Poison

1331529Poison, by Chris Wooding

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? PG-13

Any spoilers in this review? Yup! I quote enough it would be hard to make this review spoiler safe. Apologies.

Summary: Poison has always been a willful, contrary girl, prone to being argumentative and stubborn. So when her sister is snatched by the mean-spirited faeries, she seeks out the Phaerie Lord to get her back. But finding him isn’t easy, and the quest leads Poison into a murderous world of intrigue, danger, and deadly storytelling. With only her wits and her friends to aid her, Poison must survive the attentions of the Phaerie Lord, rescue her sister, and thwart a plot that’s beyond anything she (or the reader) can imagine…

Alright, so this book came out of the left field. I read it ages ago, so my memory of it was mainly an impression of profoundness and really, really enjoying it. This didn’t mean much, though, because my opinions and standards have changed since I read this oh-so-many years ago.

We’ll start with the plot, which is basic enough. Her sister gets kidnapped and she goes to get her sister back. However, the simple plot morphs over time. Frankly, by the end it felt like a bait and switch, as if Wooding realized the plot was a wee bit too simple, so turned it into a murder mystery, then a coming of age, and then wrapped it up. Simple plots can be good, though, and it did a small disservice to the book to change it by the end. After all, the drive Poison had to get of Gull and just to save her sister was wonderful in itself, simple or not.

Now to the characters, which also were… basic enough. Poison bordered on a Mary Sue at times—what with her special violet eyes and tough, no nonsense, “everyone wants to be a princess; it’s boring” (page 115) character. I found myself at least once thinking with a little bit of disgust “yes, you’re special little snowflake.” But there’s no need to diss princesses. There’s no shame in being a princess, and it doesn’t make you cooler to scorn being one. But Mrryk points out on page 115 that at least they’re not the overused warrior, sorceress, and thief trope. And we can be happy for that. However…

There’s a line you can cross when pulling off this style of storytelling. Wooding almost crossed it. As an author, you can point out the flaws and the weak plot points via characters sometimes. It’s a way to acknowledge that, yes, you see how ridiculous X is and, look, the character recognizes it too! And sometimes that’s okay. But sometimes it’s a wee bit shoddy. Pointing out the flaws yourself as the author doesn’t justify their existence. Melcheron did it to Poison a few times in their conversation, either about her own character and reactions or about a past plot point—like Mrryk and how he never needed to eat even after 100 years.

Overall, it didn’t get too heavy handed. And Wooding didn’t lean on it as a crutch, which was good. But his characters did feel like various archetypes. Like, of course Poison began to care for Peppercorn. And of course Peppercorn was flighty and emotional, a good foil for Poison—to show that Poison did care, but also that Poison was much more on top of things compared to Peppercorn. And of course there’s a vague father figure in Bram. That kind of thing. It wasn’t terrible or overdone, but it was headed in that direction.

But there was a reason for Mrryk and Melcheron pointing out the things they did, even though it got a bit annoying at times. It worked towards the meat of the plot, which is actually where I had some trouble. Because the worldview taken to it’s full extent is… a little scary. And I didn’t like the conclusions it, I believe, unintentionally came to. Especially as the plot—the Hierophant angle—can easily be a real life worldview.

Here’s an excerpt from page 203:

Poison would have shed a tear then, if she had any left. “You’re fictions, all of you. Just like me.”

“How can you think that?” Fleet cried, suddenly spurred to animation. “We feel, we love, we cry, we bleed, we sacrifice. . . . If that is not life, then what is? What’s your definition, Poison? How can you think that the Hierophant is controlling you somehow? Don’t you make your own choices? Didn’t you choose to come on this quest?”

“But did I? I don’t know,” she said, sinking back to the pillows. “If ever I needed proof that my choices are illusions, you have just given it to me. Look what happens when I refuse to do as he wants. The story is fading around me. Why can’t I choose to give up?”

Ok, that’s skirting some very fine lines about suicide here. And it can so easily be applied to real life. So, if you’re reading this book and don’t have an opinion on where you end up after you die, I just… taken to the full conclusion, what’s the point of living? It’s more powerful to take your own life and prove you have control than living in a world—real or fictional—where you’re not sure you control your own destiny. And that, anyone-who-reads-this, is a very, very sketchy ground to trod on in stories. Especially for the audience age group this is for.

The turn around happens on pages 205 to 207.

“You’re fictions . . . ” she protested weakly.

“Yes, yes, I’ve heard that, too,” he snarled. “Fictions. Ridiculous! I’m as alive as you, and you’re as alive as the Hierophant. We’re all alive, Poison. By any definition you have, we’re alive. Even if you think we’ve been given life by someone else. We all have dreams and ambitions, we all have plans and wishes, and you’re taking them all away from us.” He stood up, making a gesture of disgust with one gloved hand. “Didn’t you ever believe in a god, Poison?”

“When I was young . . .” she croaked.

“Then how is this different?”

“Because then I believed . . . I had control of my own destiny. . . .”

“But don’t you see?” Bram cried. “You’ve proved your point! You do have control over your own destiny. You’re choosing to die, choosing to kill us all with you. Nobody has stopped you; nobody can stop you except yourself. It doesn’t matter what the consequences of your choice are, but you made it yourself.”

Poison was frankly surprised that Bram had thought that up himself. “That’s . . . good enough,” she said, wiping the lank strands of her hair away from her face. “If the only way to make the world right . . .  is to do what he wants me to do . . .  then it’s no choice at all.”

“You don’t have the right to kill us all!” he cried.

“How do you know . . .  you’re even alive?” she countered.

“How does anyone? How does anyone know anything? There’s never any true answers, Poison. Everything is uncertain. That’s life. We can only deal with the world as we are presented with it. Don’t you appreciate that? All I want from life is to get back home, to buy that house in the mountains, and to never have to think about phaeries and Hierophants ever again! You’re robbing me of that dream, Poison! What gives you the right to decide whether all of us deserve to live?”

“Because . . .” she whispered.  “Because you’re all dying. Because you’re all dying because I’m dying. What gives you the right to make me live? How can you make me responsible for the whole world?”

“You are responsible for the whole world!” Bram said, suddenly triumphant. “And do you know what that means?”

Poison frowned. “I don’t . . .”

“It means this is your story, you fool!” he cried.

[…] “It means you have power over it just like the Hierophant does!” Bram cried. “If I die, if Peppercorn dies . . . well, the world will go on as normal. But because you’re dying, the whole tale collapses. Don’t you see? You’re the heroine! This is your story. Without you, it doesn’t work.” Bram’s eyes were flashing now with manic enthusiasm. “So if this is your tale, then take control of it! Fight back! Do something!”

“Do what?” Poison said weakly. “How can . . . how can I fight?”

“I don’t know!” Bram said, stamping around the room. “You’re the clever one. You’ve overcome everything that he’s thrown at you so far. Fight back, and there’s a chance, a chance you can do something about your situation. Are you willing to throw your life away—all our lives!—without being certain? Try! And if you fail, you can always give up again.”

So, I don’t even know where to begin with dissecting the logic Bram puts forth. And I realize that this story is fictional, and fantasy at that, but all stories have some foot in the real world. And the reasoning used here, applied to real life, is… well, I find it a bit horrifying? Especially Bram’s last line.

(Side note: Bram read OOC in that entire scene and the entire time all I could think was, “Yes, you know why you’re so surprised at Bram’s character change, Poison? Because this is a last ditch effort by some Hierophant somewhere to save everyone’s skin and they’re using Bram to be their mouth.” Honestly.)

The writing style and everything about this felt like it was directed for the younger side of the middle school age group, despite mostly seeing it on YA shelves on Goodreads. It’s a clever little story, but because of the worldview, I’d be incredibly wary letting just anyone read it. Read at the wrong time, it could drive someone into a downward spiral. Or maybe I’m just being overdramatic. I certainly didn’t pick up on it from what I can remember reading it ages ago, but I was and am entirely oblivious to some things at times. I just don’t want to underestimate the power of the written word. So the worldview in this alarmed me.

Overall, because of plot, the book felt a bit… meh. Indecisive, especially with the way it all wrapped up and Poison never did get to see her sister again. I can’t decide if I’d recommend this or not, but if you read it because of this review, drop me a comment or such with your thoughts. Or link me to your review. Whichever.

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief: less than five curses at the most, kidnapping, death threats to the main character—anything you’d expect in a fairytale retelling, since this definitely has a fairytale vibe through most if it. PG-13 at the most, for disturbing images, some violence, and dangerous situations. Some of the antagonists were very disturbing. (Looking at you, Lady of Spiders.) There was no sex or romance.

Advertisements

Mechanica (Mechanica #1)

13455099Mechanica (Mechanica #1), by Betsy Cornwell

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? PG

Any spoilers in this review? Yes. But because it’s based off a fairytale, it’s largely predictable so I didn’t block out any spoilers in particular. I’d have to block out the entire thing, then.

Summary: Nicolette’s awful stepsisters call her “Mechanica” to demean her, but the nickname fits: she learned to be an inventor at her mother’s knee. Her mom is gone now, though, and the Steps have turned her into a servant in her own home. But on her sixteenth birthday, Nicolette discovers a secret workshop in the cellar and begins to dare to imagine a new life for herself. Could the mysterious books and tools hidden there—and the mechanical menagerie, led by a tiny metal horse named Jules—be the key to escaping her dreary existence? With a technological exposition and royal ball on the horizon, the timing might just be perfect for Nicolette to earn her freedom at last. Gorgeous prose and themes of social justice and family shine in this richly imagined Cinderella retelling about an indomitable inventor who finds her prince . . . but realizes she doesn’t want a fairy tale happy ending after all. 

My complaint for most books is that it was an okay book, but the potential was all there for a great book. Sadly, that’s my complaint again for this. Frankly, because it was a fairytale retelling, it lost some of it’s magic. I feel like the story of Cinderella it was based loosely on narrowed and brutally cut down on all potential it had to be a good novel in itself. That’s the challenge behind writing fairytale retellings. You want it to be a fairytale retelling—either because you really, really love fairytales or you really like it as a selling point—but you also want it to be original and for there to be unexpected twists.

The beginning of the book was especially interesting, what with the politics and upheaval because an entire race is blamed for an assassination and kicked out of the country entirely. Magic, for all its usefulness, is banned. The interactions between the two races, even in the background and seen through the main character’s young eyes at the time, were interesting. But, again, because it was a fairytale retelling, all the world building and interesting aspects like that took the background and almost disappeared into obscurity as the Cinderella plot took front and center.

So, here’s where that leaves us. For characters: The Steps were about as classically evil as they ought to be in Cinderella retellings. Nic grew over the story, sort of. It was an awkward, gangling growth, but she did grow—mainly in how she interacted with characters. At first, she was uncertain and scared to a certain degree to go out to a fair and sell her wares, but by the end she was doing it almost all on her own and was confident. Her treatment of Fin left something to be desired, but I was ridiculously relieved by her choices. Caro stood out to be somewhat stereotypical, but an achingly good friend, especially in how happy she was for Fin and Nic when she thought they were getting married. That honest happiness, even if she didn’t end up with someone she loved (their relationship was an off-again-on-again kind, apparently), was wonderful to see. Fin… Fin was a copy and paste love interest. I was not at all excited by him. I think he was supposed to be a Special Cookie because of how he viewed magic and wanted a fairy ambassador but as he didn’t actually do anything about it, it was all talk.

Plot: The plot was… everything you expect it to be. It was a bit weak and could’ve done with some fluffing. Like I mentioned in the beginning, I feel like the story suffered because it was so entrenched in the label of “Cinderella retelling.” It missed out on some great world building possibilities and plot options. (Mr. Candery is the boss and I wanted him to come back, dang it. I wanted to see fairyland and actual magic and true blue fairies. Not just speckled skin, dang it!) I really could’ve used more plot, like somehow including the Steps. It was a very slow and lethargic plot, for such an average sized book. It didn’t keep you glued to the pages.

Writing style: The writing was ok. I liked how some of the descriptions seemed purposefully mechanical. Like describing her heartbeat like the “ticking” of her heart or little things like that. It did get a bit repetitive, but it wasn’t terrible overall.

It was a rather solid story, however shakily it stood on a weak and predictable plot. There are two passages I wanted to comment on, though. One of them is from page 264-265. This is while Nic is sneaking into Stepmother’s room while Stepmother is sleeping to put back her dress:

Stepmother never let me do her hair. I straightened Chastity’s and curled Piety’s after every wash, and I had the burn marks on my hands to prove it. But Stepmother insisted she needed no help with her ablutions. She sailed downstairs every morning looking as cold and perfect and iconic as ever.

Was this why, this bit of gray at her temples? It was beautiful, a bright silver gleaming under my candle and in the thin moonlight coming in between her curtains.

And then the Stepmother actually murmurs Nic’s father’s name under her breath. Just as, Nic realizes, she had done at night too while “knowing no one would come” to her. And Nic goes on to say:

I told myself to back away. If I stayed, I would start to care for her. If I stayed, I would start to think about how alone she would be, with only the silly daughters she’d made, after I left. I couldn’t begin to think of Stepmother that way. I had to be able to leave her.

See, that passage was just… it hurt. It was well done. It showed how abusers can be human and how that can confuse the abused and I wish that that angle could’ve been capitalized on. But by the end, the Steps weren’t really in the story. So even the scene where Nic punched Chasity lost it’s punch—ha, see what I did there?—because it could’ve been better built up to. It would’ve made the Chasity-getting-punched scene more intense and emotion filled.

The other scene was on page 259-260, when thinking of Fin being in love with Caro:

All the things I’d learned from novels, from Faerie tales, from Piety and Chastity’s gossiping and storytelling and swooning, silly as they were, had taught me that the love I’d thought I’d found in Fin was the best to be had. That the reason behind all life and all love in the first place was to find someone, love him, and let that love become the foundation of the rest of your life.

And I had found not only a kind, charming, handsome young man whom I could love, but also a prince, the Heir of all of Esting! No story could have asked for a better ending than the one that—just for a moment—I’d thought my love for him would give me.

But what was I, without that ending?

No less me, no less myself. No less loved than I had ever been, not really.

And of course Fin did care for me in his way, in a way that I tried to tell myself might be better, if I could only learn to see it so.

And that, my friends, was the absolute best thing I’d read in the story up to that point, because her obsession with Fin was driving me up a wall. (She met him less than five times in person, but talked to him in her head. So, obviously that leads to true love.) The absolute clarity in that passage! It was the turning point and I loved it. Which made Fin’s later proposal and Nic’s lack of… fury and anger frustrating. Nic fully acknowledged she was in love with the idea of him more than him, basically, and had been building a version of him in her own head that wasn’t true to life. To me, if there was any other way to prove that he wasn’t the one from her head, his proposal was it.

Oh, guys. Guys, the proposal. I’m still furious about it. Fin had the gall to basically say, “Yeah, I’m in love with someone else, but let’s get married for the country! And you can have someone on the side, too!” I was just—he just—argh. The entire thing made me furious! Nic was broken up about the proposal, but at least had the sense to say no. It would’ve been perfect if she could’ve also been furious about it, but her infatuation of him blinded her. She was convinced it was love, though, despite her acknowledging in the previous passage, to summarize, that it wasn’t love and she’d built up a different version of him in her head and…

In conclusion, the potential was there for a really great novel. As it was, it fell flat and was a bit frustrating to read because of how obsessive Nic got over Fin. Definitely could’ve been better.

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief: There’s no cursing and only a few slaps or punches. The only things people may find strange/uncomfortable would be how the fairy family relationships are described at one point and how none of them have genders. (This isn’t throughout the whole book, but it is mentioned.) Otherwise, someone insinuates that the MC should marry them even if they don’t love them because it’ll be fine and they’ll meet someone else. (I.e., adultery. I.e., let’s have our own honeys on the side and get married in name only. I.e., I’m so glad Nic said no to Fin.)

A Monster Calls

8621462A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? PG

Any spoilers in this review? A few. They’ve been blocked out with black highlight. Highlight it again with your mouse to read it.

Summary: The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… This monster, though, is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.

My eyes were watering by the end. This is incredibly well done. I was impressed by the writing style. It wasn’t over the top and did such a good job of actually showing and not telling that it packed this story to the brim. The characters were great and you could tell so much about each one because of the writing. The plot isn’t a plot so much as a hard and aching truth that grows in you the way some truth does that you have to face when young.

Everything came together in the most bittersweet way possible. The art added little pieces to the story too. One scene in particular showed the monster hitting Harry, only it showed Conor shoving Harry, not the monster. It was never touched on in the book, but it makes one wonder if the monster was real or not. Especially with lines like this.

There are so many layers to this story that I don’t want to touch them and disturb how perfectly done they are. The writing, characters, and plot were are so intrinsically combined. Wonderful, wonderful job, Ness. I didn’t need my heart, apparently.

I picked up this book because I saw the trailer and it looked really good. Now I can’t wait for the movie! I hope they do the book justice!

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief: There’s a minuscule amount of cursing. There’s anger and helplessness and this story is very, very heavy and could be depressing for some. There’s no romance or sex.

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle #1)

17675462The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle #1), by Maggie Stiefvater

If I were a movie, what would I be rated? PG-13

SummaryEvery year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her. His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble. But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little. For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn’t believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore. 

Guys. Guys, I don’t even know what to say. I feel like I accidentally finished this book, because it wasn’t my intention to read it in two days. And everyone in this book won my heart over. So, on the one hand I’m like, “This is so amazing! I love them all! Look at them! So real! Look how true and complex and realistic their relationships are!” and the other hand I’m wailing in a corner, clutching at my heart because these stupid raven boys.

I don’t think you’lll get a very articulate review out of me. The summary was rather “eh” and I wasn’t ready to be so emotionally compromised. Gah. There feel like there are literally too many things to address.

I was actually yelling, “What does that mean!” after finishing the book, though. And then the summary for the next book explained things.  Anyway, great book. Amazing job. I didn’t need my heart, apparently.

What some people might be uncomfortable reading about in this book because of personal opinion or belief (beware of spoilers below!): cursing is mild. There were a handful of inappropriate sexual comments (love you too, Ronan) and there’s a murder. Two of the characters find the bones of a human being. There’s ghosts. The main character is a daughter of a psychic and lives with psychics, all of whom are touted as real. One of the characters is in an abusive family and, since the POV switches sometimes, you get a chapter where they’re beaten by their father. It’s violent and disturbing. On screen, this may rate an R rating. As it is, precede with caution.

~

Miscellaneous thoughts:

1. I think Persephone is the famous psychic named Leila that was mentioned in passing.

2. The more I read of Adam and Gansey, the more I saw what I imagined Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin would’ve been like. I mean, look:

Maura continued, “You’re avoiding a hard choice. Acting by not acting. You’re ambitious, but you feel like someone’s asking some of you you’re not willing to give. Asking you to compromise your principles. Someone close to you, I think. Your father?”

“Brother, I think,” Persephone said.

“I don’t have a brother, ma’am,” Adam replied. But Blue saw his eyes dart to Gansey. (Page 145)

I read that as was like, “This. This is Godric and Salazar.”** It’s a Slytherin in a tough situation that the Gryffindor wants so desperately to fix, but both have different types of pride, and so neither can really move farther. It was amazing. And the characters all stayed consistent throughout the book. I’m also pretty sure Adam is an INTJ or ISTJ, as some of his thoughts and reasoning was rather exactly what I would think in his situation. Adam is my favorite and needs to be hugged.

~

Quotes of interest:

Blue never grew tired of feeling particularly needed, but sometimes she wished needed felt less like a synonym for useful. —Page 11

Gansey preferred Ronan to his elder brother Declan, and so the lines had been drawn. Adam suspected Gansey’s preference was because Ronan was earnest even if he was horrible, and with Gansey, honesty was golden. —Page 48

Ronan’s expression was still incendiary. His code of honor left no room for infidelity, for casual relationships. It wasn’t that he didn’t condone them; he couldn’t understand them. —Page 49

“I could cover you until you found something.”

There was a very long silence as Adam continued scrubbing his fingers. He didn’t look up at Gansey. This was a conversation they’d had before, and entire days of arguments were replayed in the few moments of quiet. The words had been said often enough that they didn’t need to be said again.

Success meant nothing to Adam if he hadn’t done it for himself. —Page 132

A wrinkle formed between Adam’s eyebrows as he looked away. Not at the double-wides in the foreground, but past them, to the flat, endless field with its tufts of dry grass. So many things survived here without actually living. He said, “it means I never get to be my own person. If I let you cover for me, then I’m yours. I’m his now, and then I’ll be yours.” —133