Children of Fire
By: Drew Karpyshyn
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Rating: 3 stars
Drew Karpyshyn has made his mark with imaginative, action-packed work on several acclaimed videogames, including Mass Effect and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, as well as in a succession of New York Times bestselling tie-in novels. Now Karpyshyn introduces a brilliantly innovative epic fantasy of perilous quests, tormented heroes, and darkest sorcery—a thrilling adventure that vaults him into the company of such authors as Terry Goodkind, Brandon Sanderson, and Peter V. Brett.
Long ago the gods chose a great hero to act as their agent in the mortal world and to stand against the demonic spawn of Chaos. The gods gifted their champion, Daemron, with three magical Talismans: a sword, a ring, and a crown. But the awesome power at his command corrupted Daemron, turning him from savior to destroyer. Filled with pride, he dared to challenge the gods themselves. Siding with the Chaos spawn, Daemron waged a titanic battle against the Immortals. In the end, Daemron was defeated, the Talismans were lost, and Chaos was sealed off behind the Legacy—a magical barrier the gods sacrificed themselves to create.
Now the Legacy is fading. On the other side, the banished Daemron stirs. And across the scattered corners of the land, four children are born of suffering and strife, each touched by one aspect of Daemron himself—wizard, warrior, prophet, king.
Bound by a connection deeper than blood, the Children of Fire will either restore the Legacy or bring it crashing down, freeing Daemron to wreak his vengeance upon the mortal world.
Children of Fire is, in every way, pure popcorn fantasy. In other words, I think anyone coming into this expecting the kind of high concept epic featuring complex, iconic characters, groundbreaking uses of magic, or uniquely compelling world building is setting themselves up for disappointment, because to be honest, Drew Karpyshyn’s first foray into original material is mostly a retread of familiar ground. But that said, I do think this is still a book that has plenty of merit as a compulsively readable, wildly entertaining retread, because even though the fantasy elements are simplistic stereotypes and cliches, in this case, it’s not a bad thing at all, because Karpyshyn has done an excellent job putting them together in a way that’s easily accessible, but more importantly, interesting and engaging.
What makes the book for me is definitely the almost cinematic quality of the storytelling. As anyone who’s for example both read Lord of the Rings and watched Peter Jackson’s movies would know, watching the movies is a completely different experience from reading the books. And while most fantasy books aim to replicate that heavy, voluminous feel of Tolkien’s books (and Karpyshyn even cites Tolkien as one of his influences), Children of Fire is the exception that, with its simpler storyline and plenty of cinematic action sequences, feels more like watching the movie adaption, or maybe one of those old sword and sorcery TV shows. So although the setup involves nothing but generic fantasy stereotypes and nothing in Children of Fire screams unique or different from every other fantasy out there – even if Karpyshyn calls his elves (and they obviously are the generic woodland dwelling elder race everybody else calls elves) the Danaan – none of it really mattered for me because Children of Fire is a different, yet nonetheless enjoyable, reading experience from the typical fantasy. For me, the point of this book really wasn’t to build a complex fantasy world or to create an immersive cast of scheming, backstabbing characters, but just to follow a group of characters on a very simple quest of good versus evil while being entertained by the gobs of addictive action sequences along the way – and I was definitely entertained; it really is addictive.
The other aspect I really liked is that while following these various children of fire through their quests to save the world (and the passage of time is something I think Karpyshyn does well and makes the book feel more epic), he never resorts to the same old black and white characters that can really sink these kinds of books. Of course, there’s this demon character the Slayer who’s been imprisoned in an alternate dimension for eons and planning his revenge now that the barrier between the worlds has been weakened (sounds like a Buffy plot, no?), but the other characters never predictably fall into one category or the other. For example, there’s the Pontiff and his Order of anti-magic fanatics dedicated to stopping the Slayer by whatever means necessary, but while the sorcerer characters like Rexol perceive them as evil based on what they do, they consider themselves good, and you know, their eventual actions go both ways (plus, who doesn’t like reading about badass blind monks?). Even Rexol and the Danaan Queen Rianna, they have an understandable goal and course of action that helps and hinders the various children, but they can’t be said to be doing what they do because they’re ‘good’ or ‘evil’, and that ambiguity in the characters really makes up for the genericness of the plot and setting.
Still, in addition to the setup I did have one other problem with the book. Like I said, I thought the way Karpyshyn handled the passage of time from the birth of the children to their quest to save the world, over a period of years, was definitely a strong point of the book, but I really feel there may have been a few more coincidences in the book than necessary. The various intertwining storylines was definitely a great idea and a huge part of what makes the book work, but while many of them, like Cassandra being Rexol’s first apprentice followed by Keegan as his second, are understandable and in retrospect pretty cool, others, like the whole storyline with Scythe, felt really contrived. In fact, I’m not really sure of Scythe’s role in the story – is she even one of them? – and her inclusion feels more like a plot contrivance so we end with a party consisting of a warrior, a mage, a monk, and a rogue than anything else.
Overall though, while Children of Fire is a lot simpler than most fantasies, I think Drew Karpyshyn has made it simpler in a way that also makes it accessible to many first time or reluctant fantasy readers. Even better, I personally read a lot of fantasy and still found the story, despite its flaws, incredibly addictive, precisely because this is a book that makes the stereotypes work.
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
By: Matthew Quick
Release Date: August 13, 2013
Rating: 2 stars
|Summary:In addition to the P-38, there are four gifts, one for each of my friends. I want to say good-bye to them properly. I want to give them each something to remember me by. To let them know I really cared about them and I’m sorry I couldn’t be more than I was—that I couldn’t stick around—and that what’s going to happen today isn’t their fault.
Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.
But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.
In this riveting book, acclaimed author Matthew Quick unflinchingly examines the impossible choices that must be made—and the light in us all that never goes out.
For another take on the issues I had with this book, I encourage everyone to check out the New York Times’s review. I think Mr. Heller hits it on the head when he mentions how Quick writes Leonard Peacock with the darkness of an aspiring psychopath, and how that characterization conflicts with what we’re supposed to eventually accept about Leonard.
Admittedly, I picked up Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock with a great deal of skepticism. I like my issues books hard-hitting, dark, and gritty, but I’ve not had much success finding many authors who can deliver the kind of bleak realism that for me is the holy grail of the genre. I want to say Leonard Peacock impressed me with its authenticity, but for a book billed as an unflinching examination, Matthew Quick flinched – multiple times.
What disappoints me most about Leonard Peacock is that it’s written from the perspective of a teenager about to kill his best friend, but in the frame of mind of an adult trying to understand and ultimately come to terms with the difficult path that drove him to that decision, and it didn’t work for me. Frankly, I find it patronizing that the Leonard Peacock character is more an amalgam of stereotypes and excuses for explaining why a guy like him would be driven to do the unthinkable than a real character; I guess it makes people who struggle to understand the why feel better about themselves, but as a character study? – what I feel a book like this should be? – I’m sorry but it kind of sucks.
Maybe my problem is that I felt a complete lack of empathy for Leonard Peacock. Quick paints his character in bold strokes that only fall apart when you think about it, and for me I really needed a more nuanced approach to connect with the character. A lot of the story is quite superficial, Leonard as expected is condescending, has a superiority complex (because obviously someone who decides to kill another person is going to look down on everyone), and rails against the establishment, to the point Quick’s story feels very insincere, like he’s writing this for adults based on his consultations with psychologists rather than for teens based on interactions with actual teenagers who have these problems – that’s the only way I can explain how out of touch I feel Leonard’s character is. Nor does Quick ever reconcile that angry at the world mass shooter stereotype with the guy who needs to give closure to the four people who mean something to him before he goes through with his plan – I mean, sometimes he’s a psycho, sometimes he’s a perfectly normal if depressing guy, and maybe he has multiple personalities or something but I never did get the sense that he was one character all the way through struggling with the childhood trauma Quick eventually reveals is the cause of his actions – it was just bold stroke, bold stroke, bold stroke, there just wasn’t any nuance to fill in the gaps to his character.
Instead, Quick goes for tired philosophical and nihilistic musings in the form of Leonard’s attempted friendship with a home-schooled Christian girl to give his story the illusion of depth. You know, I expect a character who has suffered childhood trauma like Leonard has would feel a need to think about his place in the world, I’m not even going to call it a cliche, but this came off more like badgering people over their religious beliefs than any genuine soul-searching. And that’s a problem throughout this entire book, for a story about a guy who takes one last shot at coming to terms with what happened to him before he ends it all, there just wasn’t any genuine soul-searching, any depth, Quick tries to make Leonard sound deep with his writing style and the letters from the future and the distracting footnotes that are impossible to read in context with my ereader, but none of these things actually worked for me because each time I was pulled in one direction and started to get a feel for Leonard’s character, Quick’s overreliance on disaffected teen stereotypes just brought up too many inconsistencies and made the character impossible to connect with. Rather, it was all just a cheap after school special; I never felt Quick rises above trying to score points by feeding his readers the alienated lone gunman cliches we’ve come to associate with guys like Leonard to do an actual exploration of the character.
I wanted to be impressed by Matthew Quick’s hard-hitting, dark, and gritty storytelling, but Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is none of these things. Sure I felt it was sad, but not sad as in emotional – sad as in pathetic.
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
By: April Genevieve Tucholke
Release Date: August 15, 2013
Our Rating: 1 star
You stop fearing the devil when you’re holding his hand…
Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town…until River West comes along. River rents the guesthouse behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard. Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Or could he be something more? Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she never said he could be a dark-haired boy who takes naps in the sun, who likes coffee, who kisses you in a cemetery…who makes you want to kiss back. Violet’s already so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. And that’s just how River likes it.
Blending faded decadence and the thrilling dread of gothic horror, April Genevieve Tucholke weaves a dreamy, twisting contemporary romance, as gorgeously told as it is terrifying—a debut to watch.
A Note From Your Reviewers:
Normally, we have a lot of fun reading a book together. A lot of the time we disagree. This was not one of those times.
The writing is very simple. Haven’t decided if I like that since its supposed to be Gothic and all beautiful or whatever.
Katy – 1 minute in
Whoa I just caught myself nodding off.
Katy – 8 minutes in
I think Maggie Stiefvater would’ve done better.
Ugh still haven’t finished Raven Boys sequel.
Lol OK nvm Dream Thieves was not that great. Sarah Rees Brennan then.
Katy & Mitch – 15 minutes in
The only thing remotely Gothic about it so far is the lack of a point to what’s going on – so much setup.
Ok I’ve decided this is what a Gothic story Jennifer Armentrout might write feels like GAAAHHH
Mitch – 39 minutes in
That was day one. We made it halfway through the book before Katy fell asleep and Mitch decided to watch old episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine instead. Day two followed with much griping and talk about the worst book of the year. Yeah, it was that bad.
This book promised to be a gorgeously terrifying gothic horror, but for me, it ended up being a cheesy bad ghost – or devil, I should say – story. To call it a nightmare would imply that I was emotionally moved – intrigued, nervous, scared – and the only feeling I had for it was disappointment that it was so silly. I really tried to like the book, but I just felt Tucholke missed so many opportunities with this one because it had potential to be so great.
ELEMENTS OF STYLE & WORLD BUILDING
First of all, the writing felt elementary and was very simple, which would have been fine, but I was hoping Tucholke was going to throw me into a creepy, dark setting – I pictured Sleepy Hollow for the town of Echo and Jane Eyre’s Thornfield Hall for Citizen Kane. But the world building was weak, at best, with bare minimum description of setting or anything else. With such a premise, I was waiting to see that beautiful writing with descriptive imagery. Unfortunately, it never came to be.
And as for symbolism and analogies? I was hoping Tucholke was going somewhere with them because she name-dropped several books and stories including William Faulkner and Agatha Christie. I suppose I get the idea of where Violet was coming from, but she treated them so frivolously that there is no impact of their possible symbolism to the story.
Also, there was potential for the paintings to be used as such, but they weren’t either. There was one instance where Luke was painting a girl holding her shadow, and there was a lot of potential here to possibly compare the girl to Violet or maybe even River. But his metaphor seems almost backwards. If the shadow is the one that needs her support, why is it her that feels like she doesn’t exist? Unless I’m not understanding correctly or I’m lacking an imagination, I would think it should be the other way around, right? Who knows.
Now I’m just going to put this out there. I do not like the characters in this book. Any of them. At all.
Violet is eccentrically odd – and not in the spunky kind of way – more of the quiet girl with strange, disturbing thoughts that you have to watch out for. And I guess that would have been fine if she had been the villain in the book, but she wasn’t. She was different, yeah I get that. But she was also pretty much without friends, and Tucholke never really set up the scene for us that way, except with Luke’s occasional derogatory remarks. Totally different from her twin.
Speaking of the twin, I couldn’t stand Luke. Yes, I understand that Tucholke set him up to be a total and utter douchebag. But I never understood why he was the way he was. I know siblings fight, but their relationship was unnecessarily degrading. It was never explained why Luke was so nasty to Violet – if he was jealous of her growing up, if he had a bad childhood with Freddie or the parents, why it made him feel more manly to bully her. It was just annoying, especially in the scene where he “had taken off his pinstriped jacket” and “began to flex his pectoral muscles in the way that [Violet] hated.” No, they weren’t outside on a hot day, where he felt the need to cool off and use that opportunity to show off. It was just a random scene. Um, okay. I guess I Tucholke’s purpose was to make him such a bad seed where he had room to change at the end. Still, I think the character building was so flawed with his case, that it was hard to care about him.
And Sunshine? Can someone slap her please! Again, I suppose the point was to make her as a self-centered bitch so her personality can improve after everything they’ve been through. Like Luke, i felt she was too conveniently flawed so Tucholke would have the perfect set up for later. “Stop fighting. Both of you. It interrupts my flirting.”But wow, just get her to shut up and go away.
River West. I’m sorry, but he creeped me out from the beginning. I know he’s supposed to be the mysterious stranger that shows up out of nowhere, so you’re not sure if you can trust him. But I thought his lines were very cheesy and anything but smooth. In fact, if a guy tried to say some of those things to me, I would roll my eyes and try to stay far, far away. So, okay, Violet is lonely, and attention from a hot boy is exactly something that would make her melt, and there may be the addition of being under the influence or something like that. Still, at least make him a Rico Suave instead of some creepy stalker guy.
I won’t mention any other characters because I don’t want to ruin the story. But I do want to say that how convenient it is that the parents are gone and that other parental figures are just about absent from this book. do not like what Tucholke did to Freddie’s character. And by the end of the book, connections were made, but Tucholke didn’t really hone in on their significance. I get the Will thing, but who cares about John.
PLOT & STORY DEVELOPMENT
First, it took forever to get there, and even when it did, it wasn’t clearly formed into a coherent thought. I kind of wish she stuck to one thing instead of trying to throw in twists and turns (none of with was unpredictable, by the way) to keep the readers interested.
I won’t say much about the plot except that it’s silly. I mean no disrespect to Tucholke, but really?!? THAT was the story behind everything? I was really hoping for something huge. And I was so disappointed to find out the truth.
But back to the story development. I called it. I called it at the mention of Texas, and I called it in the attic and the aftermath. And it really messed up everything that Tucholke was building toward. That’s all I’m doing to say about it.
All in all, I think there was a lot of potential for this to be a truly amazing, beautifully written, gothically descriptive, twistedly haunting horror story. Tucholke had so much there that was already in place to be such. But the fact that it lacked world-building, had unlikable characters, slow developing plot and a scattered storyline, I just felt that it failed to live up to its potential. I really tried hard to like it. I just couldn’t.
You know how April Genevieve Tucholke’s writing has been called haunting and atmospheric? Well, it only is because either she borrows gothic horror tropes that have nothing to do with the actual story, like the whole deal with a crossroads demon or the entire discussion of music and art, or she comes up with these fake outs, like the stuff with the creepy kids waving stakes around, that end up being nothing, and the whole effect is like the book equivalent of eating cotton candy, filler to make you feel like you’re getting something substantive but in reality is nothing at all. I just made the comparison to Raven Boys because there the writing built up the setting and advanced the story, this was just fluff for the sake of fluff. What a waste of words.
The idea behind a mysterious boarder could’ve been interesting, but then this Violet chick had to go all Bella Swan on him. Not only does the romance take up ninety percent of the ten percent of the book that’s actual story and not just fluff, but by the time it’s revealed this River dude is a danger to her and she’s still thinking about how much she loves him – I think I threw up a little in my mouth.
Ha ha you’re kidding right? Sorry to break it to you, but there is no plot. The thrilling dread? False advertising. It’s just random pointless shit happening because River is a mysterious loner dude and potential menace to society. That leads to the dumbest plot twist ever because in order to make the romance work he can’t be a completely irredeemable psycho – even though murder is still murder. RUN VIOLET WHILE YOU STILL CAN!!!!!
Blood of Tyrants (Temeraire #8)
By: Naomi Novik
Release Date: August 13, 2013
Rating: 3 stars
Shipwrecked and cast ashore in Japan with no memory of Temeraire or his own experiences as an English aviator, Laurence finds himself tangled in deadly political intrigues that threaten not only his own life but England’s already precarious position in the Far East. Age-old enmities and suspicions have turned the entire region into a powder keg ready to erupt at the slightest spark—a spark that Laurence and Temeraire may unwittingly provide, leaving Britain faced with new enemies just when they most desperately need allies instead.
For to the west, another, wider conflagration looms. Napoleon has turned on his former ally, the emperor Alexander of Russia, and is even now leading the largest army the world has ever seen to add that country to his list of conquests. It is there, outside the gates of Moscow, that a reunited Laurence and Temeraire—along with some unexpected allies and old friends—will face their ultimate challenge…and learn whether or not there are stronger ties than memory.
Naomi Novik’s beloved Temeraire series, a brilliant combination of fantasy and history that reimagines the Napoleonic wars as fought with the aid of intelligent dragons, is a twenty-first-century classic. From the first volume, His Majesty’s Dragon, readers have been entranced by the globe-spanning adventures of the resolute Capt. William Laurence and his brave but impulsive dragon, Temeraire. Now, in Blood of Tyrants, the penultimate volume of the series, Novik is at the very height of her powers as she brings her story to its widest, most colorful canvas yet.
Something strange happened while I was reading Blood of Tyrants… I started to like Temeraire again. This series had me at ‘Napoleonic Wars’ and ‘dragons’, but while the first few books ranged from serviceable (His Majesty’s Dragon) to standout (Black Powder War), by the time Empire of Ivory rolled around, these books had started to get bogged down in a Carmen Sandiego-esque need to visit exotic world locales and became less about the War or the dragon. For me, the series peaked at Napoleon’s invasion of England and began a downward slide soon after, and if it wasn’t for a few things here and there, I would’ve completely lost all hope.
Crucible of Gold was one of those things and a step in the right direction, but as I said before, something’s not right when Austerlitz and Jena get maybe a paragraph and there’s chapters dedicated to African slave traders or setting up an Australian penal colony. I wasn’t sure which Temeraire would be making an appearance in Blood of Tyrants, the Napoleonic War invested Temeraire of Black Powder War or the random globetrotting filler Temeraire of Tongues of Serpents, but to my dismay turned surprise, both. Since, in maybe a first for the Temeraire series, Blood of Tyrants is divided into three parts sufficiently distinct they can probably be read as easily as three separate novellas as one full novel, I’ll just talk about each part separately and why Part Three makes this the best Temeraire book in some time.
Part One – if I could pretend this never happened, I would. As promised, Lawrence is shipwrecked in Japan and unfortunately this part involves the same kinds of excesses that made the last few books (Crucible of Gold somewhat aside) such chores to read. With the war raging in Europe, I could care less about what happens in Africa or Australia, and with the general narrative focused on defeating Napoleon, these side plots really provide no purpose other than filler that takes away from what’s supposed to be the main draw of the series. There’s just no point other than Naomi Novik telling us this is what happens to Lawrence and his crew, and while Novik does provide a glimpse of early nineteenth century Japanese culture with dragons, that doesn’t make this any less filler. Combined with Lawrence’s incredibly convenient amnesia which hardly affects the rest of the story and what even the book describes as useful, numbing minutiae, and Part One just seems like an intentional detour to drag out the book.
Part Two – better, like on Throne of Jade’s level. Still missing one crafty French general, but the court intrigue in China at least doesn’t feel as blatantly filler as the shipwreck storyline. While nothing in Part Two is really needed to understand Part Three, it does pick up some loose plot threads from Throne of Jade and explain why China would enter the war, and this time at least the explanation makes more sense than the whole fiasco with the Incan Empire in Crucible of Gold. Plus, Novik likes to show off where the logistics of draconic warfare is concerned, so having the various strategies used by the British vis-à-vis the Chinese side by side make for some interesting comparisons. Skippable sure, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
Part Three – where have you been all this time? I’m thrilled Novik finally, finally gets to what I’ve been waiting for ever since Black Powder War, an actual, honest to goodness campaign that doesn’t involve the heroes being sent to another continent while the battles are being fought. Napoleon’s back. He’s invading Russia. Lawrence and Temeraire are there. That alone makes Part Three way more worthwhile than anything that’s come out since Empire of Ivory, and seeing how Napoleon’s actual invasion of Russia has shaped Novik’s fictional campaign is a real treat. Too bad awesome villain(ess) Madame Lien is still missing in action and the book ends on a cliffhanger with the Russian winter, but I am totally stoked to see what comes next.
In a nutshell, Blood of Tyrants is definitely the strongest Temeraire novel since at least 2007 (even without pretending Part One never happens), simply because Naomi Novik brings the series back to its roots. Fans of the series should be happy to know Temeraire is finally back on track.
All Our Yesterdays
By: Cristin Terrill
Release Date: August 1, 2013 (UK & Australia) / September 3, 2013 (US)
Rating: 3 stars
“You have to kill him.” Imprisoned in the heart of a secret military base, Em has nothing except the voice of the boy in the cell next door and the list of instructions she finds taped inside the drain.
Only Em can complete the final instruction. She’s tried everything to prevent the creation of a time machine that will tear the world apart. She holds the proof: a list she has never seen before, written in her own hand. Each failed attempt in the past has led her to the same terrible present—imprisoned and tortured by a sadistic man called the doctor while war rages outside.
Marina has loved her best friend James since the day he moved next door when they were children. A gorgeous, introverted science prodigy from one of America’s most famous families, James finally seems to be seeing Marina in a new way, too. But on one disastrous night, James’s life crumbles apart, and with it, Marina’s hopes for their future. Now someone is trying to kill him. Marina will protect James, no matter what. Even if it means opening her eyes to a truth so terrible that she may not survive it. At least not as the girl she once was.
All Our Yesterdays is a wrenching, brilliantly plotted story of fierce love, unthinkable sacrifice, and the infinite implications of our every choice.
All Our Yesterdays is I think the first book I’ve enjoyed despite the premise. I know that may sound like an odd thing to say, and maybe it’s just me, but when I read the summary I really thought I was being promised a complex, mind-bending time travel plot. I mean, a girl travels back in time to stop a madman – that has Terminator written all over it, doesn’t it? – but instead how Cristin Terrill handled the time travel made me want to travel back in time and erase the fact that I’ve read this. Still, I’m
an honest guy ok so I’m a pathological liar – but I would never lie about how I feel about a book, integrity and all – so I have to admit even though the time travel didn’t work for me, I still liked the parts of the book that happen in the present, because those chapters at least worked by reading like a pretty decent political thriller.
Here’s my problem with the time travel: the alternating chapters between the future character (Em) and the present character (Marina) don’t really mesh at first, and when Terrill finally gets them together at the same time (not a pun), she seems to do everything in her power to avoid time paradoxes. In other words, we have two chapters with Em in prison in the future, a few chapters of Marina being a shallow DC socialite in the present, then a chapter of Em escaping in the future – rather than feeling like a single cohesive narrative, it’s like reading two completely unrelated plots that only barely come together at the end. The problem, I think, is that for a book about time travel, Terrill is still thinking in linear time, so there are none of the subtle connections linking these two different times that I would expect from a time travel book. In fact, I’m not kidding when I say Terrill goes out of her way to avoid time paradoxes – one of the first rules she lays down about time travel is that time is sentient and takes care of the paradoxes on its own, and I’m sorry but WTF that’s like saying length or width is intelligent and my desk drawer will organize itself because those dimensions will know when something is out of place. I don’t know if it’s a good thing then that time travel only comes into play twice, once with how Em escapes at the beginning basically recycling a time travel cliche involving causation, and once at the end resolving the whole thing with yet another nonsensical time travel rule. Yeah I’m disappointed, a well done time paradox for me makes a time travel book, even in Terminator we have a time paradox with Skynet basically causing John Conner to be born by sending the Terminator back in time to kill him, and Terrill’s approach in comparison is just lazy.
With that rant on time travel out of the way, I do have a few things to say about the characters. First, apparently (spoiler alert) it’s not supposed to be entirely obvious whether Em is a future version of Marina, but I don’t see anyone who’s confused about that and considering Finn calls her M… yeah, it felt to me like Terrill wanted to leave some ambiguity about it but kept forgetting as she was writing and the end result is Em’s relationship to Marina seems so wishy-washy. As for Marina herself, I don’t think I need to say more than this quote from the author:
Don’t worry so much about making Marina likable in the beginning. She’s a rich bitch with a heart of gold; embrace that. Once you do, she’ll come to life for you.
Definitely embraced alright. Then again, it’s hard for me to see how the characters grow from their present selves into their future selves, Marina’s about as superficial at the end as she is throughout the entire story, and I don’t think enough’s done to make James feel like he could grow into a threat in four years time, so while the idea of stopping a monster was intriguing, I didn’t get the sense of James being that monster required to really make it work; it was almost like they were killing a completely separate person. As for Em, she doesn’t do much besides angst over whether to shoot James for much of the book and I found her storyline so much weaker than Marina’s and constantly wished I could be past her chapters so I could see how Marina’s much more interesting storyline was playing out – oh, and how stupid can she be to think looking at her past self will destroy the universe? That’s not how physics works.
Ok, I know I’m being a downer, considering I did like this book after all, so here’s the part where I assure you the raving reviews all have merit. Terrill’s writing is fast paced and being a DC kid myself I love how the story when it’s not about time travel – most of the book actually – reads like a young adult political thriller, sort of like a cross between Gossip Girl and 24, but definitely way better than the images that comparison may conjure up. There’s a pretty intense side plot involving an assassination attempt against James’s brother Nate, and despite how the time travel is the talk of the town here, for me it was actually the government conspiracy stuff that saved All Our Yesterdays from being a total dud. I liked seeing James and Marina trying to get to the bottom of it, watching Terrill develop James’s character in relation to his whole political family, and it’s all pretty easy to appreciate because Terrill keeps the conspiracy stuff compartmentalized and distinct from the time travel stuff, but then the time travel has to rear its ugly head almost like a marginally logical twist that I knew was coming and even with all the heart put into James and Finn I just can’t reconcile the parts of the book that involved time travel with the parts that didn’t, what was an interesting and intriguing story just fell prey to a climax and ending of manipulation and convenience – I really think it says something when I feel the beginning, Em’s chapters, and the ending are the weakest parts of the book.
Basically – All Our Yesterdays is a neat thriller, but doesn’t work nearly so well with time travel thrown in. Although, if Cristin Terrill were ever to write a political thriller, just a political thriller, I would totally be on board (hint hint).
A Darkness Strange and Lovely (Something Strange and Deadly #2)
By: Susan Dennard
Release Date: July 23, 2013
Rating: 4 stars
|Summary: Following an all-out battle with the walking Dead, the Spirit Hunters have fled Philadelphia, leaving Eleanor alone to cope with the devastating aftermath. But there’s more trouble ahead—the evil necromancer Marcus has returned, and his diabolical advances have Eleanor escaping to Paris to seek the help of Joseph, Jie, and the infuriatingly handsome Daniel once again. When she arrives, however, she finds a whole new darkness lurking in this City of Light. As harrowing events unfold, Eleanor is forced to make a deadly decision that will mean life or death for everyone.|
Something Strange and Deadly was one of those books that’s a lot of fun but also could’ve used a bit more depth. I mean, I like steampunk, I like zombies, why wouldn’t I like steampunk and zombies? – but at the same time, the plot was also extremely predictable and the same cheesy humor that made the story so engaging also made it hard to take seriously. Great in small doses, but why would I want to read the sequel? Well as it turns out, because A Darkness Strange and Lovely (great title by the way, and completely appropriate to boot) is a second book that grows and matures almost as much as its heroine, Eleanor Fitt, that’s why.
I usually like to start by talking about how awesome the plot is because I’m the kind of guy who gets bored easily, especially if I feel like I haven’t gotten my fill of scenes of gentlemen getting their arms chomped on by zombies or ladies screaming in all directions while uselessly waving their parasols about in panic, but as I said in my review of the first book, my favorite part of this series actually isn’t the zombie on human violence, but the characters (or at least some of them). Eleanor’s a character who’s all about balance – in the first book, it was being a proper Victorian lady on one hand and finding excitement by doing her own thing against her mother’s wishes on the other, here, she’s balancing the corrupting influences of her family’s necromantic powers against the Spirit Hunter’s
reluctance downright hostility towards that kind of magic. I love how Susan Dennard has written a book where the right answers aren’t just shoved in my face, where everything isn’t black and white, but rather, asks questions like – is black magic inherently evil? – or is it the person using it that makes it evil? and then gave me answers that could go either way. And I also love how the events of the first book, which seemed so silly at the time, have transformed Eleanor’s character from a naive ingenue into a gritty, more serious survivor type here – one of my favorite lines in fact is Eleanor talking about how she used to think Clarence was just a narrow minded suitor and her brother just an innocent victim, back when she was naive and stupid and thought the world was a good place – I’ve always said despite Something Strange and Deadly‘s shallowness and high level of predictability, a lot of the book was also about exceeding expectations and breaking stereotypes, and it’s nice to see exactly that confirmation. Even the allure of necromancy breaks the mold; as the title says, darkness really is strange and lovely, and dangerous, and corrupting, and necessary, and misunderstood, and maybe in the right hands even a little bit good, and I just found all the different attitudes and nuances to what Eleanor must do and the difficult choices she has to make really well done.
The plot too I can say is a vast improvement from the first book. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had the identity of the necromancer all figured out well before the end of that book, but this time around my theory going into the second half actually turned out to be wrong. Dennard definitely does a better job than before throwing red herrings around, complicating the situation behind les morts – the Dead – in Paris. In fact, one of the better decisions she’s made is introducing new character Oliver, who on the surface appears harmless enough, but then she builds in all these clues pointing to him as the culprit, many of them in offhand remarks that I don’t think the other characters even caught on to. After how obvious everything was in the first book, I had to check myself several times, trying to decide if an obvious villain really was the villain or figuring out how to explain another clue pointing to Oliver, and, well, even if the end result isn’t exactly that hard to guess, I’m still glad Dennard managed to keep a few other things, like the motive behind the outbreak of undead, hidden up her sleeve until the last moment. Still, a few misdirects turned out to be great fake outs yet at the same time pretty unsatisfying hanging plot threads – the whole situation with Clarence for example – and I just kept getting the feeling this sequel seemed almost too short compared to the first book, with a few characters, Jie in particular, acting like Dennard ran out of ideas of things for them to do, so they ended up basically just showing up for old times sake and then being written out of the story. Other parts too, the entire situation in Paris in fact, could’ve been expanded on and just felt like it needed to be less rushed and used more development. Thankfully though, there are still plenty of zombie attacks along with other new supernatural threats, because I for one could always use more zombie on snooty French socialite violence, you know?
In fact, the only thing that really would’ve made this better would be if Daniel were eaten by a horde of the ravenous undead (yeah I really don’t like him). I’m not saying this to incite fangirl wrath, but as I said, I just don’t like things that are shoved in my face, and despite how I feel Dennard has done an awesome job making sure Eleanor falling for the allure of necromancy isn’t shoved in my face, well, she shoves Daniel in my face, and it’s annoying. Even worse, the love triangle with Clarence is still unresolved and until halfway through the story I could’ve sworn I’d be seeing a tetrahedron with Oliver too (thank goodness there aren’t more characters or it’d be some sort of weird multidimensional web thing). And to add insult to injury, even though the other major characters all have fairly defined roles – new guy Oliver as Eleanor’s connection to her dead brother while representing the dangers and unknowns of necromancy, and then Joseph being the safe mentor who just might possibly be holding her back with his caution and dislike of dark magic, with neither of them completely right or wrong and their whole situation as complicated as Eleanor’s conflict over her necromantic powers – then unfortunately there’s Daniel and he’s just no offense the useless love interest who’s only good for making Eleanor doubt herself, and I’m just the kind of guy who finds the designated love interest character a completely uninteresting, irksome cliche… and I just don’t like his character… and somebody needs to be zombie chow… and I should probably stop before this paragraph devolves into a full blown rant of all the gruesome ways Daniel could be offed for the benefit of the story… a little girl with blackened teeth and the fetid rank of decaying flesh gorging on his intestines as they spilled out from a massive gash on his stomach, chewing on them like sausage links… OK I’m stopping now, I promise.
Bottom line though, Something Strange and Deadly was superficial, silly fun that belies a lot of heart, A Darkness Strange and Lovely forgoes the lightness of the first book but is still quite enjoyable in its own way. Now if only the zombie horde had claimed one more victim before all’s good and done…
Siege and Storm (The Grisha #2)
By: Leigh Bardugo
Release Date: June 4, 2013
Katy’s Rating: 3.5 stars rounded down [M: wait what?]
Mitch’s Rating: 5 stars and 1 star
|Summary: Darkness never dies.
Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.
The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.
3.5 – The story? Absolutely amazing! The drama? Unbearably annoying! I’d made up my mind to love this book because Mitch had made up his mind to half love and half gripe about it. But I just could NOT give it 5 stars.
First, the Mal vent because I HAVE to get this off my chest. I felt that Bardugo tried WAY to hard to keep the romance drama in the story. For some reason, authors feel compelled to write in something – a love triangle, a jealousy, a history that can’t be overlooked – to keep readers interested in the romance. While I totally understand the need for it and am not totally opposed to its overuse, I find it was more than unnecessary in this book. And it kept interrupting the story, and I wanted to scream at how often and how prevalent Bardugo made it a factor in this book.
Do NOT click this spoiler if you have not read the book. View spoiler on my Goodreads.
The drama was just unnecessary because it just didn’t work, and I just wanted to scream and skim the scenes whenever it came up – but I didn’t because it took up so much of the book. Quit interrupting my story!
Setting that issue aside… the story was great. Alina had more than enough stupid moments to annoying the crap out of me, but I understood where she was coming from and all the issues she had to deal with – sans my little rant back there. I do think that had Bardugo had concentrated more on everything Alina has to deal with and toned down the romance department just a bit, the story would even more interesting because there was more than enough to make Alina a compellingly conflicted but determined character – the Saint and whether or not it’s true. I felt Bardugo ended up seriously hurting the plot and taking away from the real heart of the story by doing what she did.
From the first few scenes to the end, I was hooked to the story – with all the action, with all of the characters involved, with all of the politics behind it and with all the theories that are floating around my head about how everything could fit together. The pacing was very well set (minus the drama in the romance department – noticing a pattern here?), and there was a good mix of fighting scenes, intense discussion and debates and parading around as everyone prepared for the looming battle and the unknown.
Nikolai really intrigued me. He was so smooth, so charming, so calculated, so well, perfect. Sure he had his flaws, but he was always so infuriatingly well composed that I just wanted to know what was going on in his mind. I recently watched the movie, “Now You See Me,” and it made me wondering what he’s planning and how far in advance that he had thought of it, constantly amazed at how he was always either one step ahead or quickly adaptable to what’s being thrown at him. Mal is not the adaptable one, in fact, he was quite the opposite in this book. Nikolai just… well, intrigued me.
I am very curious about the Darkling and his plans and loved, in a hateful kind of way, how he was always there, haunting Alina and passively threatening her and reminding her of what’s to come. And I’m curious about the Apparat and how he and his group falls into this story.
The end leaves you with this determined “I will survive” kind of feeling and really makes you crave for more. Truly awesome, and I can’t wait for the next book – although I also dread what’s to come in the department I had vented about, although I hope he is now out of his stupid funk.
I think I might’ve been the only person who had one foot in each of the ‘Shadow and Bone is awesome’ and ‘Shadow and Bone is mediocre’ camps. Siege and Storm was supposed to be the book that made up my mind, but instead, it’s causing me to do the split… I truly do see why so many friends have raved about Leigh Bardugo’s series – a part of me absolutely feels the same way – yet at the same time, another part, maybe a bigger part, has so many issues with the story I also have half a mind to angrily reject everything about this. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be the odd man out with my half love half loathe view toward this sequel, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that’s left me so utterly frustrated between my mixed reactions.
To put it another way, I once compared Shadow and Bone to a masterfully constructed house of cards, and that’s still true of Siege and Storm. It’s a beautiful view, and I’d be dishonest if I said I didn’t enjoy every minute of looking at it while it stood, and yet, at the same time, when I’m poking around, the whole thing falls apart, and I’d be dishonest too if I said that doesn’t bother, nay, enrage me. Here’s the thing, Leigh Bardugo is an excellent (some would say superficial) writer in the sense she can pull together character, setting, myth, and plot in a way that’s epic, exciting, compelling, and just feels like reading a modern day folk tale, and that got to me, it really did. I’m not going to say I didn’t feel what my raving friends felt, because I did – cool world building, tough heroine, epic fantasy, what’s not to like?
But at the end of the day, Bardugo’s talent is really making something out of nothing, because all those great qualities, if you think about it, is just that, nothing. Take for example Alina, who seems like this multifaceted character who has a complex relationship with power, but you know, she can’t even answer the most basic question about her character – why is she doing any of this, taking charge, going up against the Darkling? Love of country? Nope, that’s not it. Mal? Ha. The Darkling? Are you kidding me? Bardugo does a great job of fabricating this illusion of Alina as a complex and reluctant heroine, but behind the (admittedly awesome) writing, I just didn’t get a sense her character had any drive besides her relationship with Mal or whatever the plot demanded, and it seemed like to me she’s the kind of one dimensional character who can’t exist outside of being swept up by the plot.
As for the other characters, the Darkling’s this well written, interesting evil character, but behind the facade is… nothing at all. Seriously, we know nothing about the Darkling or his motivations. I’m disappointed because Siege and Storm gave us zero development for his character, and all the praise seems to be directed at a blank slate who’s been the lucky beneficiary of some massive transference. And Mal (a.k.a. uninteresting designated love interest), I honestly don’t know why I tolerate him as much as I do, because his character really doesn’t exist outside of causing Alina angst, this time with well received new guy Sturmhond, who, if you think about it, is just an amalgam of every bad boy stereotype ever in one well written but blatantly cliched package (with one early confrontation scene between him and the Darkling leaving me steaming). Yet I’ll admit, Bardugo has skills and she pulls all of this off, creating these seemingly complex characters that shouldn’t be, but while part of me has no qualms with liking them, the other part’s just irked by how superficial they are.
Then again, my view of the plot is just as equally conflicted. On one hand, the pacing, beyond a bizarre turnabout involving the Darkling’s reappearance in the first chapter or two, totally worked and had me hooked the whole way through, wondering if Alina could truly beat her nemesis – it’s just that riveting. On the other, the plot blatantly screams ‘quest to find MacGuffin’ and ‘obvious rehash of the first book’ with pretty much the same structure down to the same convenient nonending, and you know, I liked working my way through the story at the same time that I hated it. Like I said, it’s a testament to Leigh Bardugo’s skill as a writer that she can make such blatantly shallow elements work in her book, and I love that they work but hate how I can so easily recognize what she’s done.
Anyway, I have a feeling everyone who loved the first book will love this too. I’m also pretty sure those who didn’t will laugh this one off as well. And that leaves me in the middle with my conflicted opinions, anticipating the final book yet griping about my dissatisfaction at the same time.