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What’s Left of Me

by Kat Zhang (The Hybrid Chronicles, #1) (Author’s Site | Amazon)

Meh.

Seriously, I had such high hopes for What’s Left of Me.  The concept is great – everyone is born  with two souls, but everyone – most everyone, anyway – eventually settles, with only one dominant soul left while the other fades away.  For the past three years, Addie has been lying, letting the doctors and her parents believe that the soul she shared her body with, Eva, is gone – but Eva is still inside her, trapped.  If anyone found out, they’d be locked away in an institution, never to leave again and lead a normal life.

Sounds awesome, right?  Unfortunately, I did not connect with this book at all.  I never got a feel for the characters beyond their roles in the plot, the plot itself beyond the interesting concept of hybrids was a paint-by-numbers dystopian that never surprised me, and – slight spoiler alert – evil vaccines?  Seriously?  Come on, there are already enough idiots that believe vaccines are giving our children autism or whatever.  Vaccines killing off souls too?  Um, nice message, I guess.  Except ew.

There was never any real urgency to the plot, either.  I never felt Addie and Eva’s fear of being found out to be hybrid, and later, never felt the urgency to get out of the facility they were trapped in.  There was, to this reader, no real danger, or risks taken in having bad things actually happen to people the reader is told to care about.  “Oh no this bad thing might happen at some point” is nothing compared to actual, real fear for the characters’ lives or souls, and there was none of that present in this novel.

Just… meh.  I wanted to like What’s Left of Me so badly, but there was just nothing in it for me.

Rating:

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The Book of Blood and Shadow

by Robin Wasserman (Author’s Site | Amazon)

The Book of Blood and Shadow is nowhere near a perfect book, or even one with much literary merit.  It’s a 400-plus page popcorn flick.  It’s like National Treasure with teenage protagonists – IN SPACE PRAGUE.  And it was so.  much.  FUN.  This is exactly what I want in an adventure – gorgeous foreign setting, fast-moving plot, and a mystery to solve that spans centuries.

Admittedly, it does take the book a while to get going.  The opening slaps you in the face with the fact that awful things are going to happen to the characters, and tells you exactly which – and then you’re pulled back in time to the beginning, before things went bad, for chapters and chapters of getting to know these characters, learning about the protagonist Nora’s family and her relationships with the other major players of this early segment of the book: her best friend, Chris; his girlfriend and “by the transitive property of social addition,” now Nora’s friend, Adriane; and Chris’s college roommate and, in no time at all, Nora’s boyfriend, Max.  Nora, Max, and Chris are all working on the same archival project together with a noted historian, translating an alchemist’s letters that he believes may help them crack the Voynich manuscript.  Nora, relegated to translating the letters of the alchemist’s daughter Elizabeth, begins to relate to her, and steals the letters for herself – but then an attempt is made on the life of the historian she works under, seemingly related to what is revealed in Elizabeth’s letters.  And from there, everything spirals out of control.

This is a book about crazy-smart characters, which may turn some people off.  Nora has been a Latin scholar since a very young age, and uses words like “rescinded” in casual conversation with her friends.  She doesn’t talk or narrate like your average YA heroine, and some readers might find it pretentious – I personally found it fitting for the subject and tone of the book.  After all, Nora’s entire quest for answers is based around translating Latin, solving riddles and cyphers, and generally using her wits to get to the truth.  If she were a typical main character, all that would feel ridiculous – “this average teenage girl is solving these centuries-old mysteries?”  But there was no need to suspend my disbelief that Nora, Max, and Eli were all more than capable of cracking the case, so to speak.

I can’t say much as to the plot without revealing some twists that really should be experienced first-hand – the summary doesn’t give too much away, and so I knew much less than what this review reveals going in – which is how this book should be read.  I can, at least, tell you that the twists and turns the story takes are excellent, and learning the truth behind everything Nora and her allies uncover is absolutely worth getting through the slower first section of the book.  The Book of Blood and Shadow was just the adventure I was looking for, and I wish there was more YA like it.

Rating:

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Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas – Review

7896527 Goodreads | Amazon | Author’s Website

Published: August 7, 2012 by Bloomsbury USA Children’s

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 404

Received: From library

Summary (from Goodreads): After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her… but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead… quickly followed by another.

Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

I had SO. MANY. PROBLEMS with Throne of Glass. If you follow my updates on Goodreads, it probably seems like not ten pages went by without me griping about some figure of speech, easily guessed “twist,” or mischaracterization. I had problems with the character development, the writing, the “mystery”… and somehow, despite all this, I really, really enjoyed the book as a whole despite my nitpicking.

I have to admit, I was skeptical when I opened the book and saw that the author had dedicated it to her FictionPress readers. I mean, FictionPress? I remember my friend posting her (amateur and trope-filled) stories on there when we were both, like, twelve. (Dear friend: no hard feelings if you read this, okay? Like I said. We were twelve. At least you weren’t the one writing self-insert anime fanfic back then.) And there is definitely a feel to most of Throne of Glass reminiscent of a young fantasy fan taking elements from works they’ve enjoyed and sprinkling in a good-sized dose of fanfiction tropes, but instead of feeling ripped off, I had to grin a little. You do it for the preteen girls who dream of writing their own fantasy epic, Sarah J. Maas. I am 110% supportive of this, no sarcasm.

Despite its predictability, I liked the main plot. I like stories about competitions, especially of the deadly sort. The Tests to decide the king’s champion were nothing new or innovative, but I can see how anything particularly complicated or over-the-top could feel out of place in the world of the book. They were just what they needed to be, although I wish a little more time had been spent on them and less on the love triangle! The big reveal of who had been murdering the contestants was pretty obvious, but certain others after, though not huge shocks, were interesting and set things up nicely for the rest of the series, as well as introducing some neat elements to the fantasy portion of the story.

The writing is where the book’s online origins really start to become clear. If you’ve ever been a fanfiction reader, you’ll recognize a characteristic of those stories in the writing here: referring to a character by a trait instead of name, as in “the brunette” or “the knight.” Maas uses this a lot in regards to Celaena. Not a page goes by without her being referred to as “the assassin.” It’s an amateur mistake that shouldn’t be cropping up this often in a published work, in my opinion. Once or twice is alright. Often enough that you notice it and groan inwardly every time it’s used? Not alright. Some of the dialogue tags are… interesting, as well. One that made me grit my teeth out of annoyance both times I caught it: “he/she said softly, but not weakly.” There are a thousand ways to convey that without sounding that, well, stupid. “He said under his breath,” for example. “She said, in a low voice.” Heck, even “they said softly,” because I know I, at least, don’t see that and automatically think WOW, THEY SURE SOUND LIKE A WIMP, HA HA. And I think the castle healers should take a look at Celaena’s heart, because it is always doing weird shit. Screeching and diving behind her spine, for example. Or: “… feeling her heart grow, and grow, and grow.” The repetition of “grow” three times honestly made me let out a giggle, because… is Celaena the Grinch? Because it sounds like her heart grew three sizes that day! Har har har.

The character development is… shaky, to say the least. Relationships jump all over the place within pages – ooh, they distrust this other person! Now they feel like this person has their back! Now they resent them! Seriously, Chaol needs to get his mood swings checked out. I know that the relationships between the love triangle are complicated – Celaena has good reason to hate anyone involved with Adarlan’s royalty, and Chaol and Dorian’s apprehensions about her because of her profession make sense – but these feelings don’t grow organically, but progress and regress depending on whatever makes the current POV character seem angstiest. And Celaena herself… whoo boy. Her morals are ALL OVER THE PLACE. This girl who’s hyped up to the reader as a heartless killer actually stops to think “What was ‘Champion’ but a dressed-up name for murderer?” You know what’s a dressed-up name for murderer, Celaena? ASSASSIN.

Despite that, I really love her as a protagonist – I like that her tongue is as sharp as her killer instincts, I like that despite her background as an assassin she cares for others, and I like that she isn’t totally fearless. She may be a stone-cold badass, but not one with a stone heart. And she loves pretty dresses and puppies! You know what, even if it was just a chance to describe her beautiful gowns, I’ll let it slide, because Celaena’s the perfect example that you can love feminine things and not be fragile or shallow.

As for the romance, I found it… actually, pretty decent. I much prefer Chaol to Dorian, although the first book seems to put things on a very pro-Dorian path, but neither romance of the love triangle made me roll my eyes or want to slap any of the participants for their sheer stupidity, which is… refreshing, I guess. Neither of the romantic interests is a “bad boy” type or creepy and coercive in the least, and I can see how fans could find both swoon-worthy. Although the romance does take up a good portion of the middle of the book, it never figures directly into the main plot – Celaena deals with all of that on her own (or with a little help from a friend who shall remain a spoiler!) and her feelings for her love interests never drive her decisions.

Throne of Glass is anything but perfect, and has some major, obvious flaws – but it did exactly what a fantasy story should do: immersed me in its world and kept me turning the pages. I have high hopes for this series and where it’s going – Crown of Midnight cannot come out fast enough for me.

Rating:

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