Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: Black Widow Forever Red by Margaret Stohl

I nearly wept for joy when I saw that Margaret Stohl's Black Widow: Forever Red was going to exist. Natasha Romanoff is one of my favorite fictional characters. Now she's going to be in a YA novel--my favorite genre?! Life couldn't get any better!

Well... It could, a bit.

Natasha's characterization is... unsteady. She flips back and forth between arctic and maternal at a dizzying pace. I think that might have been meant to convey internal conflict, but it just comes off as inconsistent, in my opinion. Her characterization, to me, is not as bad as Tony Stark's, however. In the MCU, Tony is fascinating, as much as he's a jerk: crackling with humor and impudence, thinly layered over trauma and insecurity. In this book, he sounded like he was trying to be funny but didn't quite have the wit to pull it off. And the damage that's always just under the surface? Nowhere to be seen.

And as for the original characters, teenagers Ava and Alex: Tropes. Tropes everywhere. It's not all bad, and they have their moments of being likeable, but there wasn't anything really original about them, nothing I haven't seen done dozens of times. Seemingly ordinary teenagers have a super-special suppressed past that comes roaring back in hidden memories! They're drawn together and feel like soulmates even though they don't know why! INSTA-LOVE!

Spoilers for this section (highlight to reveal): A character dies in the end (there are hints of this all through the book), and hir relationship to another character means that we should care about hir a lot, but I just... Didn't. I finished the book and went, "Hmm. Okay. Well, zie ain't gettin' any deader." Which tells you something about my lack of emotional connection to hir and everyone else.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Review: Wardbreaker by J. A. Cipriano

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to the author!

J. A. Cipriano's Ward Breaker was a book with great potential.

There were a lot of intriguing things about the world in which it was set. I liked most of the characters. It was occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. And somewhere past the 70% point, I started forgetting to take reviewer's notes because I was reading quickly to find out what happened.

Unfortunately, it could not quite live up to that potential because it really, really needed an editor.

Misspellings ("feint" instead of "faint," for example) and grammar errors were quite common. Some of the most intriguing plot points or characters were dropped, never to be seen again, and the world, while interesting, was not fleshed out nearly as well as it might have been.

Lillim Callina, the main character, is not from Earth. She's a member of a magical race called the Dioscuri. By the end of the book, I still didn't have much of a feel for exactly who the Dioscuri are as a people, or where Lillim grew up. An alternate world? Somewhere on Earth that just held itself separate from everyone else? I know there are more books in the series, but I'd still like to have at least a slightly better feel for where this girl comes from, since her not being from Earth was made into such a plot point. (Inconsistently: she apparently knew what string cheese was, but not what the term "nurse" meant. She also seemed to have pretty good snark and pop culture knowledge for someone who was clueless about Earth, which I excused because it was funny.)

I liked Lillim, and most of the other major characters. Lillim is a former great warrior reincarnated into a teenage girl, which provided great opportunities for conflict--everyone near-idolized the person she was before, and Lillim doesn't feel she can live up to it--but, like several interesting plot threads, that was dropped pretty quickly.

Lillim's male lead, Jean Luc, was a mystery wrapped in an enigma: I liked him, and how his relationship with Lillim unfolded, well enough. I also liked Danae, the succubus who didn't much care for sex, and I'd hope to see both of them return in later books.

The main antagonist was creepy and vicious and difficult to beat: once s/he showed up I was always invested--though it was sometimes hard to follow exactly what was at stake on a global scale--because the risk to the major characters felt so immediate.

Bottom line: Lots to love, but I would hope to see an editor's touch to improve spelling and grammar and tighten up plot and characterization in later books.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

I cannot believe it took me this long to finally read Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea. (I feel like I'm at risk of losing my credibility as a lifelong YA fantasy fan!) But now that I have read it, I definitely understand the hype.

A Wizard of Earthsea is the coming-of-age story. It is quiet and lush and intelligent. It is full of wonder, but does not flinch from the horrible.

Gifted with incredible magic, young Ged makes a mistake--a proud, thoughtless mistake, a child's mistake--which is magnified because of his power. He spends much of the rest of the book seeking to atone, and to track down the terrible, nameless thing unleashed by his actions.

The world-building is exquisite. Ged's journey, his search for atonement always interwoven with his discovery of the shape and nature and name of things, is deeply compelling.

I will confess to some surprise at the lack of female characters--the only one I recall being positively portrayed was a fourteen-year-old who seemed to know her place, who dutifully took care of her household--but I have hope that will be remedied in later books.

If, like me, you have managed to miss this classic, I advise giving it a read as soon as possible.