Generations ago, humans colonized a planet with three moons. Shortly after they arrived, their bodies began to change, to twist, to grow scales.
To avoid mutation, they made a deal with the Dark Heart of the planet: in exchange for the ability to live safely within domed cities, with their smooth skin intact, gardens luscious, and food plentiful... they will, every so often, sacrifice their queen to the Dark Heart's magic roses.
Outside of the domes are the Monstrous. Those descended from the colonists who weren't lucky enough to avoid the changes. They are violent, inhuman beasts, incapable of thought or feeling.
That's what Isra, Princess of Yuan has grown up believing.
Gem, meanwhile, grew up outside the dome. He's grown up hating the Smooth Skins because they prosper while his people suffer.
In a desperate attempt to save his people—and his infant son—from starvation, Gem enters the dome, hoping to steal one of the magic roses that is rumored to be the key to the Smooth Skins' prosperity. He is captured quickly, but in that short amount of time, three things happen: he has the opportunity to kill Isra, but he doesn't; he is gravely injured; and the King is killed, making Isra the Queen.
Which means that the clock is suddenly ticking for both of them: Isra's days are now numbered, and Gem's people are still on the brink of extinction. If they work together, they'll be able to save everyone... but a lifetime of xenophobia is a hard thing to overcome.
That was kind of a long intro for a post about a book that is A) basically just a retelling (obvs) of Beauty and the Beast, and B) for me, an across-the-board meh read.
A few thoughts:
It's a mix of SF and straight-up F. On the SF end, we've got the colonization of a new planet, as well as the occasional mention of technology that has been lost, and on the F end we've got magic-induced-rapid-evolution and the curse/blessing of the roses provided by the god-like beings Dark Heart and the Pure Heart. The worldbuilding varies from feeling overblown (there's just so MUCH going on, with the Yuan politics to the search for the Original Covenant to the blindness-by-poison to the Dark/Pure Heart stuff) to just vaguely sketched in (the world and culture of the Monstrous, which we get very little of, and mostly via Gem's expository dialogue), but that's also possibly a personal problem: stories that incorporate elements of BOTH SF and F almost always feel that way to me.
In their first few scenes together, neither Isra nor Gem is all that likable, which could well turn off readers who're already on the fence. They alternate narration, and their lifetime of hating each others' people is on full display... that visceral hatred makes their rapid connection and subsequent romance hard to believe, ESPECIALLY given that Jay fast-forwards over their first two weeks of working together in the garden.
I did like, though, that Jay acknowledged the physical facet of the Isra/Gem attraction, and that it didn't play into the Blindness-Breaks-Ugliness-Barrier trope. Yes, Isra's blindness allows her to get to know Gem (even though they're lying to each other throughout) on a personality level first, but when she (SPOILER) regains her sight, she finds his appearance beautiful. Not DESPITE his differences, and not (entirely) BECAUSE of his differences, but just because she finds him beautiful, full-stop. Which was nice.
Although it didn't do a whole lot for me overall—from a story angle, a prose angle, or a emotional angle—I did find the Epilogue, which talked about how there is a Beauty and a Beast in all of us, oddly affecting.
Ana wakes up in a dark room, strapped to a padded chair.
She doesn't who she is—she only knows her name because it's pinned to her jumpsuit—she doesn't know where she is, she doesn't know how she got there.
According to the information that's been left for her, she's on an alien world, and has a mere 28 hours to make her way across it. She's tasked with paying attention to everything she sees, with learning everything she can, and while she doesn't know the whys or hows or whos of her situation, she's got a feeling that it's seriously important.
The terrain is unfamiliar and dangerous, and she's got a long way to travel in a short amount of time... but, as you might have guessed from the cover art, it's the giant, man-eating worm creature that's got her the most concerned.
A lot of people dislike stories told in the present tense. I've never been one of them. It's just not something that I find irritating.
Until now. In Paradox, the premise and various action sequences and the use of the present tense all combine to ultimately read like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel... but without the reader participation. Which, as you can probably imagine, isn't particularly engaging.
The romance storyline—don't worry, it's not with the worm—feels flat and unnecessary, and the other emotional components are similarly unsatisfying. When the Big Reveal was, you know, revealed, my response wasn't, "Oooooooo" or "Coooooool" or "Oh, so that's why...". Because I just didn't care. I didn't care about the characters, about their situation, about the mystery, about anything.
I went into this one without any sort of prior knowledge or high hopes or anything, but it was STILL a disappointment. Blerg.
Disney-Hyperion pushed this one SUPER hard at BookExpo, so being my stubborn, contrary self, I waited a bit before reading it. Hype, after all, can get me all excited about consuming the product, but it can also raise expectations to such a ridiculous point that disappointment is inevitable.
Case in point: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
(Which, by the way, I haven't given up on! I just don't have much affection for the Skye character—so far, she's a boring archetype rather than a real person, and while I find the rest of the new characters interesting, none of them has really made the transition from archetype to person either—and as the show has pretty much just been about her arc so far, it's really failing to engage me. The most recent episode might have been a turning point, though. We'll see. Errr... right, moving on.)
From the moment that Em was thrown into her prison cell, she's been fascinated by the drain in the floor. At first, it evoked only terror—after all, what are her captors planning to do to her that would require a drain in the floor?—but as the months have gone on, the fascination has grown into an obsessive curiosity.
When she finally finds a way to lift the cover, she makes a startling—though, considering the reasons that she's being held, not all that surprising—discovery: She's been a prisoner in this cell before.
Fourteen times, in fourteen alternate timelines, she's been held in this very same place. Fourteen times, she's traveled back in time to try to prevent the future she's currently living in, and fourteen times, she's failed. The document hidden in the drain is a brief chronicle of the ways in which she and her friend Finn have tried to save the world. The last item on the list is the one they've tried to avoid at all costs, but now, it's a necessity: they have to travel four years into the past and kill their best friend.
All Our Yesterdays was such a mixed bag for me.
On the one hand, Terrill does a great job of writing two versions of the same characters: Future Em and Past Marina, Finn's selves and, to a lesser degree, James' past and future selves are all clearly the same people with the same personalities, but they are vastly different in terms of maturity and perspective. Which is extremely cool. Some readers are BOUND to have difficulty with the contrast between Em and Marina—Marina's everyday does-he-like-me and will-this-food-make-me-fat woes could easily come off as self-absorbed and somewhat obnoxious when compared to the high stakes Save The World backdrop of the story—but in context of story and character, Marina's issues work: she hasn't been through everything Em has, she doesn't have that perspective, and she hasn't yet developed a Steely Core.
Also, the relationships between the characters are hugely emotionally satisfying. Em's steadfast trust in and love for Finn has a believable solidity that would come from years of shared danger and trauma; her pity/affection for/protective feelings towards her own future self are almost maternal at moments; and her feelings about James—her childhood best friend and first crush turned semi-unwitting supervillain—are just as confused as you'd expect.
She does tend towards self-loathing in both versions of herself, which gets old—at one point, she was all, I hate myself, to which I responded in my notes, I'M STARTING TO HATE YOU, TOO—but it's consistent with her situation and personality. She also falls victim to the ever-annoying My Feelings Are Preventing Me From Doing The One Thing That Will Save Myself (And The World) From Torment And Possible Annihilation, but it works within the context of the story and the characters, so I gave her a pass there as well.
The action is strong, and the ultimate resolution of the story—I was so shocked when the story ended on a seemingly stand-alone not—is satisfying as well.
The aspects that I found problematic might have more to do with my tendency to overthink the mechanics of these things and/or my inability to just sit back and enjoy the ride. In short, I had a hard time with the existence of the list in the drain—it's been added to by all of the various versions of Em/Marina as her attempts to change the future result, time and time again, in her incarceration—because the whole thing just seems like a logical fallacy to me. Something about the whole thing just seems off to me. Maybe someone with a bigger brain can explain how it would be possible? Her obsession with the drain didn't feel right, either: if she's a new version of herself every time, why would she know it was special?
Auuuugh. Anyway. I do love them, but time travel stories often make me want to punch a wall.
Kirkus panned it as “skippable in the extreme”; I haven’t been able to stop raving about it since reading it. Kirkus found it “unrealistic,” “ludicrous” and “snooze-inducing”; I found it chilling, suspenseful, shocking and raw. Kirkus found it unsuccessful as an homage to Stephen King, while I felt that Wasserman shines in exactly the same way as King: in showing that true terror doesn’t stem from the paranormal, but from the normal.
On the way home from a miserable—or, well, miserable for our heroine—high school ski trip in Scotland, a pit stop at the Cheery Chomper cafe turns more CHOMPY than CHEERY when everyone inside gets zombified.
Bobby, the heroine everygirl. Smitty, the bad boy snowboarder. Alice, the drama-prone mean girl. Pete, the science nerd.
The skinny (OH MY GOD, I CAN'T BELIEVE I JUST USED 'SKINNY' IN THAT FASHION. BUT I CAN'T THINK OF ANOTHER APPROPRIATE S-WORD AT THE MOMENT):
Remember those books you used to buy from the Weekly Reader book sale (or, if you're a bit younger, the Scholastic Book Fair)? You'd buy 'em, read 'em, enjoy them at the time, but they weren't particularly memorable*? Undead is one of those: competent, inoffensive (quality-wise; some readers may take issue with the gore), and pretty forgettable.
So might argue that, HELLO, IT'S A ZOMBIE BOOK, CUT IT SOME SLACK.
To which I say, NO. There are plenty of zombie books that have character development and emotional engagement and world-building AS WELL AS thrills and chills and gore. To suggest that we "cut INSERT GENRE/TARGET AUDIENCE HERE some slack" suggests that the standards should be lower for said genre or target audience. Which, just... no.
Anyway, I'm not saying it's BAD. Just forgettable. Although she's definitely got some legitimately funny lines—I wouldn't have thought it possible to nurse someone sarcastically, but Smitty pulls it off—Bobby's voice is snarkily generic at best and, despite all of the action, overall, it's somewhat boring: mostly because all of the characters are just sketched-in archetypes.
BUT! In re: the target audience: as many in that demographic will probably have read a few less books than I have, it's quite possible that younger readers won't have the same issues that I had. ALSO, HELLO: SCHOOL BUS AS IMPROMPTU FORTRESS. THAT'S AWESOME.
Basically, Undead has TV MOVIE written all over it, and not in a bad way.
And, oh hell, I'M SORRY, ONE LAST COMPLAINT. I've been trying to restrain myself, but I just CAN'T. THE COVER? I get it. I get what the designer was going for, I do. And at least it conveys the gore-factor. But it's just so very inaccurate in terms of the heroine's personality that I cringe every time I look at it.
So, lesson learned? I am annoyingly pedantic, even when it comes to semi-disposable fiction.
*That statement, obviously, is not applicable to The Girl with the Silver Eyes, which I read so many times that I had to buy multiple replacement copies.
Q: How is Cress similar to the Rapunzel we all know and love?
A: In the fairy tale, the prince finds Rapunzel because he hears her singing. I've taken that and given Cress this very overactive imagination that's a result of being stuck in this satellite solitary for so long. When she is in danger or in an uncomfortable situation, she goes into this imaginary world where she pretends she's an opera singer or an actress or a dancer. She has this fantasy life going on in her head that played off the original tale and how Rapunzel liked to sing.
For the most part, everything about it is happy-making, except this little bit at the end about white-washed fan casting:
Q: What's the craziest you've seen?
A: I'm not really good with celebrities, so I never really remember the names, but you see a lot of fan-casting white guys as Kai, who is Asian. That always throws me off a little bit. But they're cute! As long as they're cute …
For someone who’s supposed to be bright and, you know, TRAINED IN MYSTERY-SOLVING, her powers of perception are nonexistent, and she spends far more time stewing, moaning and angsting around feeling guilty about FILL IN THE BLANK than, you know, investigating. She is almost always the actee, rather than the actor, and the first time we see her actually take the initiative to do something, it’s something revolting and untrustworthy and just...wrong.