Review: “Vicious” by VE Schwab

Blessed be, all! As the month of July comes to a close and the end of this year’s Camp NaNo sessions draw near, it’s exciting to look back on all of the progress I’ve made so far in both writing and reading. This year’s challenge for me was to branch out into more adult fiction instead of keeping my YA blinders on. I’m so happy that I did because I’ve been introduced to so many great authors already that I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise.

The one I want to talk about today is Vicious by VE Schwab. I think this was a great way for me to get a glimpse into the kind of writer she is; I’d heard her name associated with some YA novels before but had never picked them up. In a way, it’s appropriate that I started here since this was her first adult novel.

It’s hard to list exactly what I loved about this book without venturing into spoilers, but I’m going to try. Starting with the characters. Victor and Eli are such delightful sociopaths. I mean that in the literal sense. They’re both terrible people, as cruel and vindictive as the title would suggest. But they’re also among the most compelling characters that I’ve read lately. That is difficult to do, but I bought it completely.

All of the secondary characters are amazing, too. Victor’s little found family that you meet over the course of the book are delightful. Even the lesser antagonists that Victor and his crew happen across feel fully-realized. Everyone serves a purpose in the narrative and each comes across as a distinct person beyond their role in the text.

Obviously the plot is incredible, from the pacing to the non-linear telling. It’s multiple-viewpoint without ever being disorienting, and I can’t think of any scene or arc that didn’t tie together at the end. But the wildcard, the thing that rendered me unable to put the book down, was act two’s countdown mechanic. Where all of the chapters in act one are told out of order, jumping back and forth chronologically as the reader needed particular pieces of information, the same utilitarian date stamps take on a new purpose in act two. They become a ticking timebomb, hurtling the reader forward, and they give everything a delicious tinge of malice.

Review: The Broken Kingdoms

Blessed be, all! Sorry that this is a little late going up. Life decided to take a sharp right turn again this week and left me scrambling. I’m not letting that shake me, though, so here are some more literature thoughts I’ve been chewing on.

I read The Broken Kingdoms back in April and, yes, I’m just getting around to the review. I needed some time to digest it and really appreciate what I just read. This book, guys. This book hit me in the feels in all the right ways. And I had to take some time to sort all of that out.

I don’t want to spoil anything because I feel like this book is best gone into blind. It takes place several years after the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and picks up with a new cast of characters. I love every single one of them. I love the protagonist. I love the supporting cast. The villain is utterly, uniquely terrifying. But they’re so completely themselves, the plot unfolding as a direct cause-to-effect of their own flawed personalities.

And the plot! I don’t say this often. There is literally nothing about the way this story falls out that I would change. Just enough twists to keep me interested; just enough familiarity to make me comfortable. Then the story reached into my chest and played with my heart like a marionette. I cheered, laughed, cried, sometimes within just the span of a page. Jemisin is not one to tread lightly on my emotions, but it’s all done masterfully. She plays with my expectations of what a fantasy story is supposed to be, how it would have gone in the hands of a different author. And she uses it to brutal, beautiful effect.

 

Review: Swift for the Sun

Blessed be! For this week, I wanted to look back at Swift for the Sun by Karen Bovenmeyer. I had to let the book percolate for a bit so I could come back to it and dig into my thoughts. In large part because I don’t read romances in general, I wanted to be sure I gave this book the time it needed to stand on its own. It feels like today is the right time to delve in deep!

Most of my issues with the book could have been solved by starting me just a scene or two earlier, a chapter at the absolute most. Conventional wisdom is to begin as close to the inciting incident as possible and right in the thick of the action, which I usually agree with.  For this one, though, I wished that I’d had a little more time to get used to the main before being thrown into the shipwreck that sets events in action. While I clicked immediately with Ben, the problem was that I didn’t feel anything for his crew or his ship or the life he was giving up to try to survive as a smuggler. So, when the inevitable happened, I wasn’t saddened by the wreck or the loss of his men, which I really needed to be for some of the events that come later in the book.

After that first chapter, I found my footing. Ben’s relationship with Sun and the way it progresses feels really natural to me, so I loved that. I ripped through the rest of the first half of the book, eager to see them get their happy ending.

Just after halfway, though, I hit another stumbling block. The novel changes direction, not in a bad way, just in one that I wasn’t expecting. I think, again, taking a little longer at the start to lay out some of the politics at play in the early 19th century Caribbean would have made the transition a little smoother for me, and I wouldn’t have been so disoriented by the sudden switch.

I lost a little precious time adjusting to the new path that the plot takes, but I was very satisfied with the way the novel ends. It’s sweet without being saccarine, and it rings true to the characters. At the end of the day, it’s exactly what I want from a romance!

Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Blessed be, all! For today, I want to talk about a book a read a couple weeks ago: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.J. Jemisin.

So I didn’t have this one on any of my monthly goals. I had heard good things about it in passing before, so it was on my radar but not my must read list. Then my best friend and CP read it and told me I absolutely must bump it straight to the top of the pile.

So, I obliged. I picked it up right after I finished Restoration and figured it would take me at least a couple weeks to finish. I don’t tend to rip through books; I make a leisurely stroll of it so I can savor the characters and the world. So, logically, even if I started in March I could still put it on my April To Be Read and make it an easy-to-check goal. After all, I’d be–what–halfway done? At the most?

I was wrong. The first half took me maybe a week, reading a chapter or two a night. It was good; I mean, I liked it… But I wasn’t particularly compelled through the narrative, either. Several reasons.

I had a hard time with the nonlinear storytelling at first. Tangents in my fiction tend to drive me up a wall. The further I got into the story, the more used to Yeine’s digressions I became. I eventually even came to like them. But it was a barrier for me at the start.

I also didn’t particularly care for Yeine at first. I was much more interested in the fates of the captive Gods than I was for her, her homeland, her mother, or even her safety. That changed as the book went on, but for a significant part of it, she was just the vehicle through which I was reading about Nahadoth and the others.

I did, however, love the supporting cast to a man. T’vril, Viraine, all of the Gods–I just adored them. Or loved to hate them, in the case of most of the Arameri. I also enjoyed the setting and the feel Sky put in my bones as I read. That alone was enough to keep me going.

The second half of the book took me one day. I physically could not put it down. Also, I didn’t call the ending from half-court, which is always the mark of a strong story for me. I love when the conclusion of the story is both unexpected and inevitable. That I don’t see it coming but also can’t imagine it ending any other way now that I’ve gotten there.

I don’t want to spoil anything, though, so I’m just going to say this: if you had a hard time getting through the first half? Give it time. It pays off!

Review: The Rai-Kirah Trilogy by Carol Berg

Blessed be! Time for something completely new: my first review for the blog! If I’d thought of it, I would have posted one of these for each of the Rai-Kirah books as I read them but, well. Live and learn!

The first book of the series, Transformation, was definitely my favorite of the three. I was introduced to our narrator Seyonne, the world he inhabits, and–most importantly–Prince Aleksander of the Derzhi empire. The story was a bit of a slow sell for me, though, because the story is about Aleksander and Seyonne and how the two men influence each other through the years. The problem was, I loathed Aleksander at the beginning of the story.

Now, that’s a feature, not a bug. I was supposed to hate him, to find him arrogant, vindictive, and even cruel at times. Half of the story is watching Aleksander grow as a person through the things he’s been forced into. The other part, of course, is seeing Seyonne’s devotion to him grow from a grudging duty to a bond deeper than blood. By the time I got to the end of the story, I was sold on reading the rest of the books just so I could see how these two men would continue to help one another grow.

Which, perhaps, is why Revelation was such a difficult book for me to read. I started the series with the promise that the books were about Seyonne and Aleksander’s intertwined destinies. Unfortunately, Aleksander is hardly in the second book at all. I think, out of a four-hundred-some-page book, Aleksander is only present for roughly fifty pages and thought of for much less. Instead, Seyonne’s driving motivation becomes his son, which didn’t have the same deep-seated urgency for me as his Warden’s oath to protect Aleksander or the history the two of them already shared.

To add to that, the middle hundred pages or so was a painfully slow slog for me. Where the first book ran pretty lightly from one plot point to another, the second didn’t have the same drive. Seyonne spent a long time just waiting for the next piece to be given to him. On the one hand, the structure of the story and the things that he was learning demanded it at times. On the other, I felt that the middle third of the book could easily have been condensed into about half the length without losing anything.

The saving point for Revelation, though, is definitely the last third of the book. Here’s where Berg shines. She builds these tensions and then lets them all come crashing down in the home stretch. The way the disparate threads come together is heartbreakingly beautiful.

Which, of course, brings me to Restoration. This book, while not as strong as the first, came very closely on its heels. This was everything I wanted from Revelation and then some–just enough down moments for Seyonne to learn whatever he needed to advance the plot, but everything tying back into his shared destiny with Aleksander. By the time of the final confrontation, I was holding my breath and praying for a miracle, for the terrible things I’d been dreading for a hundred pages or more to please please please not happen.

My main problem, then–and really, the only thing that stopped Restoration from being as good or better than Transformation–is Seyonne’s love interest. It didn’t fit. I was left without enough time to become invested in the relationship or even to believe that these two would develop feelings for each other at all, let alone so quickly.

To clarify, this isn’t just be being sour grapes that he and Aleksander never have any sexual or romantic notes on screen. I don’t need them to gallop off into the big gay sunset (as happy as that would no doubt have made me) because their relationship is deeper than that. That said, if he had to end the story in a happily-ever-after heterosexual pairing, there were at the least two other named female characters that he had more screen time and better chemistry with than the one he got.