Showing posts with label Richelle Mead. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Richelle Mead. Show all posts

Friday, November 25, 2016

Vampire Academy Graphic Novel by Leigh Dragoon, Emma Viecelli

Rating: WORTHY!

For a graphic novel created by two female writers/illustrators, I found this to be rather more sexualized than it ought, particularly regarding main character Rose. Emma Viecelli's artwork aside though (and the art wasn't bad at all in general terms), the adaptation by the curiously-named Leigh Dragoon was faithful to Richelle Mead's original, and overall, the story was told well. As usual I could have done without the ridiculous and pathetic "romance" between Rose and the academy's pet gorilla, but other than that, I liked this adaptation and I recommend it for anyone who likes the original or who is interested in getting up to speed on the story without reading the original, which I reviewed back in May, 2014.

There was one bit of unintentional amusement, which is when Rose has one of her trips into Lissa's brain. The illustration clearly shows Lissa from a third party perspective, climbing up through the trapdoor into the attic where she meets Ozera, but the text confidently states: "And there I am seeing the world through Lissa's eyes." No, you don't see the world through Lissa's eyes looking directly at Lissa, unless she's in front of a mirror! Sometimes I wish writers were a little more intelligent than this - or artists, whoever is at fault here, but they're no worse than movie or TV depictions of such things which are routinely in third person perspective and which look utterly ridiculous because of it.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Succubus by Richelle Mead

Rating: WORTHY!

Not to be confused with Succubus Blues by Jim Behrle.

Georgina Kincaid is a succubus living amongst humans in a world where paranormal creatures exist side-by-side, but hidden - your standard paranovel. Though she is an immortal, Kincaid prefers to live amongst humans, dressing and behaving like them. It makes it all very convenient for the author, who clearly has to do no supernatural world building!

Kincaid is also a shapeshifter, and can appear however she wants. She can even emulate clothes, although she prefers to dress in real clothes rather than sport the appearance of them. I guess I don't know how that works exactly, because at one point when she's running late for work, she shifts into clothes in preference to actually getting dressed, yet later, a guy with whom she has casual sex is unbuttoning her shirt and fondling her breasts through her bra. How is he unbuttoning something that's technically a part of her? That would be like unbuttoning your skin! It made no sense, but I don't think this novel is intended to make any sense. It's seems like it's really just Urban Sexual Fantasy (USF). The F can also stand for 'frustration' or other things.

Moving right along, and in keeping with the 'she's really a human' theme, Kincaid works as an assistant manager at a book store in Seattle, known as Emerald City Books. She lives in an apartment, and she carries on a perfectly ordinary life , so other than being a succubus (and there are even issues with that as I shall discuss), she is in actual fact exactly like a human in every way, except that she acts like a teenager rather than her own apparent age.

Given that this is an introductory novel - the prologue to the 'chapters' which will form the volumes of the series if you will - it offered very little information (other than an annoying flash-back-story) about why she is the way she is, why she chooses to live like this, and what, exactly is expected of her by the forces of evil, so all we're left is to conclude that the author did this purely out of laziness, giving her a character - who is completely human in all regards, and whose only paranormal facet is that she can (indeed must) have endless unprotected sex with no consequences. It's not like it wasn't well thought-through, it's like it wasn't thought at all. That said, and for as exceedingly light and fluffy a read as it was, it ended up being enjoyable despite numerous plot holes and issues. It's as if Nora Ephron wrote an urban fantasy movie. Read it on that level and you'll be fine.

One problem is the same one we see in endless paranormal - particularly vampire - stories. Kincaid is a couple of thousand years old, but absurdly acts as though she's a teenager, and she's unaccountably ignorant, after two millennia, about the paranormal world in which she lives. It makes no sense. Clearly Mead had to explain her world as she went along, but to have her main character do it in a way which makes her look like a complete ditz does this story no favors at all.

I know Mead can write adult characters, so I don't know what was going on here. Maybe a paranormal rom-com is what she was aiming for. Kincaid's paranormal "job" - although she never seems to do it or get paid for it in any way, is capturing souls for Jerome, her demon boss, who's barely demonic at all. None of this is explained - it just is. Why there has to be a balance, and that the forces for good tolerate - and even pal around with - the forces for evil makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, nor does it make sense that the evil side is perfectly ordinary - there's no evil going on here at all. The closest we come to evil is the actions of this novel's villain, and his behavior makes so much sense that he's not actually a villain from what I saw. He's actually doing the work the bone-idle angel ought to be doing - in this novel's framework. The fact is, however, that angels aren't actually fighters-against-evil at all, they're merely messengers - mythological email - stolen by Bible writers from the Greek Hermes (and copied in the Roman Mercury). I liked the bad guy!

Kincaid doesn't exude any sort of evil. In theory, she has sex with people and their soul goes to hell presumably, but she also has sex with people where nothing happens to her lover. How does she differentiate? I have no idea, and Mead offers no help whatsoever. When the story begins, its framework seems to indicate that sex out of wedlock is sinful; but then that's religion for you! This is contradicted later in the text however, where Kincaid ruminates that while sex out of wedlock was sinful in the past, the world has moved on, and it's no longer considered a sin because everyone is having sex outside of marriage. This made little sense and implies that if everyone began murdering and raping, then this would no longer be considered sinful either!

From the way this novel is written, I was left with the consolation that I'm fine with the idea of going to hell - if there is such a place and I'm condemned there. Can you imagine spending eternity in heaven with the same partner? I'm not talking about a paltry sixty years of marriage. I'm not even talking about a mere lifetime. I'm talking about ETERNITY wedded to one person, and you can't even experiment sexually with that one person?! I'd rather be in hell with the raunchy crowd any day, especially if it's for eternity. But maybe that's just me!

The writing is technically fine - a minor issue or two here and there but eminently readable, despite being first person PoV, which I normally hate, but which in this case was engaging as opposed to nauseating. There are plot holes galore, but this is routine for a paranormal novel, and there were some quirks which caught my attention, such as when Kincaid remarks to us in chapter ten that some guys she introduced shook hands "guy style" and then the very next chapter she shakes hands herself. What is that? Girl style? I don't get how her shaking o' the hand was any different from the way the guys did earlier. If there is one, Mead failed to clarify exactly what it was and made her character come off as being hypocritical or clueless - and this isn't the only time that Kincaid is portrayed this way, I'm sorry to report.

Because she's a YA writer at heart, Mead had to have a love triangle. On the one breast is Roman and on the other, Kincaid's favorite writer, Seth Mortensen. Kincaid bounces between these two (not literally) and also between them and her casual (and oft frustrated) sex partner who works at the bookstore. Some negative critics have called Kincaid out on this, intimating - if not outright declaring - that she's a slut, but hello: SUCCUBUS! I think they clean forgot that this was a paranormal novel and Kincaid relies on sex for sustenance, being a vampire of the venereal. That's understandable however, because despite the novel being replete with angels, demons, vampires, imps, hybrid human-angels, and so on, there really was no paranormal stuff going on at all in this novel! I mean almost literally none at all.

The big deal here is that there's supposedly a slayer in town who's slaughtering immortals, and is apparently a threat to Kincaid herself, although neither she nor we are ever told why. It turns out to be a bit more complicated than that, but given that Seth is new in town and Roman is new in her life, it immediately struck me that either one of these could be the villain, and the remaining non-villainous one would become her love interest as the series progressed. And as it progressed, the relationship with Roman became about as clichéd and trope as you can get, so my money was on him being the new immortal villain in town. He was Mary Poppins: practically perfect in every way! He was tall (Kincaid is evidently very short despite her shape-shifting ability), chiseled, commanding, dominating, irresistible, and a perfect lover. My question here was: how is this possible given that she's a succubus?! This loaned more support to my feeling that he was the troublemaker.

It also made me wonder what the heck the point was of making Kincaid a succubus at all if she was completely overpowered by people like Seth and Roman. At one point she is "terrified and thrilled" by how close he is, and we're constantly reminded that she's like a lovesick teenager around him. Is she not the dominant succubus she's supposed to be? How is a mere mortal able to make her feel that way? This was yet another reason to believe that Roman and/or Seth were more than human. By this point we'd learned that immortals of a certain level can mask their immortality so other immortals cannot sense them. Was Roman doing this to hide his true nature? This begs the question as to how effective a succubus can be when potentially anyone can overpower her in this way!

When they went bowling together, Mead sadly resorted to the boring trope of having Roman (who sports the boring trope of gold flecked eyes) get behind Kincaid and show her how to hold the balls, leading to an intimate level of physical proximity. It was as sickening as it was pathetic to read, precisely because this trope has been done to death. In fact I didn't read it - as soon as I saw where it was going, I skipped several paragraphs. This could have been a cheap Harlequin romance novel at this point. I would have thought someone as inventive as Mead could have come up with something original, but she struck out in the lanes.

In an amusing section where Kincaid is bantering with a couple of vamp friends, we learn that she has to use far more energy to change gender than she does to merely 'remodel' herself. We don't learn why. We also learn that she requires even more energy than that to emulate a different species. None of this is explained in any way at all. We don't know why she literally assumes the physical form of the thing she's emulating as opposed, for example, to merely mimicking the outward appearance of it. If she quite literally becomes the subject, then what happens to her own self? Does she literally lose her mind? If so, how does she get it back? If she doesn't (as she clearly doesn't) lose herself, then how is she assuming the exact form of her subject in any meaningful way? We're left in the dark. Maybe future volumes flesh this out - as it were!

The novel was very predictable and will disappointment many people from its lack of paranormal activity. Kincaid makes no sense as a succubus, and it's sad that we have to be told how funny and smart she is without seeing any evidence of either, and it's disappointing that she's so juvenile - not even acting her apparent age, much less her succubus age, but despite all of this, I actually liked the novel, and I can't tell you why. I think maybe it was because I read this as a YA novel even though it ostensibly isn't. it works better if you pretend it is. It was, as I indicated, a light, fluffy read, and maybe that's why - you can close off the analytical part of your brain, and just go with it for the light, brainless fun. Some parts were really engaging, and fun, others not so much. In short I felt the same way about his as I did about Vampire Academy - but after reading two or three volumes of that series, I gave up on it because it became too stupid, so while I'm willing to go on to volume two here, I'm not offering any guarantees about staying with the series beyond that.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Vampire Academy graphic novel by Richelle Mead

Rating: WORTHY!

I favorably reviewed Vampire Academy (the original novel) back in May of 2014, and I favorably reviewed the movie, too. This is a third strike and you're in review since I liked this graphic novel, too.

I had no interest in the original print book version of this until I learned that some school (or schools) had taken the unprecedented and rather bizarre step of banning this entire series: not this novel per se, but the entire series, including unwritten future volumes! I thought this was so absurd as to be a joke, but then this is what organized religion does to people - it forces them to behave like morons. As for me, I was curious as to what it was that was in this series which had provoked such an extremist reaction. There was nothing to account for it other than religiously inspired stupidity. The first thing kids are going to do when they discover a novel is banned from school is to seek it out and read it!

This graphic novel, adapted by Leigh Dragoon and illustrated by Emma Vieceli, followed the original print book quite closely, but with a few necessary abbreviations, so I'm going to refer you to that review for details. With regard to this one, I enjoyed it. It was a fast read, well illustrated (if a little flatly) and it moved at a cracking pace. I recommend it, especially if you haven't read the novel.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Blood Promise by Richelle Mead

Title: Shadow Kiss
Author: Richelle Mead
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: WARTY!

In which Richelle Mead does 50 Shades of Grey!

I panned volume three in this series so why, oh why, did I start in on volume 4? I cannot understand this behavior in others, and typically, I do not indulge in it myself. A bad review is the end of a series for me. I don't go looking for the next volume in the hope that it might get better. Life's too short to waste on bad writing; however, in this case, I plead mitigating circumstances.

One of my biggest beefs with the first three volumes was Rose's relationship with Dimitri. I didn't care about the difference in their ages which so many reviewers made so much of, because from a sexual PoV, Rose was legally an adult in Montana so: no issue, get your heads out of your asses clueless reviewers.

That said, the real problem was two-fold. First there was the very serious issue that Dimitri was the authority figure in Rose's life. He was her teacher, which is what made their relationship completely inappropriate. Dimitri should have been fired for his misconduct. The second problem was that the relationship simply did not work. There was absolutely no basis for it whatsoever, so to continue this patent fiction that there was this irresistible bond between them was ridiculous in the extreme, and I was thrilled to see it busted.

Herein we have the reason why I came back: Dimitri was gone (as a potential partner at least), and I thought perhaps things would improve, and I'd like the stories better now that he was out of the picture. Unfortunately, Rose still couldn't let him go. She had this completely stupid 'moral obligation' to stake him and 'rescue' him from that 'life'.

This, in itself, is also unmitigated bullshit, given what we've been told about strigoi. He was effectively dead and gone. He knew nothing of his life before. He was little more than a rabid animal at this point, and there was nothing Rose could ever do which would change that or be appreciated by him. So make no mistake, Rose did not perform any heroic act here. She did not do a single thing for Dimitri. There was no Dimitri any more. As was made clear at the end of Shadow Kiss everything she did in this volume was purely for selfish reasons which had nothing to do with him or her juvenile infatuation with him.

What Rose did do here was to selfishly and completely forsake and abandon her best friend - the one she had so often sworn she would die to protect. So once again the biggest problem with this volume is Rose, as usual. We've spent the previous three volumes being reminded countless times by the narrator - Rose herself - how desperately she wants to be not just a guardian, but Lissa's guardian. Nothing else matters, we were told time and time again, yet she forsakes Lissa at the drop of a bat, and hares off to slay Dimitri, thinking she's somehow rescuing her lover from his fate as a strigoi. Yeah, right. What Rose did here was to betray every principle of guardianship that she had ever been taught, and for purely selfish reasons.

The most inexplicable thing about this volume - at least to begin with - was that it had a prologue! It's volume four in a series for god's sake WHY THE HELL DOES IT NEED A PROLOGUE? And why does Mead need to use the phrase 'kind of' three times in the first two pages? These first two pages aren't pages 1 & 2, BTW, they're pages 17 & 18. Chapter one doesn't begin on page one, so this isn't actually a 503 page novel. Just so we're all on the same page...!

It began rather interestingly, but way too verbosely. Mead could have trimmed this down by probably two hundred pages without losing anything vital if she had self-edited instead of running off at the mouth with way too many details - particularly fashion details. Would anyone in Rose's position even remotely think about what the hell fashion someone else was wearing and how good or bad they looked? And it sucked how often she felt the need to describe how "beautiful" someone was, as though there is absolutely nothing in the universe more important than how skin-deep pretty people are. Jeeze!

And what's with going to Russia? Yeah, Dimitri went to Russia, but there is no explanation offered as to why. He's not a thinking being any more (so we're supposed to believe). He has no human impulses. He's a mindless vampire who is driven solely by blood lust - and he decides to vacation in Russia? I call bullshit on that one. The only reason this took place in Russia was not because of some critical plot element but because Mead simply wanted it to, and she wasn't a good enough writer to put together a decent plot to justify it.

That said, and apart from the wordiness of this volume, there was some decent action buried in all the silly descriptive prose. In Russia, Rose is easily kicking strigoi ass (how she manages this is a bit of a mystery, but let's let that one go) while trying to get a lead on where Dimitri went, by locating his home town in Siberia. How the hell he even managed to even travel there is a mystery which goes unsolved. Oh, and Rose meets an Alchemist!

This is a brand new feature which has had zero mention for three volumes but which now turns out to be an integral part of the lore - conveniently only revealed to guardians upon graduation! Alchemists are magical chemists who can, for example, create cloud potions which completely erase strigoi bodies - conveniently for serial slayer Rose. Equally conveniently, Sydney - the alchemist - is assigned by a higher power to accompany Rose to Siberia where equally conveniently, after taking out two strigoi and collapsing, Rose magically ends up in the home of Dimitri's family.

This is one of endless examples of really bad writing. There are way-the-frick-and-frack too many coincidences in this novel, even by YA standards. I mean how convenient is it that everyone in Russia, no matter how back-woods and out-of-the-way they are, speaks perfect English? When Rose trips back to Lissa's mind, it's inevitably and without exception when some crucial event is taking place. It's never, ever, ever when when she's sitting on the can, or reading a fashion magazine (inexplicably enough), sitting bored out of her gourd in class, sleepily watching TV, or humping Christian.,/p>

Indeed, so convenient is this insta-contact that we get a detailed history of the arrival and installation, and the drama surrounding the new headmaster, who has a disaffected daughter, Avery who will be a TA (no, that's not tits and ass although it might as well be), and a younger son who is going to attend the academy as a student.

At one point Rose is given a healing charm - she puts it in her pocket for a rainy day. How come the magic doesn't wear off as soon as it's close to her? But that's not what important. What's important is that when Dimitri inevitably encounters her, instead of killing her as strigoi do - as we've been told repeatedly that strigoi do - he takes her prisoner and abuses her as a sex slave, a la Fifty Shades of Grey! Then when she stakes him at the end, he falls off a balcony and she never checks on him, dumb-ass guardian that she is, and to top all of that, he sends her a note when she's back in the US assuring her that they will meet again. In short, he behaves completely out of character for a strigoi based on what Mead has been telling us for the three entire volumes prior to this one. Seriously?

This novel was by far the worst and most badly written of the entire series and I am now done with this ridiculous series completely.

Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead

Title: Shadow Kiss
Author: Richelle Mead
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: WARTY!

This is the third one in the Vampire Academy series. I liked the first two, but I've had a harder time with this one. It's funny because a lot of reviews I read for this series say that while the first is not so good, it gets better with the second, or while the second isn't great, it gets better with the third, but I've experienced just the opposite. I guess I'm, not in sync with any of this; I mean while the vampire Academy movie was a complete flop, I really loved it! The experience has been similar with the novels, too. The first one, I thought was most enjoyable, the second okay, and the third proved less than impressive and downright dumb in parts. It read like bad fan-fiction in far too many places, as I shall point out in this review.

Instead of growing as a character, Rose isn't changing, and if anything, is deteriorating as both a character and as a guardian. She seems incapable of learning, and is far too self-centered. As if that isn't bad enough, she's undisciplined and is given to tantrums and jealousy fits. The bottom line is that, based on her sorry showing here, she's simply not fit to be a guardian. Indeed, she's barely making it as a human being at this point.

There's a 'reason' for this, but whether it's valid is a matter of opinion. Lissa, for inexplicable reasons, has been allowed to go off drugs and begin using her "Spirit" power. You may recall that she was banned from doing this because it drives people insane. Nothing has changed on that score, so why the restriction on her using it was lifted is completely arbitrary bullshit - and she really doesn't do a whole heck of a lot with it anyway. The problem for Rose is that she's getting some sort of feedback from Lissa's new-found freedom, and it's affecting her mood, but the effects seem very patchy and inconsistent.

Mead's writing doesn't help. She begins this novel with a really cheap shot. It's a dream scene, wherein it initially looks like Rose is about to indulge herself in some hot sex, but in the end it turns out to be that she's simply tapping into Lissa's activities with Christian. She can evidently keep these at bay whilst awake, but fails dismally when asleep. It was neither impressive writing, nor a good writing technique.

Rather than turn over and go back to sleep, idiot Rose once again breaks the academy rules and sneaks outdoors. Once again her combat tutor Dimitri turns up. Either he is a really creepy stalker, or there's far-the-hell too much convenient coincidence going on here. Unlike Rose's mental link with Lissa, there is no such link at all with Dimitri, and therefore no excuse whatever for him to be always, tediously. ridiculously, irritatingly there. Again, it's really poor writing.

This external excursion serves two purposes. The first is to clue Rose in on the fact that neither she nor Lissa will be testifying in the case against Victor, which pisses Rose off. The second is that on her way back into the dorms, she sees the faint ghost of Mason - her dead friend from the previous volume. He appears to be pointing to something across campus, but never once does it occur to dumb-as-a-brick Rose to go see what he's pointing at.

Next, Rose discovers that she doesn't get to be Lissa's guardian during a trial period where the guardian wannabe's get to guard their Moroi around campus while existing guardians, pretending to be strigoi, stage no-holds-barred attacks. Rose has to guard Christian, and a guy named Eddie gets to guard Lissa.

Her first failure is to go on a tirade to the teachers about how wrong this is, like she's god almighty and they're pond scum. She behaves like a spoiled brat child. Next she fails in her actual assignment! She freezes when an attack is coming, mesmerized by the sight of Mason's ghost, and does nothing to prevent the attack, yet never once does she consider telling the review committee what happened! Major fail.

This is catastrophe on so many levels that it's really a joke. She simply lies about what happened, and conceals the hallucination by claiming she simply 'froze'. So not only is she being irresponsible about her mental health, she has also here proven that she can be so distracted from her duty that her charge is put at grave risk. Worse than this, though, is that she spends her entire time as a guardian gossiping and chatting with Christian and Lissa, allowing herself to be seriously distracted, and not paying anywhere near enough attention to her surroundings and potential threats. Rose simply doesn't get it - despite all her bravado about being a kick-ass guardian.

Bearing all that in mind, let's now consider the romance with Dimitri. It doesn't work! And it reads like atrocious fan-fiction. Dimitri actually is a kick-ass guardian, so why in the name of all that's holy would he ever pay any attention to a blustering hot air-bag like Rose? I can see why she'd be drawn to him: he's hot and she has the shallowness and mentality of a socially-challenged thirteen-year-old, but why would he be even remotely interested in her? She's a failing guardian who has no discipline and a truly poor attitude, so what is there about her which would attract a skilled and dedicated guardian like Dimitri? NOTHING! There is no basis for this relationship. It does not work, period.

Some reviewers have bitched about him being older and that therefore it's inappropriate for the two of them to become involved, especially as involved as they get in this book, but I will simply reiterate what I said in my review of Vampire Academy, which is that it doesn't matter a damn what you think about their ages since both of them are over the age of sexual consent in Montana. END OF STORY. What matters here is that he is her tutor. He is in an authority position over her and that's what makes his behavior completely inexcusable. That so few young people get this is what's truly disturbing about this relationship. It speaks badly that so few young-adult readers understand how wrong this is.

I found it ridiculous that Mead puts so much effort into telegraphing Rose's big "revelation" at the end: how she now wants it to be about her. It's a joke because this entire series is about her! It's all Rose all the time! It's about her views, her wants, her opinions, her activities, her priorities, her selfishness. Of course it's about her. She's telling the story. It's never been about anyone else but Rose. Jeeze!

I also found it hilarious how many negative reviewers gave this a two star rating, but then professed their desire to read the next volume. Seriously?! Why would you ever want to read more if you felt it was so bad? This is why I initially rejected the star rating system. I only changed my mind and began using either one or five stars (and nothing in between) because I realized that I am rewarding bad novels by not rating them one star (I would use zero stars if it was an option) and I was unfairly downgrading good novels by not giving them any stars. To me a novel is worth reading or it is not, which is why I now give all of my reviews give a one or a five star rating.

But back to the story, fan-fiction that it is: Rose plays a Clueless Sue in this novel, too (apart from not getting what Mason's ghost is trying to tell her). She knows that Moroi are talking about grouping together, learning to fight, and protecting themselves, yet when she sees random Moroi turning up with bruises on their faces, she never once figures out that there's perhaps practice fighting going on amongst themselves. That's not what's happening exactly, but it's close enough that I have to ask: how far does she have to have her head embedded in her own ass to not figure out something in short order?

And why does she need to seek out Victor and get his advice? How does that work when she hates him so much? Yeah - she ends up going to the trial after all, and she goes to see Victor and have a nice, Cozy chat with him despite her supposed hatred of him. On the journey there she sees dark shadows and ghosts on the plane, but she pretends she has a headache! Bad guardian again. After the trial, she and Lissa have their fortunes read. The fortune teller does what all frauds do: she tells them things which are so vague that you can back-fill them with any future events you like and make the 'prophecy' come true, yet this is referred to as 'prediction'! What a joke! No, a prediction has date, time and details. It isn't a ridiculously vague claim that could fit any one of a number of events and be made 'true' by this random coincidence.

In another fan-fiction moment, the cluelessness of the Moroi queen is revealed after the trial, as she warns Rose off from having an affair with Adrian (which isn't happening), yet she doesn't warn-off Adrian himself. Rose speaks to the queen like the latter is some girl in high-school with Rose, yet never once does the queen seem offended by her attitude! Some queen. On the way back from the trial, Rose has a complete breakdown, but despite this, I knew before I read another page that it would in no way affect her still being in the running to be a guardian. Bad writing.

But it gets worse. Rose wakes up in hospital and there's no-one with her save for the doctor and two guardians, Alberta, and, of course, Dimitri, who is never not there. There is no reason for either guardian to be there. There is a reason for someone like Lissa to be there, or the school principal, but none of these people show up, and evidently no one considers calling Rose's mother. This is bordering on the ridiculous.

Rose continues lying to her best friend Lissa, even as she 'fesses up to Alberta and Dmitri that she's been seeing ghosts. Rose once again talks everyone into doing what she wants and she's put back on guardian duty (who says dhampir don't have compulsion?!) - but on a 'half-time' basis. This seems to have been forgotten when Mead depicts her as being worried about curfew and separating from Christian rather than staying in his dorm room as she had been doing. Once again she sees Mason, and this time he can communicate but he can't talk, so all he can do is indicate 'yes' or 'no' with movements of his head. This is truly pathetic and an amateurishly bad way of creating fake suspense.

Oh, and Dimitri dies at the end - but not really. In fact, this will be the pattern in volume 4, as well. This novel sucked and is warty to the max.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Immortal Crown by Richelle Mead

Title: The Immortal Crown
Author: Richelle Mead
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: worthy

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

p31 "…dropping and rolling to the ground…" should be "…dropping, and rolling on the ground…"

p98 Mead uses the word 'frequented' when she really appears to mean 'visited'.
p101 "Mae shook her head wonderingly"? Better: "Mae shook her head in wonder"
p193 "When he'd stopping their escalations before..." should be "When he'd stopped their escalation before..."

This is book 2 in Richelle Mead's Age of X series. I reviewed book one, Gameboard of the Gods a while ago, and despite finding well over a dozen errors in the advance review copy, I really enjoyed it, so I've been looking forward to reading the next installment.

I have to say that while I definitely don't think anyone will ever laud Richelle Mead of being a great literary writer (she could use a crash course in the difference between 'less' and 'fewer' for example), she does a pretty decent job in general; however, there are some fingernails-on-chalkboard moments in her writing, where she employs bastard 'words' such as, for example: 'politician-y' and 'orangey-red'. Any writer can do better than that. Note that these things appear not in a character's speech, which would have been perfectly fine because people do speak like that, but in her own narrative, which is a bit too much, since she's not telling this in first person as though she's a character herself.

This novel continues the story of Mae Koskinen, a soldier in the so-called 'Praetorian' guard - some sort of super-soldier outfit in Canada/the USA (known as the RUNA - the Republic of United North America). Mae is Finnish by descent, and a genetically healthy woman in a world where a plague has struck down much of humanity and disfigured many of the survivors. Mae is assigned as bodyguard to Justin March, a religious investigator for the RUNA government. The RUNA doesn't like religion, because in this world, there really are gods vying for a following amongst the humans, and in this volume, they appear to be gearing up for a war.

After receiving a vision via a special knife which was an anonymous gift which Mae received, she comes to believe that her niece, an eight-year-old who was lost to her family and whom Mae has long sought, is being held in Arcadia, a nation not known for it's generosity of spirit towards the female half of the population. Coincidentally, Mae has the chance to go there on official business.

This story, I should forewarn you, is over 400 pages long and it moves with a proportionately sluggish pace, which I found annoying. In addition to a decidedly more lively narrative, something else I would like to see in this series is the termination of this non-existent relationship between Mae and Justin. Not only does it not exist, it doesn't work. There's no basis for it and it's neither appealing nor realistic, so at the risk of giving away spoilers, I was rather thrilled with the ending of this volume, although I am sure it's not any kind of an ending in the long run. Going there, would take a writer with some real guts!

Perhaps I should explain. Volume one featured a quickie between these two characters before Mae knew that he was the guy she was supposed to be body-guarding (he knew who she was, but he never let on). Justin, who is being sought as a devotee by the god Odin, had a revelation that if he started getting it on with Mae, he would simultaneously be selling-out to Odin, and becoming the god's priest (read: pawn). He doesn't want that, so he rejected Mae in a rather callous way. She does not know his motivation, and simply accepts that he's that kind of a guy, but unrealistically, this does not prevent her from obsessing over him unhealthily. This causes me to seriously question Mae's smarts!

So, end of story, right? Naw! For reasons beyond human understanding (which is sadly all I'm equipped with), the two are still attracted to one another. I can see why he would be still hot for Mae - he's a lech and a womanizer and she's attractive (not that that's a requirement given the premises), but there's no reason why she should be, especially not after his behavior towards her. The problem with this relationship is not only that it doesn't exist in any romantic sense, it's that even in a romantic sense, it's non-existent.

It didn't work in volume one, but there was enough going on to render that a minor matter. Now that the pace is reduced to a limp in volume two, the interaction between the two really stands out as a pairing which needs paring. There is no chemistry; there's no tension, sexual or otherwise, and there's no reason at all why the two should be so focused upon one another in any way other than purely professional.

The first mistake Mead makes I think, in this novel (other than including the first hundred pages, that is) is after there's a attack on Tessa, Justin's young, female ward. Because of the assault, which was actually aimed (so we're told) at Justin, Mae and some of her friends at the Praetorian volunteer to watch the house. Mae also hires a dedicated, retired soldier named Rufus as a more permanent guard, and here's where the problem lies.

We're given to understand that both Justin and Mae are really shaken-up by what happened to Tessa, yet Mae hires this guy, a stranger, at his first interview, and with zero background checks! This is a guy whom she quite literally just met. That struck me as gullible at best, and stupid at worst, neither of which traits Mae has exhibited before. Just saying! It felt like bad writing to me, and I never trusted Rufus.

It was only when we got past page 100 (that is, some 25% the way in) that the story got to where I felt I could become honestly interested in it. That first 100 pages could be completely skipped and the story would not suffer for it. Also, the sections in which Tessa appears could be skipped. I liked her in the first novel. She contributes nothing in this one. If this had been a first time novel by a newbie, any competent editor would have advocated this, but once you're established, it seems that no one dare say boo to you. Go figure!

In chapter nine, they've finally arrived in Arcadia (read Alabama) and their military escort is deprived of its weaponry, yet not a single one of them raises any sort of protest. This struck me as being really dumb and unrealistic. Why did they even take their weapons with them if they were going to be robbed of them anyway? It made no sense. To me, this was poorly written. Think about it in a modern context. If the President was going to Iran, and the Iranians wanted the Secret Service guards to be robbed of their weapons, would this be acceptable? No! Then why is it here?

Worse than this was the the way the females in the party were treated. They were forced to be silent, to cover up, and to undertake menial household chores! Seriously? Could you see that happening in the real USA? No one would stand for it, least of all the women. This was entirely unrealistic and it really degraded the quality of the novel for me. Fortunately, it was right after this that things improved dramatically and turned it around for me, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to rate this novel favorably, which would have saddened me, being a fan of Mead's (at least of her Vampire Academy series!).

Mead also missed a great opportunity with Mae's magic knife. It's discovered in her possession, but instead of having her say that it's a religious artifact and daring this highly religious nation to confiscate it as such, Justin steps in and says it's his, and he's allowed to keep it. I found that completely irrational given that they'd just confiscated weapons from the military for goodness sakes! It made no sense and could have been written much better. I've seen several reviews on this novel which compliment Mead for her writing, but I don't see it as anything special. Her writing isn't outright bad per se, and she delivers on so great ideas, but there are some serious flaws in it as I've pointed out in the errata and throughout this review.

The reason I mentioned Iran above is that some reviewers also commented on the Islamophobic aspect of this depiction of the Arcadian nation - that Arcadia is nothing more than a surrogate for a slam at Islam, but while Islam does merit being pilloried for its appalling devaluation and marginalization of women, such reviewers appear to be blind to the problems of religion in general. It's not only the Muslim religion which is abusive of women: each of big three monotheistic religions, all of which share the same root - Judaism - are misogynistic and the root cause of that lies in the story of Adam and Eve.

People dishonestly pretend that Christianity is not as bad, but it is, and some sects of Christianity such as Mormonism and the bizarre Amish-style cults are worse. The more orthodox Judaist sects also repress women. Religion in general is very bad for women, so this isn't what those reviewers think it is; it's much broader than that narrow view and I appreciated Mead's tackling of this important topic.

Having said that, I also have to register some disappointment with Mead's own writing about women. It seems that all she can talk about as the women are introduced to Arcadia is how "beautiful" or ugly they are. She tries to hide this by depicting it as Justin's thoughts, but this actually makes it worse because from her PoV of developing him as a character, it makes Justin nothing but a shallow jerk, and yet we're somehow expected to root for him as Mae's beau? I don't think so! I for one am not on-board with him!

It's like even Mead thinks that women have no (or at best, limited) value unless they're beautiful, the hell with how their minds are, the hell with whether they're strong, emotionally stable, good providers, hard workers, reliable, have integrity, and so on. There are scores of criteria by which to appreciate them, yet Mead's sole criterion for which women are to be valued is skin deep, and that's it. I find it hard to believe that Mead writes like this, but let's face it, she does foreshadow this in her Vampire Academy series which is the only other series of hers that I've read, and which I actually - for the most part - like. Let me just say that I am very disappointed in her at this point in reading around page 114...!

Those problems aside, the interest for me definitely ramped-up as Mae was turned loose (figuratively speaking, that is - she was in fact extremely restricted) amongst the Arcadians. She didn't, unfortunately, "go all kamikaze on their asses" as one reviewer amusingly had hoped, but she did cut loose at one point and I appreciated that.

You can see that here, she proved herself to be strong, independent, aggressive when necessary, effective, capable, and resourceful, yet never is she appreciated for any of that - only for how beautiful she is. It's sad. Hopefully, from the way this novel ended, we'll see much more of that side of her and much less of the limp, uninteresting and let's face it for all intents and purposes other than as a love interest for Mae, completely pointless Justin in volume three.

Prior to this point, I had seriously been wondering if I wanted to finish this novel, let alone go on to read another in this series, but from that point onwards, it really turned around and became very readable. If Mead had started this novel chapter nine, and had excluded all the chapters where Tessa was involved, and excluded the pointless scenes of flirtation between Mae and Justin, this novel would have been perfect. As it was, it seemed to take forever to get through this, which isn't a good sign! However, it was worth reading in my opinion, but it's certainly not my favorite novel of Mead's.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Frostbite by Richelle Mead

Title: FrostBite
Author: Richelle Mead
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: WARTY!

This is the second volume in what is, so far, at least a six-volume series. I can’t promise I'll read that whole series, but as of reading this one, I'm committed to one more at least. That's an odd decision, I know, given my rating, but I explain it in the final paragraph. This volume was sadder than the first, which had issues but which was not bad. Mead needs to get her head out of her ass and write the vampire series she promised, not a cheesy rip-off of Twilight, with love-sick airhead kids running around having sorry bouts of high school angst when there's a far better story screaming to be told.

I started reading this series because I'd read somewhere that some school district had banned the series: that is, they were banning these books before some of them had even been written, which is the height of stupidity, so despite my antagonism towards vampire novels, I picked up the first one on audio CD from the library, but Stephanie Wolf's reading sucked majorly, so I ditched that and bought the paperback. I ended up liking it (with reservations!), hence my progression to volume 2. I was less satisfied with this one, and this was by many accounts supposed to be be better than the first!

One thing which not so much surprised me as intrigued me about volume one was when I was reading the insane negative reviews for it. The religious crowd was reduced to telling outright lies about that volume (which I refute in my review) and about the main character's conduct - that's how sad they are. In general I liked the story, although there were some YA issues with it - of the dumb kind you find in any YA novel. This second volume promised to be no different from my reading of the first hundred pages, but it did also draw me in a bit.

In this volume, Rose hasn’t changed at all, nor does she throughout. She's still dumb, still immature, and still thinks she's god's gift to men, and like Mary Poppins, thinks she's practically perfect in every way. She's also still obsessed with her blood-mate Lissa, for whom she is working her heart out, striving to become a guardian. Early in the novel, Rose is taken for testing by a disinterested guardian who happens to be a legend in their world, but when they arrive at the house to meet with him, they discover that the entire family, including the legendary guardian, has been slaughtered, evidently by a band of strigoi working together in a manner which has no precedent.

Here was a classic example of Rose completely ignoring an express instruction from her teacher, and going unpunished for it. This will not be the last time she does this in this novel. Her instructor should have failed her on her test right there for disobeying him and entering the house against his express order, but once again she gets away with insubordination. I don’t mind a rebel character, but please let’s not indulge this! There have to be consequences otherwise it’s just a fairy tale. There never are consequences for Rose, even when her stupidity gets someone killed.

This initial event does illustrate the problem with the sad addiction of all-too-many female YA authors to telling stories in first person PoV: you thereby restrict yourself to the handicap of being unable to have anything happen unless your character is there to witness it; otherwise it’s nothing but passive voice, with your main character sitting around having to listen to boring, second-hand stories about what happened in order to keep the story alive, which is never a good thing for an action novel. This is why Mead was forced to have Rose disobey and it’s so obvious that it immediately suspends the suspension of disbelief. I want my YA writers to be far more skilled than this. Apparently Mead isn’t.

The next thing she heaps upon us is the appearance of Rose's mom, Janine, who shows up at school to tell a tale of one of her guardian adventures. It seems that Rose's mom is as full of herself as Rose is, but Rose hates her mom, which immediately telegraphs to us that Rose and she will bond, and that mom might well die in this story. Only one of those things actually happened. The same kind of thing happened with character Mason, Rose's toy boy. Her interactions with him telegraphed that she would get jiggy with him and that he might well die in this story. Only one of those things happened.

When tough-guy guardian and Rose-object-of-addiction Dimitri is too tired (from a shopping trip - I am not kidding!) to teach her in his early-morning class, Rose's mom inappropriately steps-in instead. Now this is a parent who is not a teacher at the school, teaching her own child! Worse than this, Rose's mom fails to pick up where Dimitri left off, and instead makes Rose fight her in a boxing match, and ends up punching Rose with an illegal punch, giving her a black eye. Yet there are no consequences whatsoever for Janine's misconduct! Again, there goes suspension of disbelief.

This inappropriate behavior continues as Dimitri returns to teaching, and he and Rose kiss. If he was anything of a teacher, he would recuse himself from teaching her any further, but he is not and he does not, so yet again we have inappropriate behavior with zero consequences. At this point I would normally ditch a novel like this, but beyond all this amateur fanfic-level YA absurdity, there was a story and it started out intriguing me. Sadly, it fell apart and never went anywhere. The ending was truly pathetic.

Lissa is now on meds to prevent her healing power from erupting and affecting her mental health. She's by far the most interesting character in these novels so far, but she has no more than a cameo role in this novel. Subsequent events are within the context of the earlier massacre, which is suggestive that strigoi have changed their behavior: that they're now working together and working with humans to launch attacks upon the moroi royal families, which means Lissa is at risk. Unfortunately, none of this story is followed through. Not in this volume, anyway.

I don’t get this business of the vampires celebrating Xmas! It makes no sense to me, but because of the strigoi attack, they go for a week to a lodge in the mountains for a skiing holiday! Never mind battening-down the hatches and going after the strigoi, let's go on vacation! It made no sense.

It made less sense given that only Rose and her new boyfriend Mason seemed to actually do any skiing. Rose meets Adrian Ivashkov, and starts falling in love with him. He's the bad boy leg of the triangle to Mason's good guy leg, and Rose finds herself dreaming of Ivashkov when she's not mentally masturbating over Dim-itri, the inappropriate instructor who should be fired. Dim-itri is actually supposed to be Lissa's guardian, but he's never found anywhere near Lissa. Instead, he's a full-time Rose stalker.

This dream Rose has of Ivashkov was actually implanted in her mind by Ivashkov himself, although Rose isn't smart enough to figure that out. Mead tries to distract us from this revelation by revealing another strigoi attack. This upsets Lissa, but Rose fails to wake-up in response to Lissa's distressed state! So much for the supposed deepening of their psychic bond!

Eventually Mason, Mia and Eddie leave the ski resort to go to Spokane, Washington which is supposedly nearby, to seek out and kill the strigoi. This tells me that all three of them are morons and their schooling has been wasted, but none of them is as big a moron as Rose. She figures out what they have done, but instead of warning everyone, she takes off after them with Christian, Lissa's boyfriend and they, along with the other three, are captured and held prisoner. Never once does Christian think of using his fire magic against the strigoi and it takes Rose three days (while these guys are all very conveniently kept alive for no reason at all by the ruthless strigoi) to figure it out herself! Yep, it's that bad.

So why am I rating this warty and then thinking of trying volume 3? Well there were sufficient hints in this volume to make me think, rightly or (and more probably) wrongly, that things might turn around in volume 3 and this series could assume the promise if offered in volume 1, so I'm giving it a go and if it's as bad as, or worse than this one, I'm ditching the series. Life is too short, and at fifty percent through it, I think I will have given this more than a fair chance by then.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

Title: Vampire Academy
Author: Richelle Mead
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: WORTHY!

Here's an interesting observation: Magic or Madness (reviewed here) was published in 2005 by Justine Larbalestier. Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead, was published two years later and both authors curiously publish with Razor Bill. It would seem that Mead ripped-off Larbalestier's idea that magic can cause madness, but fortunately, ideas cannot be copyrighted, only a specific written expression of an idea, so it would seem that Mead is safe!

I had no interest in this until I learned that some school (or schools) had taken the unprecedented and rather bizarre step of banning this entire series: not this novel per se, but the entire series, including unwritten future volumes! I thought this was so absurd as to be a joke, but then this is what organized religion does to people - it forces them to behave like morons. As for me, I was curious as to what it was that was in this series which had provoked such an extremist reaction - maybe I could get some tips from it?!

The fact is that there's nothing in it to provoke the fundamentalists. Clearly the ones who are decrying and banning this have never actually read it. Yes, it's definitely for the older half of the young-adult age range, but other than that, there is no reason it shouldn't be in a school library.

Once I decided that I would (short of a major disaster) be reviewing this novel favorably, I went out to read some negative reviews to see if I had missed anything, and I realized from reading them that I had not. I also realized that not only were some reviewers rather rabid about this novel in their negativism, some were outright lying about it. No, there is not an 'f' word in every other paragraph. In fact, there is only two instances of 'fuck' in the entire book (p31, p115), and the word 'hell' is used 21 times. Go to Google books, where you can search for yourself to find out what a liar that particular reviewer was. Organized religion actively forces people to lie; I've personally encountered that many times.

Other reviewers showed their Christian charity by slut-shaming one of the main characters, not only referring to her as a 'slut' but also as a "hoe" [sic]. Rest assured, Rose never once behaved like a gardening tool. I can guarantee you that if the main character had been portrayed in exactly the same way, but had been a guy, he would never have been referred to as a 'slut' - and this is women doing the insulting, not men. Of the two main characters, Rose is a virgin throughout this book and Lissa doesn't have sex until she meets a guy whom she loves. Not that there's anything wrong with responsible and mature teens having safe sex, but this is yet another outright lie in pursuit of a religious agenda. I guess they missed that bit in the Bible about bearing false witness, huh?!

Just in passing, I started listening to this on audio, but the reader, Stephanie Wolf (ha! A wolf reading a vampire story! Too much!) was so bad that I couldn't stand to listen any more; however, I did like the story, so I bought a paperback copy.

This novel reads like it's volume two (or later) of a series when it's actually volume one. By that I mean that it starts in the middle of the story and Mead explains next-to-nothing of what went before except in rather annoyingly sparse and brief references which really relate very little that's of utility. I freely admit that that aspect was annoying!

As I mentioned, the two main characters are Rose and Lissa, although it's Rose who tells the story and hogs the attention. Rose is a dhampir - the offspring of a vampire and a human, but there are two species of vampire - the moroi, who are vampires, but not undead, and who are the good guys (supposedly), and the strigoi, who are traditional "undead" vampires.

Mead doesn't do a very good job of explaining this - again handing-out belated and sparsely distributed information. The dhampirs guard the moroi from the strigoi, and as such, Rose is Lissa's guard - but she's still in training, so she's not official, and she's not as powerful as she might become. So here was a weakness, in that the presentation of this novel was that of an amateur without benefit of a good book editor. Once again this goes to show that Big Publishing™ does not deliver what it claims to promise.

Two years before this novel begins, Rose and Lissa went over the wall from their academy and lived on the run. How they managed this and financed it isn't detailed, nor is why they went on the lam in the first place. They're captured by other guardians, and returned to the academy almost immediately after the story begins. Rose is very nearly expelled, but in the end she gets 'house arrest'. That is, she gets to go to classes and to church, but must remain in her room the rest of the time.

Rose is an atheist, so she has no need to go to church, but she uses this time to hang out with Lissa, to whom she is unnaturally, if not supernaturally devoted. Some people who reviewed this badly also objected to the lack of respect for religion, but guess what: atheists are under no obligation to respect religious delusion!

Both of these girls quickly get back into academic life, with Rose spending extra time training physically to be a guardian. She kicks her dedication up to a higher level when Lissa finds a fox on her bed with its throat slit - something which was apparently done right before she got back to her room. Who did it is unknown at that time.

The psychic bond they share evidently works only one way. Rose can 'tap into' Lissa's emotions, but not the other way around, and Lissa does not transmit messages or speech, only emotion. This bond is not unheard of in vampire lore, but it's viewed pretty much as a legend. The way it works is that Rose picks up on Lissa's emotions, but it seems to be only when they're heightened because she's very upset or scared for example; however, this changes as time passes at the academy.

In time, Rose discovers that she can 'share' Lissa's consciousness: she feels like she's in Lissa's body, seeing and hearing what Lissa experiences as well as feeling what she feels. This power seems to increase when Lissa begins hanging with the campus bad boy, Christian, whose family is disgraced and who therefore is largely ignored, but who has the power to make someone think he (the person, not Christian) is on fire, as we see at one point. Rose eventually discovers that she can force these 'mind melds' to happen, and thereby spy on Lissa. Stalk much?!

Mead isn't exactly the best writer in the world. Most of what she writes is fine, but there were occasions when oddly composed text jumped out at me, such as on p83, where I read: "...I didn't want Lissa to have to deal with any more stress than she had to"?!!! She could have ditched the 'to have' after 'Lissa' and made it flow better. This was optional of course, but on p91 paragraph 2 (at the start of chapter 7) she refers to Lissa without referring to Lissa, using just 'her' out of the blue. That felt a bit amateur if not confusing.

Here are some other such problems:
"He burst in the door" p119 - not good English.
p142 'describrd'! Poor copy editing.
p208 "they cold do..."
p213 start of chapter 16, "The next day. It fully hit me" - what's with the period?!
There's also a problem in continuity between page 211 and 218. On 211, the narrator says it was only two days after the incident with Mrs Karp that she and Lissa fled the academy, but on 218, she says it was a month later.

Lissa's full title and name is Princess Vasilisa Dragomir, and she's the last survivor of the Dragomir clan, and one of the five ruling families. Rosemarie Hathaway is her guardian wannabe. Lissa is moroi and these vampires have magical power over one of the four tired trope elements: air, earth, fire, and water, but we learn that there's a fifth, and Lissa has it.

So the high school jinks continue, and the vampire stuff really takes a back seat, although since the two are tied together, it can't disappear entirely. Another dead animal is found - this time accompanied by a threatening note, yet no one seems smart enough to put a guard, or at least a watch, on Lissa's door. Actually I started suspecting Natalie - Lissa's cousin - or Mason, Rose's bestie! Both of them are simply too sweet to be as they appear.

The biggest problem with Rose is not that she's a slut or a bitch - she really isn't either (although Lissa does call her the latter), she's merely unafraid and assertive (the fact that she detests a classmate who is a bitch doesn't make her a bitch either) and flirtatious; no, her biggest problem is that she seems to have the mentality of a thirteen year old, and she's just as "mature" in her precipitousness - in acting without thinking through to the consequences. Fortunately, the much more mature Lissa steps up and tells Rose she's going to be proactive from now on instead of being so retiring, and she becomes as scary as Rose is reckless.

Rose really isn't a good friend to Lissa. She's loyal and very protective, but she's also weirdly jealous of Lissa's relationships with others - with those who feed her, and with Christian, the designated bad boy. Rose outright lies to him about Lissa, claiming that her friend really despises Christian, but that she's too good-natured to tell him. She effectively orders him to leave Lissa alone. Christian believes Rose rather than Lissa, which makes him stupid in my book. Rose does apologize to Christian later, for lying, but that's only because she needs for him to do her a favor

Because of Rose's personal in-fighting with Mia, the actual school bitch, stories start spreading about Rose's disgusting (in this vamp world) habit of letting Lissa feed from her. It's okay for them to feed from designated human food supply, but for a guardian to allow this is considered a perversion - dirty! Somehow Mia has coerced Jesse and Ralf to lie that Rose allowed them to feed from her during sex. As I mentioned, and contrary to the lies spread by some negative reviewers who evidently have no problem with the Christian injunction not to bear false witness, Rose is not a slut; she's a virgin.

Rose's relationship with her guardian tutor, Dmitri, oversteps a few bounds. It's obvious that they're both attracted to each other. He's 24, and she's seventeen, which some people have depicted as obscene, but this is not a normal high school, so we don't know what the rules are since Mead has never actually iterated them. Both ages are conveniently within the young adult age range (14 - 24), and in Montana, the age of consent is 16, so there's nothing wrong there from a legal PoV. What is wrong is the relationship they have: he's her teacher and therefore an authority figure in her life, so from that perspective alone, this relationship would be unethical were it to go anywhere romantically or lustfully.

Now it's time to address other negative review issues.
There isn't enough action.
I agree with this complaint - representing Rose as Lissa's bodyguard tended to offer us more than it delivered, but it was quickly explained that Rose was not actually her official bodyguard, merely a wannabe who is in training to become a bodyguard. Even so, there were several incidents where Rose's unique bond with Lissa came through and saved her from problems, and potential problems

One problem that was mentioned by more than one reviewer was to the effect that the novel is poorly written. I agree that bits of it are poorly written. A spell-checker would have helped, but in general this novel is as well-written (or as badly-written, dependent upon your perspective) as any other YA novel. YA novels in general tend to be badly written, especially the dystopian variety (not that this is in that category), and of those even more especially those written with a female main protagonist, and this is not improved upon if the author is also female. I expect better, but I rarely find it. It's sad that so many YA authors, especially female authors, have so little respect for their readers that they feel no need to work harder at their craft.

One reviewer complained that the 17 year old main character had her shirt off making out with a boy and her best friend had gone all the way. So?! The age of consent in Montana is 16. Get a life! Rose has been slut-shamed abominably by negative reviewers, but the fact is that she's a virgin at the start of the novel, and she remains so through to the end. Not that virginity is any kind of noble badge, or a particularly special quality or anything, but to outright lie about this is as pathetic as it is laughable.

Yes, Rose has flaws. No, she isn't the best character in fiction nor is she the best friend in the world, but all these traits do is make her more realistic. She's young, confused, stressed, and devoted to Lissa, her best friend since childhood. Oh, and by the way, this is fiction! Even so, there are people like this in real life. Reviewers who have problems reading about real life issues need to quit reading YA fiction, and revert to having their mommy and daddy read them the Disney princess picture books, period. Oh god, I said, "period", Now they'll be offended by that!

Some reviewers have tried to intimate that there's a lesbian relationship here, or that Rose is in the closet, but none of this is true. Whether one might develop in future volumes remains (for me, just starting this series) to be seen, but the explanation for the intensity of this relationship is made quite clear by Mead.

Some have said that Rose isn't only a slut, she's also a hypocrite by being self righteous about the sexual behavior of others. Indeed, I saw one review which shamed Rose for being a slut and then running away and crying when she was accused of the same thing, but this is dishonest. Rose did not get upset because people called her a slut. She didn't care about that. She did care that people were getting too close to the truth of what happened: that when she and Lissa were on the run, Rose, her best friend, was the one from whom Lissa fed. That was why she was so upset, because doing this was considered the lowest and dirtiest, and most shameful thing a dhampir could do amongst her community. It was not the sex, which no one cared about that much, but the feeding.

Clearly some readers were not paying anywhere near enough attention, but the real hypocrisy here is for a reviewer who claims to love 'bookie nookie' to turn around and portray Rose as a "hoe macking on every guy she crosses paths with" which is patently not true. Does this reviewer even know what 'nookie' really means?! And no, this novel isn't written for pre-teens, but aimed at older young-adult age range (16 - 24), so to blurt-out righteously that you wouldn't let a 12-year-old read it is a shameful red herring.

Here's another complaint: Rose makes out with every guy who shows her any attention? Outright lie! She makes out with one guy by choice and quickly realizes he's bad news, and she has nothing to do with him after that. As opposed to another character who sleeps with two guys purely to get them to spread lies about Rose - yet no one even mentions her behavior, not in any negative review that I read. And by making out, I mean that Rose gets her top off (not her bra) - and that's it. Nothing actually really happens beyond some kissing. The only other time she 'makes out' is when she's been deliberately put under a powerful spell for the express purpose of disabling her ability to help Lissa. She cannot control her behavior, but even so, she and her partner overcome the spell and quickly refocus on what they were supposed to be doing!

One complaint is that Lissa cuts herself when stressed! So? Mead isn't prescribing or advocating this as a viable or worthwhile activity. It's dealt with as a problem which needs attention, and it's Rose, through her bond with Lissa, who frequently detects Lissa's problems and sees threats to her, and who acts decisively to stop them. Why would it be a negative thing to depict a psychological problem in a character and depict that problem being appropriately resolved? Should YA writers not write about real world problems? LoL! Get a life, for goodness sakes!

Other complaints One was that the only character that's developed is the main one, but this is a common to nearly all YA novels. Maybe it's a problem, maybe it isn't, but it isn't unique to this novel. Some argued that Lissa had a darker side which is hinted at but never shown, but that's not true. It was shown: she was compelling all kinds of people to do her bidding. This was considered evil (if not downright impossible!) and it was frowned upon in her community.

Can you believe some people complained that the main character is defiant and troubled, and that she relates to no one but her friend? So? Even if this were true it's not a fault of the novel. There are many people like this - should YA writers not write about them? This is actually a common trait of YA novels for better or for worse: main characters in YA novels are often like this. It's not a fault of this novel per se, it's a YA trope, for better or for worse. Should women not be depicted as strong and reckless and forceful and confident and self-motivated? What an appalling thing to intimate!

One of my favorite complaints is that this is just a lame story about a really disturbed, sexually deviated young girl. Sexually deviated? Rose is a virgin. Lissa had sex with one person. Both are over the age of consent. What is sexually deviated about it? Nothing! The deviants are the ones who are slut-shaming (or more technically, non-slut-shaming since Rose isn't even a "slut") and trying to turn this into something that it isn't. In order to achieve their repressed religious agenda, they're forced bear false witness about the story, and this is truly sad.

I agree that the novel to-often goes off the rails and focuses too much on high-school drama instead of staying on the threat to Lissa. This seemed odd to me, but then a lot of the high-school drama was directly related to vampire politics, so it's not like it was so far off the rails that it was irrelevant.

The real issue in this department for me was: how there can be royal families and princesses and queens when none of these families seems ever to have been part of a monarchy! I don't get this with vampire stories (not just this one): this hierarchy of princes and queens and so on. It makes no sense at all to me. What would it even mean to say that a vampire is a princess? What gives them their rank and authority? Why would any other vampire respect it? This is such a strongly established trope, yet none of this is ever explored in these stories to my knowledge. That's the problem here.

Mead seems to be all over the place with her mythology, too. She does create a unique and interesting world, but while the overall setting has a strong Russian flavor, despite it being set in Montana, dhampir (what Rose is: a vampire-human hybrid) is a Balkan term according to wikipedia, not Russian per se. Both moroi and strigoi are Romanian terms. How Mead came to tie these up with Russia is a bit of a mystery.

Having said all of that, I still rate this novel as a worthy read, because it had an interesting story to tell and something new to offer. Whether the rest of the series is worthy remains (for me) to be seen, but I am definitely committed to reading the second volume in this series at least, and I'm not even a series kind of person!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead

Title: Gameboard of the Gods
Author: Richelle Mead
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review. Since this is a new novel, this review is shorter so as not to rob the writer of her story, but even so, it will probably still be more detailed than you'll typically find elsewhere!

First, some editing notes regarding the galley copy (hopefully these will be fixed before the final version is released):
p103 "Dag had starting calling her that" probably should read: "Dag had started calling her that"
p122: "one filled with all sorts of half completed projected." I'm guessing that last word should be 'projects'. I’d also add a hyphen between 'half' and 'completed', but that's just me!
P141 "Did what he say make sense?" when it should perhaps be "Did what he said make sense?"
P157 "...thought I worry..." when it should be "…though I worry..."
P184 "...but she'd been grilled in how to be pleasant and likable..." would make more sense as "...but she'd been drilled in how to be pleasant and likable..."
P185 "...cut and dry..." would make more sense as "...cut and dried…"
P198 "...spoke legions about them..."?! That just didn't sound right. Perhaps volumes instead of legions?
P224 "Don’t record anything around her without asking me." maybe should have been: "Don’t record anything around here without asking me."?
In Chapter 19: "...but she felt more securing knowing..." should perhaps be "...but she felt more secure in knowing..."?
P305 "How much have you drank tonight?" maybe should be "How much have you drunk tonight?"
P311 "...the rest of the acquaintance over the years." should be perhaps "...the rest of the acquaintanceship over the years."?
P352 "...he reminder her." should be "...he reminded her." I think.
P400 "...her skin literally burned..." I doubt it! Metaphorically, maybe, but not literally! Picky, ain't I?
P424 "Excitable was one to put it..." should be "Excitable was one way to put it..."
P425 "Gan left at his own joke.." should be "Gan laughed at his own joke..." (it's like Mead was dictating this!)
P447 "He hadn’t really thought she'd stay on, and from that cool look on her face, she probably wasn’t thrilled that it had." Change of person doesn’t make any sense to me.
P450 "But it was the same thing Lucian had told Mae when he'd look into servitor hiring" confusion of tense? It seems like it ought to be either "But it was the same thing Lucian had told Mae when he'd looked into servitor hiring", or better, "But it was the same thing Lucian had told Mae when he looked into servitor hiring"
I notice in the ebook version, the chapters have odd case: "ChaPter instead of "Chapter"
and one more: I don't think this is an error per se, but "ArianrHood big on that kind of thing" sounds really weird!

To the review! I just started getting into this one in spare minutes here and there, and it was really hard to go with it for the first chapter, with its rather pretentious faux Roman nonsense with the misnamed Praetorian Guard which is the elite military force in the RUNA (Republic of United North America) nation. I was offered no valid reason why the nation had developed like that. It also didn't help to read constructions like this: "...would get bored of him..." or the weird contractions Mead might've used a bit too frequently and should've used less often IMO...! However, after the first few pages, I began to appreciate the story more, and started to get into it enough that these distractions didn't throw my stride.

It wasn't long before I was immersed in the fiction rather than in the writing of it! I have now finished it and wholeheartedly recommend it. This was the kind of book I've been sorely missing lately and it made me want to track down other Richelle Mead novels and read them. Unfortunately they seem to be of the young-adult paranormal romance variety and they didn't exactly trip my trigger, so I'll have to wait for the sequel to this one!

This novel however was in general well-written, had interesting multi-dimensional characters and a good plot. I loved that it was based in an atheist society and had no problem when the supernatural started invading because I was expecting it and it was done really professionally. The two main characters, Mae and Justin were believable, flawed, multi-faceted and endearing. I loved the awkward way they were forced into prowling around each other not because of some inexplicable whim of the author's but because they were written skilfully into this situation by the circumstances and by the plot. Mae in particular was one of the most kick-ass female protagonists I've encountered, especially of late and she was so welcome! If she continues to grow on me in sequels as she did in this novel, I'll have to put her up there with the all-time greats such as Molly Millions in William Gibson's Neuromancer, and Kitai in the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher, which are the benchmark for me.

Mae is one of the best of the praetorian guard, but after a fight at the funeral of one of her fellow soldiers (for whose death, some held her to blame), she's re-assigned to the lowly task of delivery girl, taking a message to some guy in Panama City. That someone is Justin, a drunken lech who preys on women with enchanting stories of his exotic, hi-tech homeland even as he's suffering silently from his forced exile from it (he was expelled for reasons which are revealed later and which smoothly tie into the story).

Justin finds himself in an alley behind a bar, and Mae coincidentally steps in to fight off six assailants who are there to exact revenge on Justin for what he did to someone's sister. Mae doesn't realize that he's the one she's supposed to be delivering the message to, especially since he lies to her about his name. Annoyingly, Mead stops the action right there to rewind the video and show it again to us from Mae's perspective. This was not appreciated; it was like a commercial popping up unexpectedly in place of the climax to a movie scene! Fortunately for my sanity, she doesn't do this often.

But in this case, instead of the action scene I was salivating over, I was dragged kicking and screaming to what appeared to be a bizarre combination of a reminiscence mashed-up with a flashback or a change of scene, from which we're led slowly back to the fight. I skipped that portion entirely out of distaste and I have never missed it! Now back to our regular programming: finally we get to the fight, wherein Mae predictably kicks ass x6, and then Justin and Mae spend the night together! No trope-ish YA nonsense here, whereby the two main characters hate each other and then fall in love, thank Mead; in this novel they fall in bed and then they hate each other! The love scene was a cliché, unfortunately, but I'll let that slide because it turns out to be part of the over-arching story.

Next we're at a meeting where we discover the reason for Justin's imminent resurrection and the reason for Mae having to deliver him that letter: there has been a series of murders of patricians (yep, you heard me right), all without clues, except for the last one - where a hidden camera recorded what appeared to be a column of smoke which resolved into a human being long enough for a silver dagger to be thrust into the victim's heart, then the figure was gone!

Justin needs to discover who the assailant is before the next full moon when the next ritual murder is likely to be committed, and Mae, who has spent the entire meeting giving him dirty looks and hard glances, is to be his bodyguard! She resents his lie and resents this assignment. Justin agrees to return to Vancouver and take up this new job offer under certain conditions, one of which is to bring his sister to Vancouver from Alaska and the other is to take a Panamanian there as well: Tessa, a young prodigy from a family to which Justin owes his life.

I disagree with the repression of religion to the extent it's shown in this novel, but I love the fact that a writer has the guts to tell a story like this. As I said, the first few pages were a trial, and the love scene was trite, but other than that I like this novel. I was surprised to find out that Mae was Scandinavian. I'd somehow got the impression that she was of Chinese extraction, which I found refreshing, but in absence of that, I'm willing to take a story that starts out in Vancouver instead of in an almost inevitable US city! The obsession with Greek and Roman culture is a bit tiresome and it's odd, given that there are a lot of elements of Chinese and Russian communism in this world combined, rather paradoxically, with Nazi Arianism! That latter observation plays a part in the bigger story, however.

I guess I should mention that Justin hears voices in his head. There are two of them: Horatio and Magnus. Horatio is the talkative one. I had no idea for the longest time, what that was all about, but it is explained and done well. There is definitely a connection between Justin and Mae: they each harbor something beneath their physical exterior, and Mae is in denial about hers!

Mead uses Tessa in the role of the old saw of putting an outsider into the tale as a proxy for the reader. It gets a bit tedious as they pass through the airport to RUNA, but it doesn't get any worse than that, and I liked the Tessa character. Unlike Marissa Meyer in Cinder, at least Mead knows the difference between koi and coy! Lol!

Tessa is obsessing on how people look and how you tell the difference between the Romanesque patrician element and the plebeians in the populace. Why would the US suddenly go Roman? Yes, they obsessed on it when the US was put together, creating the senate and imbuing buildings with an air of faux Greco-Roman architecture, but they grew out of it. What would make them regress? This isn't explained, and it isn't just a regression, it's an obsession. We learn that all RUNA citizens (there's another word!) are supposed to have a name of Greek or Latin origin! How absurd is that? And this is supposed to be a free and much-admired nation. That seemed weird to me, and I imagine the native Americans would have something to say about that, but in what's rather a slur on them, their position isn't even touched on! The complete contradiction to this is that RUNA makes land grants to ethnic groups. This is rather a stark betrayal of the stated aim of homogenizing the populace! So this society is far from ideal.

To get through immigration control, Mae puts her hand on the glass and is read in as a citizen. That's it? This protected republic (why is it even a republic?!) lets anyone in based on hand-print alone?! Given how paranoid they seem to be, that seemed less than rational! Mae has to declare her guns which she's authorized to carry. She also declares the knife in her boot, claiming that no one expects the knife. Ri-ight - just like no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

As they exit the airport they look up at the RUNA flag which is halved in purple and maroon (really?!), and which sports a golden circlet of laurel leaves (barf!) and the Latin motto Gemma Mundi which means "I get mine on Mondays". Seriously, it means "the jewel of the world", and it’s this motto from which they get the name Gemmans. I don't know if Mead did this on purpose, but that name sounds suspiciously like 'Germans' - as in Nazi Germany! I've never understood the juvenile pretension of employing Latin mottoes, but perhaps Mead is using this to tell us something about the stability, psychology, or strength of the Republic?

Tessa has to be 'chipped' in order not to trigger alarms everywhere she goes (that's the paranoid bit!). She gets a chip embedded in the little web between thumb and forefinger of her left hand. As this is going on, we learn that there was a Mephistopheles virus (seriously? Where did that name come from?! Mead actually does explain it: Mephistopheles is a manufactured virus.) which killed half the world's population during a period known as 'The Decline'. Some of the survivors had a syndrome with gave them asthma, infertility, and bad hair! I'm not sure Mead is where she needs to be on genetics, but very few of us are, and she's vague enough that she does okay, so I'm not going to get into it on this occasion!

Justin takes this opportunity to try and resolve things with Mae over their night together, and she promptly informs him that it was a one off and it will never happen again. The problem from Justin's PoV is that there is more to their one night stand than ever Mae could guess at. He had seen a halo of some sort around her head, which has a specific meaning to him: it tells him that this woman is very special, someone he's been expecting to meet. It should trigger a binding agreement he has made, but he rationalized his way out of accepting that she was the one, and thereby didn't trigger the binding (I don't know how that works!), but he hasn’t convinced himself. Exactly what the agreement is, we aren’t told immediately.

Mae takes them to Justin's sister's new home. Since this arrangement was made only the night before, it's truly really hard to swallow that they could have recovered her from Alaska and ensconced her in such a decent home in less than 24 hours. His sister has mixed feelings about seeing him again, and Mae beats a hasty retreat, leaving them to it, joining her praetorian buddies Val and Dag at a bar. There were learn that the praetorians can’t get drunk because of an implant, but they can 'slam the implant' and get a brief buzz if they drink multiple drinks very quickly, I guess Mead hasn't heard of higher proof drinks! Surprisingly, Mae blabs all about her secret mission. Even more surprisingly, we learn that even in this perfect, ideal, Greco-Roman society, the elite praetorians have to guard monuments. Now why is that?!

But on with the story. After a few drinks with her pals, Mae heads home and is confronted with a Finnish cosa nostra guy (Finnish mafia?! Shouldn't that be Meidän asia?!) who shows her a pic and gives her a hair sample. This is a pet project of Mae's, where she is trying to track down her niece (we learn the fascinating story later), for now we learn that price of discovering where this child can be found is a small favor, something which Mae is disinclined to do - and even more so when she later learns what this favor is!

Justin, along with Mae and Tessa takes the video of the 'smoke assassin' to a friend in Portland and leaves it with him - this is an 'only copy' original, and he leaves it unattended with someone outside the organization! That seemed to me to be plain foolishness. When a writer writes something like this, it's hard to tell if they intended it to be that way, or if they simply didn't think about what they were writing. Since I don't know Mead - that is, I haven't read anything of hers prior to this - I can't comment on it other than to than to highlight it for future consideration.

And I think that's enough deep detail for this novel, otherwise I'll be telling you the entire story and robbing Mead of the opportunity to tell it her way, which I won't do. I think I already spilled a bit more than I intended, but this story grabbed me and I loved it. It would be unnatural if I didn't want to spread the joy! I can't tell you how satisfying it was, after having been read some of the stories I've fallen into of late only to find them disappointing or so-so. This one was definitely a cut above far too many of the others and kept me coming back for more. Now I'm actually annoyed that it's over! But it's up to you to decide whether you find Mead a worth read, and I hope this helps especially since you know, if you've been following me, that I'm far from a push-over reviewer and definitely not a rubber stamp.

Don't think I had no issues with this story! It would be a rarity indeed if I didn't, but they were small enough or unobtrusive enough that they typically didn't toss me back out into reality, and after a while I became so fond of the story that I was willing to let some things go by that I might have hung up on had I liked the story less than I did.

"And the loose Greco-Roman models the country had adopted had provided a new, all-encompassing culture that everyone could be a part of." That was one which didn't ring true! A culture that favors Greece and Rome over anyone's actual culture, including native American, and one that forces its citizens to choose a name that in the majority of cases has nothing whatsoever to do with their own culture? Why would anyone come up with a system like that? That bit took the sweet SoD (suspension of disbelief) right out from under me and dropped me harshly on rough concrete. And it was glaringly apparent when Tessa started school and was subject to a level of condescension that amounted to bullying. This was an integral part of the story, so it made me annoyed, but not with the author!

I loved the Poppy character, especially in that the name contrasted with the kind of person she was, but I have to say that I found it out of place, given what we've been told about those cultural pressures imposed by the state, that Tessa's best friend in school is someone named Poppy, which isn’t a Greco-Roman name at all. How did she get to be called that? Maybe we'll find out. There's a slight oddity in the relationship between the two, revealed in this sentence: "Usually, Tessa conceded to her friend's advice..." - I'm wondering if that wouldn't sound better as "Usually, Tessa acceded to her friend's advice...", but that doesn't bother me as much as the real question here: given the extremely limited time the two of them have known each other at that point, does such a sentence make any sense at all?!

Mae drops into a detailed reminiscence about her intimate relationship with Porfirio (seriously?!). He's the fellow praetorian and sometime lover who was apparently killed due to her mistake. Again I skipped this completely and entirely and didn't miss it. I could feel a mix of nausea and boredom growing as soon as I saw that flashback coming on! This is the kind of tale where I'm really not interested in any back-story: I just want to get on with the present story! However, there is a bit that's more acceptable later, where Mae's friends Dag and Val explain to Justin just what happened, and this explains a lot of things which had been bothering me. This tête-à-tête is brought about through an interesting escapade of Tessa's!

But enough! I could ramble all day about this if you were foolish enough to let me! In short I loved it and look forward to Richelle Mead's next excursion into this territory. I hope it won't be too long.