Hello gentle readers, and welcome back to Weekly Reads, regular Monday edition! (For those of you keeping score at home, yes, I’ve read three books since last Thursday’s post. I’m trying to get ahead on my reading goals, okay.)
Today I have a couple of YA reads and a quick and easy non-fiction book. All of them are from the past year or two, so hey, these takes are not so stale. Let’s begin!
This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Premise: The author describes it as “Sin City PLUS Romeo and Juliet MINUS romance PLUS monsters.” I could not picture that at all before the book, but it’s actually pretty apt? Dark, corrupt dystopia with interesting monsters/lore plus two characters from either sides of a divide who become friends.
The Good: The monsters (Malchai, Corsai, and Sunai) are imaginative and have interesting origins. And while rich/poor divides are often exacerbated in fictional dystopias (maybe real life ones, too), it was interesting to have that coincide with how people deal with the existence of monsters. The main characters, Kate and August, are not super original (tough girl nursing a raw wound, thoughtful and self-loathing guy with powers), but their depth of feeling for the people in their lives and reactions to one another make them come off as genuine. The plot doesn’t have many surprises, but the pace moves it along well.
The Bad: The logic of this world is so far kind of shaky, since it’s unclear how the monsters on one half of the city in the setting are fed or kept in line in any way, or why so many people live on one half of the city that’s constantly at war with monsters when it’s much less dangerous out of town, or even how supplies work, or—just a lot of things. What’s a job now? How does the economy work? (On the flip side, at least I am interested enough to want to know.)
Also, a couple of things are patently obvious from the beginning: that Kate will figure out her father is trash and will have to confront him, and that August is powerful as heck but he’s so hesitant to unleash himself that we’ll only find this out during the climax of the book. Unsurprisingly, both things are true, and most of the plot forecasts itself enough ahead of time that the book doesn’t throw many curveballs.
Overall: It’s hard not to compare all of Schwab’s writing to A Darker Shade of Magic, which is superior to this in terms of worldbuilding, character depth, and not-predictable plot stuff. But that’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. So in any case: These monsters were pretty dang neat, and I liked Kate and August and their lack of romance.
Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson
Premise: I mean, the cover covers it. It’s stories about Mara Wilson’s life.
The Good/Bad: I’m going to keep this brief, because my feelings about this are. I like Mara Wilson; I enjoyed her films as a kid, and I follow her now on Twitter.
This book is an easy read. She writes about her mother’s death, her family, mental illness, aging out of Hollywood, growing up around child stars, and the awkwardness of dating (and writing and performing). I’m interested in those things, and she writes about them in a well-crafted, often amusing way. But the book doesn’t dig deep. It never gets stomachachingly funny or heartbleeding sad or really vulnerable enough to be life-changing. (Even though there’s a story about taking risks in life and writing—so it’s ironic in that sense.) The stories rely fairly often on a certain pop culture context and lay out Mara’s life as a regular person—a quirky one with unique experiences, but more or less her aesthetic, although charming, is just to be ordinary. And an ordinary person can be very interesting underneath the surface. But in many parts of this book, it feels like Wilson is still jaded enough by fame to keep us there.
Overall: Ratings are hard. I enjoyed the experience of reading this book generally, but not enough to re-read it or keep it.
The Wrath & The Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
Premise: One Thousand and One Nights, but in true YA style: the king is a hot misunderstood youth, love triangle, etc.
The Good: Really appetizing descriptions of food. Okay, okay, sorry. (The descriptive passages in general are nice.) I honestly wasn’t sure based on the premise of this book how the retelling could make the king sympathetic, but other than one glaring issue, it did pretty well. Shahrzad is clever and likeable, and the story-within-a-story aspect of this is fun and not used nearly often enough for my liking. (Not that I wanted Shahrzad to always be talking—other characters have stories to tell, too.)
The Bad: Shahrzad volunteers for revenge but, as the tagline implies, she develops feelings for the king. This seems to happen mostly because the king develops feelings for her and is mysterious. She really learns very little about him until she’s already infatuated. It’s so blandly YA instalove, and not worthy of her character. (Also, consent is really sketchy between them at first and the book feels like it wants to gloss that over.) (Also, this is not worthy of the best friend Shahrzad came to avenge, who doesn’t really get to have a character at all. I craved more about her.) I wish the king had just given her his secret sympathetic reasons for killing brides much sooner so that the feelings would feel less forced, especially since the reasons are mostly spelled out in the prologue. I also wish consent had not been sketchy as heck until mid-book.
I also would’ve liked more storytelling from more characters and for storytelling to say more about the characters telling stories (the characters tended to tell stories in the same patterns and without seeming to connect to them personally). Also, a love triangle is shoehorned into this book that is obviously hopeless, which is my least favourite thing, and magic is sort of sporadically introduced and sprinkled throughout as an alternating Chekhov’s gun and “hey read the sequel!” and that’s…not great.
Overall: I was trying to be there for this book in the beginning because the premise and the setting drew me in, and the descriptive writing seemed really a cut above some of the books I’ve read lately. But as it shifted from Shahrzad’s storytelling and revenge plotting to love triangle-isms and outside shady villains, it started to lose me. And, to be honest, I have to deduct for the consent issues. (Is it supposed to be okay because she volunteered to be wed? Because she goes through consummating the marriage basically dead in the eyes, and he has no reason to consummate it other than that he’s attracted to her.) Eep.
That’s a wrap for this week’s reads—I’ll see you again on Thursday! Until then, may you find the book that makes you see (five) stars. (I’m reading the sequel to Magonia this week, Aerie, so I can always hope.)