I kinda feel like I should have liked this book more? I mean, it avoids doing a lot of things I dislike in YA genre romance, it includes a few things I theoretically like, and the writing was actually better than average for YA. Yet rather than making an enthusiastic fan of me, all of that stuff just…helped it break even. I’m really just sort of ambivalent about Divergent, and I’m still trying to suss out exactly why.
So whoo, let’s have a list. A VERY SPOILERY LIST
Here watch me try and be positive for once
- A Flawed MC
So I have my issues with Tris not really speaking to me personally as an interesting character, but I can appreciate that she was a character with actual flaws and defects and deviant pleasures that a lot of female characters aren’t allowed to have. I appreciated that she wasn’t the best at everything, that Roth wasn’t afraid to let her suffer and fail, and that she had moments of harshness and vindictive glee that most proper, caring YA heroines wouldn’t think of showing.
- No Love Triangle
There was no love triangle in this installment. Huzzah. That may change as the series goes on, I don’t know, but I do appreciate the restraint in not shoehorning a second viable romantic interest in there.
- The Romance Was Relatively Up Front
No four hundred pages of milling and doubt, But does he like me? Sure, he follows me around and saved me from rampaging wildebeests and then held me sexily against him, but does that mean he likes me?. It’s still there, sure, but it’s not drawn out neeeeeeeeearly as much as it could be. Much to I’m sure everyone’s surprise, there does come a point at which Tris accepts that yes, a dude kissing and stroking you and holding your hand does mean that he is romantically interested. She even, gasp!, initiates some of the intimacy and relationship development between them. Thumbs up.
- Lady Friends
Tris had like three, maybe four, and her mother played a good-sized role, too. Granted, none of them were super-developed, but hey! They were there. This is a selling point. Man this is sad.
- Sacrifice & Suffering
Roth isn’t afraid to have her characters go through the ringer. Tris and several other characters get the crap beaten out of them, characters get brainwashed, maimed, injured, they even get killed, or kill other people – cartoonish as this future world may be, you can’t say there isn’t consequence or loss.
- Tough Choices
They are there. Tris has to make them.
- It was Compelling
Even when I was rolling my eyes at some of the dumbshit happening on screen, it was never a chore to read, and I always wanted to pick it back up. There was some nice turn of phrase, some interesting ideas, and some decent characterization.
So it’s not like it’s a total festering crap pile, there are good things. But they have to make up for:
Or basically just, “man this is stupid.
- The World
I know it’s been harped on to death, so I’ll try not to go on about it for too long, but JESUS FUCKING CHRIST this world is stupid. Dividing into weird values-based factions was somehow seen as a solution to war??? Um how about no? Just aside from it being a dumb motherfucking idea, how would anyone come to this conclusion? How would reasoning fucking adults get together and decide, “Hey, you know what would be a good idea? Separating ourselves into themed societies. Nah really man, it’s great, we can pick a team name out of the thesaurus, design our own logo, make official seals, demand people be loyal to us over friends and family, pick a group color, it’ll be so cool! Dibs on “The Fire Ponies”!”
The answer is that they didn’t, and that is because only small, excitable children would think that this is a reasonable way to run a society, and even then only for like half an hour, until naptime, and then the whole thing collapses.
The whole idea is just so dumb, and asks for an excessive amount of my already limited suspension of disbelief. I mean, I’m willing to give some leeway when you’re talking satire or allegory or metaphor, and you’re trying to make a point, but if there’s a bigger point, I’m just not seeing it.
I guess it’s my expectations getting in the way – I expected Divergent‘s weird social system to be have a point, to be a critique of some sort, but if the conflict is about proving that “Hey, people can be “kind AND brave AND honest AND selfless AND smart”, I already know that. We all know. Because, we, too, are (hopefully) multi-faceted human beings. All you’re proving is that somehow, this society has managed to exist for years without accounting for basic human nature. It’s not a feature, it’s a bug.
Basically, if there’s not some sort of social criticism at work here, I have to be able to believe that Divergent World could conceivably exist, and I don’t. And seeing as how that is basically the entire premise, it seriously undermines my ability to enjoy the ride.
Of course, it doesn’t help that…
- The Dauntless are Dumb
I mean yeah the concept of the Factions is dumb, but the Factions themselves are infuriatingly stupid too, especially the Dauntless. For starts, I don’t really see how Courage is supposed to prevent war? I mean yeah I guess the core philosophy of “standing up for the little guy” is a good one, but you’d think that standing up for people causes more conflict than it prevents. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the context we’re given, as separating into these six five groups was how humanity supposedly ended war.
The Dauntless being physically trained as soldiers makes even LESS sense, since I THOUGHT THE WHOLE IDEA WAS TO GET RID OF WAR, so WHY ARE YOU GUYS TRAINING AS SOLDIERS? WHAT ARE SOLDIERS USED FOR IF NOT CONFLICT UGH THIS WHOLE FACTION IS A FUCKING CONFUSING MESS OF PHILOSOPHICAL IDEALS.
If their existence or activities were at least geared towards the idea of defending the defenseless – and there are defenseless and downtrodden in this world, kthnx – I could accept the philosophical weirdness because at least they were following through in some sort of vaguely helpful manner, but instead the Dauntless just seem to be a faction of Jackass rejects and Darwin Award candidates who get off on giving common sense the finger, and yet inexplicably haven’t gone the way of the fucking Dodo yet.
I realize that the divergence (hur hur) from their ideals is at least partially a plot point, but ultimately the whole concept and execution of the group just comes off like they wanted to have a “cool, sexy faction” that you should be SUPER EXCITED about Tris electing to join, whether it makes sense within the world or not. Also, I mean, it’s not a dystopian trilogy without a revolution, right? And if we’re going to have a revolution, there has to be someone to be threatened by. Definitely not those gross, nasty scholars, amirite?
- Erudites are Godless, Science-loving Heathens (Which is Apparently a Bad Thing)
So, obviously a lot of the bias against the Erudites (the scholarly, academic faction) in the book comes from Tris, and Tris being raised among the Abnegation, who are apparently the most religious of the Factions and HOLY SHIT MOST OF THE DIVERGENT COME FROM ABNEGATION. JESUS FREES YOU FROM THE LITERAL MIND CONTROL OF THE HORRIBLE SCIENCE WIELDED BY THE SCIENCE ELITE OH MY GOD HOW DID I NOT SEE THIS BEFORE????
Ahem. Er, anyway, sure, Tris being biased against Erudite makes sense, it’s true to her character, and it’s cast as unreliable, so you know, whatever. Except THEN we get to the end, in which we learn that the Evil Mastermind behind the sudden downpour o’conflict is the leader of the Erudite faction, who has brainwashed the Dauntless with science so that she can mind control them into eliminating Abnegation.
Review continued at You're Killing.Us
I really did not intend to read this book. I feel like I got my fill of/said my piece in the Stormdancer review, and who wants to retread? (other than Kinslayer, BA-ZING) So you guys (and I!) can thank Shiori and my pitiful resistance to peer pressure for this, another miserable two-month, 500-page slog. Also, UNMARKED SPOILERS ABOUND in this review.
First things first: the sama-as-'sir' and hai-as-'yes' thing - which, I'll have you know, was a totally intentional linguistic twist, I don't know why you're so upset about it - has been mostly fixed.
Honorifics are almost entirely dropped, and while "hai" still appears frequently, it's not in the middle or at the end of sentences or masquerading as "ne", so it's slightly more tolerable. I mean, I'm pretty sure it's still being used wrong, but the Japanese proficiency level has at least moved up to "Weeaboo", so that's something that those of us who were irritated by the first one, yet are inexplicably reading the sequel, can be grateful for.
Don't get me wrong, it's still Weearific as fuck -
Jurou’s grin was all Kitsune-in-the-henhouse, aimed squarely at Hana...
- probably so that we don't forget that this is, like, super-exotic steampunk fantasy, man, and we should all be grateful, excited, a little bit horny, and totally throwing cookies its way for deigning to take place in the ~land of the rising sun~.
I mean, this isn't necessarily anything new. When it comes to Japan, and Asian culture, and outside cultures in general, it seems like most of what we're given access to are weeabooks or the equivalent - white people's exotified "riffs" on cultures and mythologies not theirs. And I think that's sort of the larger issue that I didn't emphasize enough in the "sama-hai" hullabaloo of my Stormdancer review.
Ellen Oh wrote a fantastic blog post on the subject earlier this year, that articulates the problem quite beautifully.
It is a complicated situation. There is no easy answer. We need diversity in literature. We need it desperately. [...] And so it is important that all authors include diversity in their books.
But there is that part of me that wonders why is it that when I see a list about what Asian fantasy books are out there, the books are predominantly by caucasian authors. Are POC writers not writing them or are they being passed over for books written by non-POC authors instead? And why is it that books by or about POC don't tend to sell as well as other "mainstream" books. What is the difference? Is it the difference in how they are marketed? Is it their cover art? Where they are placed in the bookstore or library? How they are pushed or not pushed by the booksellers, librarians, and teachers?
The reality is, there are just not a lot of POC authors out there. We are not representing the 37% of our population when we only amount to 10% of publishing. When you look at diversity panels or even the YA tag in racebending.com, the authors tend to be predominantly white because they reflect publishing.
This is why I can't help but be resentful. I freely admit it. It sucks being a POC author sometimes. You feel invisible. You feel passed over. And true or not, it feels harder for us to get to tell our own stories. And that shouldn't be the way things are.
So look. Being totally up front: I think, in terms of cultural representation, The Lotus War is pretty gross. I think it's lazy, exotifying, frequently reliant on Western fantasy tropes and attitudes even when they make no sense in the setting, and I think that most of what was intact and researched and detailed was the shiny pretty totally marketable aesthetic. And I think that uncritical glorification of this book and books like it are part of what keep us from getting better things.
That being said, I want to talk about other aspects of Kinslayer separately, because a) there ARE things I found interesting and ideas I liked, and b) it fails rather spectacularly on several other axes.
So, premise: basically, after killing the Shogun at the end of Stormdancer, Yukiko has driven her powers into overdrive - or so we're lead to believe - and they've begun to overwhelm her. The thoughts and presences of animals and humans alike cause her physical pain, and so Yukiko has become an alcoholic to drown them out, and to numb the pain of her father's loss. She drags herself away from the bottle to cause problems for the Guild and defend her comrades-in-rebellion, but little by little her control over her powers is slipping, and endangering herself and everyone around her. After a good three million pages setting all this up, Yukiko is positioned to spend her part of the book on a Journey to find someone in Shima who can help her learn to control her powers.
This isn't a bad start. I was begrudgingly digging Yukiko being in such a dark place - I mean, not very many "YA" authors I've come across will put their MC in that kind of unglamorous, self-destructive position. The goal was clear, and the Journey ahead promised adventure and discovery! Maybe we'd even get some - dare I even say it it? - progress to move this slog along?
Yukiko's attempt to learn to control her powers falls by the wayside fairly quickly, and she instead spends most of her plotline dealing with a streak of bad luck that seems designed mostly to keep her out of the way of the main plot - and to introduce this world's Russians, which'll hopefully pay off in the next book. Maybe.
On the bright side, her emotional conflict and inner turmoil is mostly resolved, even if her superpower issue pans out in the most groan-inducing way possible.
—CANNOT FEEL THEM, KINSLAYER? NOT HEAR THEM SCREAM WHEN THE MONKEY-MAN STRUCK HER BELLY?—
Buruu sighed, storm howling overhead, lighting reflected in the bottomless black of her eyes. The girl he loved more than anything in this world. The girl he would do anything to protect, to spare her even one more second of pain.
But he could not spare her this.
Oh, gods, no …
The sigh came from the heart of him.
YUKIKO, YOU ARE WITH CHILD.
YEP! SHE'S PREGNANT. That's where all her power is coming from. BABBIES. Always BABBIES. That's a thing women do, right? That's also how she recruits the female griffin to their cause -
He could feel the little ones inside Yukiko—two tiny sparks of life, shapeless and bright, intertwined with her own heat. They pulsed, too formless to know true fear, but real enough to feel their mother’s terror, shock, sorrow through the Kenning. The fear spilled into him, fear for them, for the one who carried them, for the beating, bleeding heart of his world.
He knew Kaiah could feel them too.
Kaiah growled, deep in her throat, tail whipping side to side.
—NO. WILL NOT FIGHT FOR YOU.—
Kaiah padded over to Yukiko, knelt on the stone before her. The girl looked up, swollen, trembling lips and frightened, blackened eyes. An age passed, there in the howling storm, the clawing wind, the driving rain, until at last, the thunder tiger leaned in close, pressed her head against Yukiko’s belly, and listened.
The sun slipped out from behind the clouds.
Just for a moment.
—BUT I WILL FIGHT FOR THEM.
Because women, right? They may not give a shit about people, but they give a shit about babbies, goddammit.
The truth, though, is that Yukiko and Buruu just aren't of much consequence in Kinslayer. We're teased with the question of the fate of the remaining griffins, with hints of Buruu's past, he's even the titular Kinslayer, but all of that potentially interesting bit of backstory is withheld, presumably for the finale. Or the never.
Instead, Kristoff uses Kinslayer to make The Lotus War an ensemble, adding a handful of new POV characters and three separate storylines to the mix.
Those are the ones that really factor in to Kinslayer‘s overall plot, and I suspect that the introduction of Hana, along with Kin’s progression, were what Kinslayer was meant to serve – mostly because they’re the only things that really differentiate it from Stormdancer. BUT WE’LL GET TO THAT.
Look, the important part here is that while two of the new storylines may primarily follow female characters, the generous helping of new POVs means that we get to slip into the perspectives of the people around them. You know what that means!
Aw yeah, she isn’t a Strong Female Character if we don’t get some good ol’fashioned fap material!
Ahahaha, I jest, but it is actually disappointing, because there are times when the characters are well-drawn. Both Michi and Hana get an abundance of backstory and some agency in their own subplots (it’s somewhat hard to gage when so much of the story is “waiting around” and “flashbacking”), but the sexualization of the female characters is never far off. The male gaze is ever-present, whether it’s in women describing women –
"Seventeen, perhaps eighteen years old at most. Her lips were full and pouting, as if she’d been stung by something venomous, her features fragile and perfect; a porcelain doll on its first day in the sun. She narrowed her eyes, held one hand up against the light.
Inexplicably, Yukiko felt her heart sink.
Or women somehow sexualizing themselves in the third person.
"Her tongue emerged from between bee-stung lips and she touched it to her fingers, just once, shivering as she tasted copper and salt."
And we’re given to male POVs at the most convenient –
"Her lips tasted of strawberries and sweat, warm as spring and soft as Kitsune silk. Wet beneath his fingertips, thighs smooth as glass, a river of glossy black spilling around her face and clinging to dripping breasts. She swayed above him; a long, slow dance in the lamplight, spilling across her contours, down into soft curves and sodden furrows. Soaking all around him, slick and scalding to the touch. She took his hands, pressed them against her, biting her lip and sawing back and forth atop him. Her sighs were the only sound in his world, her heat soaking through to his center. Her hips moved like a summer haze over lotus fields, climbing the mountain as she moaned his name over and over again.
“Ichizo.” Her lips on his own, breathing into his mouth. “Ichizo…” "
…and most disgustingly horrifying of times.
"She was not clad in a jûnihitoe as occasion would dictate; just a plain shift of deep red, rivers of long, raven hair spilling about her shoulders. No powder upon her bloodless face, nor kohl around her bloodshot eyes. Her right arm was bound in plaster, her lips pale and bereft of paint, left eye still surrounded by a faint yellow bruise, skin split almost to her chin down the left side of her mouth, stitched with delicate sutures. Yoritomo’s beating had been far more brutal than most in the court were allowed to believe.
And still, she was beautiful."
WELL THANK GOD SHE’S STILL BEAUTIFUL. I MEAN SURE SHE’S PHYSICALLY BROKEN AND BEEN BEATEN ALL TO SHIT, BUT I’M GLAD WE’RE TOLD WHAT’S IMPORTANT.
"She wailed in fear as he stepped closer. Bruises on her face, those bee-stung lips swollen further still, ugly purple around her wrists, across her thighs."
Yes, thank you. I really needed the reminder that her lips are pouty and full while you’re describing her physical state, post-rape.
I mean, what am I meant to make of that? So much of the hype around Stormdancer seemed based on the presentation of this strong, proactive woman of color – Yeah, look at how badass she is on the cover! Look at that sword! – and it just seems like little by little, the books are undermining the heroines, in their moments of triumph and even in their pain and suffering, to remind us that they are totally fappable.
Michi gets the brunt of it, being the book’s designated femme fatal. Her arc involves stuff I’d really be interested in, normally – a hardened woman out for revenge – but ugh, the squick comes in quick when she starts falling in love with the man she’s been seducing to secure her escape, and she has a big moral event horizon when she chooses the rebellion over him and stabs him while she kisses him, which is how you want to go, guys, amirite? And from there her scenes get this creepy fetishy Dragon Lady quality where she kills dudes with her hair sticks and sexy martial arts and…well…
She reached into the box and drew them out, scarlet card falling to the floor. Four and three feet long, gentle curves and glittering saw-blade teeth. She thumbed the ignitions on the hilts and the motors roared to life, vibration traveling up her arms and into her chest, bringing a small smile to painted lips.
Michi gunned the throttles of Ichizo’s chainkatana and wakizashi. Tearing away the intact layer of her jûnihitoe gown, she stepped out of her wooden sandals, wriggling her feet in split-toed socks. She took up her stance, flourishing the blades about her waist and head, a twirling, snarling dance of folded steel.
Michi dashed across the floorboards, narrowed eyes and gleaming teeth. The commander came to his senses first and stepped forward, bringing his nagamaki into some semblance of guard. She slipped down onto her knees, fine Kitsune silk and her momentum sending her into a skid across polished boards, blade passing harmlessly over her head. Cutting the commander’s legs out from under him, a blinding spray of red, a shriek of agony as the chainsaw blades sheared through bone like butter. Spinning up to her feet, katana cleaving through another bushiman’s forearm, wakizashi parrying a hasty thrust from a third as the soldiers at last registered the threat. Sparks in the air as steel crashed, the girl moving like smoke between the blades, swaying to the music she made.
A blade to a throat. A crimson spray on the walls. A parry. A wheel-kick. A thrust. Red mist in the air. Heart thundering in her chest.
She blew stray hair from her eyes, idling chainswords dripping into the gore pooled at her feet, staring at the commander’s corpse.
“I think I’ll put you down instead,” she said.
Did I just read a scene out of fucking Suckerpunch? Because it felt like something around that level.
We actually talk about this in more depth in an upcoming podcast about agency (and Shiori’s dramatic reading is priceless), but the problem is well-articulated by this quote that she found for the occasion:
<blockquote>A female character who kicks ass and chews bubblegum and does a billion slow-mo kills in a slinky nightgown or catsuit (Aeon Flux, Resident Evil, Ultraviolet, etc) is not traditionally thought of as empowering because behind that concept is the lurking terror of a creepy, objectifying male writer or director. Even though “the writer” or “the director” don’t exist in-universe, their presence is felt strongly enough that it’s nearly impossible to think of such characters as being “a woman exhibiting agency”.
“The lurking terror of a creepy, objectifying male writer”, indeed.</blockquote>
Of all the female characters, Hana is the one I’m most unsure of. I feel like Hana and her storyline need more context before we’re able to completely unpack it, but the reveal of her and her brother as half (unspecified) gaijin caught me off guard. I sort of hope they don’t go the foreign inheritance, special-because-white route, but…we’ll see. At least, in the context of this story, I appreciated that she had agency, that she remained mostly unsexualized, and that she was allowed revenge for some of the bad things that happened to her.
Her brother’s subplot was fucking miserable, though. Yeah, totally, killing off the barely-characterized gay lover who only gets a backstory three seconds before he’s taken in to be tortured, so clever, so edgy, man.
As a whole, Kinslayer‘s steep descent into grimdark gritty town doesn’t do much for me. FYI, there are at least two attempted rape scenes, one actual rape – provided it was, indeed, a rape; we only see the aftermath – and an intimate violation of a bedridden character mentioned towards the end. Of course there’s a lot of violence, being a steampunk rebellion action book, and most of it gets skimmed over in a typically action-booky way, until you hit the gay character’s torture scene. From there, it seems like a torrent of shudder-inducing stuff follows, and I kind of wish someone would have seen fit to mention it in a review. Obviously it’s personal preference, but I am so totally not here for the eyes-being-yanked-out, toes-being-broken-crap, and I’m sure there are others who’d appreciate a word of warning.
I also feel like it’s worth mentioning that the worst bits of torture, prolonged suffering, and victimization are only wheeled out for women and gay men. I mean sure, lots of random dudes die, but they’re relatively quick deaths that aren’t, y’know, prolonged arduous setpiece plot devices. I’ll be bitter about Aisha’s fate til the end of fucking days, man, because not only was she brought back despite being presumed dead in the last book, but she was brought back just to become a fucking human incubator, and to figure in a plotline that was basically middle book bullshit filler. Her character was victimized and suffered and died and it didn’t even forward the plot.
Also, that possible – because I’m not convinced we won’t eventually go the “she faked it” route, ugh – rape? Another plot device meant to be a turning point, not for the character it occurred to, of course, but for her love interest, Kin. He is SO UPSET she got raped, you guys, it was just the final straw. Now he’s going to do some shit. Naturally.
I’m actually starting to suspect that Kin might be our backdoor protagonist, here. Again, I feel like one of, if not the primary purpose of Kinslayer, as an installment in The Lotus War, was to transition Kin into whatever role he’ll be playing in the finale, and it’s Kin who has been given the tropey fantasy mantle of having an epic prophesied destiny looming in the distance that he’s caught between fighting and giving in to. I suppose we’ll see as the series conclude, but it’s kind of telling to me that the only time Kinslayer is EVER in first person is in his ominous epilogue.
Ultimately, if the appropriation weren’t going to put you off, if the creepy objectification wasn’t enough, at the very least, Kinslayer feels like a waste of time as an installment. Once again, it’s like 300 pages of slow-as-molasses plot development until you hit the home stretch and shit starts actually happening. But even then, Kinslayer has classic Middle Book Syndrome: it treads water with a redundant plot while new characters are introduced and/or maneuvered into position for the finale. We end Kinslayer in almost exactly the same position as we ended Stormdancer, and oh god why did we even bother? I wouldn’t be surprised if you could just skip Kinslayer entirely and go into book three without much trouble.
Then again, I don’t think anyone would be worse off for just skipping Kinslayer, period.
Come for the quotespam, stay for the fun? Quotespam over at <a href="http://yourekilling.us/?p=1462">You're Killing.Us</a>.
This book is full of awful, awful characters, horrifying ethnic stereotypes, godawful writing, skeevy-as-fuck victim-blaming, rape-culture bullshit, internalized misogyny, and probably the second-worst fucking relationship in YA, after Patch and Nora.
...that sounds worse than I thought it would. WAIT LET ME EXPLAIN.
So if you aren't already aware, Awoken is a stealth parody, taking depressingly common YA tropes to their (more) disturbing extremes. I wasn't sure whether or not to bring this up, but as amusing (and potentially calm-threatening) as it would be to think this horrifying shit was sincere, I feel like you can't fully appreciate Awoken without the comforting blanket of "parody" tucked firmly around your brain. It's difficult to appreciate the tropes being poked fun at unless you know that they're really for reals poking fun at them, and that could potentially be hard to discern. Not because the author(s) haven't gone above and beyond in making this shit ott and utterly ridiculous, but because, well, waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many authors have played the same shit totally fucking straight.
Our heroine is Andi and oh-my-fucking-god this chick. This chick. I don't wanna say she's the "real monster here", because Cthulu, man, fuck that guy, but Andi is pretty awful. She starts out normally enough I guess, with just your standard Sad Upper-Middle-Class White Girl complex, angsting about how bad her life is because she had to move, even though her best friend moved with her, and she has happy loving parents, and a decent school life, BUT WOE IS HER, the town is so boring, her existence is meaningless, yadda yadda.
I stared up at the ancient white wooden beams above me— my parents had been so excited to renovate this old ship maker’s house when we moved in two years ago. They left the ceiling beams exposed because they said it gave the house character.
“This house has more meaning than my life,” I groaned aloud.
Then Riley shows up and of course she ~knows him from a dream~, and he's a dick to her, and they don't even talk civilly once, so naturally, it's a straight shot for both to Obsession City.
After he’d been so weird and smug and then downright threatening, why couldn’t I just be relieved that he wasn’t at school anymore to give me that smoldering look of disdain he had reserved special for me?
The relationship between Riley and Andi is about as depressing as you'd expect, the power balances having been slid allllll the way to the end of their respective scales. Riley is overtly menacing, controlling, and possessive. Those are literally the only traits he displays. He's incapable of not being condescending, even when he's trying to be romantic, and he almost never addresses Andi as anything other than "[insert synonym for "small" or "unimportant" here] one". I'm gonna say that like 95% of his lines were straight-up non-sugarcoated orders directed at Andi, and the other 5% were orders directed at other people, or exposition. All 100% was(were?) in flawless Ye Olde Formal Speake.
“When we met in the realm of dreams, our destinies became entwined irrevocably. Thus do I hereby anoint you as my sacred charge and accept you as my burden, my albatross. I shall protect you always, for you are small and weak. And I am greater than you.”
He totally talks like that for the entire book.
He's also an unabashed murderer who solves most of his problems by driving people insane and then eating them. Cuz Cthulu.
For her part in the relationship, Andi took the Bella/Kate "cripplingly co-dependent" option, with tasty swirls of "relentless dismissal of self-worth" and "blind obedience". Most of her interactions with Riley (positive or not) left her berating herself for her unworthiness, or concocting increasingly elaborate scenarios for his continued presence in her life, because he couldn't possibly be interested in a boring, plain, mundane girl like her.
No! No. I would not cry. Not anymore. I was not worthy to cry over him. The mere fact that I dared to even entertain the notion that he might have even considered staying was an insult to him!
And it's at this point that I realize that this all probably sounds far more disturbing than funny...
Read full review at You're Killing.Us
So, turns out City of Bones is AU Harry Potter fanfic starring the children of the Death Eaters.
I was kind of not expecting this? I mean, I knew Clare wrote HP fanfic and I'd read rundowns of all the plagiarism wank and I'd heard that Bones had been influenced by her Draco fic, but whatever, I've read books before that were probably adapted from fanfic, right? I mean, who hasn't ripped of Buffy at this point? I've seen plenty of books take familiar characters and tropes and archetypes and play with them, with varying degrees of success, so even though I'd heard, I wasn't expecting the level of wholesale ganking that I found in City of Bones.
Cuz that's the thing about City of Bones, it's not just like an archetype or two that's been lifted and adapted - Clare has straight up filed the serial numbers off this shit. This is Harry Potter world with a new urban fantasy paint, this is a Marvel What-If? experiment, this is Draco Goes to the Big City...although to be fair, this is Draco in Leather Pants, and that, by far, is the most original thing about it.
So the wizards are now nephilim, and the twist is that they Don't Do Magic, dammit, which they will tell you up one side and down the other. Instead, they use steles to trace magic runes (on themselves and other objects) to do things like unlock doors, and shoot people across the room, and allow them to get around without being noticed, and create one-way mirrors for eavesdropping, and create magic pictures, and heal people, and generally ass-pull themselves out of any situation that requires a miracle solution, and GOD FORBID YOU CONFUSE THAT FOR MAGIC CAST FROM WANDS, because Shadowhunters don't fucking do magic, what the fuck do you think this is?
Nephilum are more colloquially known as Shadowhunters, which basically just means that wizard society got a lot more militant in its disdain for magical creatures. In the fantasy kitchen sink that Bones takes place in, vampires, werewolves, faeries, etcetceretcetefuckingra, all exist, but they're all literal demon-offspring. Some like to eat humans, which the nephilum don't appreciate, so treaties have been put in place to keep them from eating humans indisciminately, and to ensure that Shadowhunters only kill "downworlders", who've committed crimes. Despite this, it's apparently totally okay to entrap hungry downworlders, and then kill them for taking the bait. Go fig.
The Big Bad is the MOST militant of the militant wizards, Volde - I MEAN VALENTINE, a charismatic Shadowhunter obsessed with ridding the world of filthy half-breed downworlders, because master races are where it's fucking at, man. He spent his years at Shadowhunter school amassing a cult of devoted followers with names like Pangborn and Lightwood who spend a lot of time wearing robes and plotting to overthrow the Shadowhunter council because they aren't militant enough.
Luckily just before the heroine was born there was a violent uprising in which Voldentine and most of his Death Circle were killed or reformed, so now everything is lah-dee-dah again, except it's not, because Voldentine's back and he's looking to stir up some shit with a magical MacGuffin, which is where our story begins.
So I mean let's be real here: this is a Harry Potter fanfic. This is a Harry Potter fanfic with very little modification, and whole chunks of world mythology and backstory left intact. And personally I find this kind of fascinating. I mean, it really raises huge questions, doesn't it? About intellectual property and inspiration, and where the line between "influenced/inspired by" and "ripped off" is drawn. I think Clare perfectly straddles that line, I mean obviously City of Bones was Legally Distinct enough to be published, but the veneer of originality is thin. Here, here, let me give you an example!
Let's talk about the Silent Brothers, or the Legally Distinct Dementors. So, I took the liberty of looking up the introduction to the dementors that we get in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and comparing it to the information that we get about the Silent Brothers in City of Bones.
Prisoner of Azkaban:
Standing in the doorway, illuminated by the shivering flames in Lupin’s hand, was a cloaked figure that towered to the ceiling. Its face was completely hidden beneath its hood. Harry’s eyes darted downward, and what he saw made his stomach contract. There was a hand protruding from the cloak and it was glistening, grayish, slimy-looking, and scabbed, like something dead that had decayed in water...
An intense cold swept over them all. Harry felt his own breath catch in his chest. The cold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest, it was inside his very heart...
City of Bones:
Then she saw a figure move out of the dimness, and she realized that what she had thought was a patch of darker shadow was a man. A tall man in a heavy robe that fell from neck to foot, covering him completely. The hood of the robe was raised, hiding his face. The robe itself was the color of parchment, and the intricate runic designs along the hem and sleeves looked as if they had been inked there in drying blood. The hair rose along Clary’s arms and on the back of her neck, prickling almost painfully.
Is it exactly the same? Well, no. The Silent Brothers are brown, you see, and they also talk (telepathically), were once Shadowhunters themselves, and play a completely different role in the story. But still, underneath the layers of brown parchment paint and runes, you can see the links back to the Harry Potter universe. And that's the crux of it!
They are different, they are used differently, but you can tell that they were dementors, once, just like you can see that steles were once wands, and Valentine was once Voldemort. But is it plagiarism? Is it thieving? How many changes have to be made before it qualifies?
Personally, I'm kind of amused and morbidly fascinated by the whole thing. I feel like the relationship between City of Bones and Harry Potter is not dissimilar from the one between, say, Cinder and Cinderella, right, except that Cinder and others like it specifically acknowledge that they are adaptations and retellings, and they are adaptations and retellings of things that have fallen into public domain. On the whole, Clare probably should have put more effort into blending her ingredients into this new cuisine, but it still might have been able to work for me, if, well, everything else hadn't been so awful...
Full review at the BRAND-SPANKING NEW You're Killing.US!
I don't know what it is about Holly Black. I'm fairly confident that in literally any other author's hands, a great deal of this book would have had me rolling my eyes right out of my head, but something about this book just...worked for me. I warped back to a time many a year ago when this genre and its tropes were all fresh and new and exciting to me, when I was an easily-pleased twelve-year-old girl sitting on her bed reading LJ Smith for the first time, with warm fuzzies and bated breath.
So, while I'm aware that there are issues, and while I can't quite ID why some of these tropes and characters work for me here when I've scathingly dismissed similar premises elsewhere, I just can't bring myself to hate on this book. I really enjoyed my time with it, and that like literally almost never happens.
I NEED THIS OK?
One of the biggest things that Coldtown had in its favor, for me, was that I rarely had any idea where it was going. There's not any immediately distinguishable plotline - no Meeting the Supernatural True Love in School, no Secret Princess/Chosen One, no Murder Mystery - and that in itself is incredibly refreshing. Like, I didn't even realize how refreshing that would be, to not have to endure another fucking cliche-ridden recycled plotline that I've read a thousand times before, until I started Coldtown*. IN THIS FAMILIAR WORLD THAT I TRAVEL, THERE STILL EXIST MYSTERIES TO BE DISCOVERED~~~~
*okay so it gets a whole lot more familiar in the last third or so of the book but I'll get to that in a moment.
Rather than relying on one of the four Approved Genre Romance Plots to get us through, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown sets its focus on Tana, our heroine, as she emerges from one really shitty party with a simple goal: stay human. That's it. That's all she wants, that's all she needs to do to win the game, that's her pursuit through almost the entire book, and yet it's enough to drive us through three different settings, dozens of characters, and ultimately keep us pretty invested in and compelled by the story. Tana's journey is FULL of complications and setbacks and moments when the thing she needs most slips right through her fingers, and I cared about 400x more during any one of those moments than I have in the last fourteen books I've read combined.
In worse hands, a story like this could be really meandering - the setting shifts frequently, and since you have no idea what the overall plot arc is going to be, it's difficult to use that to gauge progress. BUT, because Tana's goal is so simple, and Tana almost always has some sort of plan to achieve it, the story manages to feel tight? It's not like she wanders around for days without knowing what she's doing. She's always on her way from point A to point B, always following through on a plan, the plan just gets...revised a lot xD.
The story is roughly split into three separate parts with three different feels: it begins with a short, vampire-complicated road trip, followed by a difficult-to-categorize bridging bit introduces us to Coldtown, and transitions from the roadtrip to the big damn vampire political/revenge scheme, which serves as the climax.
Of the three, I actually enjoyed the road trip most, though it's not particularly fun for the characters. As a reader, though, it serves as a great stretch of world-exploration and development, which I appreciate, because what Holly Black has created here is super intriguing. Coldtown, like her Curse Workers series, has this very distinct "alternate reality" vibe - it's not an underground world of monsters only select people know about, it's not some fantasy kingdom that never was, it's not the distant future we'll never see, it is HERE, it is NOW, but different. It feels grounded, and lived-in, and like this is what the world could be like under these circumstances. It feels real, and that's something that I find incredibly rare in YA.
Tana's America is post-apocalyptic/mid-apocalyptic/at a stalemate with its apocalypse and also adjusted to it. The vibe here is more "outbreak movie" than "dystopia", and vampirism is treated like a plague rather than a supernatural occurrence...
Read the full review at You're Killing.US.
This used to be one of my all-time favorite books - so my co-hosts and I put our nostalgia to the test!
Podcast review at Papercuts Podcast.