Hello everyone, and welcome back to my second chances series! (For the idea behind this, check out the first post.) It seems I will have to come up with a tag for this, since it doesn’t seem likely to go away any time soon. It keeps working out…at least half the time?
In any case: here’s who I gave another shot this month! Bonus: my only slightly abbreviated reviews of each new read, since I thought it’d be fun to do them this way instead of separately. Let’s go!
Flame in the Mist by RENÉE AHDIEH
So, recap: I needed to give this author another shot because I am one of the very slim minority on the Internet who didn’t love The Wrath & The Dawn. tl;dr: I thought there were weird consent issues and that the story-within-a-story aspect was underwhelming.
This book definitely worked better for me, and I might pick up the sequel, but…yeah, I still had some issues with it. Honestly, I think this made me realize some of the smaller issues I had with The Wrath & The Dawn (since Flame in the Mist doesn’t have those same larger ones).
Example: Sometimes the perspective switches to characters I don’t really care about because things are happening to them that I know I won’t understand until the sequel because they’re just meant to be foreboding. I feel like…not all of this is necessary to describe, or maybe just not through those perspectives. (Related: I don’t automatically care about a character just because the protagonist does.)
In terms of other stuff: I don’t know that this applies to The Wrath & The Dawn, but there was some awkward writing in this book. There’s often a pattern where there are two sentence fragments, a paragraph break, then the next paragraph is just one sentence or one sentence fragment. Don’t know what I mean? Example time.
Light reflecting on the sea. Sand between her toes.
She could see the palm trees from the shore.
This happens a lot. I mean, when I first wrote this, I thought I had to be exaggerating, but then I opened the book to a random page a few times and found a structure like this every time. It’s not as if that’s entirely not allowed in writing, but it is really jarring and should be used, I think, for moments of particular effect rather than…very frequently.
There was also a plot twist that felt like it wasn’t profound or necessary? Mostly, I wasn’t invested enough in what the twist revealed because I didn’t have enough backstory, information, or feels, so that was strange to me because the treatment of it in the story felt like it should’ve been a big deal. Also just on a character level, I often felt like Mariko had hazy motivations or it wasn’t clear how she was working towards any of her goals.
ANYWAY overall this was an improvement to me: no weird consent issues, there was the insinuation of a threat of sexual assault but it wasn’t totally egregious as an incident? I was a little weirded out by the fact that this was pitched as a Mulan retelling but it’s very clearly about Japanese culture, but I’m obviously not the right person to speak to that.
I’m trying, Reneé Ahdieh.
Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
I’ll be honest with you: I really didn’t like Anna Dressed in Blood. The tl;dr version? I thought it was a cheap Supernatural ripoff with some lowkey sexism (guys who do stuff for the girl deserve to “get” her) and, as that post details perhaps a bit too vehemently, I felt like it wasted a unique setting.
On top of that, Three Dark Crowns gets very mixed reviews. So I put off this second chance for a long time.
But you know what? I was pleasantly surprised.
Three Dark Crowns is a book set in a kooky fantasy world where a country that’s a series of islands has a bizarre tradition of three triplet girls always competing to become queen. They compete by, well, killing one another after the Beltane that falls after their sixteenth birthday. But first, they are each fostered on separate islands and must show their skill in that area’s specialty: elemental control, naturalism (basically druids), or poisoning.
I agree with criticisms of the romance in this book and the fact that the continuous shifting of perspectives makes it difficult for any of the characters to be very developed. But a lot of people weren’t down for this book because it wasn’t too action-driven, and I didn’t feel that way. I more or less liked all of the queens and their entourages and I enjoyed getting to know more about this strange world and its rituals. There were twists that actually took me by surprise (and some that didn’t, but hey, I’d say I’m genre-savvy), and when I got to the end, I wanted to know what’d happen next.
This isn’t going to be my favourite read of the year, but I had a lot of fun with it, and I’m probably going to read the sequel as soon as it’s out, so that’s a way better place than I expected to be with Kendare Blake. This is probably one of my biggest swings from “I’d prefer to avoid this author” to “I’m definitely buying their next book” and one of the major reasons why I will probably do this series forever.
THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR BY NICOLA YOON
Quick recap: I really enjoyed Maddie (the protagonist) from Everything, Everything, but I thought the book and its twists and rushed ending were kind of…no.
This is also a second chance I totally put off because I’d heard that the book was very instalove and that generally bothers me. But.
Here it goes: some people will really enjoy this book and some will hate it. You need to be able to get past the fact that it’s instalove. (The intensity of the day on which these things happen between these two leads does help that be less awkward, I feel.)
You also need to not absolutely hate the idea of the butterfly effect or of unconventional writing choices. (The book often shifts perspectives to tell a brief bit of the life story of someone who plays a minor role in Natasha and Daniel’s story.)
So honestly? As cynical as I may appear on this blog, I am a romantic, so although I probably wouldn’t have liked the love story on its own, the framework here of the setting and the events that happen during the day made it work for me.
I also love unique narrative choices (given that I read SO MUCH YA in similar forms, it’s really refreshing!) and I think the author does an amazing job here of slipping back and forth and giving me genuine feelings about what’s going on in the inner lives of the minor characters.
While there are definitely echoes of Everything, Everything here, from the traits of the characters through to the speedy ending of the book, I think this works better for a lot of reasons: the double-sided romance lets the love feel more real rather than one character’s dream coming true (with the other feeling two-dimensional); there’s not an enormous late-game change that demands emotional consequences and leaves the quick ending unsatisfying; and the book pushes a “love is the most important thing” message but doesn’t insist that love conquers all, which makes it feel more balanced and believable.
You need to be able to get over instalove to enjoy this book, but if you can, you might really love it. It has probably been one of my favourites of the month!
Well, to be honest, I’m not sure yet who I’m going to follow up with next. But it went well this time, so I’m looking forward to reading whoever it is!
Who have you given a second chance lately? Do you have any second chance suggestions for me? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!