Contrary to what you might expect based on my reviewing habits, I’m not always in the mood for vampires who act more like typical Evanescence fans than sociopathic monsters. Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from romance for a while and return to the roots of the genre.
If I recall correctly, Dracula had no redeeming qualities whatsoever and was a symbol of Class Conflict or Subversive Sexuality or STDs or the Dangers of Immigration and Foreign Influence depending on which academic interpretation you go by. Whatever the preferred diagnosis, though, I think one thing is indisputable: Dracula has no charm. True charm is genuine, even if it’s used to manipulate. There has to be a sense of humor in there somewhere. Dracula is a blood-drinking machine and his politeness is purely a means to an end. I can’t remember a single memorable thing Dracula said, though I remember the story in general. I think this is because Dracula is a force of nature or a symbol rather than a character. Still not sure what he’s supposed to be a symbol of.
In What We’ll Do for Blood, Maria (the vampire) is similar. She exists to drink blood. This is her only motivation. This may sound like Maria is overly simplistic, but no, Maria is an accomplished predator who excels at manipulation, deception, and brutality. Maria is terrifying because she works in the system to get what she wants. Like many real life abusers, she makes her victims seem unreasonable and dangerous when they defend themselves. If your neighbors aren’t vampires, of course, breaking and entering and trying to stake them is rather antisocial. Maria has a network of people she threatens and hypnotizes into donating blood; some of them know what she is, and some don’t. When she sets her sights on high school student Scott’s dad, the plot begins. It’s never clear whether Scott’s dad is having a genuine affair or is brainwashed by Maria’s vampire hypnosis (maybe both), but his constant visits to Maria’s house late at night throw Scott’s family into a tailspin.
So far, so good. My problem with Scott’s family is that, perhaps in an attempt to make them interesting, Mannarino skews too far in the other direction and makes them unsympathetic social climbers who never seem very distant from their son. Not that unsympathetic victims aren’t okay! But because Scott’s parents seemed to have few human moments, I never really felt Scott’s concern for them. I loved his sister Nikki, but that was it.
The ending, though, made up for it. I didn’t see it coming at all, but no spoilers. I just wish less time had been spent on Scott’s family and more time telling the story at the end. All the same, I look forward to the sequel. 🙂
Well, I didn’t end up reviewing Deathless, mainly because it was so beautifully flawed that it defied description (I feel like people wouldn’t have had much time for BDSM and two-timing during the Siege of St. Petersburg. Too cold. Too hungry. But I wasn’t there, so what do I know?). Also, college fried my brain, so yeah. There never was a promise I could keep.
However, post-finals, I was looking for subpar brain candy to destress, and I found it in Cruel Beauty, courtesy of Rosamund Hodge–except it wasn’t subpar! Who says brain candy can’t also be art?
First of all, the setting is gorgeous. I adore gorgeous settings, probably because I can’t write them at all. Nyx Triskelion (cool name) lives in Arcadia, which is…a dome? made of parchment? I was never really clear on how to picture it (notoriously bad at following descriptive details, sorry), but it sounded cool.
The wavy, golden rays of the sun looked like a gilt illumination in one of Father’s old manuscripts; they glinted, but their light was less painful than a candle. Once the main body of the sun was risen over the hillside, it would be uncomfortable to look upon, but no more so than the frosted glass of a Hermetic lamp. For most of the light came from the sky itself, a dome of cream veined with darker cream, like parchment, through which light shone as if from a distant fire. Dawn was no more than the brighter zone of the sky rising above the hills, the light colder than at noon but otherwise the same.
Arcadia (land Nyx lives in) has been closed off from the world, seemingly forever, with only a Gentle Lord in a ruined castle to rule it. Many have theories as to why. Unfortunately, the Gentle Lord is excellent at making bargains, but they don’t always work out so well for the bargainers. There’s always a misinterpreted clause, like the one Nyx’s father falls prey to. Wife will give birth to two healthy daughters? Excellent. Wife will die in the process? Oh.
So Arcadians hate the Gentle Lord because he’s a ruthless haggler who tells tons of lies by omission. Also Nyx’s dad promised him one of his daughters. OH. Instead of beating himself up over not totally owning his Dad of the Year award, like maybe he should, he spends Nyx’s entire childhood training her as a magical weapon so that she can take her future husband down. No, really. DAD OF THE YEEEEEAAARRR.
To make matters worse, the Gentle Lord’s hotness is in dispute.
I knew that the Gentle Lord was different enough from other demons that people could look on him and not go mad. But some said he had the mouth of a snake, the eyes of a goat, and the tusks of a boar, so that even the bravest could not refuse his bargains. Others said he was inhumanly beautiful, so that even the wisest were beguiled by him. Either way, I couldn’t imagine letting him touch me.
*checks genre* Yeah, let’s go with inhumanly beautiful. I know that it can be hard to marry an evil demon Prince, but I think I’ve read so much of this genre that I’ve gotten a bit jaded. Honestly, I was just waiting for Nyx to fall in love with him so that we could all go home already. However. Elements kept surprising me.
For one thing, Ignifex, the demon prince in question, was more of an asshole than I expected. Also, almost zero angst over what a douchecanoe he was being, which I personally found refreshing. Maybe I’m tired of cheap angst, which is something I never thought I’d say. I don’t like cheap assholery either, but Ignifex’s reasons for acting out, if not exactly laudable, are at least understandable…ish? No spoilers, though. Also, he gets better. 🙂
Maybe what surprised me most, though, was Nyx herself. I’m sad to say that in YA, I sometimes end up reading for the hot dude of the week because heroines can be a little subpar, and I hate doing it. On the other hand, I also hate reading solely for the heroine because the hero’s terrible. Not the case here! I was able to read for both. Nyx is a QUEEN, and I cannot emphasize this enough. She doesn’t take the fate handed to her lying down, but she also doesn’t waste time on pointless rebellion or wilting sacrifice. Instead, she is quietly and murderously furious, clever enough to realize that something is horribly wrong with her family, but socially conditioned too well to reject the future planned for her. She is her people’s only hope of breaking the curse, so she meets her fate gracefully.
Fortunately, her new husband is way more interested in building card towers and eating bon-bons than being, you know, absolutely terrible. In fact, he offers something that no one else in Arcadia can give her: unconditional acceptance and love. Awww. See, not that much of an asshole. More and more, Nyx starts to doubt her mission and whether her father really knows what he’s doing (obviously not). Before this book, I never wondered what would happen if the protagonist got sick of the hero gig and kicked back with the villain for some nice bonding time and snacks, but now I guess I know.
Actually, if I have one criticism of this book, it’s that it briefly flirted with the abandonment of the heroic role, only to veer back in a more traditional direction. Not that the ending I got wasn’t satisfying–honestly, I probably cried a little (POST FINALS-EMOTIONS, THAT’S ALL), but I would have loved to see a world where curses aren’t broken, villains aren’t defeated, and heroines aren’t sacrificed. Oh, well. Maybe I’ll have to write one.
So, um, this is awkward. My last post was on July 31st? Like six months ago? Not sure who’s still around, but I figure I might as well take up bashing and crying over books again. The problem was that I started college and got really emo and lonely and had no time to read. Note to self–always read books to stave away the emo.
You’d think I’d have time to read during Christmas break, but I had to sleep, fangirl over Star Wars, and brush up on my lightsaber dueling skills. (It’s bad. My little sister keeps bashing my knuckles in.)
Currently, I’m supposed to be indexing a book, so of course I started reading some random book on Kindle. But hey, I’m back in the game! It’s a beautiful, lyrical cluster of WTF, so that should be fun to review. Also, expect lots of Star Wars gifs from now on.
Honestly, I’ve sort of lost touch with YA. I have no idea what’s big, what’s annoying, what new outrage is around the corner, etc. I hope to remedy that this year. I’m probably the only person who’s making a new year’s resolution to read more bad YA novels, but I feel like that’s a resolution I can actually keep. So I am filled with hope.
I can’t do it. I have the book sitting there under the what’s next box, but I just can’t do…it.
I am of course, talking about Dust Girl. It was a wonderful book. I read it in two days. But I can’t write more than two paragraphs about it, and incomplete ones at that. Some books are meant to be savored and kept to oneself, I suppose.
It doesn’t matter anyway, seeing that the people looking forward to the review were all of zero, but I’m irrationally annoyed that I put a book under the what’s next box AND NOW HAVE TO TAKE IT OFF IN THE WORST WAY POSSIBLE. I FEEL INCOMPLETE.
The place where vampires all began, and it’s even really short! Some people moan that Twilight ruined vampires, that vampires used to be scary and now they’re too sexy to be scary, that the vampire genre is dead (but why is dead a bad thing?), etc. I’m here to tell you that they are all WRONG. Nothing has changed in the last 200 years. Sociopathic undead hotties have always preyed on susceptible teenage girls with a bit more charm than is good for anyone. And, yes, they have always been sexy.
It’s true that our Lord Ruthven isn’t quite so conflicted as today’s Stephan Salvatores and Edward Cullens, but then, you don’t have to go way past 1819 to get your antiheroic vampy fix–Varney the Vampire was published in 1847, and is, I am informed, full of enough bloodsucking angst to make Bella Swan swoon (reading it right now, actually!).
With that said, the vampires of yore do represent something that would have held a bit more gravity to audiences back then. I don’t mean to be elitist–I firmly believe that ANY piece of art can tell you a great deal about a current culture’s hopes and fears, and Twilight and Vampire Diaries are no different–but we simply don’t have the same understanding of society now that people in, say, Regency England would have had. Nowadays, a person can watch Twilight and maybe see a metaphor for a certain type of real life person (what kind of metaphor heavily hinges, I suspect, on how much that person likes Twilight), but Lord Ruthven pretty obviously symbolizes a society-wide problem of vice.
He consumes supple young maidens to stay alive, sure (the hero’s fair sister among them), but he also seems to ruin lives just for the hell of it, entices people in gambling, and only gives charity to the undeserving. And everyone who accepts his help seems to end up cursed in some way. In other words, he’s the sort of idle, rich parasite preachers would have warned against on the pulpit. So Lord Ruthven represents sex, yes (why else the addiction to teenage girls?), but only in part. Lord Ruthven is the personification of sin, and he collects victims in a never-ending cycle. Today, we would know someone like this as a sociopath, but back then audiences would have believed him to be simply Very Bad, in an almost unknowable way.
But I still think the hero’s sister faked her death and ran off with the vampire. It’s been known to happen, you know.
It’s not that I object to reading about schoolgirl bitchery, though it’s not exactly my preferred genre. Dumb schoolgirl bitchery, on the other hand…
I wanted to like this book. And, when I started, it had every promise of being likable. The setting of India was interesting, and the author took a risk in making her character a bit more historically accurate than most (at first). You see, Gemma Doyle is a bratty sixteen-year-old who hates living in India and makes no bones about it. I actually liked that detail because in historical fiction about Britain, India is usually presented as this far off exotic land tasting of spice and freedom–not an ordinary place with ordinary people. A sixteen-year-old British girl wanting to party in London seems pretty natural to me, regardless of how low she descends in reaching her objective. Continue reading “I wanted to like it, but I COULDN’T, or, a review of A Great and Terrible Beauty”→
The mark of a perfect Dystopia is a world that the reader falls in love with despite its horror. Perfect Ruin is one of those rare, delightfully lovely books in which the setting is its own character–perhaps the main one. The darkness of Internment unfolds slowly, like an exquisite origami, but I never fell out of love with it. Maybe because there’s something wrong with me (but you already knew that, right?).
Ahem. Internment is a floating island in the sky. How it stays afloat, no one knows for sure, but most believe it’s due to the benevolence of the sky god. Although I’m notoriously bad at paying attention to things like location, chronology, and technology within story (preferring instead to focus on cuteness and fluff), I feel like I could describe Internment with some accuracy. Lauren DeStefano, I love you. For finally getting me to pay attention. So, I may get a few things wrong, but hopefully I’ll be mostly right. Internment is the perfect toy city surrounded by a railroad that hosts a forever punctual train. Just don’t cross the railroad and gaze into the edge, for that way lies madness and death…
Into this world is born Morgan Stockhour, a boring girl in love with Basil, her boring fiance selected by Internment’s government for her. At least, that’s what I thought the first three times I started this book. I mean, a girl in YA who’s actually in love with someone she starts out engaged to?
Me: “Is it, like, opposite day? What the hell is going on, I thought she was going to fall in love with the mysterious guy in the summary?” *skips ahead* “Seriously, she’s still in love with this dude? The guy the state chose for her? WHAT THE HEEEEEELLL.”
You know…as much as I love to make fun of love triangles, dark and mysterious love interests, etc, I-sort-of-maybe-love-them. I’m sorry. I’m a hypocrite.
But! Everyone on Goodreads said it was excellent, so I kept trying to get through it, and I did! And it was amazing. And there is way more to Basil and Morgan than I thought, and I learned to appreciate every single word Lauren wrote. Absolutely lovely.
I had an interesting thought the other day, which doesn’t happen often, so I made note of this one. Are movies and TV really a lower art form than novels? I’m not sure about whoever may be reading this, but I grew up hearing that books benefited the consumer in a way that movies did not. Books made you think harder because you had to imagine what was happening, as opposed to having images spoonfed to you. Now that I’ve grown a little since then (and have started reading less), I wonder if this assessment is correct. It’s true that movies can be made lazily, just as they can be watched lazily. But can’t the same be said for books? We’ve all read stories that look like they’ve been assembled by a robot in marketing, and we’ve all read books with our eyes half-open.
Yes, it’s probably not a good idea to grow up on nothing but summer action flicks, but it’s probably not a good idea to grow up on nothing but Nancy Drew (or at least the Nancy Drew I remember reading. Blech), either. Sure, I used to be an elitist snob and believe that cinema was SO LOWBROW ZOMG (and that attitude was heavily reinforced; see above), but lately I’ve become fascinated by movies and TV and how they convey story and emotion. They also interest me because they require the collaboration and expertise of a huge group of people. And if one of them screws up so much as a single stitch on a character’s clothes, someone is bound to notice it and complain on an obscure IMDB board.
The writer works alone. Or rather, the writer collaborates with the entire world, but without the world’s knowledge–there’s not a single book that came into being without the influence of others.
Is one method of creating art inherently more valuable than the other? Even now, I’m not so sure. Maybe we need both equally. Movies to prove that there’s more to life than words and books to prove that there’s more to life than images.
Power imbalances are everywhere in romance. Although they’re ubiquitous in YA, they’re even more common in the adult romance industry. If you’re at all familiar with the romance genre, chances are you’ve read a story that features one. Maybe it was about a pirate captain who captures some British noblewoman. Or another billionaire and a random girl (God forbid!). Usually, the imbalance is skewed in the male character’s favor, for reasons that would take a whole post to get into. These types of stories often turn me off, but not because the premise is inherently bad. It’s just, well, authors screw up. A lot, in various cringe-worthy ways. Luckily, I’m here to show how to make skeevy gender dynamics more palatable! Continue reading “Making power imbalances uncreepy, or, how authors can stop annoying me”→