*I’m going to define “everyone else” based on Goodreads ratings and the hype I’ve seen around BookTube, but of course your mileage may vary!
Hello everyone! I thought I’d hop on board with The Broke and the Bookish again this week for this Top Ten Tuesday, because let’s be real, I live for disappointing books posts on other blogs/YouTube channels. Also more realness: I choose a lot of books based on how well they review on average and how much positive buzz they’ve gotten, and a lot of times, I get to reading and then…get disappointed.
To be totally honest, the title of my entire blog should probably be “Books I Liked Less Than Everyone Else.” I even like the books I liked less than everyone else, sigh. So on one hand, I don’t mean to offend you by not liking the books you don’t like and please don’t take it personally (I’m happy you liked books!) but also: I can’t really apologize for being disappointed. I have my reasons.
…but I’m also going to make controversial picks here, because that’s what makes disappointing books posts the most fun, right? (Let the flames begin.) So without further ado, here are (more than) ten YA books I liked less than everyone else.
The Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown
I talked about these in my very first disappointing books post! We’ve come so far. (And yes, these are more new adult-ish, but I’m going to lump them in with YA for this post because genre is blurry.)
The action in these books is undeniably fast-paced and reasonably exciting (so I’m hopeful for the possibility that these will work a lot better as films), but these books took every familiar story pattern/trope/trend/character archetype and tried to mash it into the same stew.
So I feel like I need a caveat here: basically all stories are built on patterns on archetypes. Lots of people complained that The Hunger Games read as a mash-up of pre-existing ideas, but many people also agree it’s a great book. Here’s the deal: something has to compellingly make those pre-existing ideas, patterns, or archetypes feel meaningful and unique in the context of the story. Usually this happens through alterations of subversions of the expected play-out of tropes/patterns/archetypes or through having predictable plots with interesting characters or boring characters in unpredictable plots or standard plots and characters in deep, carefully constructed settings.
But in the case of these books, I feel like we got character archetypes with uncomplicated motivations, a world based entirely on tropes/trends, and story patterns (like, say, a revenge narrative driven by fridging a woman, and I probably should’ve just stopped there) that played out exactly as I expected them to. I’m sorry if you loved these, and I totally get how the action of is compelling and/or it doesn’t feel as irritating if you haven’t encountered all of these patterns elsewhere, but aaah I just don’t get the hype here at all.
The Winner’s trilogy by Marie Rutkoski
If you can get past the fact that this trilogy is about a girl who buys a slave and then she and the slave fall in love—which is a lot bigger ask than the book or many reviews treat it as, sweet heck—then you still have to contend with the fact that this book creates a world of “political intrigue” with basically no intrigue (because we get so little about the setting beyond the protagonists’ homes and the villain is pretty moustache-twirling), Kestrel is torn between her love interest and her father who is barely a character and seems like a dick when he is one (what a hard choice?), and Arin develops a close relationship with a god, only…we learn next to nothing about the religious beliefs and customs of his people.
Also there’s an almost-rape that happens just so that someone can rescue someone else, with no traumatic or narrative consequences. More about it in a previous review, but basically: I…don’t get why these books are so loved.
The Wrath & The Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
This book is so loved and on one hand, I get it, the setting is gorgeously rendered and it’s a retelling that I was really excited by (One Thousand and One Nights!), but on the other hand, what the sweet bippity heck, why is everyone okay with the super, super weird consent issues in this novel? (The consummation of the marriage is such an extremely uncomfortable, glossed over scene.)
I mean, okay. There can be sex with a lack of consent/under duress in a YA novel. I’m not saying that writing about difficult subjects is a thing you shouldn’t do. But the guy that happens with for Shahrzad then becomes her love interest. I get it, she’s married to him, which she’s done to get revenge and she feels obliged to do this duty. (But it’s not as if she initiates this. It’s still an expectation the king brings with him and she submits to.) It’s obviously not a thing she wants and it’s very uncomfortable and that lack of consent + intimacy continues until her feelings change and I just…can’t get past that to find the king dreamy, sorry. The book isn’t attentive to having the two deal with those issues and does the most to frame the king as misunderstood when…this is still a thing he did. (It’s made out as more romantic because Shahrzad is the only one he did this to, and she did ask to marry him. But they both know she didn’t ask to do so for love or desire, so…I’m still just not down. Nope.)
If you can get past that (and I just can’t), there’s also a scalene love triangle and I just wish storytelling had more significance in a retelling of a story about storytelling. (So much storyception, so little meaning to it.) A little more here, but mostly: okay sure, I’m game to check out Ahdieh’s next series, but can someone warn me if there’s going to be really iffy sex?
The Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
I’m clearly trying to be shouted down at this point. I reviewed this one a long time ago, back when I didn’t have a real rating system and really didn’t know how loved this trilogy is. I am now very aware of how much of an outlier I am.
Here’s the deal: I think the premise and the setting are amazing! And I think the first book far exceeds the second two in retrospect, because it focuses on some of the most fascinating parts of that setting and on interactions with the Darkling, who had the potential to be very interesting but turns out a lot more bland in motivation than I would’ve liked. But Alina as a character bores me. Alina’s relationship with Mal bores me. The plot feels incredibly predictable. Everyone’s backstory is far more interesting than what is currently happening. (Echoes of the Twilight saga in that way: give me any random vampire or werewolf’s backstory over Edward/Bella any day.) Any attempts at inserting political intrigue and maneuvering basically crumble in the face of powerful people finally just using raw power to take away the illusion that politics matter very much.
I have Six of Crows on my TBR, and honestly a paragraph from the opening of Shadow and Bone was good enough stylistically that it stuck with me, so I can imagine this author has chops and I do want to feel the hype others do about her work. In the case of this trilogy, though? Nope.
The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare
This is another setting that has a lot of promise, but the focus is not on setting but mostly on Jace and Clary’s (very annoying) romantic angst 99% of the time. Anyway, that aside, Clare is super shady. If you can get past the fact that a lot of what she’s written for this trilogy is based on fanfiction that she wrote by plagiarizing various books and TV shows (idea theftception?), the first TMI trilogy still goes majorly downhill.
I don’t know what to say that I haven’t already said, other than that I am still baffled at how much of the YA-reviewing world is so on board with these books and this author? I also have this True Story: while I had the flu once, I decided to watch the whole first season of Shadowhunters to try to write a comparative review for this blog. It was kind of hilarious, especially in my sickly state, and I re-developed a love for Harry Shum, Jr. (even with or especially because of his hammy acting), but I just…nah. I don’t really need to spend more time on this series. The more I read and write for this blog, the more I realize there are many, many other book/fandom fishes in the sea.
All right, y’all. That’s six listings, thirteen books, and…a lot of reasons to disagree with me, if how often I see these books loved is any indication. (And hey, if you’re looking for some positivity/alternatives, here are some recent favourites posts: YA romances, pre-blog YA, and favourite YA of 2016.)
Catch y’all Friday, by which time I hope to have another favourite: A Conjuring of Light, a book I received early but have had no chance to read yet. Oops. Happy reading!