Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Scythe, by Neal Shusterman

3 Stars

Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

I am a ginormous fan of Shusterman’s Unwind, and I rank it among some of my all time favorite books. I was used to his style of dystopia: the ones that were so well crafted, they barely felt like a teen dystopian novel in how much they made you think. Scythe’s premise contains all of these trademark Shusterman elements and after hearing him read the first chapter put loud when he visited my school (it was an interesting experience), I was thoroughly intrigued. However, this book, although enjoyable, fell flat in so many ways: the characters, the predictable plot twists, and just the way it dragged.

Scythe is about a utopian future where humans have achieved everything they’ve ever aspired to achieve (such as immortality), and as a result, need to curb population growth by installing scythes, who are the only people who can cause death by “gleaning” (aka killing) people. Our main characters are Citra and Rowan, who have been chosen as scythe apprentices- a position they don’t want, according to the blurb.

This premise sounded great to me, but immediately after starting the book, I began to see some discrepancies. Citra and Rowan, while they do dislike the act of gleaning, both accepted the position of scythe’s apprentice, meaning they absolutely had a choice in this, unlike what the blurb implies. Their characters are not too three-dimensional, and I didn’t care much about them until they started diverging and going on different paths. My biggest problem with this book, and what probably contributed to a certain degree of boredom, was the lack of risk in anything. In this utopian world, anyone who accidentally dies is automatically brought back to life in revival centers, and can only be truly killed if they are gleaned by a scythe. This eliminated any concern I had for the characters, because their lives were never really at stake.

However, despite what I may have implied so far, I didn’t dislike this book. Scythe Curie and Scythe Faraday were fascinating characters, and the world did feel like a utopia. The plot did move slowly, but wasn’t unbearably so, and was overall an enjoyable book.

Writing this review a few weeks after reading the book has changed my initial view of it, I would have to say, as the faults seemed to rise above the fray and distinguish themselves more so in my mind with time. However, I would be remiss to disregard the Neal Shusterman spark that his books always have. Despite Scythe being one of his more subpar works, it does make you think to some regard, and that, I believe, is the most important trait of them all.

-Liz

Advertisements
Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

The Black Key by Amy Ewing | a safe but solid conclusion to the Lone City trilogy

28512427

Synopsis: For too long, Violet and the people of the outer circles of the Lone City have lived in service to the royalty of the Jewel. But now the secret society known as the Black Key is preparing to seize power. And while Violet knows she is at the center of this rebellion, she has a more personal stake in it—her sister, Hazel, has been taken by the Duchess of the Lake. Now, after fighting so hard to escape the Jewel, Violet must do everything in her power to return to save not only Hazel, but the future of the Lone City.

Since I reviewed the previous books in The Lone City trilogy, I’m sort of obligated to review the conclusion, The Black Key. The Lone City series aren’t the type of books from which I would expect a knock-out, twisted, action-packed conclusion from, which is why The Black Key is simply average to me in terms of an ending. But, Ewing tried many new things in this one, making it arguably the best book of the series.

The Black Key picks up where it left off, with the announcement that Hazel, Violet’s sister, in the hands of the cruel Duchess. After meetings with the Black Key society, formulating of plans by the White Rose residents, and spreading the knowledge of the royalty’s cruelty to the current surrogates, Violet decides to pick up the pace on her sister’s condition by traveling to Duchess’s mansion herself in a disguise. As she gets entangled in secrets and promises, Violet searches for her sister and vows to keep her safe whilst making plans with the Black Key, who are becoming less and less subtle with their demands. The Duchess, Lucien, and even Carnelian come out with secrets of their own as death and lies engulf the Jewel. Violet must harness the power she has, along with the surrogates, to finally end the battle.

A staggering but addictive story: Much like the rest of series, the plotting of this book is slow and more drama-oriented, than action-oriented. Many of the events that took place in the book were fairly entertaining, revealing, and the most shocking. With such a concept paired with an inevitable ending, one would expect the utmost emotion out of this book, and it did fall flat to an extent. There were a few moments that touched me, mostly toward the end, but due to the very simplistic writing style, many of the elements in this series tend to be blase, which is shame considering the emotional potential this concept could have. It was a very fast read though, and held my attention easily.

A predictable and unpredictable Violet Lasting: Violet is a very typical YA heroine. Many readers name her a Mary-Sue, but more than anything, it was the quietness and blandness of her personality that bothered me the most. She is still, unfortunately, boring as hell, but I loved her leadership role in collecting the surrogates and fighting until the end. Violet did some risky shit in this book, and she had to get her hands dirty while doing it. Heroines going through significant pain for something they believe in is what makes them real, and I hate how the writing just regresses Violet’s character. She had such a large role in this book, by showing off her Paladin heritage and strength, especially as a female, in such a sexist and demeaning world. She could have been a special character if only the writing gave her character, and all the secondary characters in fact, a large push by actually having some life in it. Either way, Violet was cool in this novel and left me with an okay feeling at the end.

The side characters I (finally) learned more about: The twists and turns concerning the Duchess and her past were unsurprising but interesting, as I’ve always been fascinated by the Duchess. I do think her character was wasted on the superficiality of her drive, but it was entertaining nonetheless. Ash actually did some shit in this book, and I am supremely glad for that because he was essentially useless throughout this series. Lucien and Garnet, I grew to love in this one. I’ve always adored Garnet, and I liked how his emotional side was brought out in this book. Lucien was always a bit boring to me, but his character took major leaps in this one, and I began to somewhat feel for him. Even the petty Carnelian and lowkey childish Coral had me in my feelings, and I wish this book wasn’t so damn short and concise. All of these side characters have the tendency to disappear right off the map after the proof that they aren’t as one-dimensional as they used to be. Their full potentials as characters aren’t explored in the least, but I should have expected it.

The Black Key is a safe but solid conclusion to The Lone City trilogy, and it sucks that I couldn’t love it more. While this series as a total was typical, trope-y, and cliche in a lot of moments, it was addictive, easy to read, and shocking in many ways through its unique concept. It’s not something I will miss, but I enjoyed it well enough.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken

20983362

2 – 2.25 stars

Passage, n.
i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes.
ii. A journey by water; a voyage.
iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time.
In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.
Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them—whether she wants to or not.
Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are playing, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home… forever.

I feel terrible for giving Passenger a 2-star rating, because I normally adore time-travel concepts and all the science and intrigue that comes in the package. While I appreciate the amount of research put into this book, I’m afraid that its writing style and overall pacing tarnished any chances of me giving it higher than 3-stars. It’s definitely meant for a certain reader, and unfortunately, that reader isn’t me.

Passenger starts off with Nicholas’ perspective in a quick scene which is exemplified later on, but the main story truly begins with Etta, a teenage violin virtuoso that has approximately 20 min. until she gets on stage and performs. We are introduced to Rose, Etta’s seemingly distant mother who has an unknown and important past relevant to time-travel, and Alice, Etta’s elderly, intelligent violin teacher who also plays a key role. After a few confusing events prior to the show, as Etta takes the stage, she finds herself whisked away (with some side effects) to a ship in 1776 by Sophia Ironwood, a bold young traveler. From there, she finds herself acquainted with Nicholas, a young African-American sailor, and they travel to meet with Cyrus Ironwood, the leading man of the powerful Ironwood family who has kept tabs on the timeline for centuries. Cyrus reveals to Etta the extensive history behind her mother and the important object she stole, the astrolabe. Etta and Nicholas are assigned to bring it back, but they have their own agendas as they travel together. Dangerous antics and budding romance ensue.

While the concept was certainly interesting, the writing style immediately turned me off. I like sophisticated writing, but the style presented here was detached, draggy, and lacking in character. I was consistently met with Etta and Nicholas’ endless internal monologues, documenting every detail they had noticed about an era, a person, or a physical characteristic. You won’t believe the amount of pages that Nicholas’ internal monologue on Etta took up, the repeated rhetorical questions, the musings, the oh-so-immense angst! It was laughably long and pretentious. Again, I do like formal writing from time to time, but it needs to have personality and enough character to not bore me. I’m not sure if this is Bracken’s usual writing style (I haven’t read The Darkest Minds), but she definitely could have at least told the story in a first-person perspective, at least! The pacing was also extremely slow, no doubt due to the explanation of every little detail. Details, details, details! If you love big-ass paragraphs of details, this is your next favorite book. For me, it was torturous.

Continue reading “Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken”

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

The White Rose, by Amy Ewing

24585267

4 stars

Violet is on the run. After the Duchess of the Lake catches Violet with Ash, the hired companion at the Palace of the Lake, Violet has no choice but to escape the Jewel or face certain death. So along with Ash and her best friend, Raven, Violet runs away from her unbearable life of servitude.
But no one said leaving the Jewel would be easy. As they make their way through the circles of the Lone City, Regimentals track their every move, and the trio barely manages to make it out unscathed and into the safe haven they were promised—a mysterious house in the Farm.
But there’s a rebellion brewing, and Violet has found herself in the middle of it. Alongside a new ally, Violet discovers her Auguries are much more powerful than she ever imagined. But is she strong enough to rise up against the Jewel and everything she has ever known?
The White Rose is a raw, captivating sequel to The Jewel that fans won’t be able to put down until the final shocking moments.

The Lone City series seems to be a clear addiction to me; I’m already zipping through this series faster than a few other ones, solely due to my sheer curiosity and thirst for the entertainment. While many fans of the series (and non-fans) seemed to have criticized the sequel, but I thought it was pretty worthy of some praise. Besides being an easy and addicting read, it made steps toward improving its world-building, character development, and plot elements, thankfully.

The White Rose starts off right where it left off — Garnet’s voice is heard through arcana, and he comes to take Violet, Ash, and Raven to a safe place which Lucien has chosen for them. From there on out, it’s a slow but wild adventure to find a safe haven as they continue to discover secrets about the Jewel, the remaining surrogates, and even Raven and Ash’s troublesome past. It’s a bit on the slow side, but interesting regardless because we experience a number of intriguing, haunting, and straight-up disturbing realities on the way. The Black Key, a secret society of rebels (every dystopian novel has to have one, of course) creeps up on us, as they bump into our characters, guiding them to the assigned safe area. It was a bit slower and not as action-packed as I imagined, I would have appreciated less conversation (and melodrama, to an extent) and more action, but it was readable nonetheless.

The second was considerably more enjoyable, in my opinion. Violet and her crew finally reach an abandoned cottage (nicknamed The White Rose) and meet up with Lucien. As they relax and catch up on the current state of their world, Violet learns how to properly extinguish and control her powers through a woman named Sil, an ex-surrogate and member of The Black Key. Ewing perfectly uses this opportunity to explore the origins of the Auguries and the hidden yet unlimited power that surrogates hold. While the fantasy element is not something I had approved of in The Jewel, now that it is expanded, I have come to appreciate it more. A history of the beginning of The Lone City, as well as the plethora of secrets hidden from surrogates and common people alike, are finally revealed and elaborated on. While the usage of the elements and origin of magic is still a bit vague and lazy, it’s a lot more world-building than what was presented in The Selection or Wither.

The characters are improving, I can definitely see it. Ash’s backstory is delved into in this one and while he’s still completely bland and useless, he’s developing somewhat of a personality shaped by his uncomfortable past and yearning to be useful. He’s definitely earned some sympathy from me, but it’s going to take much more for me to like him (or even develop somewhat of an opinion on him). Raven’s story is also explored, and it’s just as twisted and daunting as I had imagined it would be. Even while she’s weak and helpless for majority of the book, she emits a certain charm that I hope to see again when she’s strong and ready to be what she used to be. Garnet is the least expanded on but still my favorite character of the bunch, he’s so full of life and personality (unfortunately, these are qualities missing from the rest of the characters) and makes an easy impression despite the short amount of time he is present in this book. I’ll be honest, these characters aren’t as deep or three-dimensional as one would expect, but they’re alright for the type of concept and writing style presented in what I’ve read so far.

I was dissatisfied with the progression (or lack thereof) of Violet’s character though, she was extremely distant and unresponsive for at least half of the book. There was barely any input from her voice until she finally reached The White Rose and started training with Sil. Even from there, Violet’s thoughts never really showcased her personality or character development, her voice was typical of a YA dystopian heroine. Character-wise, it’s only the supporting cast that’s probably going to keep me afloat if our leading lady doesn’t change in the final installment.

Overall, The White Rose was a substantial sequel and will be enjoyed by readers searching for less romance and more world-building and intrigue. Ewing must really like cliffhangers, and it’s probably guaranteed that I will have The Black Key in my hands by next week.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

The Jewel, by Amy Ewing

16068780

3.25 Stars

The Jewel means wealth. The Jewel means beauty. The Jewel means royalty. But for girls like Violet, the Jewel means servitude. Not just any kind of servitude. Violet, born and raised in the Marsh, has been trained as a surrogate for the royalty—because in the Jewel the only thing more important than opulence is offspring.

Purchased at the surrogacy auction by the Duchess of the Lake and greetedj with a slap to the face, Violet (now known only as #197) quickly learns of the brutal truths that lie beneath the Jewel’s glittering facade: the cruelty, backstabbing, and hidden violence that have become the royal way of life.

Violet must accept the ugly realities of her existence… and try to stay alive. But then a forbidden romance erupts between Violet and a handsome gentleman hired as a companion to the Duchess’s petulant niece. Though his presence makes life in the Jewel a bit brighter, the consequences of their illicit relationship will cost them both more than they bargained for. 

 I guess I should have severely disliked this book to a certain extent, but I truly don’t think it’s as terrible as everyone makes it out to be. It all depends on what kind of writing, world-building, or romance you prefer, and obviously certain elements can either make or break the book for you. Yeah, there are a number of flaws, but I personally found it quite entertaining and addicting.

The story takes place in the Lone City and The Jewel, which are separated into several sectors based on social class and occupation, respectively. The Lone City is categorized into areas such as The Marsh, The Farm, and The Smoke, which contain the common people (who are incidentally being treated like dirt by the wealthy in the Jewel) contrary to the Jewel, where the nobility and royalty reside in prosperity. For some unknown reason, all the nobility have lost the ability to reproduce and properly give birth, so they utilize “surrogates” to do it all for them, all the while treating them like newly acquired pets. Violet Lasting, our heroine, is from the Marsh, the poorest region of the Lone City where the “surrogate test” is required for every girl to take.

It’s pretty clear that Ewing has her concept and terminology figured out, and I actually thought the world building wasn’t bad. There’s even a separate page to explain the sectors and their allies, qualities, and occupations. I would still say that the background of the world, meaning how it came to be, needs a ton of work, as well as the added fantasy element. All surrogates have a special ability named augury, which is… well, I don’t know. What is explained in the book, is the fact that surrogates may use this power to create designated characteristics for their incoming babies. Besides little traces of magic and facts here and there, there are no explanations of the general background and idea of it, which is a shame. It’s not often that you see an added fantasy element to a dystopia, and this was clearly an opportunity wasted. It’s not very political either, reminiscent of The Selection series, but it has potential to develop more, which I hope to see in the next books. Some of the elements definitely try to be more serious and daunting (as if the “surrogate” idea isn’t daunting enough), but it comes off as a tad silly to me, probably due to the underdevelopment of the background in world building. The writing is certainly a bit amateurish, it’s choppy and tries too hard to be philosophical at times, but surprisingly addicting. I truly don’t know what kept me so entertained, but I’ll take it in stride. I always think to myself: A boring book is far worse than a bad book. You might not think the elements presented in the book are the most believable or accurate, but if it’s entertaining, it makes it a little less harder to bear.

Continue reading “The Jewel, by Amy Ewing”

Books, YA Fiction

Starflight, by Melissa Landers

21793182

4 Stars

Life in the outer realm is a lawless, dirty, hard existence, and Solara Brooks is hungry for it. Just out of the orphanage, she needs a fresh start in a place where nobody cares about the engine grease beneath her fingernails or the felony tattoos across her knuckles. She’s so desperate to reach the realm that she’s willing to indenture herself to Doran Spaulding, the rich and popular quarterback who made her life miserable all through high school, in exchange for passage aboard the spaceliner Zenith.

When a twist of fate lands them instead on the Banshee, a vessel of dubious repute, Doran learns he’s been framed on Earth for conspiracy. As he pursues a set of mysterious coordinates rumored to hold the key to clearing his name, he and Solara must get past their enmity to work together and evade those out for their arrest. Life on the Banshee may be tumultuous, but as Solara and Doran are forced to question everything they once believed about their world—and each other—the ship becomes home, and the eccentric crew family. But what Solara and Doran discover on the mysterious Planet X has the power to not only alter their lives, but the existence of everyone in the universe…

Starflight doesn’t seem to be the most popular release of this year, but it definitely should be. I haven’t had this much Firefly-esque fun since The Lunar Chronicles. It definitely proves you don’t need a ton of angst, science, and drama to entertain.

The story begins with Solara analyzing the populace willing to acquire a servant, as she is just released from her “group home”. Solara is so desperate to find a new life she indentures herself to the rich asshole who hated her during high school, Doran. As Solara soon attempts to escape onto a new ship by tricking Doran, their plan goes wrong as they discover secrets about themselves and others that could put them in grave danger. After that, Doran and Solara go on a series of crazy adventures that include space pirates, death duels, and lots of other questionable antics.

Continue reading “Starflight, by Melissa Landers”

Books, YA Fiction

We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson

 

23677341

4.75 Stars

“Your entire sense of self-worth is predicated upon your belief that you matter, that you matter to the universe. But you don’t. Because we are the ants.”

There are a few things Henry Denton knows, and a few things he doesn’t.

Henry knows that his mom is struggling to keep the family together, and coping by chain-smoking cigarettes. He knows that his older brother is a college dropout with a pregnant girlfriend. He knows that he is slowly losing his grandmother to Alzheimer’s. And he knows that his boyfriend committed suicide last year.

What Henry doesn’t know is why the aliens chose to abduct him when he was thirteen, and he doesn’t know why they continue to steal him from his bed and take him aboard their ship. He doesn’t know why the world is going to end or why the aliens have offered him the opportunity to avert the impending disaster by pressing a big red button.

But they have. And they’ve only given him 144 days to make up his mind.

The question is whether Henry thinks the world is worth saving. That is, until he meets Diego Vega, an artist with a secret past who forces Henry to question his beliefs, his place in the universe, and whether any of it really matters. But before Henry can save the world, he’s got to figure out how to save himself, and the aliens haven’t given him a button for that.

This is quite possibly one the the most incredible books I’ve read in a while, and it’s books like these that disprove the notion among teenagers that sci-if and fantasy are the most interesting genres. It’s unique, raw, and completely real, I fell in love and ended it with a smile on my face.

Henry Denton is still reeling from his boyfriend’s suicide, is tormented by a bully who makes out with him privately, and to too it all off, the aliens that have been abducting him have given him a choice to save the world from certain doom, if he chooses to. Throughout the entire book, Henry felt real to me. His grief and conflict was extremely well written and called out to me like the lost puppy that he is. His view of the world was quite depressing for most of it, but as you read on, you can see him growing and changing like you’re in his head yourself. The concept of the aliens is also very ambiguous, you don’t really know whether they’re real or not.

Continue reading “We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson”