, look at that cover. Just LOOK at it!
Enough sighing over prettiness. I've read several Cinderella retellings (and watched different movies), but this is my first futuristic-with-a-cyborg-protagonist retelling. I like Cinder. She avoids the sickly sweet Cinderella stereotype that some retellings use (see: Brandy singing "I'm as mild and as meek as a mouse; when I hear a command, I obey."), but she also avoids devolving into snarling, swaggering bitterness. She's cynical but not close-minded, practical but not (too) pessimistic. Actually, if I had to compare her to another Cinderella off the top of my head, I would pick Drew Berrymore from Ever After. Sometimes, she buckles under when I wanted her to snarl back, but she also has impressive fits of defiance.
As a cyborg, Cinder is relegated to property, and as such is treated with suspicion and disdain, so there's a bit of a chip on her shoulder. Really, though only having a chip on her shoulder is pretty good, seeing as cyborgs are not only treated as property, but also used as guinea pigs in the search for a cure for a deadly plague ravaging the country. [Aside: Why does there always seem to be some mysterious plague in these kinds of books? Not that I object; I always found the Black Plague fascinating. That and the word "plague" is fun to say phonetically.] Cinder becomes one of those guinea pigs when her "step-sister" (we'll get to those air quotes in a moment) falls ill, and her step-mother volunteers her for the experiments in a fit of spite.
The plague is only one of several lines that Meyer uses to keep the plot tense and moving. There's a deadly plague and a dying step-sister; a venomous, mind-controlling Lunar queen; espionage and intrigue in the form of an Anastasia-like supposedly dead heir; oh, and a super-cute prince who brings his droid to Cinder's shop for a repair and doesn't know that she's a cyborg. Yikes!
As you can see, Meyer likes to keep her readers busy. The problem with Cinder being the introductory story in a planned series is that, naturally, many ends are kept loose and dangling by the conclusion of the book. Necessary, but annoying. Still, in general, she doesn't do a bad job at keeping all the balls in the air.
As for the characters, in a reversal of my previous reviews, I found myself far more fascinated by the female protagonist than in the prince or any of the other supporting characters. The prince himself was okay. Kai is the typical good-guy Prince Charming we're accustomed to (see: Prince Char in Ella Enchanted), though Meyer did have me on pins and needles a few times because of his good-guyness. After all, sometimes honorable "for the good of the kingdom" good takes a different path from smart-good, and Kai is utterly devoted to his people.
What I liked about Cinder's step-family is that they weren't, not really. Her step-father had found her in Europe and adopted her but then expired from the plague soon after. Get that? Step-father, not real father. Cinder starts as a total orphan, is adopted by a man of mysterious intentions, and then is shoved onto a "step-mother" who uses her to earn money. And the step-mother is the typical, witchy pain in the rear. She has her reasons, of course, but pain in the rear nonetheless. As for the step-sisters, they followed a pattern I've noticed becoming popular in fairy tale retellings. Rather than both being carbon copies of their witchy mother, at least one (as in this story) or sometimes both (as in Robin McKinley's Beauty) are genuinely nice people who adore the protagonist. The nice one in this story is Peony, the one that falls sick with the plague. The other, Pearl, stays a one-dimensional brat. If I could have requested anything of Meyer, I would have asked if 1) she would mind ditching Pearl entirely, or 2) she could have made Peony a brat as well but have Cinder love her anyways. I mean, desperately searching for a cure for someone who loves you is one thing, but desperately searching on behalf of someone you love but who doesn't love you back? That's gold, right there!
Ooh, this is getting long. Let's see, the Lunar queen. As a villain, she served her purpose. I wanted to smack her silly every time she came on the page and then sneak back and short-sheet her bed. Witch witch witch. Cinder's suspicious companion, the doctor whose name I can't remember, is spectacular. He's one of those slippery characters who's impossible to pin down until the very end. Is he good? Is he bad? Is he going to betray Cinder or help her? Love him! I have less love (but no hatred) for her quirky little android companion. She's supposed to be sassy and fun, but I just kept seeing the beautician bot from WallE.
The book is certainly suspenseful in part but not terribly subtle in its big reveal. I guessed most of the major twists long before the "tada!". Still, I'm interested to see what Meyer has planned for her other retellings and for Cinder herself, and I think this first endeavor is one that many readers will appreciate.
Points Added For: Unique settings, being a fairy tale retelling, the whole new take on Cinderella losing her shoe, conniving doctors, stepfathers instead of fathers, practical protagonists.
Points Subtracted For: One-dimensional step-families, dead parents/step-parents, somewhat unbelievable Lunar "evolutions" (I prefer my science to be sound; if not, just call it magic), being able to guess the twists.
Good For Fans Of: Fairy tale retellings, cyborgs, snarky sidekicks.
Notes For Parents: No language that I can remember, some secondhand violence (violence recounted by another character)....more
Let me get this out of the way: Divorce sucks. It's sucks, and it's crap, and I hate it. Believe what you want, but anything that normalizes divorce really grinds my gears. This is a book that portrays love as something that comes and goes, like a that really cute dress that was great for you in high school but really doesn't work any more now that you're a college graduate, rather than something that takes work. I knew I was going to get a lot of that crap going into the book, and even though I knew it, reading about how a grown man can ditch his family over "love at first sight" with some leggy British chick still made me furious. (Do you think it was "love at first sight" with his FIRST wife, too? Hmmmmm?)
Okay, that's the end of my rant. I promise, that's the last of it. Maybe it wasn't my place as a reviewer, but I'm new to this gig, and I felt that if I said nothing that I was being dishonest somehow. But the rant is out of the way, and you can do with it what you wish. Now for the rest of my review.
The story itself was surprisingly charming in its own simplistic way. Hadley is seventeen and late for her father's wedding. She missed her flight by four whole minutes, so now she's stuck by herself in an airport and might not make it to London in time. Not that she cares. She didn't want to go to her father's wedding anyways, and her dress is probably a wrinkled mess. In the midst of Hadley's impressive internal snit comes Oliver, a charming British boy who steps in to help her with her luggage. They hit it off... and keep hitting it off, all the way across the Atlantic.
Smith starts each chapter with the time (EST and Greenwich Mean) to chart how long Hadley and Oliver have known each other and how much time they have left. A cute idea, but I can't say I ever really paid attention to the headers. I was more interested in how she utilized time within the chapters themselves. Smith chose to make the narrative present tense, a choice that works very well when the work is rife with immediacy and action (see: Hunger Games). However, unless the plane is crashing or there's a terrorist on board, a flight over the Atlantic doesn't exactly brim with immediacy and action. Only during carefully interspersed flashbacks to Hadley's interactions with her parents does the tense change from present to past. Of course, this is precisely when I felt the most comfortable with the story.
Through the flashbacks, we learn how Hadley learned of her parents' separation, divorce, and respective new relationships. It's a rough road. Not in a HBO kind of way with screaming and shattered plates (Hadley's parents are remarkably civil), but just in the common, realistic, emotionally draining path that most kids slog through when their worlds fall apart.
Love, marriage, and all that stuff is what drives the novel. Hadley tries to figure out what happened to her parents even as she tries to reconcile their two new relationships (Dad with fiancee Charlotte, and Mom with her dentist) and her own interest in Oliver. Oliver is working out some questions of his own, but I can't really get into that without spoilers. (Basically, at the end, he gets to play Author's Advocate, which is a little like being Devil's Advocate except it's way preachier.)
The book isn't terribly surprising in any way. The "evil" stepmother-to-be is, of course, a delightful human being. Father is dreadfully awkward and sad, but hey, he was just following his heart! Cute British boy is cute and British and gets to be the author's sensible mouthpiece through most of the book. There's even a slightly wacky, proto-cool bridesmaid that plays the "My dad did the same thing when I was your age" bit and an overly possessive ex-girlfriend. If that was all, I would say skip the book. It's just another fluff piece, save your money and your time.
Except Hadley felt real. She felt like a living, breathing person, and she managed to radiate with pain in scenes without devolving into a hideous, emo stereotype. She's a real girl dealing with an incredibly real situation. Her family split in two. Her dad left her mom for another woman and it totally sucks because he's turned her world upside-down and she can't figure out what went wrong. My parents have never put me through anything like Hadley's situation, but I have a very close friend who went through the nearly exact same situation, and reading this story was like listening to her story all over again. To be honest, I straight up cried in a few places.
Like it or not, divorce is a very real, very prevalent feature in many teens' lives. While I don't agree with Smith's "divorce is for the best" spin, I do think this book is good for those struggling with a divorce in the family, struggling with forgiveness, struggling with how to move on. So, for me, this book earns my respect.
Points Added For: Airport Nazi ladies (they exist!), throat-clenching emotion, resilient mothers, cute British boys, bookish fathers, adorable cover.
Oh, this book. Talk about a land mine. Whisked from an airport in London to the empty and deserted Australian Outback, Gemma is completely without resources. She's too far from the nearest town to summon help, too deep in the Outback to hope for accidental discovery, and too closely watched to hope to deceive Ty successfully. I say successfully, because she does try a few times, but it always ends in either disaster or them staring soulfully into each other's eyes. Oh, didn't you know?
I spoil nothing when I say that it's fairly obvious that Gemma will grow to "love" Ty by the end. Love, heavy case of Stockholm Syndrome, whatever. I mean, he has "blue, blue eyes." In the sometimes cliched world of YA phrases, that's a dead giveaway right there. And did I mention Gemma is a very-underage sixteen while Ty is closer to thirty? Ew.
Also, the entire book is written as a letter to Ty himself. It's all "you did this" and "you did that." The choice sort of makes sense by the end, but it's still strange to read. Boring to read at times, as well.
Some reviewers accuse the author of indulging in purple prose (that's stuff that's overly flowery and poetic), and I agree. I like pretty writing as much as the next person, but at times it really dragged down the story. The Australian Outback is aliiiiive and magical, yeah yeah yeah. Cue "The Circle of Life", do a little dance, and get on with it already. However, that isn't to say that all of the flowery descriptions were unnecessary. Even as Gemma struggles to understand Ty, she grows to love Australia and the wild beauty of the desert. The setting becomes a character in its own right at times, so some appreciation is warranted.
As for the characters, there's nothing much to say. Their motivations, at least, make a sort of superficial sense. I think some of Ty's motivations are pretty stretched, but I let such concerns slid if the story amuses me enough. Gemma is feisty, and I do love feisty. I cheered every time she put up a struggle in any form. I was never sold on Ty's supposed irresistibility, though. Instead of imagining some tanned god, I just kept picturing Vincent Grey, the freaked-out man-child from The Sixth Sense.
I think what saved the book for me was the ending. Gemma has some pretty big decisions to make, decisions that must be settled in a way that seems organic and logical given her various shifts in understanding regarding Ty but that also wouldn't have advocates up in arms. I don't think this book in any way is a stellar talking point for "stranger danger" (the circumstances leading up to the kidnapping are fairly unique and, dare I say, preposterous). However, from Helen of Troy to Taken, fictionalized kidnappings have always fascinated the general public, and interest has increased in modern times due to the high-publicity cases of Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart. I believe that many teens, having grown up inundated with such fears and pressures, will find this book interesting despite its flaws.
Points Added For: Feisty heroine, a plot involving kidnapping, pretty scenery, a logical conclusion.
Points Subtracted For: Less-than-stellar delivery of an interesting premise, icky "romance," "blue, blue eyes," purple prose, a way-too-heavy extended metaphor involving a camel.
Good For Fans Of: Future fans of Room by Emma Donoghue (WAY better, IMO), Twilight by Stephanie Meyer or other sketchy romances, anyone fascinated by news cases involving kidnappings.
Notes for Parents: Heavy language (way too many f-bombs for my taste, plus other profanities), really stupid romance (she's sixteen! he's in his late twenties!), underage drinking, nonsexual disrobing....more
I first picked up ITYILY because of Dot Hutchinson. She reviewed the entire series on her blog, and I figured, "Hey, if she likes it, I guess it can'tI first picked up ITYILY because of Dot Hutchinson. She reviewed the entire series on her blog, and I figured, "Hey, if she likes it, I guess it can't be that bad." My little sister also loves the series, but that doesn't hold much weight with me. She's fifteen and our tastes in books are polar opposites (excluding very important exceptions such as Hunger Games and The Thief). My sister's obsession with Cammie Morgan came in handy, however, because it meant I could appease my curiosity without spending a dime.
Cammie is a spy-in-training at a super-secret spy school, Gallagher Academy for Girls. It's like every other super-exclusive boarding school, except for the secret passageways, the sign outside the dining hall that sets the language spoken for the day (anything from American English to Mandarin Chinese or Farsi), the electrified sword that routinely sets inquisitive seventh-graders on fire, and the fact that every student is a certified genius.
At a school like that, surprises are sort of expected, except Cammie usually knows at least some of the secrets ahead of time. After all, her mom's the headmistress. Only her mom didn't bother to mention the new Covert Ops professor, Joe Solomon, or the fact that he obviously has some sort of history with Cammie's mom, or the fact that he's smokin' hot.
A hot single male in a building full of teenage girls can cause a lot of buzz, even if that buzz travels around in seventeen different languages. The only thing that could make a bigger buzz is Macey McHenry, the spoiled daughter of Senator McHenry and the newest girl in school. To Cammie's chagrin, her mom decides to stick Macey in with Cammie and her roommates, brainiac (even by Gallagher standards) Liz and in-your-face Brit Bex.
Suffice to say Cammie has enough on her plate when Solomon sends her, Liz, and Bex out on a "mission" for class. As bona fide chameleon or "pavement artist," Covert Ops should be right up Cammie's alley. She can follow anyone anywhere without being noticed.
Except she is noticed. By a boy. A normal, non-spy boy named Josh who thinks she's just another normal, non-spy girl.
Quicker than a roundhouse kick to the face, Cammie finds herself in a real-life mission. Her objective: to decode said boy's "Boy Language" messages (both verbal and non-verbal), exercise her chameleon skills to take on the befuddling role of "normal girl," and, above all, not get caught by her mom.
What a fun book. I mean, really, it's very fun. This isn't a terribly deep book, nor terribly twisty, despite being about spies. There are some surprises, but nothing that will make you drop your jaw and go "Holy cow!" It has the light, fluffy taste of cotton candy with the munchability factor of popcorn. Despite telling myself that it was "just okay," I found myself eager to return to see what would happen next.
The front of my sister's book proudly proclaims that the ITYILY has been optioned by Disney (which means someday it may be coming to a screen near you), which makes sense to me. It totally felt like a Disney movie, in the best possible way. The professors are crazy in a non-threatening way (I heart you, Mr. Moskowitz), and the girls are charmingly boisterous in a way only fifteen-year-olds could pull off. I laughed out loud when Cammie started freaking out that Macey could decipher the mysterious language known as Boy, because it was all so over-the-top yet incredibly like how I remembered my awkward younger years. Boys are weird, y'all.
Sure, there are a couple minor things that bugged me. The book is supposedly Cammie's official report to her mother but included far more extraneous personal detail that a spy would ever put in a report... or a teenager would tell her mom. Seemed to me like there was a better way for the author to frame the narrative. Some of Cammie's more outrageous claims (mom allegedly killed a man with only a People magazine) grew a bit old. Also, there were some moments where I had to suspend disbelief (just wait 'til you get to the scene with the ropes and Josh's roof and...), but I maintain that these moments are what would make the book a great Disney movie.
All in all, a surprising yet pleasant experience. I've already torn my way through the second book and am eagerly awaiting the next two (see, I have this little thing called work that disallows me from reading 24/7).
Points Added For: Non-dysfunctional mother/daughter relationship, homeschoolers (even if it's just a cover), a female rival who isn't a total you-know, giddy teen girls who balance the line between amusing and twee, an unexpected resolution.
Points Subtracted For: A girl named Dee-Dee who dots her i's with hearts, full sentences in German and French that are never translated, Roseville's unsatisfyingly explained hatred for Gallagher Academy.
So says Amazon. Let me preface everything to come by saying that grownup literature really isn't my thing. Really, the only way to tempt me into that section is to dangle the names Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, or Charlotte Bronte in front of me. But I read the buzz concerning Gemma Hardy and was intrigued to see what Livesey could do with an Icelandic Jane Eyre, so I picked it up.
Gemma Hardy is a very pretty book. The sentences are well-constructed and have a pleasing rhythm. Livesey's voice is the kind that gets stuck in my head and leaves me thinking in that particular style for a few hours. However, it's merely pretty in the way that many "adult" books are pretty - its prettiness, not its story, is the lure.
The plot and its accompanying tensions are fairly thin. Gemma follows many of the key plot points of Jane line by line. Surly boy cousin who strikes her with a bird book? Check. Locked in a dark space as punishment? Check. Doctor who suggests she go to school? Check. Bad, bad school and hard work? Check. Pompous clergy and mean headmistress? Check. Even the rich girl who's supposed to be a threat to the Mr. Rochester (here called Mr. Sinclair) character's heart and the accompanying fortuneteller are present, though both are quickly ushered out again without offering any worry for the reader.
Okay, so maybe the synopsis underplayed the "homage" part of the book. What about the themes? Those are pretty good, right? Jane Eyre had some pretty great themes. Well, as persnickety as Livesey was about keeping plot points in Gemma, she was far more lackadaisical about themes. To me, Jane Eyre had three great hooks: love and redemption, finding a home/family, and gothic superstition, all threaded together by the core underpinnings of Jane's character, her morality and faith.
Gemma, not so much. There's some superstition thrown in, thanks to a library ghost boy who doesn't really add anything, some attempts at telepathy that turn out to be pretty bogus, and Gemma's fascination with curses. Oh, and Thor. They talk about Thor sometimes, being Icelandic and all. The finding a home/family thing was really Gemma's main theme and was hammered pretty hard.
But love and redemption? Nope. Avert your eyes if you really don't want to know: (view spoiler)[I still have no idea why, or even technically if, Gemma falls in love with Mr. Sinclair other than the fact that she's supposed to, per the Jane Eyre guidelines. (hide spoiler)]
This is another example of story falling victim to pretty prose. Why bother describing a growing attraction if we can spend time talking about birds instead? Sex, however, is waved in the reader's face often, for no apparent reason (hinted girl-on-girl molestation! pedophilia allusions! random necking with a friend's brother who suddenly appears and then disappears! lesbian lovers! unwed mothers left and right! groping hobos!). And if you're hoping for some grand betrayal and redemption, a la Jane Eyre, forget it. The grand reveal at the church isn't so grand, and Gemma's self-righteousness felt odd and unwarranted.
Then again, Gemma herself felt odd. Livesey strips Gemma of Jane's faithfulness, morality, and honesty. She strips her, in my opinion, of motivation. Even her desire to take her exams and go to university often flees her. She also strips Gemma of any real connection with the reader. I found myself struggling to feel what Gemma must be feeling, because she often seemed incapable of feeling any real emotion or at least of convincing me that she does. And that, to me, was the greatest tragedy of all.
I promised never to review a book that I couldn't say something positive about, so here it is: Iceland sounds like a wonderful place to visit, and Margot Livesey's sentences are a treat for the style-judging section of my brain.
From now on, I think I'll stick to YA lit.
Points For: Pretty style, strong voice, Iceland, length (at least it's shorter than Jane Eyre), more insight into the aunt character.
Points Subtracted For: Unnecessary sexuality, detached characters, disappointing climax, lack of a spitfire romantic rival, lack of a taut trajectory.
Good For Fans Of: Virginia Woolf, Salman Rushdie, other authors who irritate me.
Notes For Parents: Many, many sexual situations and allusions, though nothing graphic....more
Another fun Gallagher romp. If you haven't read my review for book #1 (I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You), I suggest taking a peeAnother fun Gallagher romp. If you haven't read my review for book #1 (I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You), I suggest taking a peek because much of my praise and criticism holds true.
Much of the new adventure harkens back to events in the first book. The story opens with Cammie and her mother visiting a secret CIA bunker (via a dressing room in the mall) to take a polygraph test to be sure she didn't permanently compromise Gallagher Academy's cover. I have issues with the CIA using polygraph machines, as they're notoriously unreliable, but that's an argument for another time. The test was only a semi-big deal. The REALLY big deal was the fact that Cammie's mother missed the test to attend to... "things."
Big things. Worrisome things that leave Headmistress Morgan visibly troubled. Only Cammie doesn't know what they are. As far as she and her roommates (Liz, Bex, and Macey) can tell, it has something to do with the East Wing, which has been mysteriously locked down. And possibly something to do with the secretive conversations Cammie's mother has been having with Mr. Solomon and the other teachers. And most definitely something to do with a word Cammie overhears - Blackthorne. Or possibly Black Thorn. They're not sure.
The book is filled with adventure and tense moments. Not tense in the apocalyptic, terrorists-are-attacking sense usually attached to spies (except when a Code Black is issued at Gallagher and CAMMIE is blamed!). No, the most tension comes from the girl stuff, such as the return of Josh, the arrival of a new boy who manages to convince Josh that he and Cammie are dating, and the fact that the new boy can beat Cammie at her own game. Whew, tension.
Unlike the first book, I found more conspicuous plot holes in CMHAHTS (please don't make me type out that entire title) and was dissatisfied and somewhat confused by the explanation given at the end for all the spy-business troubles. But, as always, the characters were enjoyable and genuine, and some showed significant growth from the previous book. In the end, I think, I'll live with myself much easier if I simply swallow the bobbles with the gems, because I really, really want to read that third book....more
I know others have said that that you don't need to read Graceling and Fire before reading this book, and it's true. Cashore does an admirable job of making sure all three books can stand alone. However, I may throw around spoilers for the first two books (not Bitterblue, I promise) with breathtakingly reckless abandon, so I suggest that all Cashore newbies stop reading until you've been able to read the first two books. Okay?
Now that that business is taken care of... This book. Oh my gosh, this book. I was so justified for making it my first Wishlist Wednesday post. I scarfed down all 500+ pages in less than three days (which prompted this post on book binges). I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed Cashore's world. How much I loved Bitterblue. How much I despised Leck.
Bitterblue has grown up. She's eighteen now, queen and commander of Monsea. Only, as happens with most royalty, her power is curtailed. Kept high in a tower and drowned in floods of paperwork by her well-meaning advisors, men she has trusted from childhood, Bitterblue knows very little about her country or even herself.
Prompted by her curiosity, she begins to wake up, to notice things she hasn't before. Why is the east side of the city in shambles but freshly painted? Why can't she remember things from her childhood? What did Leck do in his secret rooms? Why are there strange yet beautifully life-like sculptures all over the castle? Why is her palace filled with impractical glass ceilings and courtyards that flood when it rains?
Add to that more problems, such as Bitterblue's penchant for running into two men, one of whom is Graced and exceedingly reckless and has a penchant for inexplicably stealing gargoyles from her palace. Oh, and her friends in the Council keep overthrowing neighboring monarchies and they're using her palace as a base, which is a little... uncomfortable. Also, she's pretty sure her four advisors, men she trusts absolutely, are hiding something from her. Or at least one of them is, because there are pieces she just can't fit together, and her citizens keep turning up dead.
There are so many questions in this book that it made my head ache, but they were utterly vital questions to Bitterblue and therefore to us. The questions range from seemingly innocuous to critically important in nature, but all (to me) were tinged with an ominous foreboding. They all led back to Leck - creepy, psychopathic, demented, charming Leck. Though by the start of the book Leck had been dead for eight years, he was so very alive on every page.
Everything you've read about this book being darker, more mature, more intense... so totally true. I'm going to come out and say it right now - this is NOT a book I would freely recommend to just anyone.
Leck permeates every fiber and the book revolves around Bitterblue discovering the past - her past, her country's past, her people's past. Boy, is it a messed up past. There are atrocities there that, while not described in graphic detail, still made me squirm and flinch.
This is not a fun book.
Don't get me wrong, there are fun moments. Bitterblue isn't completely alone. She has her two thief friends, Teddy and Saf, and the Council is in Monsea for much of her adventure. I'd forgotten how much I adored Katsa and Po until they were suddenly in Monsea, squabbling and kissing and loving like an old married couple. I even developed a new fondness for stuffy old Giddon. Oh, and Cashore brings in a new character names Death (supposedly pronounced "Deeth") who absolutely rocks my socks. Librarians rule!
But no one can escape tragedy in this book. Po continues to struggle with the loss of his sight and the terrible burden of his Grace. Katsa balances her worries for Bitterblue and her terror over what might happen if Po is found out. And everyone else goes through a nausea-inducing dive into the past with Bitterblue that threatens to tear the entire country apart at the seams.
This book hurt my head. It really did. Anyone who's read Tamora Pierce's Provost's Dog Trilogy (known to many as the Beka Cooper Series) knows what I'm talking about. There are so many buried leads, so many dead ends, so many frustrating turns that I felt like I was lost in Leck's maze. But it was worth it, horrific as the truth was in the end. I needed to know, just as Bitterblue needed to know, and it was a relief to know that the truth was so horrible that it warranted all of the elaborate measures that went into trying to destroy it.
I think, in the end, the most potent aspect of the entire tragedy was that, except for one dead and reviled king, there was no cackling bad guy. Other than Leck, there were only two people in the book that I truly and deeply despised, and that was because they were easy to hate. They were selfish and evil just because they could be. Anyone else had a reason. Everyone had the potential to be both villain and victim, which is frightening to the extreme.
So if you're up for that kind of ride - and I mean really, really up for it - then pick up Bitterblue. But I won't blame you if you don't.
Points Added For: Masterful writing, Bitterblue's transformation from troubled girl to a queen who gets stuff done, Giddon (he's lovable now), Death (my favorite character by far), the malevolent presence of Leck, some really awesome new Graces (Hava? The bomb!), twists galore (major and minor), PAGE 500!!!! Oh my gosh, pg. 500 made me so happy.
Points Subtracted For: A romance that I was rooting against (though maybe that's what Cashore wished all along...), a minor resolution regarding a certain bad guy that made me sad, Danzhol's Grace (nightmare fodder for a year there, people), making me depressed.
Good For Fans Of: Tamora Pierce (particularly The Provost's Dog Trilogy), the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers. [Note: All three are in my can't-live-without list. Just saying.]
Notes For Parents: Some language and adult themes, including torture, rape, murder, mind control, experiments of the Josef Mengele kind, suicide, PTSD. Also, fade-to-black sex (nothing graphic; see previous treatment in Graceling) and multiple homosexual relationships, some more pointed than others. Oh, and drinking. There's drinking, too (although I think the adult themes might be of greater concern, y'know?)...more
Thwarted arranged marriages, female assassins, life-or-death stakes, a reeeeeeally awesome love interest, AND a killer dress-and-crossbow combo on the cover? Great heavens to Betsy, I'm in love.
Ismae is one genuine kick-butt female. She has to be, really. Her mother tried to abort her, and though Ismae survived, she was left with a hideous scar that runs diagonally across her back from shoulder blade to hip, marking her as a daughter of Death. No, literally, a daughter of Death. This makes her a freak, and a scary one at that, a fact that her father and other townspeople use to make her life a living hell. Her father even tries to marry her off to a loathsome, brutish pig farmer at the age of fourteen, which is when she is rescued by a local herbwitch and taken to the convent of St. Mortain.
Of course, that's when LaFevers makes a three year leap in time, because what's cooler than watching a girl go from awkward, scared teenie-bopper to fearsome assassin? Skipping the in-between time to get to the big reveal.
Ismae is wicked fierce. She can kill a man in countless ways, from using a thin cord to garrot him, to a crossbow bolt to the forehead, to a knife to the heart. She's pretty handy with poisons, too, seeing as one of her gifts is that she cannot be poisoned. Oh, and she can sense when a person will die by seeing (or sometimes smelling) them, and she can often tell how a person will die, thanks to the black smudge of death St. Mortain leaves on the body.
No wonder she's chosen to take part in protecting the young Duchess Anne against both the invading French army and overbearing suitors intent on stealing her duchy. Given her own background, protecting a girl against being traded like a piece of meat is right up Ismae's alley. Unfortunately, her ticket of entry into court is by posing as the duchess's brother's mistress, a prospect that does not thrill Ismae in the slightest, given that the art of seduction was one course that she barely passed and that said brother, Gavriel Duval, might himself be a traitor.
Where to begin... First, the characters. Wow! Usually, when I read a book, any hint that said book might only be the first in a series makes me cranky. I want a completed story, beginning, middle, and satisfying end. Books that stop half-finished in a blatant ploy to garner interest in a coming sequel irritate me. Yes, even Hunger Games got my goat a bit. But thanks to the characters Robin LaFevers created, I was inwardly begging for a continuation halfway through the book.
Ismae can be a teensy bit flat at times (yes, dear, you hate men, we got it), but I loved her nonetheless. Gavriel Duval is my new YA fiction crush (more on that in a few). And those supporting characters! Magnificent. Their personalities and characteristics were not overemphasized or overlabored in an attempt to hold our interest. They just stepped on the page and could be. Duchess Anne reminded me of Bitterblue from Graceling - older than her years, tough, wise, but still hopeful. Crunard, Rieux, Sybella, and Madame Hivern were satisfyingly three-dimensional. I fell in love with Beast from his first introduction (really, in his own, supporting-character way, he even beats out Ismae for my affections).
All the characters were great because they weren't stereotypes or stock characters, even the ones who only appeared for a few pages here and there. They had secrets and motives and desires and dreams and stories, and I wanted to learn so much more about each and every one of them. And, given that this book is all about treachery and intrigue, I loved that I truly believed that I couldn't fully trust a single soul.
The plot was good and fairly crawling with loathsome baddies. Well, mostly loathsome (see what I said about characters not being stock). The big baddie reveal wasn't quite as unexpected as I had hoped, but I appreciated the tension leading up to the revelation, as well as the motives behind the baddie's actions. I did have two notes of disappointment, but I'll get to that in my paragraph of caveats near the end of my post.
Oh, and the romance! Swoon! Ismae and Duval have that delicious love/hate/I-don't-trust-you-as-far-as-I-can-throw-you thing going on, and it so works. After all, Ismae isn't sure Duval isn't really working against his sister the duchess, and Duval can't be sure that Ismae isn't really on orders from the convent to kill him and/or someone he loves. Yummy, yummy tension. What I like most, though, is that they clearly have reasons to fall in love, reasons that have nothing to do with looks. Ismae mentions Duval's grey eyes a few times, but I honestly couldn't tell you other distinguishing features, or even how old he is. His looks aren't the point. His character and integrity are. Same for Duval's attraction to Ismae. She's smokin' hot, but that wasn't the point. There was no lust at first sight. There was love over months.
I do have a few, teeny caveats. First, the whole Death as a god/saint thing. I understand the appeal of twisting convention on its head here, but I personally was uneasy with the death-worshipping. Part of it is because of my own personal beliefs ("Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?"), part might because of the timing (Easter week is an awkward time to be reading about Death as a good guy). I was expecting some big twist regarding the very nature of Death/St. Mortain, and there was a twist, just not the one I was hoping for. Again, my personal hangup. It's likely that this will not bother most people.
Second, there's a moment near the end of the book where Ismae (view spoiler)[has to save Duval from being poisoned. Again, expecting some wow twist, and what do I get? Sex is the answer! Kiss the man, he gets a little better; give up your virginity and give him a roll in the hay, miracle cure! Lame. (hide spoiler)]
Sorry for the super-long review, but this book was so freaking exciting, and I'm waiting on pins and needles for LaFevers' second installment.
Points Added For: Nun assassins, poisons (love me some poisons), detailed characters, crossbows, Beast, believable and swoon-worthy romance, intricate and unexpected motivations.
Points Subtracted For: De Lornay (both his lack of depth, comparatively speaking, and his duration), certain twists not living up to my expectations, that really lame moment that I mentioned in the spoiler.
Good For Fans Of:Graceling by Kristin Cashore (and presumably Bitterblue, though I haven't read it yet); Terrier (and subsequent sequels) by Tamora Pierce.
Notes For Parents: No language that I can recall (the word "bastard" is used multiple times, but only in the literal, illegitimate sense); several squeamish seductive encounters; at least two attempted rapes (both not graphic and ultimately unsuccessful); one non-explicit sex scene (tasteful fade-to-black employed); violence (not Hunger Games level, but still); a few blush-worthy conversations (who knew French women were known to rogue their nipples?)....more
Ooooh, I love me some Robin Hood! No matter how he's portrayed or who's portraying him, he's my guy. Errol Flynn, Cary Elwes, Jonas Armstrong, that caOoooh, I love me some Robin Hood! No matter how he's portrayed or who's portraying him, he's my guy. Errol Flynn, Cary Elwes, Jonas Armstrong, that cartoon fox, it's all good. Because of his mischievousness, dashing ways, and sense of adventure, Robin tends to steal the show in any adaptation of his story, relegating the other Merry Men to background players.
Not so in this story.
In this version of the standard Robin Hood tale, A.C. Gaughen has changed strapping Will Scarlet, commonly portrayed as Robin's closest friend after Little John and/or his nephew or brother, to a girl. And not just any girl, of course. This Scarlet is a sneak thief, a pickpocket from London with trust issues and a fantastic talent with knives.
I love girls with knives. I also love girls disguised as boys. And people with trust issues who also happen to be protecting a soft underbelly. Yay Scarlet!
Scarlet was clearly queen of this show. Told from her first-person perspective in natty London gutter slang, we follow along with Scarlet through her various trials, and believe me, she has quite a few. First, though she's been with Robin Hood, Little John, and Much (Rob's only 21, so his band isn't quite formed yet), she keeps all three at arm's length as best she can. It's a frustrating situation for all of them, since robbing the rich to feed the poor naturally requires a certain amount of trust in your boys to make sure you're not all hanged.
Second, the sheriff decides to bring in a thief taker to stop Robin Hood once and for all. And who is the most famous and most reviled thief catcher in all of Robin Hood lore? Correct! Guy of Gisbourne! Though he lacks his most infamous touch, a cloak made out of horse hide (horse head hood included!), A.C. makes sure to keep Guy at the level of loathsome cruelty and evil that we fans have come to expect from Hood tales.
I mean, this guy is bad. Ba-a-a-ad. Kill-people-because-he-feels-like-it-and-does-it-with-a-grin bad. Which, in turn, is bad for Scarlet and the rest of the gang, seeing that said baddie is hunting them and promises to kill any innocent villager that gets in his way. Actually, it's extra-bad for Scarlet, because she and Gisbourne have unresolved issues to settle of the you-kill-me-unless-I-kill-you-first kind.
The third trial for Scarlet, amid all the rest and despite the aforementioned trust issues, is that she finds herself in the midst of a love triangle, and not the Twilight sort either. See, while most of Nottingham is fooled into thinking that Scarlet's full name is Will Scarlet, the Hood boys all know differently. A group of outlaw boys plus one rather pretty and mysterious girl? You do the math.
There were so many things I enjoyed about this book. I loved how A.C. Gaughen carefully set about reinventing some characters and returning to the roots of others. Scarlet is clearly the largest departure from previous tales, but the other characters were changed as well. For instance, sweet, lovable giant Little John in this story is a lovable, irascible ladies' man. Friar Tuck? Well, he's just Tuck, actually, a bartender who owns a tavern called The Friar Tuck.
The sheriff, on the other hand, veers away from the bumbling wannabe bad guy popularized by the Disney movie and has returned to the all-out, conniving villain that I admired in the BBC America version of Robin Hood. What A.C.'s sheriff does at the climax of the book, for instance... Oof. And Much! I love Much. Too many tales cut him right out or replace him with Alan o' Dale.
Another aspect I appreciated was the down and dirty fighting. They're outlaws fighting baddies - simple scratches won't do. There's a particularly gruesome killing about three-fourths of the way through the book that's pretty epic. I think the Tributes from Hunger Games would have been impressed. And knives! Have I mentioned I love knives?
There are only a few things that bothered me, just tiny things. First, Robin was a bit too good. Laura Lee mentioned the same thing in her review, and I remember scoffing in disbelief. Too good? Robin Hood? Turns out she was right. He's just a bit too noble. Even when he confesses some awful things that he's done, it doesn't tarnish his savior image at all.
Second, Scarlet's speech and her ineffectiveness in response. I loved Scarlet's gutter slang to start with, but after a time, it grated on me just a little. There's a reason why it really bugged me near the end, but I can't share that without getting into spoilers. Also, by "ineffectiveness of response" I mean her wishy-washiness between the guys pursuing her. She tells each to bug off numerous times, but when they don't, the worst she does is sock one in the gut... and then later kisses him. I understand that the tension makes a great story, and I understand that she's interested in both for different reasons, but the woman has knives. She can make them bug off if she wants.
Lastly, and this may have been something that bothered only me, there were a few historical inconsistencies involving Major Oak. First, no one in Robin Hood's time ever called Major Oak by that title. The tree wasn't dubbed Major Oak until 1790. Google it. My guess is that A.C. chose the name simply so that fans wouldn't sit around going, "A big tree? Doesn't she mean Major Oak? Why isn't she calling it Major Oak?" Second, there's an incident involving Major Oak and Gisbourne that simply did not happen. It involves... shall we say... trauma, trauma that is not indicated in the tree's history. Again, I'm sure it bothers only me, and most others will chalk it up to artistic license, but as someone who has visited the actual Major Oak, the little inconsistencies bother me.
It took great self-restraint on my part not to reread Scarlet immediately after finishing. A.C. Gaughen's tale is a fast-paced adventure with several shocks and numerous likable characters. I've already placed the book on my birthday list (a very hard spot to score) and eagerly await a sequel. A.C., if you're reading this, could you please make the sequel about Much? Pleeeeeease?
Points Added For: Excellent reinvention of characters, a really vile pair of villains, exciting fights, Much (I love Much!), an eye-catching cover, a writing style that is both immersive and zippy, A.C.'s talent at describing characters in natural ways (no unnecessary expositions, no out of place descriptions; heck, it's page four before Scarlet even admits that she's a girl!).
Points Subtracted For: A Robin Hood that could use a bit of tarnishing (maybe in the sequel?), Scarlet's inability to make Little John back the freak off, historical inconsistencies, a somewhat confusing backstory for Scarlet.
Good For Fans Of:Rowan Hood (and sequels) by Nancy Springer, I Am Mordred: A Tale From Camelot also by Nancy Springer, The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce, The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (says Amazon). Bonus recommendation: the BBC America show of Robin Hood. The series is over, so it should all be online now. So. Freaking. Good.
Notes For Parents: Some graphic violence (Hunger Games level graphicness, but less than HG level in frequency), moderate to heavy language (d's, gd's, s's, and b's), frequent clinical talk by Scarlet of her "bits."...more
Oh, I liked this. I really, really liked this. I feel I understand my middle grade friends so much better know, because I've heard for years about howOh, I liked this. I really, really liked this. I feel I understand my middle grade friends so much better know, because I've heard for years about how much they like Merrie Haskell's work and this book in particular. It was so well done! The world-building was solid, the mythology was on point, the pre-ship ship (or "Disney ship," to use a Tumblr term for relationships that you can't fully ship without being squicky) was adorable... Yes. J'approve....more
You know, one of these days I'm going to sit down and read a book that doesn't completely trample my expectations into the dust. I mean, seriously, what the heck, Carson?!
Really, I don't think it's my fault on this one. There's no way the description above could have prepared me for what I was getting into. And that's okay, because it was kind of fun to watch my expectations shatter into teeny, tiny pieces. I'd come to expect, without realizing it, certain elements from my fantasy books, and Ms. Carson booted some of the big ones out the door without hesitation.
1. Do not expect a typical fantasy setting. By "typical," I mean European. You'd think it would be, right? After all her name's Elisa, and EVERYBODY bases their world in a vaguely Lord of the Rings-type setting, right? Wrong. Because the princess's full name is Lucero-Elisa, and dagnabit if we weren't somewhere in Central/South America.
I'm not kidding! Her father is Papa with an accent on the end, her sister is Juana-Alodia, her nurses are Aneaxi and Ximena, and she meets people named Cosme and Humberto and Hector and Luz-Manuel and Jacian. They have steaming rainforests with painted tribesmen and scorching deserts and sandstorms and priests who perform Masses and they all speak in a language that is faintly Spanish (maybe Portuguese?).
Not to be a blathering, stereotyping white girl here, but it was like I opened my mouth to take a bite of a cool mint leaf and instead bit into a tamale. And I loved it! I felt like I really was in another world, a world that shared just enough similarities with my world that I could follow, but just enough differences that I sometimes felt like it was another planet entirely.
2. Do not expect a typical heroine. Oh wow. Elisa... oh wow. What a transformation this girl puts herself through. She starts the book as a weak-kneed, ineffective, bookish, socially awkward, fat (perhaps even obese, by the descriptions) sixteen-year-old girl, more suited to life in a convent than on a throne.
As to what she becomes by the end of the book... well, I won't ruin that for you, but I can tell you her transformation was hard-won. None of this fairy godmother "poof, problem solved!" stuff. There is a heavy amount of literal blood, sweat, and tears that this girl pours out to take her fate into her own hands.
Oh, and did I mention that the source of her power, her Godstone, is conveniently placed in her belly button? Yeah, that's right. Not her forehead or her hand or on a string around her neck. Her belly button. The belly button which resides in her very plump tummy, so no blingy belly-dancer effect going on here either.
3. Do not expect typical magic. Sure, people do magical things. Elisa's Godstone can warn her of danger and stuff - that's a magical thing. But it isn't magic. See, Elisa's Godstone is her connection to, well, God. It warms her and comforts her when she prays, grows icy in the presence of evil, etc. Like I said, there are priests in this story and sacred texts written in the "Lengua Classica." Ah, my foe Latin, I see you have returned to haunt me.
The best part is the book tries to deal with the very real situation that occurs when many different people all think that they FOR SURE know the will of God, but they're all contradicting each other. Everything circles back to God's will and having a plan/destiny for one's life, even if it's something as simple as building a well in a certain place. I, for one, liked that aspect.
4. Do not expect a simple plot. My head aches just a bit from all the politics. They're good politics, necessary politics, but picturing things on too grand of a scale tends to make me dizzy. Elisa's from Orovalle, but her husband's from Joya d'Arena. Then you've got the Invierne, the Perditos, the coastal areas, the hill areas...
Everyone wants something. Some people are good, some people are bad, and most places have mixtures of each kind. Elisa has no idea who she can trust, who she can turn to. Everyone is suspect.
5. Do not expect a typical romance. I can't really tackle this point without giving away spoilers, but I will say that the king doesn't feature very much in this book, but that when he does pop in and out, he makes an impact. There's kiiiinda a love triangle, but not really, but sort of... I know, not much help, am I?
I will say that that there was a guy I secretly started rooting for near the very beginning of the book (won't say if it's the king or not), and I was very relieved when he made it out alive by the end. He's a great guy, Elisa, just give him a chance, that's all I'm saying. Which brings me to my final point...
6. Do not expect everyone to make it out alive. Really, Ms. Carson is rather savage in her treatment of her characters. A whole freaking lot of people die. Important people! People that I really, really wanted to be left alive.
So yes, my expectations were completely mangled, and I am totally okay with that.
Points Added For: Being stinking awesome enough to ditch the European-type setting, God stuff, Elisa being cool, Rosario.
Points Subtracted For: Not totally selling me on the romance presented (I'm hoping that means that the romance I want is coming in the second book), being really intricate politically, that one scene at Trevino's where Elisa takes the knife and... Oh, I squirm just thinking about it.
Good For Fans Of: The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, the Graceling series by Kristin Cashore, epicness.
Notes For Parents: No language that I can remember, but there's some really squeamish violence, mentions of boobs....more