24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: fantasy (page 1 of 2)

Abby Reads: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
HarperTeen, 2015, 272 pages
Fantasy Graphic Novel

With the ability to shapeshift and a great admiration for Lord Ballister Blackheart, Nimona has decided it’s time to be a sidekick. Though her origins are hazy, Nimona will not be denied by Blackheart and she eventually wears him down by taking what she wants and showing up to work against the Institute of Law Enforcement alongside Blackheart. With each battle, Nimona wreaks havoc on Blackheart’s plans but there’s something in Nimona that tugs at Blackheart and perhaps something nefarious going on at the Institute of Law Enforcement. With a mash-up of medieval times and science fiction, Nimona by Noelle Stevenson is a highly original adventure that is far more than it first appears to be.

One of the impressive things about Nimona is that the story is far more complex than I can get into in a review. There are backstories, lies, hidden identities, layers of loyalty, and all sorts of plot subtleties that round out the story as a whole and complete narrative. With an ending that isn’t entirely conclusive, Stevenson leaves readers with the ability to insert their own ending, but not at the cost of the readers feeling lost or unfulfilled.

Another of Nimona’s strengths is its dedication to humor. The stark visual contrast between Nimona, who is short, pudgy, and pink-haired, to the tall, thin, dark-haired Blackheart is enough to make readers giggle to start, but the real gems come in the form of dialog. Nimona, a chronic over-reactor, regularly spurts lines of hilarity that are not, from her perspective, intended to be funny, but are amusing nonetheless. Stevenson’s skill in employing humor in a story that is so complex might remind some readers of Vonnegut, despite the radically different format. Readers won’t just smile from humor, however; Nimona is ultimately a story of heart and courage. The brand of courage in the graphic novel is more of a surety of oneself rather than, say, Men in Black courage of defeating aliens (although, if you liked Men in Black, you will also very much enjoy Nimona, I think). The book is immensely heartwarming at every turn, though particularly in scenes that feature Nimona and Blackheart alone.

Each character is carefully crafted with their own motivations, desires, backstories, and visual design that both serve to mirror and contradict their personalities. Stevenson succeeds a great deal in playing characters off one another, creating a sense of chemistry that is hard to find in other narratives. With the depth of each character, no relationship can afford to be truly superficial, even in instances of acquaintances.

Nimona is highly relevant for today — the attempt at diversity (which seems to be an excellent and still-emerging theme in media more and more) is evident (the story features a female lead who is decidedly not traditionally feminine outside of her pink hair, a woman in the ultimate seat of power, gay secondary characters, and a secondary character with a prosthetic limb — and not only this, but the primary relationship featured in the story is not of the romantic, or even friend (arguably), variety). Characters of color are few and far between and socioeconomic status appears to be a non-issue in many ways, so there are gaps, but Nimona remains one of the most overtly diverse pieces of fiction I’ve encountered in a while.

The relevance does not end at diversity, however. The politics of Nimona’s world are strikingly similar to what we see in many modern governments — a lack of trust between the government (or, more specifically, the Institute of Law Enforcement — the acronym of which you might notice could be anagrammed to the word “lie” — yeah, maybe I’m pushing it here, but still) and the people of its domain features heavily, though ultimately, the government is not acting on the best interests of the people.

Great for teens and adults alike, Nimona is a fresh take on old tropes that is both fun and thought-provoking (and hilarious). Stevenson’s work on the project was clearly done with loads of love and planning, and, from someone, you’ll remember, who isn’t huge on graphic novels, it comes recommended with four hearts.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 2016, 640 pages
YA Fantasy

Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Mist and Fury follows up on A Court of Thorns and Roses (SPOILERS ahead for A Court of Thorns and Roses). For those who read the first in the series, you might feel like the book concluded the narrative enough to not warrant a sequel — the great thing about the sequel, however, is that it turns everything of Thorns and Roses on its head. I’ve struggled with Maas’s work. I wasn’t a big fan of Throne of Glass and gave up sixty pages into the sequel the first time. But reading Thorns and Roses and its sequel convinced me to revisit the Throne of Glass series (and so far, I’m pretty glad for it, even if I still don’t love it). Mist and Fury picks up as Tamlin goes about protecting his lands from various evil forces. With Feyre still living in his castle, Tamlin determines to keep Feyre inside at all times, for the sake of her safety — this, despite Feyre being an accomplished and capable hunter, proven on multiple occasions. Honoring the deal he made with her in Thorns and Roses, Rhys shows up as Feyre makes her way down the aisle at her and Tamlin’s wedding to pluck her from Tamlin’s court and bring her to his for the week. As Feyre is passed between the two courts, Rhys notices the wear Feyre begins to show as a result of Tamlin’s control.

One of the biggest achievements of Mist and Fury is, from my perspective, its complexity. While I generally don’t love overly-political high fantasy, I think Maas strikes a pretty good balance with this series, including enough politics to make the plot plausible but not so much so as to drown the readers in policy, diplomacy, and other red tape. It is complex enough that I can’t easily add it in the summary above, but suffice to say, new players and old players come into antagonistic roles that could destroy more than just Feyre’s life. And it makes for a fascinating read.

Like most books with plenty of politics, however, there’s a whole lot of build-up involved with subtle plot turns which later become more significant with context. Except for a few exciting moments (Rhys’s appearance at the wedding being one — really, any scene with Rhys made for good entertainment; Feyre so seldom interacts with anyone due to her practical imprisonment, that really any appearance by anyone made things more interesting), the first three-hundred pages are slow. But by the end of the book, I was fangirling harder than I have in years. We’re talking approaching-Harry-Potter levels of fangirling. It was great.

Back to Rhys. Maas is an author who you can see takes criticism seriously and works to rectify it in her future writing. Characters in Mist and Fury, but especially Rhys, are developed with not just layers, but layers that make sense and tie into each character’s history and their relationships with each other. Fine subtleties in character are sprinkled throughout the book and each choice, from the way a character holds their fork to the way a character chooses to scream or not to scream in anguish in battle, is fantastically deliberate. It’s evident that Maas plans very carefully, and follows characters’ development not just in the immediate moment, but in their past and future.

I do think the exception here is Feyre. Feyre still winds up being somewhat bland and trite as far as (fantasy) female first-person narrators/main characters go. Feyre’s painting hobby comes back into play, slightly (though still not enough to warrant such a cliché, in my opinion). Even her hobby aside, Feyre does not have an extraordinary amount of personality. While her sisters, who appear in only a few scenes, feel far more real, readers can’t get a full look at Feyre beyond maybe-tough-girl who hunts and paints and is stubborn. But these traits are portrayed with superficial passages most readers will find familiar to many other similarly designed characters in other novels. Maybe this is a trait in and of itself: Feyre cannot accurately portray her own personality through her first-person narration. The series conclusion, which will be out in May, I suspect will give readers more insight on this issue.

Whatever Feyre’s deal, I’m eager for the final book, A Court of Wings and Ruin. Not only does the ominous title make me reach for the May release date, but with the amount of fangirling that went on in the final moments of Mist and Fury (really, Feyre doesn’t have more character than she does in those final moments — wow), I can only imagine what the grand finale will feel like.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Great Hunt by Wendy Higgins

The Great Hunt by Wendy Higgins
HarperTeen, 2016, 432 pages
YA Fantasy

When a great beast begins terrorizing the world of Eurona, the king issues a challenge: he that can defeat the animal will win his daughter’s, Princess Aerity, hand in marriage. Resigning herself to do what is best for her kingdom when the king’s resources are limited, Aerity watches at people from her own kingdom and beyond are destroyed by the beast’s terror. During her visits to the fighting men (and few women) who try to defend Eurona, Aerity meets one contender who, while he has no interest in marrying Princess Aerity, feels he must do what he can to protect his homeland and family. Paxton and his brother hunt alongside the others and there’s no doubt they are good — but Paxton is drawn in by Aerity’s self-assuredness, causing an internal conflict over why he is actually fighting. In a tale that recreates the Grimm Brothers’ “The Singing Bone,” The Great Hunt by Wendy Higgins is the first in the Eurona duology.

The Great Hunt came into my life because I was asked to review its sequel, The Great Pursuit. In many ways, especially after having read both books, The Great Hunt felt more like a large prologue to The Great Pursuit rather than its own book even as part of a duology. The Great Hunt lays out the foundation for The Great Pursuit but doesn’t have much of a story of its own. In fact, characters in the first novel are severely underdeveloped. This is especially obvious with the book’s main character, Princess Aerity. With little nuance, Aerity’s primary characteristic is the clichéd defiance many-a-fictional princess exhibits. The slight difference with Aerity is her willingness to go along with her father’s decree for the sake of her kingdom; this is not enough, however, to flesh her into a full being. Aerity’s one hobby — something that might help to better form her personality if done well — is merely a plot device which ultimately serves in one small scene to remove characters from trouble. Its presence in her life has no other purpose and feels, therefore, disingenuous. Other flat areas include the villain and the villain’s motivations, which otherwise begin with promise but ultimately fall.

Also troubling is the level of sluts-haming in the novel. Wyneth, who watches her betrothed die, begins to move on with other characters and one hunter in particular. She is not only seemingly punished for daring to kiss her betrothed before he dies, but is on the receiving end of sneers and other mistreatment and judgment as she develops a relationship with the hunter. The importance of monogamy in this fictional society is emphasized to the extent that it makes me wonder if the author was trying to make a point with this. While I’m on the fence as to whether we should portray humans and reality strictly as they are in fiction or condemn actions that are, in our society, generally seen as unacceptable, the fairly frequent talk of monogamy and consequences for stepping outside those boundaries in one way or another (of course more severe for women) was a bit much for me.

Higgins does a decent job with romantic moments despite her characters’ lack of personalities and even pulls off a surprise ending, but the entire premise of the book doesn’t quite add up for me. The king makes excuses for not rewarding land to the winner of the hunt by saying he needs it for his son and his other daughter’s dowry. There’s apparently no money to be had. And so he turns to…selling off his oldest daughter? Surely there were more options and, because Higgins does not explore other potential options (which causes some deficit in the world building area), readers are forced to accept that this is truly the only way.

And while a beast terrorizes the kingdom of Eurona, the stakes never felt quite high enough to warrant the tense action-adventure atmosphere Higgins tries to create. Plenty of moments in the novel are overly drawn out and slow while others are completely unnecessary, adding nothing to the plot or character development. Pursuit was certainly better, giving Hunt more of a payoff than it probably deserved, but I can’t necessarily recommend Hunt beyond that, which is why I leave it with two-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas
Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 2015, 448 pages
YA Fantasy

Feyre, a human in a world that is not our own, hates faeries. When she happens across one in wolf-form in the woods while hunting for her family, she kills it. Before long, a faerie comes to collect her as she’s violated the treaty with her murder. Her captor, Tamlin, is High Lord of the Spring Court and will keep her for an undetermined time. While Feyre learns about the way of the faeries just over the border, she also learns they are perhaps not so evil as she has been led to believe. Although she still must fulfill the treaty’s consequences, Feyre finds Tamlin to be forgiving as he restores her family’s wealth and protects her from the antagonistic forces of Amarantha and her consort, Rhys, who has taken an interest in Feyre himself.

I shouldn’t be writing this review. I know too much!

Without spoiling too much, I’ll say the following: the sequel to this novel, A Court of Mist and Fury, will completely change how you interpret A Court of Thorns and Roses. You may pick up inklings of how a certain character really isn’t as moral as they ought to be, but you won’t realize the extent of it until A Court of Mist and Fury. I had a lot of complaints about Maas’s Throne of Glass series, which didn’t feel well set-up (or, if it is, the payoff is too slow and not worth the work to get there), but this series blows that away easily.

The fun thing about Thorns and Roses is that it’s in many ways a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” And it’s especially fun because Tamlin and Feyre take turns in each role. Fan theories have suggested that Feyre’s lack of love for other beings (read: faeries) makes her beastly and her journey from beast to beauty is illustrated through her journey from illiterate to literate. It’s interesting stuff and, whether or not Maas intended it, creates a layer of literary-fiction-level-writing (at least for a young adult fantasy) that isn’t present in Throne of Glass.

This type of writing is highlighted by the many, many problematic characters. No one character in this series is perfect (and the ones that supposedly are, are actually flawed because of their perfection). It makes character development absolutely fascinating, even when the plot gets a little flimsy or over-burdened with politics and details from time to time. The characters are not just interesting on their own, however, but each relationship (be it romantic, friendship, or foes), has an exciting element of chemistry I haven’t seen in a fantasy or any novel in a while. It’s electric and really sets apart this novel from others. Perhaps one of the most interesting relationships is that of the Archeron sisters. Feyre, along with Nesta and Elain, create a trio that are strongly different and with dissonant motivations and emotions which heightens the way Feyre interacts with others.

But, okay, the novel wasn’t perfect. Amarantha’s name grated on me. The prose and plot were slow in points, bogged down with irrelevant information that hardly served as a red herring. Feyre’s thing is painting which is just so trite (and, I’ll admit, it does have a sort-of purpose in A Court of Mist and Fury but I’m still not thrilled about it).

It’s nice to get drawn into a heavy fantasy novel once in a while, and this one did the trick. I’m genuinely looking forward to the third book due out in May to discover Feyre’s fate and the rest of the — well, no spoilers here.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016, 320 pages
Fantasy Play

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child picks up in play format where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows left us. Now an adult with three children, Harry Potter brings his offspring to Platform 9 ¾ to send them off to Hogwarts. For Albus Potter, Hogwarts brings a new set of pressures involving living up to his father’s legacy. Meanwhile, Scorpius Malfoy struggles with his own problems. The two find each other and develop a friendship before beginning a new adventure that changes the entire canon of Harry Potter as we previously knew it.

Look. I realize this is all Rowling-sanctioned, but this is absurd. Though the results of the series may remain, Albus and Scorpius, with the help of a time turner, completely alter the underlying events of what actually happened, particularly in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The implications of these changes cast familiar characters in a whole new light, often in ways that don’t make sense. Additionally, *MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD*, the “change” in the fact that Voldemort had a child (with Bellatrix Lestrange, no less), is a lazy trope that leads me to believe the only reason this text exists is for the money its creators knew it would make. Ew.

Moving on. Many familiar characters make appearances throughout the play: Harry, of course, Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Draco, and others show their faces — but that’s about all that is familiar about them. As any good Tumblr fan theory will tell you, Harry Potter is absolutely in the wrong profession. Although Harry obviously does a wonderful job bringing people to justice, he’s far better suited as a professor than as an auror. The characters, Harry included, are caricatures of themselves at best, hardly resembling the rich and complex beings they were as adolescents. It’s a disappointing switch that, though perhaps explained by the tragedy known as becoming an adult, doesn’t feel true to the characters we’ve known — much of the point of Harry Potter was that humans are capable of breaking the cycle. Cursed Child takes an enormous step backward in that respect, proving — at least in the world of Harry Potter — that everything the original series preached is false. Furthermore, the characters’ dialog was unsettling throughout. Unnatural to begin with, it’s never more uncomfortable than when Albus throws around SAT-grade words, even as an eleven-year-old.

Not all of the characters are a total disaster, however. There is one exception: Scorpius Malfoy, though perhaps a bit overdone in his shyness (okay, a bit overdone overall, like many of the others in the play — I’ll mark that up to it being a play which requires heightened emotions and characterizations for the sake of the actors playing them), is a new angle of human we haven’t yet seen in Harry Potter. I imagine him as a combination of Harry and Luna Lovegood in many ways — sarcastic and a bit dreamy, steadfast to his friends, and really rather innocent. It’s a fun exercise of imagination — how would the son of Draco Malfoy turn out? Many of us Potterheads hoped for a redemption for Draco. Rowling didn’t deliver — though there was a bit of a lean in that direction in Cursed Child — but Scorpius is a sort-of consolation prize.

Cursed Child also features some strange pacing, dabbling between moments of rapid action and crawling inaction. I imagined at many points throughout the book what it might be like to see this as a play (verdicts, from what I’ve seen, aren’t terribly favorable aside from the special effects). I could only picture myself being bored to death and in the throes of hysterical laughter when comedy was not the intent.

We all wanted a book eight, and we got it — but at what cost? Rowling apparently had limited input (my understanding is she essentially gave a stamp of approval but did not actually contribute to this essentially glorified fanfiction [that’s not a dig at fanfic, though — I love fanfic; don’t get me started]), and it shows. If you want the complete Potter experience and don’t mind having the original series essentially ruined, go for a read of this. Otherwise, you’re better off with the folks in the Epilogue, What Epilogue? corner. I’ll see you over there.

 

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016, 352 pages
YA Fantasy

In a return to the world of faerie in The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black introduces readers to brother and sister, Ben and Hazel. Both have fallen for the faerie prince encased in a glass coffin in the forest. Though his origins have long been forgotten, the prince remains a big part of Ben and Hazel’s unique hometown, where tourists come from all over to experience the magic inherent. Despite efforts – genuine and otherwise – to free the prince from his casket, no one yet has had success. When the prince is discovered missing, Hazel strikes out on a mission to discover why and how, all the while dealing with keeping her own secrets both from others and herself.

A brief disclaimer – Holly Black got me into faerie way back when with Tithe. I wrote the woman a two-page letter in which I asked ridiculous and unnecessary questions such as if she liked baseball (she lived in Amherst, MA, at the time, and the idea that someone living in New England wasn’t at minimum a baseball fan and, really, as required, a Red Sox fan kind of messed with me). A few weeks letter, she responded with a hand-written letter herself and some stickers, some of which were signed. She’d responded to every single one of my questions. Stellar. I later met her at the National Book Festival in DC and told her about the letter and how much it meant to me. I saw her again this past spring at the NOVA Teen Book Festival. I declined to get in her signing line – it was by far the longest of any authors there.

So, what does this have to do with The Darkest Part of the Forest? Black had taken a break from faerie world (at least for young adults) and had gone with vampires for a while among other fantasy folk. I came to The Darkest Part of the Forest thrilled for more faerie. But the faerie in this novel felt somehow significantly and profoundly different from her earlier work. With much of the earlier prose, Black seemed heavily influenced by standard faerie lore, making the novels seem somehow more legitimate. Though Darkest Part employs elements from the tradition, the break from it overall left me feeling like the concept was being sold me to me and perhaps sold to me as a generic brand. You’d think a break from tradition (and therefore an inherently new perspective) would make it more of a name brand kind of deal, but really, I felt like Darkest Part was just a cheap version of what I’d read before with a different plot.

I also want to go back to my story about Black a few paragraphs ago and point out that I was twelve or thirteen when I got into her work. I have since reread some of the material (especially Tithe and later Ironside) and, at the time, it stood up. But I haven’t read it within the past handful of years. Does this mean I’m idealizing those given the world it opened for me and the significance it has had in my life as a writer and reader? Maybe. But I still can’t help but feel Darkest Part was a letdown.

At the same time, there were uncomfortable parallels with Tithe. I like my heroines to have a bit of pluck now and then, but Kaye of Tithe and Hazel of Darkest Part weren’t both just plucky – there were so many other traits that stood out to me as similar that it felt like Black had taken Kaye and repackaged her as Hazel – perhaps, again, the generic version. The boys closest to the girls in both books (Corny for Kaye and Ben for Hazel) are gay. Okay, but they’re also both nerdy and outcasts and have inferiority complexes and…need I go on? Parents in both books ring as irresponsible. Too much of this felt like a poor duplicate.

That’s not to say there weren’t great moments. Some turns of phrase and other bits momentarily brought the story and its characters to sparkling life, but it didn’t hold out overall. I closed the book feeling as if Black’s publishing house had requested a new faerie manuscript so she cranked something out and turned it in. They shrugged, said “Okay,” and set it out on the market. (*I don’t think this is actually what happened – just how it felt.) It felt manufactured and insincere. The power of women in Black’s previous work was severely diminished with a general lack of women on both sides, but more severely felt on the side of faerie. The antagonist in the book read as out-of-place and incomplete in its form.

Black has better in here, and I know it. I’m confident of it. I had felt a similar sense of insincerity when I first read the earlier pieces of the Curseworker series way back when (I never finished that series). Perhaps, like I said, I’m remembering Tithe too fondly and shouldn’t be comparing them to begin with. But I’m still left with what feels like the ashes and bones of a book that could have been.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press, 2016, 448 pages
YA Fantasy

I’ve thought a lot about what I want to say about the final book in the Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven King. I’ve always been a fan of Stiefvater’s ornate-yet-subtle style, and I think that’s something she held to pretty well in The Raven King. I know many readers were holding on to the idea that The Raven King would not only be just as good as the books leading up to it, but perhaps even better. Stiefvater would have to write her way out of the promised death of Gansey and the angst that was sure to come with finding Glendower and obtaining the favor he was meant to grant.13076730_10209461256711348_7517849345745051664_n

Reviewing this book without spoilers is immensely difficult, so I’ll be as vague as possible while still trying to convey the issues here. Both of the events mentioned above were so lackluster compared to the rest of the series. I’ve struggled a lot with this because, just before the book was released, Maggie Stiefvater shared a post on her blog which described how she wanted her readers to feel after finishing the book: “I don’t want them to be able to say what it is they want, though — I want it to be a bigger thing than words. I hope they get to the end and don’t know what to do for the rest of the day. I hope they feel unsettled and needing of something more. I want messages that say, ‘Stiefvater, please, I just want …’ and then silence. They don’t know what they want. They just want.” I opened up The Raven King with this on my mind and, when I finished the book, very much wanting and still feeling champagne-sparkly from the rush of the end of a series, I felt like Stiefvater was a genius — she had succeeded!

And yet. I turned over the events of the book in my head. Yes, I wanted — I wanted more fireworks, more intensity, more answers. I don’t think this was what Stiefvater meant, I realized. Or, if she did, imposing that desire onto her readers before they had a chance to read the books feels wrong. Let’s suppose my initial understanding was incorrect and Stiefvater wanted readers to feel compelled to embody Gansey and his quest for more — to be more, to be part of something bigger than himself, to be, as Henry Cheng and Gansey both say at one point during the series, a prince among men. In brief moments, I did feel that way. I wanted a quest, an adventure, a world that shimmers in a way ours does not. But those moments were short-lived and it was not, ultimately, what I felt as I turned the final page.

Now, let’s suppose Stiefvater wanted readers to want more of the Raven Cycle. She certainly succeeded there, leaving characters without the completed arcs they deserved, ending main plot points with no bang, in short — not delivering what was promised. If this is what Stiefvater meant (and I’m not sure it was, I certainly hope it wasn’t), I think it’s an awfully cruel thing to do to readers. What actually happened here, I’ll leave to you to decide. I’ve turned it over and over for the last week and still can’t figure it out. Either way, I feel a bit jilted.

As I’ve gained distance from the book, I’ve become more critical of it while simultaneously romanticizing it more. Stiefvater has a way of embedding symbolism and meaning that emerges long after the book has ended even without second readings. So perhaps I’m catching on to some of that now, which still leaves me in a place where I’m unable to give The Raven King a solid rating one way or another. One moment, I’m angry at the lack of resolution, the next, I’m marveling at the symbolism within that lack of resolution. I’m probably putting too much stock into Stiefvater’s intentions, but as a writer who is so-very-present on social media and who regularly engages with interpretations of her text, Stiefvater kind of brings that onto herself.

I’d also very much like to address the racism present in the whole series, but especially in The Raven King. With Henry Cheng playing a much bigger role than he previously had, there are multiple instances of blatant anti-Asian sentiments and some of the “subtler” (subtle to white people, mostly) racism such as the perpetuated Asian mob stereotype in Henry’s mother and the whole “dragon lady” trope. I won’t speak at length on it because as a white person, I don’t have the place to. I just want to say I saw it, it was inappropriate, and I hope Stiefvater does better in the future. I welcome those with a more nuanced perspective on the subject than I to comment further and only add that I was severely disappointed to see two characters I so love(d) engaging in racist mocking, regardless of the cultural context of Virginia and teenage boys.

Like a lot of the Raven Cycle, throughout the final novel I felt consistently lost without direction, but felt like that was how I was supposed to feel or that there’s something everyone else is getting about the series and its plot that I’m not and never will. I can never get a good grasp on the Raven Cycle world, despite how incredibly detailed and grounded it seems — there’s always something painfully vague about it. It’s like I missed out on some quintessential childhood experience that would clear it all up. I still don’t imagine the women of 300 Fox Way as everyone else seems to — when I see fan art of young Calla, Persephone, and the whole bunch, I tilt my head to the side in wonder, as they are still stuck as middle-aged and older women in my imagination. It’s been that way since The Raven Boys. I always feel like I’m doing something wrong when I’m reading this series.

And yet for all this criticism, there’s something really special about it all, even the last book. Like everything before it, The Raven King doesn’t confine itself to young adult literature by ignoring adult characters or adult-only scenes. The Gray Man and Maura have moments together. Piper Greenmantle and her father, too. Stiefvater makes the world very real in that way, despite Maura’s throwing-caution-to-the-wind parenting style. I’m still disappointed in it all, but I can’t outright say I disliked *The Raven King*, either. I wanted more for it, to be sure, but it also feels like it’s exactly what it was meant to be. It’s a jumble.

The only thing to do, it seems, is glare in Stiefvater’s general direction with a mix of annoyance and awe.

(With an aside that I’m giving it three hearts; I’d originally given it four on Goodreads, but with more perspective and too much confusion over my real feelings about the book — no doubt influenced by Stiefvater’s outside-the-book comments, the event I attended at Hooray for Books in Alexandria, my general admiration for Stiefvater aside from The Raven King, and the Goodreads reviews I read after finishing the book and still considering my own feelings [check out Alienor’s review for something a bit more coherent, if spoilery] — I think three is the best I can do. Maybe three-and-a-half, depending on the day.)

You can read my review of The Raven Boys here. I never got around to The Dream Thieves or Blue Lilly, Lilly Blue. Oops.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

 

Abby Reads: Dracula in Love by Karen Essex

Dracula in Love by Karen Essex
Anchor, 2011, 384 pages
Fantasy

Ughhhhh. I can’t believe I’m writing this review. Okay, so here’s the thing – I don’t read a lot of trashy romance novels. And I name them as such with the utmost respect and objectivity. Like, I enjoy plenty of other trashy things, like puns and terrible memes and crappy romantic comedies. Trashy romance novels have never really been my thing, but I’ve always appreciated them as an important piece of human (American?) culture and, yes, feminism. I won’t get into the weeds on why I feel trashy romance novels (TRNs) can be the epitome of feminism. I’m sure there’s plenty of literature on the topic for you to explore and this particular post is not about the intersection of TRNs and feminism. Sorry.

I tell you all this because, when I picked up Dracula in Love, I certainly expected some elements of the TRN, but didn’t really get the sense that was about all it would be. And, yeah, okay, you could make the argument that the book is more than a TRN. In fact, the author’s afterword says as much. Karen Essex took the time to write out this really rather well-done piece on how the book is a critical look at Victorian prudishness and the feminist sexual revolution and such. And, sure, if you read the novel with that in mind and with the intent of finding such content, you could probably pull out a good deal of passages that will agree with that argument. But, let’s face it, like myself, most readers will pick this up for a fun read and never get to the higher-level capital-P Point the author was (apparently) trying to make. The fact that the author tries to impose this meaning (after having done so either poorly or too subtly in the book itself) bothers me.

But also, the book. The book itself. So much of it is a deficient attempt at mimicking Victorian language, culture, and so on (but, yes, still with a feminist twist(?)) and it just goes on. Dracula in Love, despite the title, is not really about Dracula at all. Dracula’s presence isn’t a real force in the book until two-thirds or so through it. The majority of the book follows Mina and Jonathan Harker, both of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Mina, the woman in which Dracula is supposedly in love with, has her teaching job and her friends (who, frankly, are infinitely more interesting than she is), and her fiancé-turned-husband. But as it turns out, she also has a history which Dracula is all too happy to share with her.

There are simply too many things going on in this novel, particularly as things start to make sense (or, pretend to). Too many relations, too many explanations, too many characters, and, in the overly-flowery pretend-style of Victorian literature, too many words. And maybe that’s part of the point: excess.

It got to the point where I skimmed much of the book. The flailing about and wandering paths away from the central story weren’t enough to keep me engaged. Every turn of the page, I was rolling my eyes.

But, I want to reiterate – if trashy romance novels are your thing, this might be right up your alley. And I hold no judgment there. Again, please, tease me mercilessly for my love of trashy romcoms or Silly Bandz. I don’t mind. But I think I’ll be more careful next time I pick up anything that even resembles the TRN.

❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta

Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta
Candlewick, 2014, 528 pages
YA Fantasy

It had been quite a while since I read the book leading up to the final installment of The Lumatere ChroniclesFroi of the Exiles. So, when I picked up Quintana of Charyn, I knew I was getting into somewhat complicated politics (especially for a YA novel) and I was likely to be lost. That ended up being exactly what happened. I say this because I feel like my review of the book is “tainted” because of it. Givenimage1 (5) that the first two novels combined well-surpass nine hundred pages, I was reluctant to reread them in preparation for Quintana of Charyn. Plus, I was really looking forward to Quintana despite the lack of memory I had regarding Froi. Anyway, all this to say the book is probably at least a little better than how I’m going to describe it, especially if you read it together with the first two rather than waiting seven months to finally get around to it.

Oh, and there will be spoilers for Finnikin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles because, you know, that’s the nature of sequels.

Onward!

Quintana picks up not long after Froi ends. Now pregnant with Froi’s child (which is a Big Deal because of the curse), Quintana is left to defend for herself, having spent her entire life within the walls of the palace. Meanwhile, Finnikin continues to struggle with Isaboe’s relationship with Froi and his relationship – both as husband and advisor. Plus, the women of the valley are wondering how Quintana got to them and why she’s there. Froi is working to track down Quintana, still struggling to manage the guilt he feels about, well, everything.

Quintana just didn’t do it for me. It felt long and meandering and mostly aimless. While Froi and some combination of Finnikin and Froi’s parents and maybe some other friends romped around the continent, the back-and-forth of travel didn’t have the same excitement as in Finnikin of the Rock or even Froi of the Exiles. Characters who became big players in Froi still hadn’t gripped me by the heartstrings (though I knew they should have), so I skimmed through their scenes, even though those scenes were some of the most interesting.

Isaboe becomes almost completely unlikable by the third book of The Lumatere Chronicles, and perhaps never more so than in the climax of the novel, in which she takes great action but in a way that came across as begrudging. This was especially jarring given that this is such a huge difference from when we knew her as Evangeline. Up until this point, Marchetta excels at creating strong women as characters. In Quintana, she seems to forget that women need not take on macho characteristics to be considered strong. Instead, she masculinizes the actions, sentiments, and language of her women, tearing them away from what made them so great in the first place. The odd part of this is, so much of this novel is rooted in inherently female experiences: menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and oppression in a male-dominated world.

The characters I referred to as recently-made-big-players deserve their own book or even spin-off series. I never felt Marchetta introduced them well enough in Froi and, despite their rather large arc in Quintana, they still felt secondary to the now-dislikable main cast (that is, Finnikin, Isaboe, Froi, and Quintana). It further occurs to me, now that I’ve listed these main characters, that while the entire series is, at its heart, about Isaboe, Isaboe is the only character of the four who doesn’t get a book title. There’s no Isaboe of the Throne, for example, to Finnikin of the Rock, Froi of the Exiles, and Quintana of Charyn. My understanding is, this is it. There’s a short story to accompany it all on Marchetta’s website, but no plans for a fourth book. And frankly, I don’t think there needs to be in terms of plot. But I still feel, particularly for an arguably-feminist series, Isaboe was cheated.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta

Froi of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
Candlewick 2013, 608 pages
YA Fantasy

Find the review for the first book in the Lumatere Chronicles, Finnikin of the Rock, here.

Froi of the Exiles continues the stories of characters first imagined in Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock. In Froi, we focus on a minor conflicted and antagonistic character from Finnikin — Froi. As readers discover more about Froi’s origins, they learn, too, about the seemingly-crazed Princess Quintana. Sent on a mission to assassinate Quintana’s king-father, Froi meets a pair of estranged brothers, who, along with dealing with the struggles of the kingdom  of Charyn, have their own relationship to sort out. Meanwhile, in order to get to the hiding king, Froi must first get through Quintana, who is far more than she appears to be. Back in Lumatere, the Queen and her people endeavor to rebuild the home destroyed by a curse while helping new citizens assimilate.

Starting off with a cast of characters in Finnikin, Marchetta already has a good amount of material to handle. In order to make the new plot work, Marchetta manipulates these characters into almost entirely new people. Many of these changes can be simply accounted for by considering the events of the first novel and the passage of time. However, I found some of the changes to be jarring and unnatural, despite the explanations the narrator offers. This was particularly true of the title character, Froi. Now a late-teenager, Froi has benefited from a more structured education and the company of refined individuals such as the Queen and Finnikin. Though certainly plausible to an extent, Froi’s change in personality felt overwhelmingly sharp, as if the core of his being had become composed of some other material. Marchetta does make up for this in some ways, such as her attention to internal conflict on the behalf of every character who has something over which to be conflicted. Arjuro and Gargarin exemplify this theme especially well, as they work — or, refuse to work — with the intent of healing their broken brotherhood.

“Family” continues to be a running theme in Froi, with various structures and definitions represented through the several relationships portrayed in the book. Newlyweds, brothers, adopted families, and mistaken identities all come into play as different characters ponder on the meaning, obligations, and restrictions of belonging to a family. Along with an understanding of family comes doing right by family and self. Throughout the entire novel (as was also true in Finnikin), Marchetta juggles a balance of right and wrong. Nearly every character questions the merit and morality of their actions, often dealing with the consequences of those actions mentally and in reality. Marchetta also discusses, through plot events and characters, insanity. How do we define insanity? How do we know when someone is truly insane? Is insanity something that can only be diagnosed by the individual experiencing it?

Like many fantasy novels, Froi falls prey to a slow pace at times. Due to the political nature of the novel and tendency for characters to be unreliable, the actual incidents of the plot can be hard to identify and understand as the true incidents. In terms of plot, too, I found a hard time really rooting for anyone in particular — in general, the stakes and motivation just weren’t high enough for me to be truly engaged and captivated by Froi’s continuing story. Unlike Finnikin, Froi cannot be read as a standalone novel. Have Quintana of Charyn ready, because chances are, you’ll pick it up the minute you put Froi down.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

 

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