Goodreads: The Dark Is Rising
Series: The Dark Is Rising Sequence #2
On his eleventh birthday, Will Stanton learns that he is the last of the Old Ones, an ancient group dedicated to fighting the Dark. He is the Sign-Seeker, the one destined to bring together the symbols of power that will help the Old Ones in the final battle. But the Dark is rising.
The Dark Is Rising is a solid fantasy adventure that will keep readers flipping pages long after their bedtimes. It possesses a likeable hero refreshingly grounded in a loving family life; a magical quest full of mystery and danger; and, of course, an epic struggle of good and evil. Throw in a little legend and myth, and you have a story that seems guaranteed to succeed.
The characters really stood out in this installment of the series. Whereas the Drew children (protagonists of the first book, Over Sea, Under Stone) seemed like typical children, nice but not particularly noteworthy, Will comes alive as a character in his own right–due, interestingly enough, to his relationships with others. He is one of nine of children and his home is constantly bustling with activity, yet he never gets lost in the chaos. His family loves each other and looks out for each other, so that no matter what happens in the plot, readers have a sense of its far-reaching consequences; this book is not just about darkness overcoming the world, but about darkness hurting the people you love.
Though the siblings are obviously not as involved in the action to the extent Will is, Cooper still manages to sketch out a personality for each of them–and she does not do it the typical way, which is to give each some sort of distinguishing characteristic or notable talents, so that they almost seem like caricature. Yes, Paul likes music, but the rest of the family does, too. And he is so more than that. He is also perceptive and kind, and he has a way of knowing when people need to be alone or do not want to talk. Likewise, though Mary could have just been that annoying older sister, she is shown to be caring in her own way. The entire family is always faintly alive in the background.
The plot arguably contains a lot more action than Over Sea, Under Stone, yet I would argue it is not as strong. Will’s status as one of the Old Ones means that the Dark cannot actually harm him (though it can attack his family). Thus, a lot of the sense of danger is lost. Furthermore, the entire plot hinges around a quest that was predetermined in days gone by, thereby destroying any suspense. We all know from the beginning that Will will succeed, thanks to all his mentors who repeatedly emphasize to the boy that thus it is ordained and he need not fear. After all, though he is ostensibly seeking the six Signs, the other Old Ones know where they are; this is not Harry seeking the Horcruxes. All Will really has to do is walk up to them and collect them. A lot of fancy magic gets involved and one wonders why–perhaps the Old Ones just like to do things in style. Actually, one wonders why Will had to do this at all. Yes, magic has its own rules and the Old Ones surely know something the readers do not, but all the stuff about things happening “in their time” eventually starts sounding like an excuse to cover up a lack of any real logic.
I plan to continue the series, but I hope that Cooper allows her heroes to face real dangers and make real sacrifices. Everything in this book was just a little too neat for me to believe that the world was ever in any real danger.
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Goodreads: The Twistrose Key
Published: October 22, 2013
A striking middle-grade debut in the tradition of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass
When a mysterious parcel arrives at her family’s new home, eleven-year-old Lin Rosenquist has a curious feeling she’s meant to discover what’s inside.
Much to Lin’s surprise, the ornate key contained in the parcel unlocks a spellbinding world called Sylver, hidden behind the cellar door. Sylver is an enchanting land of eternal winter, inhabited by animals that shared a special connection with children in the real world, either as beloved pets or tamed wild animals. In death, they are delivered to Sylver, where they take on a curiously human-like form and still watch over the children they cherish. While Lin is overjoyed to be reunited with her beloved pet, Rufus, she soon learns that the magic of the Petlings and Wilders is failing, and snow trolls want to claim Sylver for themselves. Lin must discover a way to stop them and save this enchanted world.
Full of charm, suspense, and heartfelt emotion, this memorable classic in the making will leave readers breathless.
The Twistrose Key promises a lot, and I was attracted the moment I heard of it. The official summary boasts, “Exhilarating suspense and unforgettable characters await the readers of this magical adventure, destined to become a classic.” A classic magical middle-grade adventure? I thought. It’s about time someone wrote a book that can stand alongside The Chronicles of Narnia. Count me in!
Unfortunately, for the first 100 pages—nearly one third of the book—I felt I was reading Narnia (see specific comparison quotes below). From the main character’s chance meeting with a talking creature in a snowy magical world to the way time works in Sylver, it is clear Almhjell is heavily inspired by Lewis. While taking some seeds from Narnia would not be amiss in a fantasy, attempting a rewrite of Lucy Pevensie’s iconic meeting with Mr. Tumnus in a frozen wood is bold—and in most cases destined for failure.
Once all the background information on the world of Sylver and Lin’s quest there is set up, the book does become more original. It also becomes more fast-paced. Protagonists Rufus and Lin travel more widely, they encounter more powerful magic, and they uncover a number of titillating secrets. They decipher prophecies, they escape from traps, and they battle a horde of trolls. It’s quite exciting, really, and made all the better by the bond between Rufus and Lin. They are fantastic traveling companions, determined to stick by each other through whatever adventures befall them.
The story also gets progressively darker, which is a major departure from Narnia in itself. Lin suffers various injuries, with appropriate gushing of blood, and seems in real danger of dying at several points. The descriptions of what happens to some of the bad guys in the tale are also pretty grisly. This edgy take on children’s fantasy will appeal immensely to modern audiences.
However, Almhjell strikes a great balance by including childlike moments and activities that lighten the tone of the novel. Lin refuses to remove the grubby old cardigan her grandmother knit her and that Rufus used to live in. She recalls her times playing troll-hunters with her friend at home when she must fight real trolls. She thinks how disappointed her parents will be if she fails in her quest and never returns home. Lin, though a Twistrose, is still a little girl—and a delightful one at that. A well-written and believable child heroine.
The Twistrose Key certainly has its flaws. Its beginning is very derivative, and when it is not being derivative it can be confusing. (Lin’s quest, in particular, is not clearly defined when introduced.) However, if readers are willing to stick out the story until the point Rufus and Lin leave Sylveros, they will find a real adventure awaiting—one that has action, but also charm, one that takes readers to magical places, but also explores real questions like the nature of friendship and courage. I am not as in love with The Twistrose Key as I had sincerely hoped, but it is a pleasant read for fans of the genre.
Are you sure we’re not in Narnia?
This section includes a side-by-side comparison of quotes The Twistrose Key and The Chronicles of Narnia, in order to highlight the similarities. The quotes, of course, count as spoilers for those who prefer to go into books blind.
“There was no cellar, and no riverbank, either. Instead she looked out on a desolate, frozen mountain valley, where winter twilight painted the snow blue, and stern peaks rose into the sky. A creature crouched in the snow before her, facing away, but so close that she could smell it: a musky scent” (Twistrose 9).
“And then she saw that there was a light ahead of her; not a few inches away where the back of the wardrobe ought to have been, but a long way off. Something cold and soft was falling on her. A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air…She heard a pitter patter of feet coming towards her. And soon after that a very strange person stepped out from among the trees into the light of the lamp-post” (Narnia 113-114).
“When true danger rises, when the last hope is lost, it is said in Sylver that only a child of Earth can help” (56).
“When Adam’s flesh and Adam’s bone
Sits at Cair Paravel in throne,
The evil time will be over and done” (147).
“That’s right, girl. Time flows differently in Sylver…An hour here can be a day in your world, or a day can be a week, we never know” (49).
“If, I say, she [Lucy] had got into another world, I should not be at all surprised to find that the other world had a separate time of its own; so that however long you stayed there it would never take up any of our time” (132).
“The Observatory allows us to see our human children, but only for a time….”
“You mean because they died?”
“No. Because they aren’t children anymore” (344-345).
“’Oh, you two [Lucy and Edmund] are,’ said Peter. ‘At least, from what [Aslan] said, I’m pretty sure he means you to get back [to Narnia] some day. But not Su and me. He says we’re getting too old’” (417).
Almhjell, Tone. The Twistrose Key. New York: Penguin, 2013. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. Print.
Goodreads: The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci’s Arithmetic Revolution
Devlin examines the impact of the arithmetic book of Leonardo of Pisa, commonly known as Fibonacci.
I picked up this book with the mistaken impression that it told the life of Fibonacci and, consequently, found myself disappointed. As Devlin explains, history knows very little about Fibonacci; generally, we know only that his real name was Leonardo of Pisa, that he travelled to Africa while a teen (and learned there the Hindu-Arabic number system), that he wrote quite a few books on mathematics (one of which inspired Europe to adopt the Hindu-Arabic number system), and that he was considered important as a result. Add a few more random details like visits to emperors and what his father did for a living, and you have just about everything. So, of course, I found myself wondering how the author managed to get 158 pages out of it.
Had I read the subtitle more carefully, I might have suspected that the book does not focus on the life of Fibonacci, but on the results of his publications, particularly his Liber abbaci, which taught how to use the Hindu-Arabic number system in everyday situations. That means that Devlin devotes chapters to topics like the sources Fibonacci used to write his book or the books that his book inspired. Other full chapters illustrate in detail the methods Fibonacci used to calculate (notation was different then and explanations of problems we would find simple needed pages of explanations). Not being a historian of mathematics, I found myself rather bored by the lists of book titles, the intricacies of which author wrote which manuscript, and, above all, the multitude of lengthy quotations from Liber abbaci. After the first two or three, I felt like I’d gotten it—it took Fibonacci an insufferably long time to explain stuff.
If you are the type of person interested in the question of whose mathematic manuscript inspired whose, this book will no doubt appeal to you. (If, on the other hand, this concept seems strange to you, consider that students of literature often try to decipher what works inspired various authors—the question really does matter to some people.) I, however, found myself longing for other information—if not biographical details, then maybe some more information on everyday life in medieval Pisa or an explanation of what other mathematic and scientific advances were occurring around that time. Expecting to discover Fibonacci, I was disappointed to discover his absence.
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Goodreads: The Dragon’s Tooth
Series: Ashtown Burials #1
Antigone and Cyrus Smith live in a dilapidated hotel with their older brother Daniel. No one ever checks in, until the night a strange man requests a specific room. By morning, the man has died, the hotel has burned to the ground, and Daniel has disappeared. Informed that the only way to save their brother is to join a mysterious order of explorers, Antigone and Cyrus find themselves racing against time to find the order and swear their loyalty. Not everyone in the order, however, welcomes the new initiates. Surrounded by enemies, the two will have to prove their skill and bravery if they want to reunite their family.
The Dragon’s Tooth is one of those rare middle grade books that constantly surprises, not only with its imagination and the vividness of its world, but also with its unexpected depth. Though the plot may sound not unfamiliar—young heroes find they belong to an ancient order—Wilson sets it apart from standard fantasy fare by grounding it in the nitty gritty of everyday life. His characters have real backgrounds, full of pain as well as mundanity, that shape who they are. They face real challenges that test not only their physical endurance but also their moral character. And when they fight, they bleed. Far from being fantasy wish fulfillment, The Dragon’s Tooth looks life in the face and admits to readers that sometimes life hurts. But that does not take away any of its wonder or enchantment.
Wilson does so much right with this book that writing a manageable review about it all seems almost impossible. Certain aspects, however, immediately stand out because they contrast with elements I often see in contemporary media. For example, I think many readers will find themselves pleased with the strong emphasis on family. The Smiths’ parents are, actually, missing, if you want to put it that way—their father died in an accident and their mother lies in a coma. However, Cyrus and Antigone are cared for by their twenty-year-old brother, who had to give up college to provide for them and who works hard to do so. All three have a special bond that they recognize as especially important as a result of losing their parents. Their actions throughout the book are dictated by their desire to remain together and to help each other. They furthermore remain devoted to their mother, whom they visit regularly.
The setting of The Dragon’s Tooth also stands out. The Smiths currently live in Wisconsin. That’s right—Midwestern America, where you probably thought nothing ever happened. Their lives, however, have a certain Americana charm. They live in a dilapidated motel with one of those old neon signs and they eat in one of those classic truck stop diners. It is a really beautiful choice because I do not think I have ever seen it done. Like Suzanne Collins, who evidently wrote The Underland Chronicles as a sort of urban Alice in Wonderland, Wilson takes an overlooked location and gives it the possibility of magic.
Magic, however, never comes without a price and The Dragon’s Tooth pulls no punches. From the very moment they accept the invitation to join the order of explorers, Antigone and Cyrus find themselves battling not only monsters and villains, but also the pettiness of fellow students and resentful adults. Their acceptance to the order comes with a stipulation that no one else has to meet. But the Smiths meet their challenges with grace (well, most of them). They lost their parents at a young age and they know life is seldom fair and that sometimes they have to fight.
The fighting Wilson shows is not pretty, either. While some middle grade books seem to think children cannot handle reality, The Dragon’s Tooth not only shows the real effects of violence (though not in a gruesome way—just acknowledging that people are going to have broken limbs or bruises or bloody gashes) but also introduces a villain who performs ghastly experiments on his victims in order to achieve something he perceives as greater than humanity. There are corpses in this book, as well as grieving survivors. But Wilson seems to trust his audience to handle it—like the Smiths, they may well have experienced suffering in their own lives.
Finally, I just have to note that those who wish for more diversity in contemporary media will probably see this book as a good start. For one, it is full of strong female characters—strong as in confident, skilled, compassionate, and intelligent. Some of them are fighters and some of them are not; they do not have to fit into a certain type of mold to be considered strong. Furthermore, the Smiths’ mother comes from Brazil, so the protagonists have a mixed background, one that is celebrated when another character notes that Cyrus and Antigone have inherited their mother’s darker skin and hair—he calls this a “gift.” Another important character is described as having black skin. So, if we ever get a movie of this series, we can hopefully expect a very diverse cast, one that honors the spirit of the order of explorers, which is international in character and celebrates the skills and insights its varied members can bring.
Aside from the technical notes of how family, setting, and diversity are handled, The Dragon’s Tooth is an enthralling read in its own right. The characters are likable, the premise engaging, and the plot suspenseful. Action fills nearly every page, yet the book manages to balance the need for plot advancement with moments that illustrate the emotional growth of the characters. The characters, just as much as the magic of the world they live in, drive the book, making me eager not only to continue their story but also to reread the parts of their story I already know. And a book that bears rereading is truly a good book.
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.
After a tragic shipwreck, baby Sophie is discovered floating in a cello case. Charles Maxim, an absentminded scholar, determines to adopt her as his ward. The British government, however, disapproves of homes where dinner is served on books, the wallpaper is covered in notes, and young ladies are to be seen wearing trousers. The children’s agency wants to take Sophie away, but before she lets that happen, the now twelve-year-old girl convinces her guardian to take her on one last journey in an attempt to find the mother she knows is still alive.
Rooftoppers possesses a magical charm all its own from the delightfully comfy love between Sophia and her guardian to the breathtaking visions of beauty offered from the roofs of Paris. By turns clever, humorous, and knowing, this book stands out as one of the most original middle grade offerings of the year.
The strength of the book undoubtedly lies in its many stars. Readers have Sophia, the hopefully reckless orphan in search of her mother; Charles, the wise guardian who knows when to press his ward and when to grant her freedom; and Matteo, the orphan who finds freedom living on the roofs of Paris. Their relationships will warm and inspire; Charles here proves no absent guardian, but one firmly invested in giving Sophia the security and understanding he knows she needs. Sophia and Matteo, meanwhile, develop an unlikely friendship based on mutual trust and respect. Without ever overtly teaching a lesson, Rooftoppers demonstrates the true strength of love.
Though the characters are sure to charm, the setting and the prose prove equally important in creating the enchantment of Rooftoppers. The author takes readers on a unique journey across the roofs of Paris, introducing them to a wild freedom and a spectacular beauty through the eyes of the children who dared to imagine a different kind of life. All this comes alive through Katherine Rundell’s unique voice.
Only the ending marred the story for me. Though I suspected how the story would go, I did hope for fewer loose ends. I assume Rundell did not wish to ruin the moment with explanations about the inconvenient facts of life. Still, though I think Rooftoppers stands perfectly alone, my concern for the future of the characters has me wishing for some sort of epilogue, if not a sequel.
Even with my misgivings about the end, however, Rooftoppers triumphs as a beautifully artistic work about the power of hope, the power of love, and the power of friendship. I hope we can expect more magical worlds from the pen of Katherine Rundell.
Goodreads: Over Sea, Under Stone
Series: The Dark Is Rising Sequence #1
While on vacation in Cornwall, Simon, Barney, and Jane Drew discover an ancient manuscript that points to the hiding place of the Holy of Grail of Arthurian legend. At first the children think their discovery a new type of game, but as they try to decode the puzzle, they find themselves in the middle of an ancient struggle between good and evil.
The first book in Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence follows in the footsteps of fantasy giants like E. Nesbit and C. S Lewis, introducing readers to a to a modern-day Britain both familiar and strange. Though the village of Trewissick seems like a typical holiday spot, the Drew children soon learn that the area has an intriguing past, all bound up with King Arthur and the legendary Holy Grail. That past comes alive when the same forces that fought Arthur return to claim the Grail.
The great charm of Over Sea, Under Stone comes not only from the collision of magic with the everyday world, but also from the normality of the Drew children. None of them possesses unbelievable intelligence or athleticism; none of them possesses some arcane skill that just so happens to be the one thing that will enable them to save the day. They are relatable and believable, and readers feel that, in the place of the Drew children, they, too, would have the ability to solve the mystery.
Over Sea, Under Stone makes magic in the everyday world seem not only possible, but even probable. Its deep sense of history reveals the layers that combine to make our present, and in the process inspires surprise and wonder. Sometimes the current glut of fantasy series on the market makes finding a good one seem impossible, but it is no mistake The Dark Is Rising sequence has turned into a genre classic.
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Top Ten Tuesdays is a meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is
Top Ten Sequels I Can’t Wait to Get My Hands on
1. Empire of Bones by N. D. Wilson: The third book in the Ashtown Burial series, which follows Antigone and Cyrus Smith as they join an ancient order of explorers dedicated to keeping the earth safe from terrible monsters.
2. Story’s End by Marissa Burt: The sequel to Storybound, which takes place in a land where children go to school to learn how to be characters in various stories.
3. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente: The second book in Valente’s amazing Fairyland series!
4. The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente: Yes, I need this one, as well.
5. Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R. L. LaFevers: I can’t wait to see what ancient horror menaces the British Empire next!
6. Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George: I want to see Castle Glower in action once more!
7. Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones: The sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle!
8. Hero by Alethea Kontis: I haven’t even read Enchanted yet, but the cover looks so amazing.
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.