I’m a captive audience in my car with a commute that’s not overly long, but which isn’t short either, so I listen to audio books and I tend to take more risks and experiment more with this format than any other. Consequently I have more fails with this format than any other, but it’s worth it to find the occasional gem, and one such book was this one. If there’s one thing I detest in writers it’s a sheep mentality. Instead of coming up with something original (or a refreshing take on an older theme as, say, The Hunger Games trilogy or the Harry Potter heptalogy represented), most authors, particularly in YA, jump right on someone else’s band wagon and turn out sorry clones of existing work. barf. I prefer the author who tosses out cliché and trope and takes the road less traveled, as I tried to do in Femarine, and as this author does here, which is yet another variation on the same theme I varied.
Another audio book to review - this time positively. My problem with princess stories - the kind where a prince is essentially holding a lottery for a bride - is several-fold, not least of which is what it says about the prince: he's so vacuous and shallow that he thinks he can get a suitable lifelong partner in such a critical role through this haphazard means? The other side of that coin is what it says about the princess-to-be in that she's so shallow or so desperate that she's willing to sell out for this guy she never met and will be expected to marry before she even knows him. It's truly pathetic.
That doesn't even begin to cover trope and cliché either. These stories tend to be larded with them: that the most humble, plain, and simple girl gets to win, or alternatively that the girl who least cares about or least expects to win gets to win because she's a special snowflake, and the only one who truly understands the prince.
There's also a really pretty girl who everyone expects to win, but who doesn't because it turns out that the plain-jane is prettier somehow! There's the really dumb girl who is the only one who thinks she will win, and there's a really bitchy girl who we all know will never win. There's also the truly sweet girl who becomes the main character's bestie, and who dreams of marrying the prince, but who doesn't honestly believe she will win. She ends up marrying the captain of the guard or the king's younger brother or something like that. It's tedious. It's been done to death, and any author who continues to churn out this kind of story with no variation and no twist and nothing new to offer is the really dumb girl. Any author who thinks he or she can make a trilogy out of this trash is beyond dumb.
So what I look for on the very rare occasion when I read a story like this, is what I tried to provide in Femarine: something significantly different. This audio book was such a story. It impressed me and continued to impress me because it continued to inject new ideas into this trope and thereby stirred it up significantly. There were some bits that were a touch too rambling and boring, but these were few. Most of the time it kept adding the twists to make it entertaining and engrossing.
What I liked about it was that Miri, the main character, was smart, but not particularly special except in that she learned. The value of books was am important part of the story. They actually played a role in the story and in Miri's growth, and were not just lazy short-hand used by the author to say "Hey, look how smart my character is!" Miri was always learning, and this is what made her stand out from far too many spastic princesses in other stories I've read or read about, and who show zero growth or real smarts.
I liked that the girls weren't the usual suspects in these stories, but the daughters of quarriers (and some of the girls were quarry workers themselves) in a pit which produced a special high quality stones used for important buildings in the cities down the mountain. I didn't like the 'us versus them' mentality (mountain people against lowlanders, where the mountain people were considered primitive and dumb and the lowlanders urbane and cultured), but I did like that the girls were not in fixed groups or fixed mentalities. Relationships changes and morphed, and the bitchy girl wasn't always the bitchy girl. The ending was very different from what you might expect and really turned the story again from the course you might expect.
The thing was though, that while I always feared that this story would go straight to hell in a hand-basket, I always had the feeling that it could completely capture me, and this is what it did in the end, so I recommend this for those of you who, like me, are tired of trope and ready to quit with cliché. Yes, it did have some examples still of that kind of mentality - that the girl must end up with the boy for example, but overall it was different enough and enjoyable enough, and above all unpredictable enough that I consider it a very worthy read. Or listen - Laura Credidio does a decent job of rendering the characters, although her voice was a bit annoying at times.
Lastly, one thing I don't get about this is that it's part of a series. Why? This was a great story and it was told well, and it came to a satisfying conclusion. Why did the author feel the need to ruin all that by dragging it unnaturally, kicking and screaming, into a series? Is she so lacking in imagination that she can't think of a new idea to write about? Let it be known that I have no intention of following the series. As far as I'm concerned, this book stops here!