Hello everyone, and welcome back! Weekly Reads is back with a vengeance.
I had a little trouble getting my reading into gear after the holiday madness, but now that all systems are engaged, I have three books for today’s round-up! Let’s get to it, shall we?
More Than This by Patrick Ness
Premise: After drowning, a teen boy contemplates the meaning of life in the afterlife.
The Good: There were some solidly beautiful descriptive passages in this book that really drew me into the scenery (e.g., during the drowning, in the protagonist’s childhood home, etc.). Also, every flashback into a character’s past was pretty riveting, and as a result, the characters held my interest. And there’s something to be said for the diversity this book provides, given its small main cast. There were definitely some interesting musings in here about the nature of life/existence, but I’m not sure there was much time and content to parse them out, because…
The Bad: Basically, this book just felt unpolished. The pace is achingly slow in the first half, cramming loads of character revelations, plot, and development into the second half, which doesn’t lend well to the contemplative, philosophical, meta aims of the narrative. There was plenty of time to breathe and think when we had very little to think about; there’s very little time to digest once there’s a lot to think about. Mysteries come up and get solved rapid-fire, which leaves the build-up of the first half feeling unnecessary and unsatisfying (even though there were some great setting moments there). And those answers end up leaning heavily on some derivative sci-fi concepts, which doesn’t mesh organically with what I think the book attempts.
Also, while Ness’ style of repeating points and driving them home near the end of passages was great to punctuate some meaningful scenes, it felt excessive when it seemed to sum up almost every non-flashback piece. (Kind of like reading enough A Song of Ice and Fire can leave you feeling bashed over the head with the start in medias res, wind backwards, end on a punchy cliffhanger, lots of food in between formula.)
Overall: This premise felt promising initially because of the feeling of mystery and the slow unfolding of character, but it kind of got wrecked by how sci-fi derivative and action movie-esque it got in the second half. Although had it just continued in the vein of the event/character-light first half, it probably would’ve put me to sleep, so probably the answer was a better integration of both?
I don’t know that I can blame any particular element in this book as a culprit of not loving it, and certainly some of the ideas/sentiments in it are worth the time, but something about how all these pieces blended together ended up…not working. Like when you buy a green juice that has a list of stuff you like in it, and when you drink it you can taste all the ingredients, but the result, although good for you, is just not very drinkable.
The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid
Premise: In a space dystopia, human beings can be engineered and trained for the purposes of aristocrats. Diabolics are made as bodyguards, to give their lives to protect their masters. But are these people human?
The Good: The worldbuilding throughout this book was fascinating. Generally you’d expect a sci-fi in space to be in a society that values technological advancement, but actually, there’s a deep struggle between religion/tradition and science that goes on in this universe. (There are also deep, brutal class divides, but that’s less surprising.) The protagonist, Nemesis, is a really interesting perspective character because society considers her non-human, so she has a very different set of concerns than most other people would; she’s not particularly rational or emotional, except when it comes to her singular purpose (to protect Sidonia, her master). Through the first half, seeing her navigate trying to play human is sometimes fascinating.
The Bad: The latter half of this book got messy fast. The rulers and lords of this story world are entangled in constant power struggles, but none of what’s going on or how they’re acting makes a whole lot of sense. Non-Nemesis (and her one friend) character motivations are very hazy and seem to sometimes contradict themselves, which makes the focus on late game political twists feel a bit like, “That happened, now this is happening. Who knows why? Now watch Nemesis react.”
There’s a late game potentially queer character left weirdly ambiguous and unaddressed and otherwise dealt with really poorly? Two characters are rapists and that just seems to be a plot point that comes and goes for the sake of demonstrating that they suck? (That’s in the first half, I suppose, but it just…yeah.) Basically, this book other than the intriguing world it’s in and Nemesis being a precious murderous cinnamon roll discovering what it is to be human was a whole load of, “Huh, what? Sounds fake but okay.” (Well, that, or eye-rolling.)
Overall: I really wanted to like this book. It grabbed my interest and I read it quickly. But it heavily sabotaged itself by making the latter half focus on poorly-handled political intrigue (between characters we didn’t really get a chance to understand), by breezing by certain plot points in awkward and potentially offensive ways, and by not having enough cool fight scenes. (Like you made a book about a space assassin that barely has fight scenes? WHY.)
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
I’m not going to premise this one; it’s a sequel to A Court of Thorns and Roses, which I reviewed in a previous post. To leave you as spoiler-free as possible, even if you haven’t read that one: that book is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, kind of. (It draws on a few fairy tales.) Except it takes place in a world where there are humans and Fae, and the protagonist, Feyre, gets drawn into the Fae world. In this book, she’s finding her place in it, basically.
I wasn’t 100% on whether I’d jump into this sequel because of how I felt about the first book. The pacing of the first was so bad, partly due to plot devices whereby no one could tell Feyre what was going on so we also didn’t know, and partly because no one bothered to involve Feyre in plenty of stuff because of her humanness. (So for most of the book, she just…had a slow romance and hung out.)
I was reassured that this book would be leagues better, and it really was. This book does some fantastic worldbuilding as Feyre finally gets more access to the Fae world, and it introduces some more characters who she regularly interacts with and who have personalities. Feyre is involved much more deeply in the plot of what’s going on in the Fae world and gets to really affect events. And she gets to have a lively banter and equal relationship with her love interest as well as friendships with others, instead of snippets of often-condescending conversation and stilted camaraderie with servants between painting. And she gets to develop as a character based on her actions in the first book. Whew.
But this novel did the opposite of the first: it was a four-star book most of the way through, then got ham-handed in the last hundred pages or so. It overcommitted to the romance (which I liked most of the way through, but then it got extraordinarily overwrought and way too fated, which felt iffy both in terms of character development and possible event retcons); there were suddenly a lot of novice fanfic author-style sex scenes; it had a rushed and sudden huge confrontation that felt pretty messy and made a major villain feel anticlimactic; a MacGuffin was used to make barely-relevant characters more relevant and we were supposed to find it tragic (I just don’t even know why the author couldn’t just either write them a real role or let them go rather than this choice); and there was a weird and seemingly random imprint moment that benefited the protagonist’s agenda. You Twilight folks feel me.
(Also, for whatever reason, none of the now-large main ensemble seems to be in any way queer or not-white, which always just starts to chew away at me if there’s a big cast of characters in fantasy/everyone is pairing off. Like this trilogy bothers to have characters who are dark-skinned or notably other but only if they’re not that important? And no one at all ever is even a little gay or genderfluid in a sex-positive, magical society? COME ON.)
Whining aside, it did leave things off in a really interesting position to continue, and I was really glued to it throughout. I’m definitely going to pick up the last book to see what happens. I don’t even know with you, Sarah J. Maas. Here’s a rating.
Welp, that finishes up Weekly Reads for this week, and what a ride it was! I’ll see you again on Tuesday, and until then, may your books be paced like fast, efficient trains more often than underfunded city buses. Cheers!