Category Archives: Young Adult
Series: Matched #3
Now members of the Rising, Cassia, Ky, and Xander wait for the final push against the Society to begin. They do not know when or how it will occur, but their trust in the Pilot keeps them blindly following orders. Then Plague strikes and even the Rising does not have the capability to combat it. Love has carried the three this far, but can it triumph over death?
The Matched trilogy previously left me feeling conflicted. Although its identity as a dystopian series implies a desire to comment on government, authority and choice, its focus always remained on the love life of Cassia Reyes. The novels never convincingly demonstrated that Cassia fully understood the magnitude of the atrocities committed by the Society or decided to rebel against it for reasons other than a desire to make out with a man not chosen for her by someone else. Sometimes, like Xander, I wondered if Cassia even really loved Ky, or simply wanted him because he was forbidden.
I was able to take Reached more seriously as a dystopian novel because it broadens its focus from the personal journey of Cassia to encompass not only the journeys of Ky and Xander but also the fate of the Society as a whole. Previously Condie expected me to believe that stealing kisses in the forest was a noble act of rebellion and not simply teenage hormones. Now she illustrates the infrastructure of the Society crumbling under the pressure of plague and civil unrest. Even though the tactics of the Rising never made real sense to me, I found watching them attempt to take power much more interesting than watching Cassia moon over her crush.
Despite the broadened focus, however, the other characters continue to attach undue importance to the actions of Cassia and her love interests. While reading Matched, I found myself baffled by the willingness of Cassia’s family and friends to risk their lives in order to allow her to continue meeting her crush in secret; everyone seemed honestly convinced that conducting a forbidden love affair was the first step in taking down the government. While reading Reached, I found myself baffled by the interest of the Pilot in Cassia and her friends. Even though, as the leader of an uprising, he must have men and women under him who can look into suspect activities, he chooses to investigate Cassia personally. He then chooses Cassia and her friends for a top secret mission (on which the whole fate of the Rising happens to hinge) even though one would assume that, of all the people who follow him, there must exist some more qualified for this sort of thing than three teenagers.
Reached also fails to fulfill promises to explore more in depth the nature of government, authority, and rebellion. Condie has hinted before in the trilogy that the Rising might not be what it appears. Events in Reached suggest that, indeed, the Rising possesses elements of corruption. Events furthermore suggest the dangers of idolizing any one figure or movement. The characters, however, seem unfazed by these revelations, never really questioning their involvement in the Rising or learning any lessons about placing complete trust in people they barely know. I suppose it is to their credit that they continue to believe in the inherent goodness of people and to hope for a better future, but Condie obliquely acknowledges their danger of repeating past mistakes and erecting a new Society instead of staging a true revolution.
Reached proves a fast-paced novel filled with enough action and danger to make it the most exciting book in the trilogy. Fans will find their eyes glued to the pages as they follow Cassia, Xander, and Ky through a new adventure and see how the three grow in maturity as they are forced to go their separate ways. An exciting plot and good character development cannot, however, completely obscure the flaws in the trilogy, and I find myself wondering what the books could have been like had they been more fleshed out and made more sense.
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Series: Reckoners #1
Published: September 24, 2013
There are no heroes.
Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics.
But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.
Nobody fights the Epics… nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.
And David wants in. He wants Steelheart—the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning—and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.
He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.
Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart has all the features of a great science fiction book: creative world-building, an enthralling plot, well-developed characters, and thoughtful discussions of morality. However, its most striking characteristic may be the writing itself. Steelheart is so intricately and solidly constructed, from the phrasing of individual sentences to arrangement of the plot, that my English major’s heart was swooning. It has been awhile since I have read a book just so well-written. Sanderson’s style will impress readers from the first chapter. But his skill will hit them again and again—particularly at the moment David concludes relating his life-story for to some new acquaintances. (Seriously, read the book and just wait for the line.)
As stated, however, all this beautiful writing encompasses an incredible story. Readers need not be superhero fans to be drawn into the stark world of Newcago, where all the buildings have been turned to steel and the common folk live beneath the ground in the metal corridors of the Understreets. The sheer visuality of Steelheart is astounding. One easily gets the impression this could have been a comic book or a movie, featuring the dark, sleek city run by superhumans.
Of course, the superhumans, the Epics, are villains in Steelheart, which immediately makes the story unusual and quickly raises the stakes for protagonist David and the band of rebels, the Reckoners, he hopes to join. Do humans have any hope of defeating supermen? This problem certainly makes for a tense plot, as readers never know what to expect or how much to hope for. However, the characters themselves struggle a lot with the question, weighing their options and their duties. Does it make more sense for them to take down minor villains, knowing they are likely to succeed, or should they try to subdue the gods, demonstrating to others that it can be done, that humans should continue fighting for their freedom?
Questions like these provide life to science fiction and superhero stories, and, despite the presence of tons of action and cool, flashy technology, they are the heart of Steelheart. David and his friends confront them every day, just as they must continually confront themselves, evaluating their desires, their strengths, and their fears. Every character in Steelheart has a complicated past, and all of them continue to change and grow, bringing readers their journeys of self-discovery, even as they bring them towards the final confrontation with the dictator Steelheart.
And, wow, is that confrontation intense. (No more on that, so I can avoid spoilers.)
Steelheart is a breathtaking book, fast-paced and unpredictable, and I could not put it down. Initially, I was wary of its starting a series, but the ending of the novel makes the idea of a sequel incredibly worthwhile. I would read anything by Sanderson after witnessing his mastery of storytelling in Steelheart (Elantris is conveniently sitting on my shelf), and I will certainly be reading Firefight when it is released.
Goodreads: Not a Drop to Drink
Published: September 24, 2013
Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn’t leave at all.
Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.
But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….
Mindy McGinnis builds a harsh, barren world in her post-apocalyptic novel Not a Drop to Drink. Lynn and her mother live alone, guarding their pond with their guns. They have nothing but each other—no other family, no friends, and no purpose besides protecting the water so they can live another day. Somewhat unusually for a book of this genre, they appear to have no hope for the future either. They never think that somewhere there are people who are living better, or that one day they, or their grandchildren, will know a world where water is anything but scarce. These characters are not fighting for any far-reaching cause. They live on autopilot, surviving just to survive. That makes them dangerous to trespassers, and incredibly intriguing to readers.
Lynn is not particularly emotional. In part, she is flat because of her lifestyle. For most of her life, she has known one person. Her only education is the bits of poetry her mother, an English major in her past life, likes to quote. She knows little besides lying on her roof with her rifle, shooting anyone who comes close enough for her to see. Her only other tasks all focus on survival: gardening, hunting, chopping wood. In some respects, Lynn and her mother are machines, looking only a few steps ahead, doing only what they must to live. They have no time or need for sentiment.
Yet Lynn’s apparent callousness can make her almost immediately appealing as a character. Perhaps she will not be likeable or relatable to many readers—but she is undeniably different. She is a character readers will want to watch, just to see what she does next, just to see someone do things they can never imagine doing themselves.
Her emotional isolation also becomes thematically interesting, once some plot events lead her to begin experiencing character growth. Lynn’s transformation from an unquestioning sniper to someone with a conscience suggests that a sense of morality is something innate to humans, not something socially constructed and taught. This could be a great discussion topic for readers.
Lynn’s emotional barriers are a small downfall in regards to the novel’s romance, however. While the romantic scenes are well-written, touching with a hint of swoon, the actual relationship Lynn experiences could have been more moving. She meets a nice guy, no mistake—someone who is kind, hard-working, and apparently good-looking. Unfortunately, readers are not given much a sense why the two characters are attracted to each other. If given a guess, I would they bond simply because they are not acquainted with anyone else.
In contrast, the setting of the story is richly imagined—bleak with reminders of a ruined past. It is incredibly effective. The world-building is also generally well-done. McGinnis offers a fairly complete timeline explaining how Lynn’s world came to be. The only fact missing might be the most important: How, exactly, did the world come to lack fresh water? Readers will never know.
Often, the mark of a great dystopian or post-apocalyptic world is its believability, the sense that something in our current world could lead it to become like the world in the book (ex. Obsession with physical appearance could lead us to a world like Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies). Personally, I am not aware of any worries over the Earth’s water supply, and Not a Drop to Drink does not introduce me to any, so the novel fails that test. The execution of McGinnis’s idea seems plausible, but its cause is nowhere to be found. I am not afraid of my future looking like Lynn’s reality.
The plot may not be exciting (this is no war novel, no epic dystopian battle against a corrupt government), but it is very satisfying, and it tends to move along at a nice pace. Readers are unlikely to feel stuck, even though the action occurs within a very limited area. Ironically, however, the weakest part of the novel may be the climax. Things get crazier—but the feel does not match the rest of the book. Also, the wrong characters die; other characters would have been a greater loss, from a literary standpoint. The epilogue is worse, as it is unintentionally bland. I did not feel that anything had concluded, or changed much even though it was clear things had. On Goodreads, I docked a star from my rating primarily because of the ending.
Yet overall Not a Drop to Drink is a good read—tightly written, carefully planned, and just incredibly interesting. In a world beginning to fill with post-apocalyptic literature, it feels original. Recommended to fans of the genre and those looking for stark, realistic settings.
Content Note: Implied rape.
Goodreads: The Dead-Tossed Waves
Series: The Forest of Hands and Teeth #2
All her life Gabry has lived in the safety of the village of Vista, protected from the ravenous Mudo by the Barrier and the militia. Then her friends dare her to climb the Barrier and explore the old amusement park, and everything changes. An unexpected zombie attack leaves her friends either infected or arrested, and she is left alone to brave the outside world in search of the one boy who got away.
Sometimes I reflect on the all the time I wasted listening to The Dead-Tossed Waves on audiobook and I regret my life choices. Sure, it was sometimes unintentionally funny and the possibility of the zombie apocalypse ending the sickening love triangle filled me with naïve hope, but otherwise the book has nothing to recommend it. An annoying protagonist; terrible prose; bizarre logic; and repetition of scenes, thoughts, and phrases are the most striking aspects of the work.
Ryan clearly wishes to establish Gabry as a different character from her mother Mary. Mary had definite thoughts about things and acted decisively on most occasions. Gabry, however, spends her days overanalyzing not only her own thoughts and actions, but also the words and actions of every person around her. She talks incessantly about how she fears everything and has a strange habit of blaming herself for the actions and fates of others. She actually thinks things like, “If only I had kissed him, he would not have fallen off that cliff!” Seeing as the guy was walking down a path in the dark, I assume he would have fallen off regardless.
Gabry’s obsession with herself leads her to use other people to make herself feel good. Like her mother, she finds herself involved in a weird love triangle. She keeps both boys dangling on the string, so to speak, as she makes out with one, then the other, depending on who’s available and how they currently feel toward her. She clearly needs physical contact to feel loved, which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it does lead her to do things like forcing a guy to kiss her when he’s weak from lack of sleep, lack of food, and a zombie-inflicted injury. She says she wants to “make him feel alive,” but his subsequent rejection of her leads to nothing more than a reflection on how he used to make her feel special. The whole time I wanted to shout, “Wouldn’t feeding him and bandaging him also make him feel more alive?!” She would rather feel sorry for herself than potentially save his life—and she calls that love.
These things were annoying, but the annoyance was multiplied according to how often they were repeated. Gabry has to stop to think about her fear and her sadness all the time—just about after every plot-significant episode. She typically does so in the same words. Sentences like “Everything was happening too fast” and general reflections on how she doesn’t know who she is anymore, how she doesn’t know her mother, how she wants safety occur again…and again…and again…. Once the audiobook skipped back a couple of chapters by accident and though I recognized the passage, I did not stop to look at where it was because I assumed the book was reusing scenes and sentences as usual.
The weird logic used in the book also bothered me. Initially I thought just Gabry was a little obsessive about blaming herself for things and overanalyzed everything too much. Then she started doing things like blaming herself for someone getting bitten by a zombie and others agreed. Perhaps they were just scared and angry, I thought. Then she blamed her mother for leaving her friends in the forest. Anyone who has read the first book might assume that it is understandable one would not race through a zombie-infested wood to find people who are probably dead by now. But her mother agreed. Then she blamed someone for tearing her past from her because they had saved her from zombies when she was a child. The person agreed. Clearly I had entered another dimension where what constitutes rationality has a different meaning.
I only read this book because I was hoping to learn more about the zombies. Since it was only another crazy love triangle and the third book seems to be the same, I intend to leave the trilogy uncompleted.
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Goodreads: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Series: The Forest of Hands and Teeth #1
Mary’s village lies in the middle of a forest encircled by a fence through which no one ever leaves. Outside, the Unconsecrated prowl, hungering for human flesh. Only the wisdom of the Sisterhood and the vigilance of the Guardians keeps the village safe. Most people believe things have always been this way. Mary’s mother, however, has told her stories of the ocean, stories of a world that used to be free. Mary wants to find that world, but the Sisterhood harbors secrets and they will do just about anything to keep those secrets safe.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth sounds like a zombie dystopia story. Mary lives in a village cut off from the rest of the world by a gate that also keeps the people safe from the undead whose bites and scratches will infect them, turning them into more zombies to wreak destruction upon their friends and family. An organization named the Sisterhood rules over the village, controlling the history, religion, and social mores they learn. The Sisterhood, however, knows more than they tell. Everything about the plot seems calculated to provide action, excitement, and suspense. Except it doesn’t.
Though the page count lies just about 300, The Forest of Hands and Teeth does not read like a full-length novel, but rather the introduction to one. Very little happens in terms of plot. As expected, Mary starts to question the values of the Sisterhood and discovers that they sometimes lie. As expected, (I really don’t consider this a spoiler), she finds her way out of the village. Not as expected, that’s it. The rest of the book is all Mary’s longings for the oceans and her love affair (highly physical) with a boy betrothed to another woman. Not just another woman. (This is a real spoiler. Highlight after the parentheses to read.) Her best friend.
I think I was supposed to find this forbidden affair not only romantic, but also noble and brave, an attempt to fight back against the village’s strict rules governing the place of everyone in society. (Men and women are expected to marry to raise families, not because they feel passion for one another.) Ryan inserts a lot of dialogue about the importance of love versus the expectation of commitment (as if love somehow is opposed to commitment and does not entail it). She also portrays duty as something ugly and twisted. The other characters’ dedication to doing what is good for the village rather than what they personally desire (an understandable sentiment in light of their belief that they are the last remnants of humanity about to be overrrun by zombies) makes them seem like zealots devoid of all emotion. In fact, when people talk about this duty, their personalities even change. People who seem sweet, caring, and maybe even admirable suddenly turn into psychotic terrors when they talk about duty. Perhaps Ryan wants to show that constantly denying one’s feelings is unhealthy, but she goes too far.
Despite the heavy-handed messages delivered by the book, however, I was not remotely enchanted by this love affair. By making out with a man engaged to another woman, Mary was deluding herself, hurting the other woman, and driving a wedge into that couple’s future marriage. She talks about love, but what she was doing seems a lot like lust. She is physically attracted to the guy, so they make out. She later admits that she does not even know much about him–what he likes and dislikes, his hopes and his fears. She was just using his body to make herself feel better when she felt rejected by the rest of the village.
Mary’s own hopes and dreams are also apparently supposed to make her likable, but they too make her seem selfish. All she ever does is think about the ocean. She’s obsessed. She thinks it exists and she wants to go there, no matter what it costs. She is willing to leave friends and family behind if she has to. She is willing to sacrifice them to the Unconsecrated if she has to. This all seems very unreasonable. Unlike in other dystopias where the government is hiding something, the Sisterhood so far seems fairly innocuous. Yes, they have secret rooms and stuff and have not revealed their whole history to the village, but the fact remains that the outside world is actually overrun by zombies who will relentlessly pursue you to feast on your flesh. The Sisterhood has not lied about that. So why Mary thinks that the ocean is still a zombie-free paradise that she can skip on over to if she can just get past the fence remains a mystery.
Frankly, I do not understand why this book became a bestseller. The promises the plot makes about zombies and secrets all fall through. The romance is not romantic and the protagonist is not likable. The other characters are likable on occasion, but their personalities tend to change to fit the necessities of the plot. If I read the second book at all, it will only be to find out if the Sisterhood actually did have some deep, horrible secret and why the zombie apocalypse started in the first place.
Published: May 7, 2013
Stephen has been invisible for practically his whole life — because of a curse his grandfather, a powerful cursecaster, bestowed on Stephen’s mother before Stephen was born. So when Elizabeth moves to Stephen’s NYC apartment building from Minnesota, no one is more surprised than he is that she can see him. A budding romance ensues, and when Stephen confides in Elizabeth about his predicament, the two of them decide to dive headfirst into the secret world of cursecasters and spellseekers to figure out a way to break the curse. But things don’t go as planned, especially when Stephen’s grandfather arrives in town, taking his anger out on everyone he sees. In the end, Elizabeth and Stephen must decide how big of a sacrifice they’re willing to make for Stephen to become visible — because the answer could mean the difference between life and death. At least for Elizabeth.
Never having read anything by Andrea Cremer or David Levithan, I opened Invisibility with no expectations. Although contemporary romance is not my preferred genre, I was intrigued by the element of fantasy; I wanted to see how one boy’s invisibility was incorporated into his otherwise average life in Manhattan. Basically, I thought Invisibility might bear similarities to magical realism, which would be unique for YA fiction. The first half of the novel does not disappoint, but the second half turns into a full-out quest across Manhattan for a dangerous cursecaster—which never entirely matches the tone of the beginning of the book and which never seems as urgent or interesting to the outside audience as the characters find it to be. While Invisibility experiments playfully with mixing genres, it fails to mix them into coherency, and the result is a disorienting novel with a few shining moments of potential.
As noted, Invisibility seems unable to decide whether it is primarily a romance, a fantasy, or a story of character growth (or primarily the character growth of Stephen, Elizabeth, or Elizabeth’s brother Laurie, who gets his own complicated plotline as a boy recovering from being bullied for his homosexuality). However, since much of the plotline stems from Stephen’s and Elizabeth’s relationship, it seems fitting to begin there. Unfortunately, there is rather boring. Stephen and Elizabeth suffer from an extreme case of instalove, forming a romantic attachment at only their third meeting (and their first meeting was a five minute chat in their apartment hallway). Beyond the fact that Elizabeth is the only person who can see Stephen, and one of the few who even know he exists, it is difficult to tell what their relationship is based on. Perhaps their mutual loneliness? Either way, the two seem stuck together more for plot reasons than because they are somehow innately suited for each other. I had little personal interest in what they did or whether they survived as a couple.
Elizabeth’s relationship with Laurie is vastly more complex, as the two argue and tease like real siblings but also feel mutually protective of each other. Elizabeth worries whether Laurie’s homosexuality will be accepted in a new city. Laurie worries about Elizabeth’s new mysterious boyfriend and whether he is treating her right. Both worry about each other as the fantasy aspect of the plot picks up and they become embroiled in the dangerous world of cursecasters. Even with their dynamic aside, Laurie is easily the most compelling character of the novel, approaching every situation with a good humor, a wise heart, and the steadfastness to take any action necessary for the protection of his friends. In contrast, Elizabeth spends most of her time becoming irrationally angry, yelling at people, and ignoring sound advice. It is difficult to wish her success on any personal level; mostly I wanted her to win the battle of wills against the cursecaster because she was on the “good” side.
Yet the war between good and evil does not seem as dire as Elizabeth & Co. believe. [SPOILERS THIS PARAGRAPH] On one hand, the magic in Invisibility is not well-developed enough to seem believable. Basically, there are a handful of “cursecasters” who curse a disproportionate amount of the population—who are completely unsuspecting, besides the even smaller handful of “spellseekers” who can see the curses but not do much to stop them. This all seems so unjust and so unbalanced. And it begs the question of why it even matters that this world of magic exists beneath our unsuspecting noses. “Cursecasters” curse people and they suffer but have no idea they are cursed, so they carry on with their daily lives. How…dull.
The other “big reveals” of the novel are similarly disappointing. In the beginning of THE story the readers learn that Stephen’s mother will not give him any details about how he became invisible. She says that telling him will grossly endanger him. When Stephen finally does learn, he is “broken.” From a reader’s perspective, he is really overreacting because it is not that big of a deal and the knowledge alone does not put him into peril. Only the actions he takes with the knowledge can do that.
Invisibility has high points: the fantastic character development of Laurie, the boldness of imagining what it would be like to live literally invisibility, the astute descriptions of life in New York City. In between these points, however, is a lot of slow and underdeveloped plot. A romantic fantasy set in the City That Never Sleeps should have too much going on to be boring.
Series: Pure #2
Published: February 1, 2013
We want our son returned. This girl is proof that we can save you all. If you ignore our plea, we will kill our hostages one at a time.
To be a Pure is to be perfect, untouched by Detonations that scarred the earth and sheltered inside the paradise that is the Dome. But Partridge escaped to the outside world, where Wretches struggle to survive amid smoke and ash. Now, at the command of Partridge’s father, the Dome is unleashing nightmare after nightmare upon the Wretches in an effort to get him back.
At Partridge’s side is a small band of those united against the Dome: Lyda, the warrior; Bradwell, the revolutionary; El Capitan, the guard; and Pressia, the young woman whose mysterious past ties her to Partridge in way she never could have imagined. Long ago a plan was hatched that could mean the earth’s ultimate doom. Now only Partridge and Pressia can set things right.
To save millions of innocent lives, Partridge must risk his own by returning to the Dome and facing his most terrifying challenge. And Pressia, armed only with a mysterious Black Box, containing a set of cryptic clues, must travel to the very ends of the earth, to a place where no map can guide her. If they succeed, the world will be saved. But should they fail, humankind will pay a terrible price..
In the sequel to Pure, Julianna Baggott once again immerses readers into her richly imagined dystopian world, one that is equal parts beauty and darkness. As Pressia, Partridge, and their companions race to take down the Dome, they travel farther than anyone has before, taking readers with them beyond the Dustlands. The broad scope of the geography in Fuse and the glimpses of history before the Detonations give Baggott’s world astonishing range and depth and mark the author as a master creator. The setting alone makes this book work reading.
However, has also raised the stakes of the plot in Fuse. Typical of dystopian novels, the protagonists have discovered some awful secret about their government and are planning to rebel against the corrupt societal system. Yet the standard dystopian plot elements stop there. Baggott’s plot is wild, unique, and unpredictable. Just when the characters think they have everything figured out, new evidence comes to light and new factors into play. Because the characters are so well-rounded and are continually developing as their journeys change them, they even surprise themselves sometimes, with the actions they are willing to take.
Baggott continues her method of writing every chapter in a different character’s point of view, choosing the character who has the most investment in the scene. The lack of order of the multiple POVs can be initially disorienting, but ultimately the approach works and gives readers valuable insights into every character’s thought process and personality.
The unusual POV switches add to the overall memorability of Baggott’s writing. She has a gift for writing beautiful descriptions and phrases that prompt readers to think about the world in different ways. Her voice is confident yet pensive, and she always writes as if she believes her readers are bright and strong enough to handle anything she throws at them.
Essentially, Fuse is the perfect follow-up to Pure. It includes all the most brilliant elements of Pure and intensifies them. Fuse has complex world-building, a strong plot, and memorable characters. A recommended read for those who like their books both smart and exciting.
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Goodreads: Princess of the Silver Woods
Series: Princess #3
A decade has passed since Petunia and her sisters defeated the King Under Stone with the help of a young soldier. The bonds keeping the evil king’s sons imprisoned, however, are breaking. Oliver, a dispossessed noble and sometime bandit, wants desperately to protect Petunia from harm. But webs of magic and treachery lie all around and even true love may not prove strong enough to break them. A retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” (with a dash of Robin Hood).
I read the final book in the Princess trilogy years after the first two, which may have been a mistake as it seems written primarily to appeal to fans. Jessica Day George crams all the old faces into the work, including the old villains, so that it seems almost like a repeat of Princess of the Midnight Ball, except that the characters are less defined, presumably because readers are supposed to remember them. I didn’t, which meant that I had to rely on the new elements (new setting, new love interest, new fairy tale) to keep me engaged. Unfortunately, the number of characters the book attempts to balance means that Petunia and Oliver, the supposed protagonists, do not receive as much attention as they ought. The book simply tries to do too much—set up a romance, reunite old characters, defeat an ancient evil, and restore a dispossessed noble to his property—and fails to do any of it adequately.
The first couple chapters attempt nobly to present Petunia, the youngest princess, as a protagonist in her own right. According to the timeline given in the book, she was only six or seven during the events of Princess of the Midnight Ball, so George has a lot of room with which to work. She relies on the usual characteristics given to younger siblings—an annoyance that everyone consistently overlooks her in favor of her older sisters, a resentment against hand-me-down clothes. She takes that to make Petunia a spunky little thing (her height is constantly referred to in the beginning as a defining characteristic, then suddenly dropped from the story altogether) anxious to prove her daring and wit. It works, until her sisters appear.
Once all twelve sisters reunite, George clearly has trouble balancing them. Like most books featuring the twelve princesses, this one relies on giving defining characteristics to three or four, then randomly mentioning the others in contexts like “Hyacinth walked into the room” just so readers know the author hasn’t forgotten them. One might suppose that George would at least continue to spotlight Petunia—a focus on her would not be amiss in what is her book. However, Petunia is quickly swamped by the stampede of characters—not only sisters but also lovers and husbands and loyal men and old allies. When she does appear, she is sometimes indistinguishable from her sister Poppy, whose main trait is also boldness. I often had to reread passages to figure out whether Poppy or Petunia had been speaking.
Oliver also fails to distinguish himself as a character in his own right. His character seems to change based on the necessities of the plot. I have no idea whether I could rightly describe him as brave or daring or honest (he isn’t, but he wants to be?); mostly he comes across as “nice”. His role in the story has a fluid-like quality, so even that fails to define him—he emerges variously as the wolf from “Little Red Riding Hood,” the woodcutter, and even Robin Hood.
George regrettably does not incorporate elements from “Little Red Riding Hood” or from Robin Hood in a particularly original way and the links are tenuous at best. Petunia wears a red cloak (and is rather obsessive about it), the thieves in the forest call themselves “wolves,” and at one point Oliver cuts some wood. Oliver bears a resemblance to Robin Hood in that he has lost his rightful property and now leads some men in the forest. Often these elements do not emerge in a believable way—Oliver’s story about his decision to rob travelers in order to sustain an earldom simply does not make sense, though a not insignificant portion of the book attempts to make it sound plausible.
The final chapters of the book are possibly the strongest. The action picks up, the sisters show some great character development in terms of facing their enemy (except for Lily, who apparently used to be really brave and a terrific shot, but now mostly sobs), and even the villains seem more human this time. The ending is a trifle neat, but I expected that from a fairy tale retelling.
I enjoyed Princess of the Silver Woods as another foray into the world of Princess of the Midnight Ball. It was good to see familiar faces again and to see how the princesses have grown. The decision to stop with three books, however, proved wise.
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Series: Annex #1
Published: October 16, 2012
Elysia is a Beta, one of the first clones created as a teenager. As a clone on the luxuriant island of Desmesne, a retreat created by the world’s richest families after the end of the Water Wars, Elysia’s only job is to serve her human masters. Soon, however, she realizes she is experiencing something she was never meant to—true emotions. If her new abilities are discovered, she will be executed as a Defect. But when she finds a boy she likes, she thinks exploring her emotions might be worth the risk.
Beta joins the growing line-up of young adult novels exploring the possibilities of genetic engineering and what it means to be human. This novel sets itself apart, however, by featuring a protagonist, a clone, who actually sounds inhuman. When Elysia is first created (or, as she would say, when she emerges), she is a model specimen: beautiful, pleasant, and eager to serve. She has no true feelings, but can use her programming to assess the emotional response her humans owners would wish her to have in any given situation; then she emulates it. As a result, Elysia sounds a little flat and naïve as the book opens. Mostly, she observes what her human owners do, then describes her process in determining what she should do. She also spends a lot of time asking “What is ____?” because apparently, even with all the advancements in clone technology, no one has thought to program colloquial words or idioms into clones’ chips. Sure, Elysia comes across as a bit bland to the reader, but she is supposed to; she is a machine.
Of course, the point of the plot is Elysia’s development of human-like emotions and thought-processes, and her voice changes appropriately as the novel progresses. She becomes more rounded, but I hesitate to say she becomes more likeable. Elysia would probably describe her new self as confident and rebellious, fighting against the injustice of clone servitude. Personally, I found her unpleasant and bordering on violent. Maybe it is due to all the teenage hormones all the characters are always talking about. Or perhaps it is her clone wiring acting up. At this point in the series, there is no way to tell. In future books, I hope Elysia finds ways to control her anger, or I will have difficulty accepting her as a leader and symbol of a righteous rebellion.
Elysia’s newfound emotions also lead her into a love affair. Unfortunately, she experiences instalove and appears drawn to her man based on a combination of lust and a feeling that they ought to be together because they are in integral ways alike. (She does throw in a line about how he has a number of great qualities, like kindness and honesty, which is true but does not seem to play a pivotal role in their relationship.) Later, a love triangle (square?) pops up, and the attraction there is similarly based on something other than true love or respect.
Despite the evident flaws of the book, I was pretty much on board with it until the climax. It has an original concept, an inhuman character that actually sounds inhuman (I am still impressed by this), and a luxurious setting that is part tropical paradise and part futuristic dream. All of this is undeniably cool. However, at the climax, things go seriously wonky. A sizable number of the main characters become psychotic with a smidgen of motivation/foreshadowing but not nearly enough to justify their actions. In a few pages, nearly the last pages, the pace goes from moderate to breakneck as things just go down. This is not exciting; it makes the book feel unbalanced. At just the place the book is supposed to be winding down, new characters, plots, and romances are revealed one after another. There is no time to explore them; they are obviously just set-up for book two, but it is all so overwhelming and seems very last-minute. The last fifty pages led me to stop debating between three or four stars on Goodreads and start debating between two and three.
Beta is sci-fi light with a contemporary feel that will appeal to fans of Eve and Adam and What’s Left of Me. It has a unique concept which is moderately well but not excellently executed. I recommend it to readers already invested in the science fiction genre or the cloning concept.
Content Note: This book features frequent drug use, nudity, rape, and pregnancy. In some cases, they are meant to serve as plot points, but they are not well-handled (i.e. they are not really discussed). They are passing moments that simply lead to other moments in the plot.
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Series: The Dreamhunter Duet #1
Laura comes from a world similar to our own but for one difference: the Place.
The Place is an unfathomable land filled with dreams of every kind and invisible to all but a select few: the Dreamhunters. Treated as celebrities, the Dreamhunters catch larger-than-life dreams and relay them to audiences in the magnificent dream palace, the Rainbow Opera.
Now, fifteen-year-old Laura and her cousin Rose are going to find out whether they are part of this prestigious group. But nothing in their darkest nightmares can prepare them for what they are about to discover. For within the Place lies a horrific secret kept hidden by corrupt members of the government. And when Laura’s father suddenly disappears, she realizes that this secret has the power to destroy everyone she loves…
I’ll admit, I only picked this book up because of the cover (yes, that’s how I judged it, har har). But I wasn’t ready for the passionate, frightening tale Elizabeth Knox has to tell in this novel. I certainly wasn’t ready for the cliffhanger ending, which is why I’ve been looking for the sequel for years. Knox’s characters are so real, and their predicaments so understandable (despite the fantasy elements) that it’s hard to forget them in a hurry.
Dreamhunter is set in Edwardian New Zealand–which I should have known existed at some point in time, obviously, but I’ve never taken the time to fully appreciate the idea. To tell the truth, I would never have thought that Laura and Rose were supposed to be in New Zealand if I hadn’t read the author bio in the front (Knox herself is from New Zealand and still lives there). For the first few chapters, I actually thought the book took place on a small island near Greece before I started getting confused. I was being pretty stupid, though, since there is a kiwi (the bird, not the fruit) in the corner of the map at the beginning of the book. That’s a pretty obvious hint, really. Anyway, the events in the book take place in 1906. This is important because it’s right around the time film production took off in our world.
As movies such as Inception and Hugo prove, directors frequently see film as the medium best suited to communicating dreams. Movies seem a little dull in comparison to the emotion-charged, 100% empathetic, first person experience that sharing a dream consists of in the Dreamhunter universe, but all it takes is a little imagination on the viewer’s part to get similar results from a film. There are even “colorist” dreams which actively influence the way the audience feels about a specific topic (much like propaganda), although they’re officially outlawed (so of course only the government uses them. Did I tell you that the government is the antagonist? The government is the antagonist and they use dreams to rig elections, among other things). Dreams (and films) can change the way people think about and see people, current events, and social issues. That is the fact which must be exploited for the climax of the book. Ironically, film doesn’t play a very large role in Dreamhunter; only a search for Uncle Chorley’s camera in the Place carries the idea any farther than the first few chapters. But the link to film is unmistakeable, and I think it’s a shame Knox doesn’t expand on the potential parallel between film-maker and dreamhunter (maybe that’s in the sequel…).
The (ostensibly) main character Laura is a quiet, unassuming girl of 15 who, up until the moment she finds out she can travel to the Place, doesn’t know what she wants out of life. She is used to following her cousin Rose, who is strong willed and opinionated for a young lady in the early twentieth century. Laura’s family and friends agree that she generally doesn’t make her own decisions and instead allows Rose to choose everything for them both. Rose doesn’t mind this set-up, however, and their relationship is decent enough because Rose doesn’t get either of them into trouble. She’s a good leader that way. Although it is clear that Laura needs to learn how to think for herself, that doesn’t happen for most of the book–if her very last action, performed on the very last page, is counted, she has exactly two ideas that were hers alone. The rest of the time, her situation forces her to carry out her father’s–or the Place’s–plans, which were already set in motion before she was even born. Laura resents the position in which she has been placed, but what makes her a wonderful character is that both her acts of rebellion against her unbelievably horrible destiny are compassionate, and meant to help others. (They both work, too; it’s not like she meant to be nice and it blew up in her face.)
Rose is another great character. She is young (Laura’s age), but she stands up for herself and others, takes charge, and isn’t afraid to express her thoughts. Her determination is her best quality, since she picks herself up quite easily after her hubris-induced fall halfway through the novel. Instead of sulking and resenting the fact that Laura can go into the Place and she cannot (even though she’d had her heart set on it since she was a child), she listens to Laura’s problems and finds a way to help her cousin through them. Laura literally has everything Rose ever wanted, and Rose barely spends a second feeling bitter about it. Characters like Rose are few and far between, and I don’t know if I can say enough about how much I appreciate her.
Not included in this review: there are golems and singing and desserts and nightmares and adolescence and convicts and it all fits together, I promise. The only downside to this book is that you really shouldn’t finish it without the sequel nearby. They deserve to both be read in one go.