The Great Animorphs Re-read #18: “The Decision”

363406Animorphs #18: “The Decision” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, May 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Ax and the Animorphs are about to have a huge problem. It starts when they decide to morph mosquitoes in order to slip by some unsuspecting Yeerks. It ends with them stuck in Zero-space with no idea how they got there, no way to get back to Earth…and no oxygen.

Luckily, an Andalite scout ship finds them before it’s too late. But now Ax is finally with his own people. And he doesn’t know if he ever wants to go back to Earth…

Narrator: Ax

Plot: And we’re back with another Ax book! And surprising no one, we open with a scene of humor and horror as it appears that Ax has now become confident enough to morph human and wander around the mall all on his own! Seriously, it’s like the Animorphs are his parents and he’s now this toddler who’s been set loose on his own. It’s just irresponsible! Of course, Ax is found in one place and one place only: the food court where he attempts to get a job to fund his Cinnabun habit. But by “clearing tables” he hears “eat everything on the table, regardless of whether or not the person who bought it is done with it.” The whole thing ends with Ax causing a huge scene and needing to be bailed out by Marco who zeroes in on the commotion and has a sinking suspicion about who could be behind it.

Our real story then begins when the Animorphs get wind that the Yeerks might be up to their hospital infestation plans once again. And really, one has to wonder why the Yeerks don’t always use this plan, it just seems like such an easy way to create new Controllers. Erek, our friendly residential Chee, is the one to alert the Animorphs of this particular danger: an upper level man in the Secret Service will be in the hospital and the Yeerks are planning something.

They all decide to scout out the hospital, taking up a rotation of seagull morphs to keep an eye on things. During his shift, Ax sees Human!Visser Three show up at the hospital. It turns out that the Secret Service man has slipped into a coma and is now unusable as a Controller, so Visser Three decides to acquire him instead. But before he can, Visser Three, who is now at LEVEL RED suspicion of all animals he ever sees, spots a few seagulls outside, decides to morph a Kafit bird (the Andalite homeworld bird that we saw in “The Andalite Chronicles”) and attacks them. Ax and Visser Three go on a chase of that ends with them both back in Andalite form on a rooftop ready to go to battle. Visser Three, in his typical cowardly manner, chooses to flee the scene rather than fight Ax. Ax has many emotions about once again failing to avenge his brother.

At this point, the Animorphs decide that their best option is to essentially copy Visser Three’s plan (which was to acquire the DNA of the Secret Service man so that he could pose as him and gain access to every secret ever). So what if one of the Animorphs was to morph him, walk into the Secret Service, and then morph and prove that there is an alien invasion happening! After the usual debate about the ethics of morphing humans, the team decides to go ahead with the plan, except they know that the  Yeerks are now on high alert. Cassie’s animal knowledge comes to the rescue again and she suggests that there may be another way to get the DNA of this man without being human and acquiring it in the usual manner. They will all morph mosquito and get blood that way.

The team all morph mosquito and are in the midst of biting the man when…poof! They are suddenly somewhere else! Specifically, floating around in space and not fully formed? Panicking and without air, Ax frantically thought speaks towards the Andalite ship he can see in the distance. They are caught in its wake and he calls to them to save them. He blacks out, only to wake up in the medical bay of the Andalite ship surrounded by some very confused Andalites and concerned Animorph friends. An Andalite scientist is going crazy with their appearance, suggesting that it is a miracle of science, proof that the theory about extra mass going to Z-space when one morphs a tiny animal must be true! And that the passing Andalite ship had somehow sucked Ax and the Animorphs through as it passed their “mass” in Z-space.

The Captain and T.O. (technical officer) of the ship order the human Animorphs to stick to their room and call Ax to the main deck. They then inform him that their ship is en route to the Leeran home world where a massive battle between the Andalites and the Yeerks is brewing. They don’t have time to return the humans, and Ax is now a member of the ship’s crew and must follow their orders. Ax is both thrilled and afraid to know that he will now be in the midst of a real battle.

But as the ship begins to descend, he and the T.O. realize that something is wrong. They are landing behind the Yeerk lines where they will be completely at their mercy! It turns out that the Andalite Captain is a traitor! The Captain attacks the T.O., cutting off his tail. Ax panics and frantically tries to warn the other Animorphs. Turns out, they’re already in the room in fly morph, having disregarded Ax’s (and the Captain’s) orders to stay in their room. Cassie begins to de-morph while on the Captain’s shoulder, providing a distraction. Ax tries to fight him, and is saved when the T.O. recovers enough to shoot and kill the Captain with a Dracon beam. Knowing that the ship is doomed, the T.O. orders Ax and the Animorphs to flee, and sets the ship to auto-destruct in a hope to do as much damage as possible.

They all morph fly and flee the scene. As they run, Ax mourns the loss of so many Andalite warriors and grapples with his new reality where Andalites can be traitors and join up with the Yeerks willingly. The rest of the Animorphs struggle to forgive Ax for so quickly abandoning them once he was back among his own people. But their anger takes a back seat when they see the rest of the Andalite forces retreating, seemingly accepting that the battle is lost. This isn’t good for the Leeran home world or for the Animorphs themselves. As was explored a few books ago, psychic Yeerk Controllers would spell doom for the Animorphs’ cause.

As they flee the battlefield once again, they realize that Tobias is missing. It seems as if he disappeared before their very eyes. Frantic and scared, the group tries to orient themselves and decide on their next steps. As they work through it all, Ax stumbles upon a theory for why the Andalites retreated as quickly as they did. Leeran is made up of almost entirely water, with only one large continent. The Leeran people live in their oceans and don’t need this continent, but it is paramount to the land-based Yeerk invasion to use as a base of operations. Ax theorizes that the Leerans and Andalites plan to blow up this continent, striking a critical blow against the Yeerk forces that are all now gathering on the planet in their seeming victory.

They get to the ocean, morph shark, and promptly run into some Leeran!Controllers. Luckily, they realize that they can essentially bite the Yeerk right out from the Leerans’ heads without killing the Leerans themselves. The newly freed Leerans direct them to a Leeran city where they  meet up with some more Andalite leadership. This time, Ax presents the group and insists that Jake is his Prince and the one whom he will be taking orders from going forward. The Leeran/Andalite forces have run into a problem with their plan; the remote detonator on the bomb beneath the continent has been failing to activate for the last several hours. Someone will need to go down and manually arm it. The Animorphs volunteer. At this point, they have also lost a few more of the group, who also seemed to just disappear out of nowhere. Before sending them off, the Andalite scientists theorize that these disappearance may be some sort of “snap back” that is flinging them back either to Z-space (where they are now dead) or hopefully all the way back to Earth and their original mosquito morphs. It is likely that it will happen to them all. With this happy thought in mind, the remaining group sets off.

Some hi-jinks and battles ensue, but ultimately it is down to Ax and Jake racing through an underwater tunnel to get to the bomb in time, both worried that they will “snap” away before completing their mission. Jake disappears, and it is up to Ax. When he reaches the bomb, the Yeerks are there too. He manages to arm it and relays back to the Andalites not to wait, but to set it off now, with him next to it. Luckily, he snaps away right as it goes off.

And suddenly they’re all back in the hospital, biting the Secret Service man while in mosquito morph. No time has passed at all, and they all re-appeared at the same time, regardless of when they snapped away from the Leeran planet. Bizarrely, mosquito!Ax’s bite wakes up the Secret Service man from his coma, and the Controllers in the room flee, not knowing what to do. The story quickly wraps up with Ax making peace with the fact that sometimes your people aren’t the same species as you, and that’s ok. And he needs to go eat more Cinnabons immediately.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: This is a big book for Ax and his emotions/loyalties. Finally back among his own people, he goes through a lot of emotional legwork from the beginning to the end. Not only is he confronted, again, with the fact that the Andalite high ups want him to take the fall for giving the humans their morphing abilities (to save the legend of Elfangor), but he has to figure out his own connection to humanity, and the fact that the Andalites are also a flawed species.

It’s pretty clear at this point that arrogance is the primary downfall of Andalites. Not only can Ax not even comprehend the fact that one would be a traitor, but the Yeerks themselves are seen here to construct their entire strategy for taking over Leeran by counting on the fact that the Andalites don’t play well with others, and thus they and the Leerans, while on the same side, seem to be fighting separate wars with the Yeerks. So it goes a long ways for Ax to see the Captain turn traitor. Not only does he now have a more healthy understanding of the strengths and, importantly, weaknesses of his own people, but he sees the full advantages of working together with his human friends during their war on Earth.

At the same time, he is constantly worried about striking a balance between becoming close and comfortable on Earth, but not losing himself or his Andalite roots. After Jake snaps at him to get it together when they’re all essentially wandering around aimlessly on the planet after the ship self-destructs, Ax manages to find a kind of peace with things. But even that peace is difficult.

I felt strangely at home. As though, despite Prince Jake’s anger and Marco’s sneering and Rachel’s outright suspicion, I belonged with them. For some reason at that moment, even with the images of death aboard the Ascalin fresh in my mind, I saw myself far away, in a very different body, eating delicious cinnamon buns with a mouth. I wanted to be back there. I wanted to be back on Earth. Captain Samilin had sold out to the Yeerks. Was I selling out to the humans?

The really big moment for him is when they meet up with the Andalites again in the underwater city. Ax steps up to the plate this time, claiming Jake as his one and only Prince. It’s a big moment for him, and for the whole team’s relationship with him.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake shows his leadership skills a lot in this book. Notably, he finds a way forward amidst much fear, anger, and confusion once they find themselves essentially alone on a strange, alien planet. Rachel and Marco are furious at Ax. Tobias and Cassie don’t know what to think but are each too passive to move forward. Jake has to find the middle ground and re-focus the group on moving forward and not spiraling into finger-pointing and more suspicion of Ax’s motivations and loyalties. We also see, for the first time, Jake not reject the “Prince” title when Ax introduces him to the Andalite leaders in the underwater Leeran city. He knows that is important for Ax to have this moment cementing his loyalties and that the Andalite commanders will not respect a human “Prince” who would immediately undermine his own followers. He’s also the last Animorph to snap away and gets the farthest with Ax in the mission to defuse the bomb.

Xena, Warriar Princess: As we saw in Ax’s last book, Rachel and Marco were the slowest members to warm up to Ax, so it’s not surprising when they both react the mostly strongly at his abandonment once he’s back with his people. They are both very harsh with their language, but I can see their perspective in this situation. Add to this the fact that Rachel doesn’t handle unknowns well. At her core, she’s a weapon that needs to be aimed, and if she doesn’t have a target, she will drive herself mad with inaction. Whatever one thinks of the harshness of her reaction to Ax, the one time she really pushes him and he reacts without thinking by striking at her neck with his tail blade, she’s unflinchingly brave, not batting an eye lash and standing firm behind her opinion. This show of bravery and strength does strike a chord with honor-obsessed Ax, even while he is hurt by her ongoing anger and distrust of him.

A Hawk’s Life: As Ax’s closest friend, it’s no surprise that Tobias comes to Ax’s defense after everything goes wrong on the Andalite ship and Rachel and Marco come after him. Even earlier, while they’re still on the ship, he sends Ax a private thought speak message to consider carefully who is people really are. This doesn’t hit home with Ax until later, but Tobias’s quiet support and nudging of Ax is clearly important. But, again, poor Tobias gets side-lined early in the book, this time being the first to be snapped away. There’s no winning for a hawk who just wants to be a part of the team!

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie’s animal knowledge is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that she’s always the one to think of an animal morph that will accomplish a seemingly impossible goal (bats to fly in a safe room, moles to tunnel to the Yeerk pool, and here, mosquitoes to get DNA). It’s a curse that often these same solutions are almost always completely horrifying. Not only is morphing a mosquito, like all bugs, pretty disgusting, but the knowledge of WHY they’re doing it….to literally suck the blood of some random guy is equally gross. She also is the one to put together the dots that they should use a shark morph on the Leeran home world since they knew from Marco’s last book that the Yeerks had planned on using sharks in their invasion.

The Comic Relief: Marco is almost as harsh as Rachel in his attitude towards Ax’s quick abandonment of them on the Andalite ship. Marco, especially, values loyalty and it is clear that he views Ax as having failed a very important test in this instance. I will harp on it once again, but it’s always interesting to see how often Marco and Rachel end up on the same side of things when the bigger questions are being asked. Yes, they bicker and tease each other. But philosophically, they are the most alike in their approach to this war and when it gets serious, we often see them united in their opinions.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The description of their experience in Z-space is pretty bad. Not only is the entire concept disturbing, as was discussed when Ax first clued the team in on what happens to the “extras” when they morph small things, but while they are floating around out there, Ax describes being able to see through everyone essentially. Like some type of gross kaleidoscope, with random organs and body bits all mashed together and see-through. Not to mention the suffocating thing. It’s all pretty bad.

Couples Watch!: Not a lot here except for the fact that Tobias being the first one to get zapped away doesn’t do anything to help Rachel calm down. She was described as alternating between crying and raging after they first noticed he was gone. I think she gets snapped away as well before they even realize what might have been happening. At first, they’re almost sure that Tobias must have been shot and killed.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three is only in the first part of the book, but he does bring up a couple of interesting points. One is the fact that now that all of the Animorphs know what his human morph is, you’d think he’d change it. Seems pretty silly to keep walking around with one he knows they can spot. Second, with the kafit bird, Ax is sure this is a sign that Visser Three has been to the Andalite home world and is very upset by it. The fact that the Andalite Captain is later revealed to be a traitor I think is meant to justify this concern. But how does it work with Alloran’s original morphs that he had before he was taken over by Visser Three? All Andalite warriors practice their morphing ability by getting a kafit bird morph, so Alloran would have this one. So wouldn’t Visser Three, too? Without needing to go to the Andalite home world? Also, the fact that Visser Three is a complete coward is no surprise to us, but Ax is very disturbed by the fact that Visser Three ran away from their fight on the roof.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: You have to feel bad for Ax. The poor guy is trying so hard and the hits just keep coming from every angle. You can’t blame him for losing his head when he gets back among his own people, but then these early errors of dismissing his friends so quickly bite him in the butt in the worst way when the Captain turns into a traitor. Then he’s got to deal with his friends who are furious with him, while questioning everything he thought he knew about his people. It’s a lot.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Most of their “main mission” plans are good in this one. Mainly, that the rest of the Animorphs ignore Ax and the Andalites and barge onto the bridge in fly morph. It would have been the end of the series if they’d followed orders like good, little soldiers. But, at this point, they’ve been fighting this war for a while so it makes sense that they wouldn’t sit back and be content to stay out of things just because some Andalite higher ups said so. But the original plan with the mosquitoes and proving there is an alien invasion happening thing has all of the usual flaws of these ideas. I mean, if they ever wanted to really go through with this whole concept, there are easier ways to do it.

Favorite Quote:

Of course, Ax’s naive evaluations of his own ability to pass as human are always great for laughs.

I am very good at passing for human, if I say so myself. I have learned the customs and habits perfectly so that I seem entirely normal.

“Do you want to order something?” the human said to me.

“I require money so that I may exchange it for the delicious cinnamon buns,” I explained.

The human blinked his eyes. “So … you do want to order, or you don’t?”

Obviously this was a less-intelligent human. “I wish to perform labor, lay-ber, lay-burrr, and to have you give me money. Then I wish to use that money to acquire delicious cinnamon buns. Bun-zuh.”

Also, a good example of Jake’s leadership skills when he’s talking Ax out of it when he’s essentially breaking down after the deaths of all of the Andalite warriors in the ship.

 “Now, listen up, Ax. I know you’re feeling bad. For lots of reasons, probably. But you feeling bad doesn’t let you off the hook. Look, we got Andalites shooting at Yeerks. We have no humans in this fight except for us. Maybe you’re not the big expert, but you know more than we know. So snap out of it.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 4, Animorphs 9

A point for the Animorphs! This is a big win, not only just saving an entire species/planet, but the fact that Leeran Controllers would have most likely spelled the end for their own fight back on Earth.

Rating: I always loved this book. Ax’s struggles are completely relatable. As are the rest of the Animorphs’ feelings of anger and betrayal. It’s good stuff. On top of that, we get another look into the ongoing war between the Yeerks and Andalites outside of Earth and a fun, new location for our story to take place. Not to mention, Ax’s adventures in human morph and his dry, analytical, and hopelessly naive narrating voice are always a fun time.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

Serena’s Review: “Silver in the Blood”

22929540Book: “Silver in the Blood” by Jessica Day George

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, July 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Society girls from New York City circa 1890, Dacia and Lou never desired to know more about their lineage, instead preferring to gossip about the mysterious Romanian family that they barely knew. But upon turning seventeen, the girls must return to their homeland to meet their relatives, find proper husbands, and—most terrifyingly—learn the deep family secrets of The Claw, The Wing, and The Smoke. The Florescus, after all, are shape-shifters, and it is time for Dacia and Lou to fulfill the prophecy that demands their acceptance of this fate… or fight against this cruel inheritance with all their might.

Review: I’ve read a few of Jessica Day George’s books, mostly her fairytale retellings. I’ve enjoyed them for the most part, even if the middle grade tone read as a bit simplistic for my taste. But when I stumbled upon this original fairytale type story featuring some of my favorite things (sisters/cousins! shapeshifters! Romania!), I knew I’d need to dive right in.

The story alternates perspectives between two American-born heiresses, Dacia and Lou. Their mothers both emigrated to New York from Romania, and now it is time for the girls to travel back to this homeland and meet their maternal family, a family that is old and has many secrets. The chapters are broken up with short interludes, either letters written between the two characters when they are separated, journal entries, or news entries.

While not everything worked for me in this book, Dacia and Lou as characters were a definite highlight. Both girls have distinct story arcs, and I appreciated the fact that neither was allowed to wallow in the stereotypes of the characters type they are originally introduced as. Dacia starts the story as a confident, independent young woman, constantly testing the boundaries that are set upon her and fearless in the face of others’ disapproval. Lou, however, is more thoughtful, reserved, and cautious with the route she takes through life. Through the story Dacia’s confidence, or over confidence, is shaken and she must confront who she believes she is and make serious adjustments. Lou, on the other hand, comes into her own, discovery her own inner strength.

And, importantly, each girl takes turns supporting or being supported by the other. In the beginning I worried that this was going to follow a typical path where Lou would be “brought out of her shell” by her brilliant, shining cousin. But I was pleased to see their roles swapped, and by the end, each girl has learned more about herself and come to see the value in the others’ original approach to life.

I also very much enjoyed the setting. While we don’t get a lot of detail about the city and countryside of Romania, there was enough to highlight its cultural differences to Paris and New York, the girls’ other points of reference. The family history, hierarchy, and creativity of the actual shapeshifter types was also a pleasant surprise. We don’t only have wolf shifters, but bats and another mysterious type that we discover halfway through. It was refreshing to find a shapeshifter story that expanded upon many of teh tropes we are used to seeing. George introduces a complicated history for the Florescus family, one that is intimately connected with another ancient family, the Draculs. And before you guess, I will say that this second part doesn’t necessarily play out the way you would expect!

For all of these pros, there were a few points of this story I found myself struggling with. One was, again, the writing style. While Dacia and Lou are interesting, their narrating voices often read as younger than they were presented to be. The general tone of the book, again, read as very middle grade. This would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that in other ways the story is very adult. There are some very serious scenes dealing with sexual violence, battles, and straight up murder. This gruesomeness and darker tone jarred with the light and rather simplistic style of writing that surrounded it and often through me off balance as I was reading.

I also struggled with the villain of the story. He was just evil. And crazy. And while yes, this is what we expect from villains, his sheer and utter madness often left me unable to take him seriously. Many of his plans dealt with inflicting harm or reigning in the power of people who were much stronger than him. Some of his threats didn’t make any logical sense if you thought about it. So, yes, he was meant to be a crazy character. But the fact that everyone around him reacted to his madness seriously at times read as very strange. His threats were so completely empty and the solution to the whole problem so easy that it very much undercut any actual urgency for the final act.

The ending was also a bit unclear. There seemed to be several loose ends that were left hanging, and I can’t find anywhere that this was ever meant to read as more than just a standalone. The storylines that we did get wrapped up were closed all too quickly and easily. And I felt that there were many important scenes that were only referenced but left off the page, which was very disappointing.

So, while I did enjoy the main characters and the unique take on shapeshifter mythology, I was left a bit disappointed  by this read. At this point, I think it is probably best to just admit that George’s writing style is not to my taste and leave it at that. However, if you enjoy light (for the most part??) historical fantasy that is set in a unique locale and features two awesome ladies, this still might be the book for you!

Rating 6: Two strong characters and an interesting magic system weren’t enough for me to get past some of the strange plot choices in the end and an off-putting writing style.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Silver in the Blood” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best Shapeshifter/Werewolf books” and “Victorian Paranormal YAs.”

Find “Silver in the Blood” at your library using WorldCat

 

Serena’s Review: “Etched in Bone”

22062213Book: “Etched in Bone” by Anne Bishop

Publishing Info: Roc, March 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: After a human uprising was brutally put down by the Elders—a primitive and lethal form of the Others—the few cities left under human control are far-flung. And the people within them now know to fear the no-man’s-land beyond their borders—and the darkness…

As some communities struggle to rebuild, Lakeside Courtyard has emerged relatively unscathed, though Simon Wolfgard, its wolf shifter leader, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn must work with the human pack to maintain the fragile peace. But all their efforts are threatened when Lieutenant Montgomery’s shady brother arrives, looking for a free ride and easy pickings.

With the humans on guard against one of their own, tensions rise, drawing the attention of the Elders, who are curious about the effect such an insignificant predator can have on a pack. But Meg knows the dangers, for she has seen in the cards how it will all end—with her standing beside a grave.

Previously reviewed: “Marked in Flesh”

Review: GAHHHHH!!!! What is it with the number of series that have failed to stick the landing recently?! (“Recently” being my own recent reading history, mind). I guess I really should be reading the writing on the wall a bit better. Just like the Gemma Doyle series, Bishop’s “The Others” series has slowly, steadily, agonizingly determinedly, been working its way down the sad decline into the land of boredom and “who cares.” That “Etched in Bone” finally lands this decline at the very bottom and adds a nice kick in the butt right at the end for your effort…maybe shouldn’t be surprising.

what-not-to-say-to-mixed-race-3
Me, about this series. If that’s harsh? I’m not sorry. (source)

There will be some spoilers in this review, because I’m definitely talking about the ending for this one!

It’s on the record that I didn’t love “Marked in Flesh,” either. But the one thing that it did deliver was the massive, destructive climax that had been building up between the Humans First and Last movement and the Others for the last several books. Shit went down. Cities were systematically wiped out. And because most of the human characters (other than all the special ones that seemed to live in Lakeside) were truly awful people, there was some sick joy in watching them go.

“Etched in Bone” opens shortly thereafter with the powers-that-be conferring together and still asking their one driving question: “How much Human do we keep?” To determine this, a select few travel to Lakeside to witness this hybrid example of Other/Human life being lived in harmony, all due to the changes brought about by Meg. With the massive damage dealt in the last book, this one had a problem right from the start: is it really credible that any humans would still be holding to these crazy views? Literally thousands of lives have been lost and the Others didn’t even blink an eye. It was hard to buy in the last several books that people could be willfully this stupid, but it got to a point of complete ridiculousness here.

And, as always, the villain character was the worst of it all. It seemed that he was evil purely for evil’s sake, and the fact that anyone would still buy his crazed philosophies after witnessing the prior destruction and knowing the thin knife’s edge that human life as a whole balanced upon was just too big an ask of my imagination.

On top of this all, the previous book also fully cracked the rose-colored lens through which I had been reading this series. It’s no surprise that I (and I believe many fans of these books) have been following the series primarily out of a love and interest in the two main characters, Simon and Meg. As their relationship has floundered (more on that) and more side characters have been introduced, the series’ flaws have begun to show more and more. Specifically, its very stereotypically gendered roles. References to the “female pack” that before were a funny little quirk, now read as supremely uncomfortable in light of the fact that all of the women, aside form a sassy elderly woman character, exist in very narrow confines. None of them are in leadership roles, and their friendships and lives are littered with pitfalls of silliness.

Beyond this, the series’ other main weakness has been a penchant for info-dumpy chapters full of mundane details. In my last review I complained about the pages devoted to stock piling toilet paper, and nothing has changed here. In the first few chapters, we’re already enduring pages and pages full of characters (not even the main ones!) discussing the ins and outs of Lakeside’s economy and trading. It’s just…dull.

And then. AND THEN! Simon and Meg. I knew I was going to be disappointed right from the beginning. In the end of the last book, it seemed that there were a few steps being taken in the right direction. Meg asked Simon to go skinny dipping, very PG skinny dipping of course, but still. But here, in the second chapter of the dang book, we have Simon recounting how that pretty much went nowhere and that, while he was potentially interested in Meg that way, he wasn’t willing to risk there friendship. And then Meg gets her own chapter and what do you know? She thinks the same! And so on and so on. Any progress that readers thought they saw in the last book was immediately walked back, and for the majority of this book, it was business as usual.

Until the end. And what do we get? What do we get for sticking through 5 damn books of packing lists and excruciating infodump conversations? We get one, very brief scene where Meg and Simon agree to try to make something work. And a kiss. IT’S ONE SCENE AT THE END OF THE BOOK!! There is no build up. There is no follow through. No relationship learning and stumbles. Nothing.

Not only do we get absolutely nothing out of this scene, but this same chapter could have been tacked on to the ending of any of the 3 books that came before it and you wouldn’t have noticed. We’ve all been going along trusting that this slow burn relationship was just that, a slow burn relationship. Instead, now, we realize we’ve been tricked the whole time. It wasn’t a slow burn, it was nothing. “Slow burn” implies we are building towards something. This book makes it very clear that either Bishop didn’t know what to do with these characters’ relationship (and hasn’t for the last several books) or never cared to begin with and just tacked it into a series where her main interest was writing about the minute details of the world itself, only to be dismayed by fan reaction and throw in this final scene as some attempt to quell readers.

At this point, anyone who is reading this book has read the ones that came before it. If you did enjoy those, maybe this one won’t be as frustrating for you, as much of the actual plot is lather, rinse, repeat with the conflict between dumb, evil people and the Others who are bizarrely still enamored by Meg (her special snowflake status has reached a peak, if you’re curious). But I have a hard time seeing many longtime fans being satisfied with this conclusion. I know I’m not.

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It was an audiobook, so I couldn’t do this. But I would have if I could have! (source)

Rating 2: Not only did this book continue to trot out the tired themes of the previous books, it failed to provide any resolution for the one part of the story that had retained any of my interest throughout.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Etched in Bone” is on these Goodreads lists: “Bad Bitches of Urban Fantasy”(Meg probably doesn’t belong on this list, tbh) and “Not The “Normal” Paranormal.”

Find “Etched in Bone” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “City of Miracles”

31522139Book: “City of Miracles” by Robert Jackson Bennett

Publishing Info: Broadway Books, May 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: Blogging for Books

Book Description: Revenge. It’s something Sigrud je Harkvaldsson is very, very good at. Maybe the only thing.

So when he learns that his oldest friend and ally, former Prime Minister Shara Komayd, has been assassinated, he knows exactly what to do — and that no mortal force can stop him from meting out the suffering Shara’s killers deserve.

Yet as Sigrud pursues his quarry with his customary terrifying efficiency, he begins to fear that this battle is an unwinnable one. Because discovering the truth behind Shara’s death will require him to take up arms in a secret, decades-long war, face down an angry young god, and unravel the last mysteries of Bulikov, the city of miracles itself. And — perhaps most daunting of all — finally face the truth about his own cursed existence.

Previously Reviewed: “City of Stairs” and “City of Blades”

Review: It’s no secret that I absolutely adored “City of Stairs” and “City of Blades.” In both books, Bennett established a seemingly endless world full of wonder and madness. He also accomplished the rare feat of producing a second book that I believe was even better than the first! It seems that resting on his laurels is simply something Bennett is incapable of doing, as “City of Miracles” is a perfect closely act for this trilogy.

It’s been 13 years since the events of “City of Blades,” and Sigrud lives a lonely, tired existence on the edge of society, waiting and waiting for a call from his former partner and friend Shara to call him back to the fight. To the world. To anything. The call finally comes, but not in a way he could ever have wished for: Shara has been assassinated. With this news, and the consuming grief and rage that has driven him throughout his life, Sigrud comes to live once again, blazing his way through the world hoping to servce justice for his friend’s senseless murder. Along the way, he finds new purpose in protecting Tatiana, Shara’s adopted daughter, and a girl who is tangled up in much more than Sigrud can imagine. Once again, the Divine is at work in the world. And once again, Sigrud will rampage through anything and everything in his way to protect and avenge those he loves.

What made “City of Blades” stand out from the first book in the series, was the added gravitas of subject matter that was layered upon an already fantastical story and world. The fantasy elements, the miraculous, even the Divine, served only as platforms upon which Bennett explored the deeply complicated history, purpose, and definition of warfare and what makes up the mind of a solder.

“City of Miracles” is excellent for following in this pattern. We have all the boundless creativity that can now be expected of this author and this world: Divinities of Night itself, steampunk-ish tramcars that trek across arctic mountainscapes, magical clothes and wondrously impossible buildings. But through these flashes of fantasy action and detailed world-building, Bennett is telling a much more grounded story.

Sigrud’s life is one of tragedy. The villain’s life is one of tragedy. The villain’s parent’s life is one of tragedy. It is all circular, and death follows death, vengeance and justice doling out the same misery and atrocity they work to revenge. Through Sigrud’s own life, and those he works to aid in this book, we see this pattern replay itself endless. Where is the live between justice and simply committing more crimes? At what point does the power gained through grief justify more grief itself to perpetuate its own existence? The the book before it, this story challenges its readers to think beyond common storytelling tropes. We’ve re-defined the soldier through a woman whose seen the damage and power that warfare brings. And here we’re redefining the avenging hero as more than the white knight we’re always given.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of characters from previous books and the ways their stories were tied into the narrative of this book. Further, the new characters who are introduced were intriguing, particularly Ivanya, a character we met oh, so briefly back in book one but who plays a critical role in this story.

The author also cuts out quite a lot of work for himself with this story. It’s the final book in a trilogy, so our main characters’ story lines must all be tied off and resolved, any lingering questions about their pasts drawn to a close. But he also takes it upon himself to provide much needed information on the years that came before the first book itself. The ending is bittersweet and perfect. It closes in small moments and fantastic explosions (both literally and figuratively). These characters’ stories may be ending, but we’re left with a wide open world of possibility stretching out ahead.

I’m not sure if the author has any plans of revisiting this world, but if he is, the groundwork has been lain for a continuation, and I would be the first one in line at the bookstore. I can’t recommend this book, and this series, enough! If you enjoy fantasy with complicated heroes and challenging ideas, definitely check these out!

Rating 9: An excellent conclusion to an excellent trilogy. Fun, fast-paced, and challenging its readers at every turn!

Reader’s Advisory:

“City of Miracles” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books” and “Best Fantasy Books of the 21st Century.”

Find “City of Miracles” at your library using Worldcat!

More Information: book information & author information.

The Great Animorphs Re-read #17: “The Underground”

343177Animorphs #17: “The Underground by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, April 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: What’s tasty, good for you, and only takes sixty seconds to make? Oatmeal. And it’s making the Yeerks more than a little crazy. Now Rachel, the other Animorphs, and Ax have a new weapon against the Yeerks. Sounds good, right?

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Now unlike the last few, I have very clear memories of this book and I think it’s for a pretty basic reason: it absolutely terrified me reading it as a kid. Where battles with aliens were something purely out of fiction and thus not threatening, this book is a perfect example of the more mundane aspects of the Animorphs’ missions and the truly horrifying, easier to comprehend dangers that these missions brought down upon them.

The story starts with mainly Marco and Rachel attempting to convince Jake that the group should be allowed to use their abilities for purely selfish reasons: to attend the opening of  new Planet Hollywood in their town. Notably, Lucy Lawless, or Xena herself, would be in attendance. Jake only signs on, however, when he hears that Shaq will also be there. Oh, Jake, and you’re basketball-obsessed heart. Of course, they all go in bird morph. But while there, Rachel notices a man getting ready to commit suicide by jumping out of a skyscraper. She and the group swoop in and just barely manage to glide him to be dropped into the nearby river. There he proceeds to get stuck in the mud on the bottom of the river necessitating Rachel’s morphing dolphin to save him once again. (It should be noted that this is the second cold open for a Rachel book where she saves the life of someone. Last time it was the boy in the crocodile pit.)

Back home, Rachel hears from her mother, who is a lawyer, that the man’s family is looking to have him committed to a clinic: he’s claiming there is an alien parasite called a Yeerk in his head. Rachel and the team know they have to check it out. After flipping a coin, Rachel, Marco, and Jake are chosen to infiltrate the mental hospital in cockroach morph. After a brief run-in with a tarantula (Tobias’s bird powers come in for the save once again), the group makes it in and locates the man, a Mr. Edelman. To speak with him, Rachel demorphs and then poses as a human-morphed Andalite to figure out what is going on. Edelman reveals that the Yeerks have encountered a human food substance that is highly addictive to their species and, after prolonged ingestion, causes the Yeerks to go mad. But with this madness, the Yeerk is also freed of its need to consume Kandrona rays. So now Controllers like Edelman are stuck with a mad Yeerk in their brain that never needs to come out. Edelman is typically in control of his body again, but, as Rachel sees while they are talking, the Yeerk breaks through in brief moments to spew nonsense, thus leading to his family’s questioning his sanity. What’s most surprising, however, is what this addictive substance is: instant maple and ginger flavored oatmeal.

After joining back with the others, the group debates the morality of using an addictive substance (even though it’s just oatmeal, as Marco and Rachel continue to point out in increasingly loud voices). In the end, they decide they can’t ignore an opportunity like this to do massively damage to the Yeerk invasion. Now all they have to do is break into the Yeerk pool once again.

Tobias, of course, knows of an entrance from his days of spying. Together, they all morph fly and attempt to follow a Controller in (this time through a backroom in a McDonalds). Once through the door, however, it becomes clear that the Yeerks have upped their security game. Some type of bio weapon is triggered by the presence of DNA that has not been submitted into the program and they barely manage to escape a fatal gassing. With their typical point of entrance now lost to them, the group needs to get creative. Cassie suggest digging their way in using a mole morph.

What follows is a perfect example of the least glorious aspects of what life as an Animorph would really be like. One by one the group takes turns morphing mole and digging through the earth. They make very slow progress and it takes them a week to get very far at all. Not to mention, each shift is horrifying in its own way: alone, beneath the earth, digging blindly ahead. By the end of the week however, their tunnel hits a bat cave. From there, the group morph bat and plan on heading home to re-think their approach. But on the way out of the bat cave, they sense another exit, once that leads to the Yeerk pool.

But again, the increased Yeerk security kicks in, and flying security bots quickly injure several members of the group, including Rachel who falls into the Yeerk pool itself. She manages to time her demorph to angle herself below one of the piers sticking out over the pool so that she can remain hidden and keep her head above water. She then has to do something she swore never to do again: morph ant. But from her time with the allergy, she remembers that the ant morph did fairly well in liquid. This time as an ant she is able to essentially “walk” on the surface and escape the pool.

Once out, she sees that Ax has been captured and demorphed. Even worse, Visser Three is coming. She manages to find Marco and Cassie, both hiding in sheds around the perimeter. They frantically try to think of a plan, and happen to hear a Controller mention removing “oatmeal contraband” from another person. They reference a storage shed where they have confiscated over 200 pounds of the stuff.

Visser Three arrives and immediately orders that all exits be sealed and everyone be searched systematically. Rachel, Marco, and Cassie frantically come up with a plan to use the oatmeal as a type of bargaining chip. Elephant!Rachel crashes through walls and into the storage shed, where Gorilla!Marco grabs a barrel of the oatmeal, throws it into the Yeerk pool and threatens to blow it up with a Dracon beam, thus infecting hundreds of Yeerks, unless Visser Three lets them all go. Visser Three decides that a few hundred of his compatriots is a price he is willing to pay. Elephant!Rachel thinks to change this equation by charging him and throwing him into the pool as well. Visser Three quickly changes his mind. But as the group begins backing towards one of the exit tunnels, Visser Three begins to morph. At the same time, a team of Hork Bajir charge down the very tunnel they were trying to climb through. Throwing caution to the wind, Rachel shoots the barrel of oatmeal, then aims the Dracon beam at the ceiling and yells to the others to morph mole. Then, not knowing who survived or how long it will take, she slowly digs her way back up to the bat cave (having to stop to hollow out a human-sized hole to not get caught with the two hour limit). One by one they all return.

Lastly, back at home a few days later, Rachel’s mom returns home from work telling a crazy story about how Mr. Edelman escaped from the mental hospital after a “talking grizzly” showed up and told him to run and hide and enjoy what freedom he could make for himself.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Again, we hear a lot about the pressure that Rachel puts on herself to be strong. Part of it is her conviction that she won’t let fear rule her life, a sentiment that we heard Jake discuss just in the last book. But she also confesses to not being able to admit her fear, and to understanding what part she plays for the group.

Everyone in a group has a role to play. At least that’s how it always works out. My role was to say, “Let’s do it. Let’s go. That’s what we came here for.” But I was tired. And I’d had a really, really bad few days digging down to this stupid cave.
So I said, <Let’s do it. That’s what we came here for.> Sometimes it’s hard to get out of a role once you’ve started playing the part.

Her and Jake probably most clearly see the role that they play for the group. The rest definitely have their contributions, but they don’t seem to feel these roles in such a strong (or burdensome) way as Jake and Rachel do. Marco, probably, is the next closest thing, knowing that they count on him to lighten the mood and joke his way through anything.

There are some good moments with Rachel’s home life, with her sisters and mother. There’s also a reference to the fact that her house is still under construction after she halfway destroyed it by accidentally morphing elephant while allergic back in her book.

There are several examples in this book of the pros and cons of Rachel’s tendency to jump without looking. Part of the reason that so many of her books open with her saving people is that she doesn’t question whether it is possible or wise, she just does it. But on the other hand, while in the Yeerk Pool, her first instinct is to simply morph grizzly and attack. It is Marco and Cassie who come up with the plan to use the oatmeal to create a stalemate, obviously a much better idea. But then when Visser Three calls their bluff, Rachel again acts before anyone else, throwing him in the pool. She also blows up the tunnel they’re in. Too much thought about these actions, too much hesitancy about the possible negative outcomes, would have resulted in disaster for the entire group. I really liked seeing the balance of how this inclination of hers was not only a bad thing (as it is often reduced to), but can also be their saving grace when the others might have hesitated.

Our Fearless Leader:  During the debate about using the oatmeal, Jake makes a connection to the Civil War and the idea that that war, too, could have been ended sooner if the North had simply compromised and let a few people remain slaves. He also says that he makes all of these decisions by asking himself whether he is ok or not with it happening to Tom.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is the first to raise the question about the morality of using the oatmeal. This seems to be in line with his more thoughtful approach to the war. After they thoroughly discuss the matter, he agrees to use it. But as a character, Tobias needs to fully think through any course of action they are about to take, even if, in the end, he will always side with the plan that means bringing more of the fight to the Yeerks.

He’s also the last one to arrive back to the bat cave in the end.

“You scared us to death! Where have you been?” I yelled at him.
<I was worried about you, too, Rachel,> he said, with a smile in his silent voice.

This is why they work; he understands her.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Like in book #9, Cassie is the one to realize that they can use a specific type of animal morph to solve a problem that seems impossible. She came up with the bat morph then, and the mole morph this time.

For a moment no one said anything. Then Cassie said, <Well . . . there is one way.>
<I take it back!> Marco said. <I take it back! I can tell by your tone, Cassie, I really don’t want to know.>

When they’re debating the morality of using the oatmeal against the Yeerks, Cassie confesses to not knowing what is right and wrong anymore. This, more than anything, scares Rachel about how this war is changing them all.

The Comic Relief: Not surprisingly, Marco sides with Rachel immediately about using the oatmeal. If anything, he is even more appalled by the fact that the group is even debating not dealing such a direct hit to the Yeerks. Once again, we see that, of them all, he is the most pragmatic about this fight. Where Rachel is more inclined to go for it simply because she will always choose action, Marco only sees the cost/benefit of a mission. He is also even more exasperated by the fact that the “drug” they are debating is oatmeal.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax saves all of their lives by immediately recognizing the danger of the bio sensor when they first try to infiltrate the Yeerk Pool as flies. He’s also good for some Yeerk biology lessons, but only so much…

<Yes,> Ax said. <Yeerks have mouths. Or what humans would think of as mouths. Actually, if I remember my exo-biology classes, and sadly, I sometimes ->
<Fell asleep,> I said. <Yeah, we know. You didn’t like exo-biology class.>

There’s also a comedic interlude at the mall (of course) where the group watches in horror/awe as Human!Ax consumes not only an entire massive Cinnabon, but the paper plate it was sitting on as well.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: When they’re breaking into the mental hospital as cockroaches and run into the tarantula, Rachel gets jumped by it. She only escapes when Tobias swoops down and carries it off. Unfortunately, it doesn’t let go of her leg, so it gets ripped off. Even worse, it is implied that Tobias eats the spider…so…did he eat her leg??!

Couples Watch!: Early in the book, Rachel wakes up in the morning to do homework and opens her window for Tobias. Apparently, he comes by most mornings like this. They discuss their upcoming plan to go to the Yeerk Pool and Rachel admits to being afraid. It’s a quiet little scene that really highlights these two’s relationship and how special it is in that Rachel can be open and vulnerable with Tobias about feelings that she never shows to the rest of the group.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: When it is announced that Visser Three is coming to the Yeerk Pool, Rachel runs into a Controller who blatantly makes up an excuse to get the heck out of there. So at this point, even among the Yeerks themselves, it’s pretty clear that Visser Three is batshit (ha!) crazy and it’s best to be elsewhere when he shows up. It’s also no surprise that he pretty quickly decides that sacrificing 500 or so Yeerks to the oatmeal threat is worth it, but then once it’s his own skin on the line, he quickly changes his tune.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: That last scene where they are all tunneling back to the surface. Man, it’s just horrifying if you really think about it. Earlier in the book, it was already made clear how terrifying the tunneling was with claustrophobia and being so alone. So here, to crash a tunnel down on yourself, not knowing whether your friends were hurt or killed, and then tunneling ever upwards, for hours, long enough that you need to stop and dig out a hole to morph back to human, still underground, all alone…It definitely freaked me out as a kid and still does now.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: While the mole morph is a good idea in theory, I’m not sure how they were thinking this was actually going to work. They all stock up on oatmeal at their homes, but what were they really going to do? Pull down mini bags of it through the tunnel and then try to somehow aim it above the Yeerk Pool and hope that it makes it all the way down? Seems like there are a few pretty big holes in this plan and the only reason they succeed is because first they completely fail at their original plan. This seems to be a pattern.

Favorite Quote:

A more serious quote from when they’re debating the morality of using the oatmeal:

Cassie suddenly laughed. It was a cynical laugh. I didn’t know she was capable of a cynical laugh.
“And all the rights and wrongs, and all the lines between good and evil, just go wafting and waving and swirling around, don’t they?”

And a more fun quote:

“You know,” Jake said in a conversational tone as we waited for Tobias to acquire the bat, “from the point where Edelman said ‘maple and ginger oatmeal,’ I should have known this was going to end stupidly.”
“Instant maple and ginger oatmeal,” Cassie said.
“Battles that involve oatmeal are just never going to end up being historic, you know?” Jake went on. “Gettysburg? No major oatmeal involvement. The Battle of Midway? Neither side used oatmeal. Desert Storm? No oatmeal.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 4, Animorphs 8

I’m giving them both points. Yes, the Animorphs strike a pretty major blow. But it can’t be ignored that the Yeerks have really wised up, what with the bio detectors, the security bots, and Visser Three’s systematic shut down and search of the Yeerk Pool.

Rating: For as wacky as the whole madness-by-oatmeal thing is, this book has some legitimately tense moments. It’s also one of the few books that takes place over almost an entire week (they usually seem to take about a day or two), so it was a nice touch of reality, that many of these missions weren’t glamorous or non-stop action. We continue to see Rachel’s decline as the pressure she puts on herself to be brave becomes increasingly hard to bare. Though I do like that this book highlights the ways that this aspect of her personality saves the group at times as well. I doubt any of the rest would have been brave enough or thought quickly enough to blow the tunnel up on themselves.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

Serena’s Review: “The Beautiful Ones”

335741431Book: “The Beautiful Ones” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publishing Info: Thomas Dunne Books, October 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: e-book from NetGalley

Book Description: In a world of etiquette and polite masks, no one is who they seem to be.

Antonina Beaulieu is in the glittering city of Loisail for her first Grand Season, where she will attend balls and mingle among high society. Under the tutelage of the beautiful but cold Valérie Beaulieu, she hopes to find a suitable husband. However, the haphazard manifestations of Nina’s telekinetic powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.

Yet dazzling telekinetic performer and outsider Hector Auvray sees Nina’s powers as a gift, and he teaches her how to hone and control them. As they spend more and more time together, Nina falls in love and believes she’s found the great romance that she’s always dreamed of, but Hector’s courtship of Nina is deceptive.

Review: Like my recent review of “The Goblins of Bellwater,” I think this book is another example of a poorly written book description. Unlike “Goblins” which read more as contemporary romance, the more true genre focus (historical romance) of this book happens to be one that I enjoy and was particularly in the mood for, thus coloring my reaction to this initial misdirection. Like in that case, however, I do think both of these books would be better received had they been marketed more appropriately to the groups of readers who are true fans of these types of books.

I know that “fantasy” is kind of going through a boom right now, but targeting every book towards that community when there may only be the barest hint of actual fantasy elements in your book, is unlikely to be met with a positive reaction. This book, for example, is presented as if it is going to be a “fantasy apprenticeship” type book, leading the reader to assume much of the book is about Nina learning to navigate her own abilities. Not so. This is much more closely aligned with historical romance fiction with a brief dash of fantasy.

Getting off that soap box and on to the review itself! As I mentioned above, “The Beautiful Ones” ticked many boxes for me, and the fact I was surprised by the story I was getting almost added to my personal enjoyment. Nina is has come to the city to experience her first Grand Season. Under the tutelage of her glittering and popular married cousin Valerie, she soon comes to realize that she does not fit the typical mold of a debutante. Luckily, she meets Hector Auvrey, a performer who has leveraged his own telekinetic powers to raise himself to position and influence. But Hector and Valerie have a history of their own.

The story is told from the perspectives of all three characters, something that I was initially skeptical of (my own personal preference is always to follow one main character), but I quickly grew to love this format. Nina, Valerie, and Hector all have distinct voices and are fully realized characters of their own, each with strengths, weaknesses, and their own agendas. Valerie, in particular, is the type of villainous character who you simply love to hate. And Hector is the perfect example of a flawed hero. Nina, on the other hand, may have read as a bit too perfect, but her naivete and the growth she goes through, particularly in the last half of the story, are enough to keep her from falling into a “special snowflake” category. Further, with Valerie and Hector being as frustrating as they were at times, Nina’s chapters proved a bit of a relief.

We all know my feelings on instalove plot lines (recently I DNF’d “Juliet Immortal” for committing this sin in the most blatant way, choosing to not even review the book on this blog out of sheer and utter frustration). “The Beautiful Ones” seems to be Moreno-Garcia’s answer to this trend. It serves as a perfect rebuttal to all the things that are wrong with an instalove storyline. Not only is the main romance a slow burn story, based on many interactions, and taking place over a full year, but the failures of previous romances that followed the instalove equation are fully explored and the repercussions are serious.

This book is almost completely character driven. There is little action (other than balls and visits to the country side). The fantasy elements of this story are very minimal. You could remove them all together, honestly, and not much would change in this story. There are many scenes of characters simply talking to each other. In this way, it is a slow read, and yet, loving this genre as I do, I blew through it in a day. If you enjoy historical romances, ala Jane Austen, this is the perfect book for you!

Rating 9: A complete and utter surprise with characters you couldn’t help but root for, both to succeed and fail miserably!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Beautiful Ones” is on these Goodreads lists: “2017 Latinx/Latin American SFF” and “Fantasy of Manners.”

Find “The Beautiful Ones” at your library using WorldCat

Serena’s Review: “The Sweet, Far Thing”

While I make an effort to complete most books I read, every once in a while I come upon one  that I just can’t get through. When I find myself repeatedly putting down a book to the point that attempting to finish it is taking up weeks of my time, I sometimes come to the conclusion that a book is a book, not a life and death contract to read until completion. There are too many books in the world that I will never get to to spends days on end trying to finish a book that I already know will not be my cup of tea.

127459Book: “The Sweet, Far Thing” by Libba Bray

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, December 2007

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: It has been a year of change since Gemma Doyle arrived at the foreboding Spence Academy. Her mother murdered, her father a laudanum addict, Gemma has relied on an unsuspected strength and has discovered an ability to travel to an enchanted world called the realms, where dark magic runs wild. Despite certain peril, Gemma has bound the magic to herself and forged unlikely new alliances.

Now, as Gemma approaches her London debut, the time has come to test these bonds. The Order – the mysterious group her mother was once part of – is grappling for control of the realms, as is the Rakshana. Spence’s burned East Wing is being rebuilt, but why now? Gemma and her friends see Pippa, but she is not the same. And their friendship faces its gravest trial as Gemma must decide once and for all what role she is meant for.

Previously Reviewed: “A Great and Terrible Beauty” and “Rebel Angels”

Review: As I said above, I try to push through most books, and those I can’t, I often choose not to review on this blog. After all, I rarely have much positive to say about the experience (and we do try to include positives in most of our reviews, even for lower rated ones), and…I didn’t finish the book! Can I really accurately speak to the book as a whole in a review? But since I’ve reviewed the previous two books in this trilogy, I didn’t want to leave the series hanging without a conclusion to my thoughts. So here they are.

The thing I most enjoyed about the first book was the juxtaposition of these young girls growing up in a very prim, restrained Victorian boarding school against a wild and mysterious magical backdrop made up of an organization of powerful women who have operated behind the scenes throughout history. Gemma and her friends are challenged to re-think their position in society, their own abilities, and the way they relate to each other and those around them. The magical world was unique and by no means “fluffy,” full of lurking danger and unknowns. By the end of the story, our main characters had learned that they did know all that much in the grand scheme of things, and perhaps there were more important things out there than petty, girl fights. They had lost a friend, discovered a new enemy, and seemingly grown closer, knowing that together they must face the challenges ahead.

The second book squandered all of this excellent set up, dialing back any growth the characters had gone through in the first book, making their decisions and thought processes confusing and frustrating. They still focused on the silly, bickered as if they had learned nothing, casually dismissed warnings, knowing full well the major consequences this type of behavior had lead to before, and generally behaved as if the first book had not happened, other than knowing that magic existed. Beyond this, the author introduced a terrible love triangle and some truly problematic scenes about consent.

So, with this second book as an example, I did not have high hopes going into the third. My only reassurance was that, after the events of the second book which were even more dire and traumatic than the first, there was no way that the author couldn’t address the growth and new outlook on the world that Gemma, Felicity and Anne must now have gained. How wrong I was.

I made it about a third of the way into the book before realizing that nothing had changed. Absolutely nothing. The girls were still caught up in petty nonsense, made decisions that made no sense, and behaved as if nothing had happened in the previous two books now that would influence the choices they made going forward. The author actively walked back on all progress that had been made in book two. I quickly realized that I was simply reading the same book over again.

Pippa was turning to the dark side? Nope, she’s still just there in the Realms, hanging out and making Gemma feel guilty for a decision that Pippa made herself back in book one. Gemma had decided to share the magic with everyone in the Realms? Nope, best to re-debate that decision AGAIN for huge chucks of this book,too. Kartik had decided to support Gemma and the girls? Nope, he’s distancing himself again and, of course, won’t tell Gemma why. Learned that when others much more experienced with the Realms warn you about something then you should really listen? Nope, Gemma will stop listening to others (when did she ever??) and maker her own choices!

It was truly incredible how neatly and quickly the author pulled back any and all progress that had been made in the last book and quickly seemed to start re-writing that book all over again. It was inexplicable to me. That last point, where Gemma once again refused to listen to warnings given to her by those in the Realms, was the point where I put down the book. Gemma does not read as a real person, or at least not one whom I could have any respect for at that point. Somehow she had learned nothing, and I’m not interested in reading another 700 pages about a character who is nothing more than a device for the author to indulge herself in a writing exercise that badly needed an editor.

I can’t speak to the end of the novel, but I’ve read a few reviews that further justify my decision to set it down. I won’t speak to these ending issues, as I didn’t technically get to them myself, but it doesn’t surprise me that the author ended up scrambling to pull things together and then missed the mark. How can you end a story when you haven’t really told a story? A story involves characters who learn, grown, and come out the other side as different people than they went in. That just didn’t happen in this trilogy.

Bray is an author with ideas, but she couldn’t write a single character arc for any of these girls. In a stand alone book (or the first in a series, like in this case), limited abilities with characterization might be passable. But it’s unacceptable for a trilogy. I’m having a hard time thinking of another trilogy that started as promising and then plummeted so steadily over the next two books.

Kate read only the first book in this series and liked it, as did I. For those out there in the same boat? Just stop there. Turns out you’ve already read books two and three as well in one go! Why waste the time re-reading that one again for another 1400 pages?

Rating: DNF

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sweet, Far Thing” is included on these Goodreads lists “Thickest Books Ever” and “Worst Ending.” Yes, I know those are negative lists, but that’s how I feel about this book and others seem to agree.

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