Hello everyone, and welcome back!
This week, I managed to pick up another recent pub from a young adult author based in Canada, which has been an ongoing goal of mine. (Not a lot of prominent Canadians in YA for me to read, I’m afraid.) How did it go? Let’s talk about it.
Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra
The cover is reasonably sweet and depicts something important from the book. A good start.
Kyra is a Markswoman, a woman from an order sworn to bring peace to their area by performing executions of those guilty of great sin. She has trained from a young age for this duty, and she is bonded to the telepathic blade she wields to do her work. But her conviction isn’t as deep as it should be, given the shadows of her difficult past. Can she overcome her inner darkness to do what is right?
Y’all, let me start off by saying I am very conflicted about this book. On one hand, it is very imaginative, with a world that seems both futuristic and past-y and fantasy at once. (Think some kind of “if ancient aliens had actually happened but then left and everyone relies on weird ancient technology and mystical hitmen” scenario.) This world is cool, the premise of hanging out among an order of women who train to kill with their intelligent blades and their telepathic powers is sweet, and it’s always fun to occupy a fantasy world that isn’t all kings and castles and very Western Europe. I want to know its history, from the broad strokes down to the very personal interplays between the different orders and their internal politics. Heck, I want to know what these people are farming and about their economics. They live in a world where you can travel through slowly-breaking-down teleport doors. There are guns that are malevolently evil and talk to your mind. How does that affect…everything? It feels like the author has a lot more planned to reveal how all of that works, so it makes it all seem pretty fascinating. I dig that a lot.
But like, the actual book beyond the setting, you guys. The plot of it is in some ways so rapid fire and in some ways so slow-paced and also so full of tropes it’s kind of tiresome. On the quick end: There’s instalove, there are a couple blink-and-you’ll-miss it training montages where the protagonist learns enough to have a huge impact on the narrative, there’s a weird incident of violation that’s brushing too close to sexual assault for comfort that of course quickly blows over (is even treated as forgivable by a protagonist?! WHY) and is just another quick plot point, and so on. The main protagonist is really close with three people and has a couple of rivals, but we get one or two real moments each between her and each of these people, she just…doesn’t really talk to her love interest but then wants to kiss him. I mean, whatever, you’ve lived your whole life only with other women and you’re straight, sure, teen life in my experience (I thought I was straight then, for a minute), but it’s hard to get behind ships when the people have no compelling reason beyond hormones to be so drawn to each other. Basically, it’s very hard to get invested in any of these relationships.
But on the slow side, we get to read a lot about what a sandstorm (even one of no real consequence) is like, about an early conflict Kyra’s there for that seems to have no impact in this book, about who teaches which lessons and what traditions people in the nearby village have even when they’re of no importance, and so on. These sometimes feel like details given to be guns that’ll go off later in the narrative, only they don’t. Maybe they will in later books, and I’m not necessarily against detail, but it feels shifty here in an otherwise quick book that skims over a lot of character stuff to spend time on food descriptions or whatnot. Also a protagonist we get as a perspective seems to kind of withhold information from us even when we’re kind of in his mind, which is just frustrating to read and the information comes off as really predictable and I just don’t get why people slow-roll this kind of thing. (Also this is a book with telepathic blades in it, can we please spend more time showing that bond rather than telling the audience how much it sucks to be parted from a blade, okay thanks)
I don’t know, blog friends. I mean, I’m down for a cool world and the promise of more even within a messy shell (The Bone Witch, anyone?), but anything remotely close to sexual assault as a trope really raises my hackles, instalove can become pretty tiresome (maybe it’s just something I have to accept because YA but…no, there are people who write love stories that aren’t this), pacing that is simultaneously rapid fire but then sometimes certain stuff is unnecessary is a little rough, and I like to get to care about the relationships between characters.
I don’t really know how to rate this. The world is really something, I dig the premise, and if it had just played out in a kind of slow or mediocre way, it’d be a definite continue and three stars? (If it had played out with way more speaking to intelligent blades and female friendship moments, it’d definitely be more.)
But this was…otherwise messy, and I’m not sure if I’d continue (certainly not right away and without hesitation, anyway), and I still feel kind of weird about that violation of a female protagonist as a plot point bump. If it hadn’t been such an intriguing world and magic-ish/sci-fi-ish system, this would be more in the one-and-a-half star realm of The Wrath & The Dawn (with its weird consent issues and super messy romance and stated-not-developed relationships between characters and storytelling powers).
Let’s…leave it somewhere nebulously in the middle for now, yeah?
Have you ever loved the setting or premise of a book and had Real Problems with its execution? (I feel like sometimes when I read a whole trilogy I am drowning in the potential the first book showed while the series grinds on to…not deliver. Or there are weird times like this.) Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!