Crooked Kingdom: Leigh Bardugo

I had put off the Six of Crows sequel for a really, really long time because I knew my life would have no purpose once the journey of Kaz Brekker & Co. was over. Now it is over. My life is meaningless, as expected.
I’m kidding. ((Sort of.))
Let’s cover this topic meticulously.¬†Crooked Kingdom¬†is a work of art and deserves to be reviewed at the deepest level that I am capable of, though I’m not entirely sure I can actually do that in the time I have. If I wanted to write the in-depth review that is tapping at my fingertips, it would probably take me all of eternity, or at least a long week.

The cover: we see a crow. Its wings are splayed across the page, its throat is tilted back as it glowers upwards. A crow rising from a kingdom of dull gray-gold. Its tail-feathers are tinted with specks of blood. Now, this is symbolism punching you right in the gut. I mean, maybe the cover artist just thought it was a cool concept, but the whole story revolves around Kaz Brekker, the Crow King, rising from the gutter and taking over the country that has tried to crush him under its heel. He’s like a Pheonix reborn, but with much more chaos, blackness, and monstrosity.

You have to remember, when reading the¬†Six of Crows¬†series, that our protagonist, Brekker, is actually a cleverly spun antagonist. He’s mean. He’s cruel. He’s as cold as a glacier and could outwit a fox. But he’s the one we’re rooting for, and why? Because he’s such a badass.
I’m not saying that Brekker is a bad character; exactly the opposite, actually. Kaz is one of my favorite characters of all time. But he’s definitely a¬†bad¬†guy, and I think that in this book, he brushes the depths of his black soul. Kaz is constantly walking the line between evil and unforgivable, and in this adventure, we see him toeing that line. Part of the tension that feeds into the story is the question of whether he can be redeemed, or whether he’s gone way too far.

Here’s the thing about writing characters who are “evil”: in the end, they always have a heart of gold. ¬†The thing that makes Kaz walk the atypical path is that unlike lots of these bad guys, his plot armor is flimsy, and consequently, we’re not always sure what will happen. He is backed into every possible corner of every possible situation, and anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. I personally believe that the thing that makes Kaz a good character is his maturation over the series; at first, he is driven by a single-handed and unquenchable thirst for revenge, and he will let¬†nothing¬†get in the way. ¬†He’s like any other revenge-seeking thug. Over the course of the books, however, Kaz becomes the guy who is still driven by his single-handed and unquenchable thirst for revenge, but also by a deep fear of failing his team. Kaz grows fond of his crew. That’s what makes him different. He has always been the monster, but now he’s a monster with much to lose, regardless of what he claims.
That was the biggest thing I noticed in Book 2, and that was the thing that endeared it to me. The story isn’t totally about Kaz getting his revenge; it’s about a really daunting, possibly indomitable trial that a group of tight-knit friends has to overcome.¬†No mourners, no funerals¬†my ass; these guys will go to the depths of Hell to drag each other out, and they prove it over and over again through the events of¬†Crooked Kingdom.¬†

Nina, the Heartrender-turned-something-else-entirely. Wylan, the dishonorable son. Jesper, another dishonorable son, and a gambler who can’t afford to lose anything more. Matthias, struggling to reconcile his love for the enemy, and the world he grow up in. Inej. A young woman who had everything torn from her in the worst way possible, but built herself back up with the help of the bastard of the barrel. The focus isn’t just on Kaz and the blood he’s tasted in the cold waters of Ketterdam; each character has their personal struggles, and each struggle is resolved in the most satisfying way. Nina must come to terms with the aftereffects of her fight against¬†jurda parem. Wylan must face his past, his father, his failures, and come to terms with the person he believes himself to be and the person he really is. Jesper’s gambling habit catches up to him in the form of Colm Fahey, the honest farmer, come to fetch his wayward-but-adored eldest son; he must learn how to absolve his sins. Matthias, still deep in the throes of love, must acknowledge that his relationship with Nina is still affected by the remnants of his¬†druskelle¬†background. Inej learns to take power back from the people who wronged and underestimated her and reconciles her pious background with the creature of destruction, fear, and darkness that she has become.

We see hints of these battles in Six of Crows, but Ms. Bardugo lets each one simmer and cook until the events of Crooked Kingdom, giving the characters adequate time to learn from their experiences and mature into wiser people. Not good ones, but ones with more understanding of themselves, their potential, their goals and desires.

The whole world works against the crew– literally the whole world. The Shu, the Kaelish, the Ravkans, the Fjerdans, all of the Barrel and all of the merch. All of Ketterdam. The city that Kaz has poured his blood, sweat, and the occasional tear into, has turned against him. It’s the team’s worst nightmare, but Kaz is undeterred. This is just one more trial on his path to avenging Jordie, putting Rollins further in his self-made grave. The thing that changes, as I stated earlier, is the fact that he seems to realize that his crew is mortal and that everyone has stakes in this game. It affects him through the novel, especially concerning Inej:
“And then,” said Inej, “I’m going to walk a high wire from one silo to the next.”
Nina threw her hands in the air. “And all of it without a net, I suppose?”

“A Ghafa never performs with a net,” Inej said indignantly.
“Does a Ghafa frequently perform twenty stories above cobblestones after being held prisoner for a week?”
“There will be a net,” said Kaz… The silence in the tomb was sudden and complete. Inej couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
~
“Why the net, Kaz?”
Yes, why the net? Why something that would complicate the assault he’d planned on the silos and leave them twice as open to exposure.¬†I couldn’t bear to watch you fall.

The monstrosity of Kaz Brekker has one Achilles’ heel: his love for the Wraith, his spider, the stubborn, quietly determined Inej Ghafa. ¬†I’m not going to say anything more on that; you’ll have to read it yourself. Will they or won’t they? You’ll find out if you pick up¬†Crooked Kingdom.

Speaking of romance: a lot of relationships, like the Kaz/Inej coupling, are tested in the waters of this novel. Inej, a victim of kidnapping in the beginning, is forced to reexamine her relationship with the meanest, sharpest skiv in Ketterdam and Kerch, maybe all of the Grisha universe:
Kaz had been clear about his arrangement with her from the beginning. Inej was an investment, an asset worthy of protection. She had wanted to believe that they’d become more to each other. Jan Van Eck had robbed her of that illusion.
She’s always been Kaz’s right-hand man. She’s closer to him than anyone else, but how much does that matter in the long-run? If she were broken and useless, would Kaz still need her? Or would he discard her as he would any old relic of the past?

Nina and Matthias need to deal with the question of their future together. Waylan and Jesper’s feelings come to culmination, though I will say that a love-triangle is hinted at, but quickly averted (thank GOD). Oh, I forgot to mention this in my earlier post about¬†Six of Crows,¬†but in regards to LGBTQ+ relationships: I think Wylan and Jasper are the best couple I’ve observed so far. Their relationship is understandable (meaning they actually build up a relationship rather than just falling into arbitrary love), neither of them is typecast as the “flamboyant gay” or the “suppressed gay,” and rather than being treated as a means to an end, they have their own stories. Their own struggles. Their own salvations. The thing I hated about Dorian and whatever-his-name-was in¬†Girl at Midnight¬†or most of the other queer couples that have been featured in YA fiction is that they don’t seem like they are their own individuals. They seem like they were written in¬†solely¬†for the purpose of falling in love with another a person of the same sex, which meant that their whole role in the story was “the gay guy/girl/person.” This goes both ways, though. I also hate when a heterosexual character is written in solely for the purpose of falling in love with this specific other person, but the problem is that gay couples are already underrepresented, and when they’re written so lazily, it makes their representation feel more like something the author was checking off a list rather than actually putting time and effort into.

Okay, well, I don’t want to argue about the dynamics of queer relationships because I’m a straight person, but… a relationship is a relationship, you know? All story romances should feel organic and have thought put into them, whether they be heterosexual or homosexual or whatever they are. I think that as a person who reads books and understands romantic relationships, my opinion should have some weight… but I don’t want to be labeled a “straight cisgendered” something or the other. ūüė¶
It sucks to feel like you’re being censored, though I will admit that I’m censoring myself due to an unwillingness to be cast into the imperiously angry flames of well-meaning Twitter activists.

So. Wylan and Jesper. Their problem is that so many bad things are happening so fast, and in such consecutive order, that they don’t have time to talk about what’s going on between them. Ms. Bardugo was able to build a relationship between the two while also avoiding what Ms. Tahir did in¬†A Torch Against the Night¬†with Laia and Elias, a la why are they being so romantic while the world is falling apart around them, what is wrong with these two. And if you want to find out what happens… read the book, yo.

This is running SO LONG but I feel like there’s so much to talk about. The main storyline for example: Jan Van Eck is getting one over on those dirty sewer rats in the Barrel. Kaz, Inej, Wylan, Jesper, Nina and Matthias are going to pull the biggest con of their life (right after breaking Kuwei out of the Ice Prison, lol). The international community is swarming Kerch– the Shu to kidnap Grisha, the Kaelish, Fjordans, Ravkans, and everybody else to find the secret to¬†jurda parem,¬†which Kaz holds right in his gloved hands. It’s going to take a lot more than a lucky break to get them out this time, and the crew just might be bested by the world that they unwittingly took on.
Haha. JK. This is Kaz Brekker and he’s always got a plan, and even if that means half of or all of the city is going to be razed, he’s going to go through with it. Jan Van Eck will bleed whatever tar runs through his body for trying to double-cross the most dangerous character alive, for trying to harm this character’s friends, and for thinking that he could get one over on the sinful disgraces of Ketterdam. Pekka Rollins will get what’s coming to him for all the pigeons he’s fleeced, especially for what he did to two young boys from the quiet countryside. All of Kerch is going to bow down to a new Barrel boss, one more ruthless and cunning than anything it’s ever dealt with; one that was borne from the misery and terror that the old bosses raised, and reveled in a chaos he spread afterwards.

The plot is amazing. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, and there were several points where I thought, “this is it. There’s actually no way to get out of this one; he screwed himself over.” and what really delighted me was that there were parts of the book where I made a guess at what would happen (I consider myself to be a fairly good guesser. I think it comes with having read a lot of varied YA fiction.) and found that I had only gotten maybe 1/15th of the plan right. It’s not like Sherlock Holmes, where all the clues are hidden to you and you only figure out what’s going to happen because Sherlock comes up with some information that was never divulged to the reader; Ms. Bardugo lays everything out in the open, and leaves the reader to their rumination. But Kaz is always one step ahead of everybody, including his audience.

Six of Crows¬†was one of my favorite books of all time and¬†Crooked Kingdom¬†wrapped up the series beautifully. I hope that this cast will be featured in future stories set in the Grisha-verse, but only time will tell. For now, though, I would¬†highly¬†highly highly recommend this book to anyone that likes a good story; anyone who likes reading.¬†Six of Crows¬†and¬†Crooked Kingdom¬†are staples of YA literature, and you’d be doing a disservice to yourself not to give them a try. HAPPY READING!!¬†‚̧

Given to the Sea: Mindy McGinnis

Given to the Sea¬†was one of the more eagerly-anticipated novels coming ’round this year. I remember catching glimpses of it on Goodreads; the cover is beautiful, and you know of my love affair with covers. Although I¬†really¬†should learn to stop hoping for a good story based off of a cover. Mindy McGinnis, the author, is known for her¬†Not a Drop to Drink¬†series, which I tried reading but couldn’t get very far into. I thought I might try¬†GttS because it’s been a while since her debut, and authors tend to get better as they gain experience.

This book is confusing. I’m pretty good at following alternating points of view;¬†Streams of Babel¬†had the same format, and it’s one of my favorite books of all time.¬†Code Name Verity¬†did too, though it didn’t switch characters so abruptly. My problem with¬†Given to the Sea¬†is that the problems in its world, and the characters that play a part in the story, aren’t introduced to us at all. Instead, we’re thrust right into the middle of things. The book begins with Khosa, who gives us a spiel about the role of the Given and how dangerous the sea is, but after that there are no more introductions. All of these random people show up and it’s like you’re already supposed to know who everyone is. Madda, the seer, Prince Varrick, the philandering noble, Donil, the Indiri twin, Milda, the baker’s daughter, like who are all these people and why am I supposed to care about them?

Everything in this book revolves around sex and pregnancy. You wouldn’t think so, but seriously: the main problem in the story seems to be that Khosa has not yet gotten herself pregnant, which means that she can’t be sacrificed to the sea because she has no heir who will be sacrificed ages afterwards. There was some minor character who lasted for a few chapters– Khosa’s friend, who offers to impregnate her, and has already done so with two other village girls. Apparently sex is a very casual thing in this world. Then there’s Prince Varrick, who can’t keep his pants on, and Prince Vincent, who likes to pretend that he is a “normal boy” by bedding the baker’s daughter every now and then. ¬†The Pietran soldiers cannot stop making dirty jokes. Then there’s Dara, the Indiri girl, who wants to find an Indiri man that she can make Indiri children with. Do you see what I mean? They talk about sex constantly. This is all in the first twelve chapters. It seems like not all– but many characters’ goals revolve entirely around reproduction. Literally anything that Khosa was involved in was tangentially related to her trying to find a man to get pregnant by.

There’s a lot of dialogue. There were entire passages, pages, that were just dialogue, and that can be horribly tedious to read. Most of this book was difficult because I was either trying to figure out which character was speaking, or why what they were talking about mattered to the plot, or what they were even talking about in the first place.

I lasted for twelve chapters but each one felt more boring than the first. I hate to be harsh, really and truly, but this book just didn’t catch my attention. There were too many unnecessary characters, and those introduced to us in the beginning weren’t beguiling enough to keep me reading. Khosa is beautiful. Dara is fierce. Vincent is reluctant. Donil is a joker. Then there’s the mysterious Witt, who is a killer. Witt never even interacts with the other characters. I don’t even know why he’s in this story. I really don’t understand what’s going on, or why all of these things that are happening, are happening (like some war?? That a neighboring kingdom or something? Is waging? But there’s no explanation as to why).

Also, from what I can garner by skimming through the next few chapters… everyone is falling in love with everyone. Vincent likes Khosa. Dara likes Vincent. Vincent likes Dara. Khosa likes Dolin. Dolin likes Khosa. What the heck. No love triangles for me, thanks. Actually this is even worse because it’s like a love circle? Whatever it is, I’m done.

Wildwood Dancing: Juliet Marillier

I’ve always had a soft spot for fairy-tale retellings; hence my love for¬†The Lunar Chronicles,¬†Beauty,¬†so on and so forth. It’s fun to see how authors re-imagine the words of ages-old writers, or how they toy with the constraints set in place by The Brothers Grimm and other storytellers.¬†Wildwood Dancing¬†by Juliet Marillier follows the time-old story of¬†The Twelve Dancing Princesses,¬†except there are only five of them (which is probably for the best; imagine having to remember twelve characters) and they’re merchant’s daughters, not royalty.

The girls live in Transylvania, in a mysterious castle that is already fraught with superstitions and strange lore. Romanian culture was heavily laced into the story, from the food to the names to the words, but I’m not sure that the author quite accomplished what she was going for. When I read the book, it felt like I was being told over and over again that they were Romanian, when I should have understood this from context. The “Romanian-ness” was blatant, but it should have been subtle; you know how in grade school, English teachers would always tell you to “show, not tell”?
So the girls live in this castle with a few servants and their father. Tati is the oldest, and an ethereal beauty; Jena comes after her, and she’s the protagonist of the story, who is known for being sensible; then it’s Iulia, I think, the flirty one, then Paula, the scholar, and finally Stela, at five years. Oh yeah, their ages range from 16 to 12, I think, with Stela as an outlier. That made it a little frustrating at certain parts (like when Tati insists that she’s in love with a man that she’s known for a week), but since this is set in what, the late 1800s – early 1900s, I tried to suspend my disbelief. ¬†The merchant father is working with a cousin of his (the girls’s uncle) on a business venture, and that cousin has a son named Cezar.

Recently I’ve stopped writing up synopses for the books that I read because honestly, it’s such a boring task. I’m way too meticulous when I try to recall the events, and it gets really miserable. So I’m just going to cover the highs and lows of the book in depth, as I usually do. If you want to know what happens: there are five girls — they go dancing in the Otherworld on full-moon nights — their father, the merchant, is very sick and has to go away for a while, leaving them in their uncle’s care — their uncle is killed, leaving the girls in Cezar’s hands, and he’s kind of a tyrant — Cezar is a misogynistic pig who knows the girls are somehow sneaking out — Jena’s pet frog, Gogu, turns out to be a man — Tati and her vampiric lover, Sorrow, manage to end up together; Costi, who is Cezar’s supposedly-dead older brother, turns out to be the real identity of Gogu, and he was under a supernatural curse doled out to him by Draguta, the forest witch. He marries Jena and their father comes home, hearty again, and everything is fine and dandy.
See, I’m not good at explanations.

Cezar was a good antagonist. There were times when I wanted to put down the book and cry because he was frustrating¬†me. There are so many sexist stereotypes ingrained into him, and he demonstrates just how useless he thinks women are several times. Cezar looks for a damsel in distress, in Jena, and grows angry when he isn’t able to find one– which makes him dangerous. Jena maintains diplomacy with her childhood friend, failing to shut him down when needed, which I found annoying; but nearer to the middle of the book, when Cezar’s advances became more aggressive, I realized that it was probably because she didn’t want him to go ballistic on her. He’s huge, strong, and intimidating– definitely not the type you’d want for an enemy, especially if you’re a fifteen-year-old girl.

I liked the camaraderie between the younger sisters, though I’m excluding Tatiana from this because for most of the story, she was the lovelorn maiden mooning into the night sky, wallowing in self-pity because she can’t be with her week-old lover. I didn’t like her at all. But I get that she had to be included in the story, because she’s one of those quintessential fairy-tale characters.

Jena maintains that she is the “sensible” sister throughout the story, and her practicality shines in every one of her decisions. She refuses to allow Cezar to feel like he is in control. She warns Tati away from Sorrow, a member of the Night People, who are notoriously dangerous. She chooses not to trust Gogu after he turns into a man– understandable, because her frog just turned into a man. Her reasoning behind this, though, irritated me a little: the vampiress Anastasia drags her to “Draguta’s Mirror,” which is a pool of water that will apparently show you your future. Jena sees Man-Gogu (Costi) attacking her sisters. Firstly, I don’t understand why the heck Jena believes the mirror that this woman introduces her to. Anastasia has been suspicious since her initial appearance in the Otherworld; the Night People, whom Anastasia belongs to, are known for playing cruel tricks on people, and Jena even claims several times that the Night People are attacking the villagers in an attempt to turn the villagers against the woodland fey. So why, Jena, would you suddenly believe that Anastasia is being truthful when she claims to have something like “Draguta’s Mirror”? And secondly, why would you believe anything that Draguta’s Mirror shows you? It was introduced to you by a vampire, specifically one who has some kind of grudge against you, and being the sensible sister, shouldn’t she have some sliver of doubt about everything she observes? This was one point where I felt that Jena lost her practicality for the sake of the plot. Even when she was explaining to her sisters about why she believed Anastasia, she was faltering and it was out-of-character.

The Otherlands were interesting, and I’d love to see more of their world. The Queen, Ileana, Draguta the Witch, and all of the other quirky characters were fleshed out just enough so that we cared about them. Ms. Marillier could have skimmed over this cast without paying too much attention to them, but I’m glad that she delved into the fairy creatures and the weird residents of the woodlands because it helped the reader understand why the sisters are so disillusioned with the human world, and why they want so much to keep the Otherlands thriving despite Cezar’s threat to tear them down. I also like how aloof the woodland creatures are to everything going on in the mortal realm; they don’t care that Cezar has a vendetta against them. They’re very laissez-faire about the whole situation, which would seem to be the appropriate response for magical beings.

One thing I noticed is that¬†this book is long.¬†That’s not good. When you’re reading something lengthy, you should never notice that it’s lengthy, because that means you’re not enjoying it… that’s what I think, anyways. Because if you’re totally engrossed, you won’t even notice.

Also: the ending left me with a lot of questions. It wrapped up in a very anti-climactic manner. Cezar, who is the bane of their existence? He realizes he’s messed up his own life and walks into the forest. What happens to him? That isn’t revealed. I hoped he had joined the Night People and would throw a curveball at them, and I was waiting for this, but nope. He just… vanishes. Then also, what happens to the Night People? I felt like she was building up this huge secondary, or maybe primary antagonist, but they just vanish at the end of the story. Ileana banishes them or something, even though they had this whole plan to take over the Otherworld… that plot was left as loose threads.
The story moves slowly, but that’s because Ms. Marillier fleshes out her world very meticulously. Overall, I believe that it’s sub-par as a fairytale retelling because it doesn’t bring anything new to the table in regards to¬†The Twelve Dancing Princesses, not really. ¬†The re-read value is low, too. But if you like fairy-tales and you’re interested in Romanian culture, maybe check it out. I’m thinking about continuing the series anyways because the next book features Paula, who is honestly, in my opinion, the best of the sisters. She actually seems to have a good head on her shoulders and is very down-to-earth. But we’ll see. My bookstacks grow taller every day and I don’t have enough time to get through them all, haha.

Happy reading!

Creature of Moonlight: Rebecca Hahn

I only just finished reading¬†Creature of Moonlight¬†like five minutes ago, and I’m so relieved to have finally found a book that I seriously enjoyed. This is Ms. Hahn’s debut novel, featuring a young princess, a dragon, and a kingdom rife with conflict. There were so many aspects of this novel that I really enjoyed, and the fact that it was her first book is especially impressive. I’ll try to keep this concise, but I’ve said that before and it never really happens, so we’ll just see where this goes.

Marni is a flower girl, living on the edge of the forest with her grandfather. They tend to a gorgeous garden, serving the nobles of a neighboring land, with the mysterious woods lying just shy of their backyard. Now, Marni’s parentage is unusual; her mother was a princess who fled into the woods (renowned for swallowing up young women, never to return) and came back, alive– but round with little Marni in her belly. Marni’s uncle, the current king, murdered his sister supposedly in a fit of rage, and Marni’s grandfather, the old king, threw himself in front of her tiny toddler body to protect the girl from her uncle’s sword. He gave up his kingdom for his daughter’s daughter.

Marni is inexplicably drawn to the woods; she’s wandered in and out her whole life, never straying too far for fear of losing herself. It’s the memory of Gramps that always brings her back out; she needs to be there for him, like he was there for her. Creatures of the woods try to seduce her into staying: there’s an enchanting woman who calls for Marni, better known as Tulip among the woodland creatures and the townspeople; little fairies and goblins; and a medley of other puzzling residents who tempt Marni back. But she never stays for long.
This all changes when she returns home one day to find her grandfather dead. But because of circumstances, rather than running to the woods, she makes her way to the castle.

I don’t want to reveal too much more about the plot, but I can laud the characters. Especially Marni.

I think that Marni is an avant-garde example of a strong female protagonist. It’s not that she’s particularly powerful; nor is she some chosen one, born to slay the dragon or something like that. Marni’s powerful because she stays true to herself throughout the entire book; her whole character arc is about¬†making choices. Marni moves at her own pace despite peer pressure to conform to a standard. She knows what she wants, and she strives to achieve what she wants, when she wants it. When she chooses to go to the castle rather than the woods, its because she knows that she wants to avenge her mother, and the best way of going about it is by sticking close to her uncle. She doesn’t go to the castle because it’s what the mysterious Count of Ontrei wants her to do; she goes because¬†she¬†wants to.

I don’t know if I’m doing her justice.

I guess the best example I can think of, with Marni’s insistence on sticking to her decisions and doing what she believes is best for her, is in regards to her love life. From the beginning of the novel, we learn that she has reached marriageable age and has had suitors, both villagers and nobles, peasants and lords, wandering to her door to ask Gramps for her hand in marriage. One of the things that I appreciated was the fact that Gramps left the decision up to Marni; even when the powerful Count of Ontrei comes to ask for her hand, despite the fact that he is seriously considering giving Ontrei his blessing, Marni is the one who steps up and refuses him. And Gramps sticks by her side. He doesn’t try to convince her by telling her of the Lord’s wealth and influence; he simply apologizes to her suitor and turns him away.

Anyways, I was talking about her choices: so through the book, due to various circumstances, Marni comes to live in the castle and forges and alliance with the Count of Ontrei. They grow closer, of course; they spend many long evenings together, and he’s the only one of her suitors that she befriends. The Count of Ontrei woos her determinedly, and he inches his way into Marni’s heart, but she knows to hold him at a distance. She knows that he might be in it not for her, for love, but for the throne. Since Marni’s uncle, the king, and his wife, are barren, she is the only heir to the kingdom. The Count of Ontrei’s courtship, while enjoyable, is highly suspicious.
Also, he proves to be very arrogant despite his relatively good nature. There are several occasions in which he simply states that they will marry, and she quickly calls him out on it. The first time it happens, he had misunderstood their deal and assumed they would wed in order to solidify the alliance. Marni says no, but they grow closer. The Count continues proposing and while I would usually think that this is annoying, Marni doesn’t seem to mind. The book recalls that sometimes his proposals are offhanded and silly; sometimes they are serious, and they make her stomach twist with anticipation and her heart flutter with hope. But always, she refuses him.

There is one time where, after a romantic evening in which he kisses her for the first time and then she quickly kicks him out of the room after realizing how scandalous it is for them to be alone in her room, without an escort, where she begins to treat him coldly. The Count finally catches up to her and they discuss what happened, and I believe that an argument arises between the two. Lord Ontrei, loudly, says something along the lines of “we’ll talk about this later and I’ll see you in your rooms tonight,” which, as you can imagine, is humiliating for her. There are lords and ladies all about the place, all of them gossip-mongers and watching the exchange with the eagerness of vultures to carrion. Marni recognizes this (righteously furious) as Lord Ontrei staking a claim on her; dominating her. He informs them that he can come in and out of her rooms as he pleases. He paints her to be coy, but assures the world in so many words that he has her exactly where he wants her.

Marni punches him in the nose.

That was my favorite part of the story. It was such a defining moment for her– she will¬†not¬†take BS– and it fleshes out both characters so much. Marni, up until this point, is fairly non-confrontational and composed, but reveals just how fiery she can be. Lord Ontrei is cocky and charming, but shows us that not everything about him is goodness and light. He has a shade of darkness staining his pallet, just like every other character. I like how after this incident, he apologizes through his actions and Marni forgives him. Their love story was interesting for a YA novel because Ontrei was not entirely good, or at least, he didn’t come off as so. And it’s not like Marni hated his advances; she falls in love with him, as much as a girl of sixteen can, and he makes her happy for sure. And I think that he was starting to love her. But still, she never consents to marriage, and though he tries to persuade her, he never succeeds.

That’s one more thing to note: no one in this book is completely good or completely evil. It translates well into real life. The character closest to pure goodness is Marni’s aunt, the queen, but she does have her reservations about Marni when times get tough and doesn’t help her when the king is actively trying to assassinate her. Lord Ontrei, as we saw above, ¬†is steadfast and loyal to Marni, but can be blind with imperiousness and has on more than one occasion, revealed a sinister sliver of his personality that Marni clearly sees. The king, though he killed Marni’s mother and grievously injured her grandfather, only murdered her because he was afraid of the forest completely engulfing their lands. He had to protect his people, his kingdom, and he knew that his father wasn’t strong enough to do so. Maybe years of being king have hardened him, and he’s justified himself so much that he no longer feels guilty but I think, rather than simply not regretting the the way he slew his sister, his lack of anguish was due to a coping mechanism. Maybe he would have gone crazy if he kept thinking about what he had done. The dragon, while painted as evil for most of the book, reveals himself to be a fairly neutral character. He only takes girls into the woods who want to escape. He loved Marni’s mother the way an immortal, magical creature could love a human, but it wasn’t enough.
I found that it made the characters all the more human and relatable, and I was able to empathize with them much more than I would have a flat, evil/good person.

The Queen’s role in this story as a sort of guiding figure and mother for Marni was very sweet. Rather than siding with her husband and accusing the girl of being entirely responsible for everything wrong in the kingdom, the Queen welcomes her into the palace with open arms. She even argues with her husband about his treatment of Marni. It’s nice to see a queen who isn’t the main character, but also has autonomy. She doesn’t agree with the king, who is this constant threat to Marni’s presence; instead, she takes the exact opposite route and tries to protect Marni, even freeing her when the king sentences her to die. Also, she calls this scary antagonist¬†Roddy, and that’s real cute.

Lastly, I want to talk about the woods: the way that Ms. Hahn paints them is so gorgeous and vibrant that I felt like I could see everything clearly. She takes great pains in making sure that the woods are not gorgeous, innocent, guileless; their beauty is eerie. It’s dangerous. The creatures that inhabit the woods seem pure, but, being otherworldly and unbound by human nature, are treacherous. The lost-girls-turned-griffins-and-pheonixes are stunning, uninhibited by mortal worry, screaming across the sky as free as they can be. The two years that Marni spends in the woods are described vividly; not so much every single thing she did, but in the emotions she felt while she was unfettered, liberated from the castle and the villagers. I wish I could put it into words but there’s really no way to understand how exquisite this sequence is, other than to read the book.

I hope that you pick this up. I think that it’s so beautiful, really reminiscent of¬†Alice in Wonderland¬†or fairy-tales or folklore from long ago. The beginning chapters are a teeny bit slow but by chapter three, I was hooked. And I love the female lead, the power given to the female lead, and the depth of her story. Marni’s trying to find her home in a place where dozens are offered to her, but none fit quite right. She’s a simple character, yet utterly complex; I don’t know how to define her. Read the story, because it’s an adventure that you have to traverse by yourself.

 

Mosquitoland: David Arnold

I took a month long break from reading to celebrate the end of classes– I think my brain was just totally fried after final exams, and I really didn’t have time with all the other stuff in my life going on. Recently, though, I made a trip to the library and picked up a few books that looked interesting, so I’m excited to get back on the train!

Mosquitoland¬†was the first of these books; written by David Arnold, it features a young girl named Mim running away from home to find her mother in Cleveland. It’s a coming-of-age story and not your typical one either, with a cast of eccentric characters and some antagonists who are frightening for rather insidious reasons.
Because I took such a long break from reading, I managed to finish this in a day. I’m sitting here and trying to formulate my thoughts now; it feels like it’s been forever since I read the book. I think that’s how you can tell when a book didn’t really sit with you– when you can’t really remember much of it. I mean, take¬†Six of Crows; I read that a month, two months ago? And I remember everything.

Well, this was a good book but it wasn’t my favorite.
I read it on recommendation from a good friend, who absolutely loved the story; I don’t know why it didn’t sit with me. I guess I’m not one for coming-of-age stories in general, and especially road-trip books. I’ll go into more details, but that’ll be the gist of my review: it was okay.

Let’s talk about the cast. Mim, as I stated earlier, is the main character. Her name is Mary Iris Malone, but she goes by “Mim”– her¬†acroname.¬†It’s like an acronym, but for a name. She reminds me a lot of the “quirky weirdo” trope, and I really dislike those types of characters. Do you know what I’m talking about? Like any of the guys from a John Green novel?
Mim’s too pretentious. She’s very condescending:¬†“I swear, the older I get, the more I value bad examples over good ones. It’s a good thing, too, because most people are egotistical, neurotic, self-absorbed peons, insistent on wearing near-sighted glasses in a far-sighted world.”
What the heck, Mim. Who peed in your cereal?
It’s stuff like this that annoys me; and she uses these massive words in all of her introspection, then seems to imply that she only does that because she’s so much smarter than everyone else she knows. I don’t like Mim. She also contributes to the “I’m not like other girls” stereotype, as seen when she and another character, Beck, see a group of teenage girls having fun together, and proceed to have fun by making fun of those girls. Like jeez, guys, get those sticks out of your butts.

I feel bad for her situation; her parents are divorced, her mother, whom she has placed on a pedestal for all of her life, won’t even contact her… and is apparently locked away somewhere in Cleveland. And might have a disease that’s tearing her apart. So I can empathize with her demonization of step-mom Kathy, whom her dad cheats on her mother with (as we find out later). She also feels guilty, like she’s the reason that Kathy was dragged into her lives, because she asked to go to Denny’s one day and there was Kathy in all her glory. Her dad wouldn’t have met Kathy if she¬†just hadn’t asked to go to Denny’s.¬†

There’s a lot of bad stuff happening to Mim; that doesn’t excuse her, quite frankly, bitchy behavior. She’s a total misanthrope.
Her dad is kind of awful, too. He embodies the overprotective parent, in the worst way possible. Their family has a history of mental illness, and his younger sister Isabel committed suicide in their basement when Mim was young. Mim found the body. From that point on, her father obsesses over the idea that something is inherently wrong with Mim, with her psyche, and makes decisions for the girl that she really should be making herself. He literally goes to the library, reads some books on psychology, and then decides that he knows what treatment Mim needs more than her therapist does. There are bad therapists; but when your daughter, who is the client, prefers one therapist over the other— I would say that you should defer to her.
We can’t antagonize Mim’s dad entirely. He really does it out of love, but that doesn’t make it okay. This whole family needs to work on their communication issues.

I’ve talked about how Mim is a selfish character, but I want to point out that she does help the people that she deigns to care about. Beck, her love interest, has his own goals. Mim goes out of her way to make sure that these objectives are completed. Walt, the (autistic? I’m pretty sure) young man that Mim encounters on her journey, is all alone and with nowhere to go; he shows her some kindness, and Mim realizes that she can’t leave him behind.
She does have a pretty good sense of who to trust. We see that when she puts her life in Ahab and his boyfriend’s hands; also, when she chooses to trust Walt despite the sketchy circumstances. And she knows, upon first meeting, that Poncho Man is someone she should stay away from.

Poncho Man, I think, is one of the reasons that I added another star to this book (because I would totally give it a 2/5, otherwise). I hated him; he’s a horrible antagonist because he’s someone that you can envision in real life. An awkwardly creepy attorney, Mim meets Poncho when she first chooses to run away. He’s got glossy eyes and she hates him, instantly, because he won’t stop talking to her. I was kind of doubtful of her behavior at first; he was annoying, sure, but instead of shutting him down so harshly, couldn’t she be a bit more polite? But girls: no. If you ever feel like you don’t want to talk to someone, you don’t owe them a polite goodbye. Especially if they’re as annoying as Poncho Man. Besides, Mim is right about this perv: it turns out that he’s a child molester, and he corners her in a bathroom at one point of her journey. Mim is able to escape, but he snags another girl later on in the book. It’s heartbreaking.

So overall, I guess this was an alright novel. I wouldn’t recommend it, not unless you enjoy philosopher teens with worldly knowledge that honestly seems beyond them. Or Bildungsroman books. But it broke my out of my funk, so that was cool.
Let’s hope that I can recommend the next novel with more gusto.