Thursday, September 19, 2013

Who is the Real Monster?

The world of Pellinore Warthrop and Will Henry almost ended before the fans of the Monstrumologist and his apprentice fought back and demanded an ending. The Final Descent might not be the ending you pictured or hoped for, but was there any other way to end their story? Rick Yancey ends this phenomenal series with more devastating heartbreak than I was ready for. But for the life of a monstrumologist, you have to be ready for anything.

When a man seeks out Warthrop to sell him the greatest find in generations of the field of monstrumology, Warthrop assumes it is a fraud. But Will Henry takes it upon himself to check it out. What he finds is quite possibly the most terrifying and most ground breaking creature they have ever seen: the last of its kind. While still unhatched, the egg, stolen from its seller, must be cared for with the utmost of precision. Warthrop and Will Henry are brought back together through the care for the egg and the future implications such a find could bring them. But the damage to their relationship is too big for one find to cure.

Flash forward years. Will Henry finally returns to the man who made him what he has become, but what he finds is not the strong, confident, aloof Warthrop. Instead he finds a broken man surrounded by the horror he has wreaked upon himself. For all of Warthrop's determination in his field has left him broken and determined to find the end that he deserves- one without the love of another human being. The story of Will Henry and Warthrop didn't end with that egg, but the connection between them had never been so fragile. Warthrop's created the Will who now stands before him, but he can't bring himself to take credit for the man Will Henry has become.

If you have followed this series, you know you weren't ready for it to end. But I bet you also weren't ready for this kind of ending. Warthrop and Will Henry's story was too complex and tumultuous not to have a similar ending, but I could never have imagined the kind of ending Yancey gave us. It was gut wrenching. It ripped out your very soul, did a Mexican hat dance on it, stuffed it back in and sewed it up with a rusty spoon. I do not exaggerate, my friends. This was the most difficult ending to a series I loved that I have ever read. But it wasn't bad. Nope. Not at all. It was perfect. Heartbreaking, but the perfect end to their story. Yancey may have loved his characters, but he knew the proper way to end their story wasn't going to be all sunshine and tulips. Nope. It was going to be ugly, brutal, and awful. It was going to destroy them, you, and everyone in between. And it did. 

The biggest question in this book is who the monster really is. The easiest thing would be the incredibly poisonous thing ready to hatch from that leathery egg, but nothing with a Yancey book is easy. No, the monster was inside them all. Warthrop's monsters, or inner demons, were different from those Will Henry harbored, but both were hell-bent on destruction. We saw Warthrop struggle to love Will Henry in every way he could, even if that meant leaving him, throughout this series, but we always knew he loved the boy. Even when he showed it in the most counterproductive ways, he still always needed to make sure Will Henry was safe. But the man Will Henry grew into is the most terrifying thing Warthrop ever encountered, and for a momstrumologist, that is saying a lot. And Will Henry blames no one but Warthrop himself.

So, I have to say, if you want a pretty ending all tied up in a neat little bow, then skip this book. You are going to upset. But if you need to see the way Will Henry and Warthrop finally end, then you need to prepare yourself. This series ending was phenomenal and heartbreaking all swirled together like a miserable ice cream sundae. It made me grieve for these characters I loved so much, but I know a happy ending would have been too unrealistic for the lives they lived. I really loved this series, I am not happy to see it go, but it was hard to see how it ended. Still, it is just one more bit of proof in the large collection of evidence that Yancey is a genius. Pure Genius. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Maas Deserves the Crown

The idea of rooting for an assassin is somewhat like watching "Dexter" and rooting for the serial killer. When that happens, you know an author is not only skilled, they can turn everything you thought you believed in on its heels. Sarah J. Maas does this in her Throne of Glass series. In the second book, Crown of Midnight, Celaena Sardothian is a woman we can all admire.

As the King's champion, Celaena must carry out the assassinations he orders. As a paranoid man who enjoys eliminating his possible enemies, the King isn't afraid to send her after anyone who might be plotting against him. As Celaena appears to do his bidding, however, she keeps to herself what she is really doing: helping the targets to disappear while secretly digging up information on the real enemies to the king. Celaena isn't a fan of the king, but she prefers to know what is happening in the kingdom as opposed to operating under fear and assumptions.

Celaena has seen her parents murdered, has been imprisoned to work to death in the mines, and trained under the most lethal and cruel assassins the world has ever seen. She isn't afraid to kill, but she refuses to be the king's hired dagger. While she can't trust anyone with all the knowledge she has amassed, Chaol is the first person she has let enter her heart since she can remember. It seems as though Celaena's ruse is successful until her entire core is shattered by the loss of a dear friend in an evil and brutal way. Celaena is the King's champion, but she will not be led about by a ring in her nose. Celaena is the champion of all her people, and she will find answers to every question she has unearthed.

This series took some huge turns with the switch from the competition in the first book to the true assassin work in the second book, but the pace hasn't slowed. Instead, it seems Maas has picked up even more momentum from the craziness of the first book! It seems impossible, but I think this book got a little darker from the first, and it certainly got more magical. There is a lot of magic hiding under the surface of everything in this sequel, and by the end, it has opened up a magical portal that can never be closed again. While this really changed the flavor of the story, I found it incredible and couldn't put the book down! I mean, seriously, this was a fantastic sequel to an incredible series. The fantasy keeps building and building, bring the reader into a magical world you never imagined you'd see. It is a brilliant way to build such a fantasy world, and I cannot wait to see more from Maas.

More importantly, I love Celaena. A lot of fantasy out there has an epidemic of weak ladies, but lately we have seen a flurry of leading ladies who take no prisoners. They are moral and ethical, but they also aren't afraid to throttle the bad guys in the meantime. It is such a relief to see this shift in gender roles where girls and women aren't weak and in need of protection, they are the characters others should fear! In fact, there is one part of this novel where a character is kidnapped and he tells his kidnappers Celaena will come for him. They muse that there isn't much to be worried about with all their armed guards and the kidnapped man chuckles. He knows 20 grown men are no match for Celaena! I loved this murderous side of Celaena paired with the young woman who is willing to go against the king by faking the deaths of all his marked men (and their women and children, since the King's orders are to kill the whole family). She is a fabulous leading lady, and I cannot wait to see what happens next. The ending of this sequel is so gripping I am going to wait with bated breath for book number three!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Beneath the Maggot Moon

Sometimes a story has more layers than an onion, with more and more meaning to peel away and peel away. Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner is just such a story. But you might not like what you find under each layer. 

Standish Treadwell isn't bright. At least, it is safer for Standish if you think that. In the alternative Britain he lives in, there isn't much of anything that could be considered "bright". No color, no fun, no happiness. But for a boy who can't read and write, this cruel world is particularly cruel. That is, until Hector comes along. As the only boy Standish has every called a friend, Hector is the most important person in his life besides Standish's grandfather. 

The world doesn't take kindly to friends. With the Greenflies buzzing around and teachers who are willing to beat a little boy to death for laughing, the world is a cold hard place. But when Hector disappears, Standish refuses to stand by and let it happen. He watched his own parents disappear after his mother was taken and returned disfigured, and he isn't going to let the same thing happen to Hector. Standish is the only one who can help. He is the only one who can help because he is the one who is underestimated the most.

Have you read Animal Farm? If you have, you know there are two (or more) layers to that story. You have the weird story about the talking animals taking over the farm, and then you have the deeper allegory into the world's political figures. Maggot Moon is the same kind of story. Honestly? This is NOT a book for young kids or even most young adults. It is deep, complex, violent, bizarre, confusing, and I am not even sure I really liked it, but it had my mind spinning all day. The author is severely dyslexic and she speaks of her learning disability quite candidly. Not only did she make a world with a dyslexic hero, but she also created this dyslexic world inside a dystopia. If you let yourself run with the way the book is written, it feels different, confusing at times. I love the statement this makes about the dyslexic mind... layers and layers of meaning hidden behind simplistic language and a confusing story.

That being said, I actually didn't enjoy this book in the way I enjoy other stories. It was difficult and painful at times, but you shouldn't let that to scare you away. It is the kind of book that will make your head spin if you let it, but you can't fight the odd story and characters. Like Animal Farm there is something deeper here that you have to find yourself. What does this story mean to you? Are you a Standish Treadwell? Is your brother or sister? Student? 

The dystopia angle of this story is very odd and won't appeal to many kids who likes the popular dystopias out there (Hunger Games, Maze Runner, etc.). It really shouldn't be classified as a dystopia, and in fact, I think this book defies most categories. But it's strange and interesting, and I still can't stop thinking about it!

Written Like a Two-Hour Series Premiere

When there is a lot of hype about a new novel, and a television series already created before the novel has even been released, I suffer from two distinct and hypocritical emotional states: an overwhelming desire to get my hands on it and see what all the fuss is about and a superficial judgment that anything thought to be so cool can't possibly be really that cool. So I couldn't wait to get ahold of Kass Morgan's The 100, but I wasn't sure what to expect.

Nobody knows except those who make the decisions, but 100 of the juvenile delinquents imprisoned in the colony will be sent back to Earth. They are convinced Earth is safe to recolonize, but to be sure, they are willing to sacrifice 100 teens who would be executed after their 18th birthdays anyway. For Clarke, it is a surprise, but it isn't like she really has anyone back on the ship anyway now that her parents were executed. All she cares about is her cellmate Thalia, who is also coming along. Wells is the Chancellor's son. He knew he had to do something truly horrible to get onto that ship headed toward Earth, but what he did threatened the psychological well-being of every person aboard the colony. He knew this would be the result, but the only thing he cared about was getting on that drop ship to be with, and to protect, Clarke. Even though she didn't want him there after what he did to her.

Bellamy isn't on the Drop Ship, but he needs to be. In a colony where reproduction is heavily controlled, he is probably the only person aboard who has a sister, and she is being sent to Earth. Unable to protect her from being arrested, he must now find a way to get on the ship in order to be with her on Earth. What he has to do, though, is unheard of, even for the colony that executes so many 18 year olds for petty crimes. During the chaos of Bellamy's entrance onto the ship, though, Glass manages to make her way out of the drop ship. Originally slated to go to Earth, she knows she must find Luke. What she doesn't expect, as a now fugitive of the entire colony, is that Luke might not have been waiting for her. Once the drop ship lands on Earth, it is a race to survive with minimal supplies, a crash landing, and a world they couldn't have imagined. But life back on the ship for Glass isn't much better.

I was surprised when I saw this was already in the process of becoming a TV series without having even been released as a book yet. Don't get me wrong, the premise is fantastic, but how do you know how people are going to react to it until some have read it? So I went into this book expected to be floored by a phenomenal story, and I am sad to say I was pretty disappointed. The premise, as I said, is fabulous. But the story was really written as a two-hour series premiere, not the first book in a series. From the beginning with the snippets of all four main characters and their situations to the sudden ending, everything in this screamed TV. Honestly, there was no wrap up for the story, there was no world-building (because on TV, who needs a single description of the scenery, right?), and the only focus was the four main characters despite 100 kids on that island (ok, a few died early, but still, 90+). Seriously, there was absolutely no description of Earth save for two mutated animals, that warranted a paragraph each, and a decrepit building. What is it like there? Is there anything around you? can you see signs of what chased humans off Earth in the beginning? I got nothing. Until a tiny little snippit right before the book ended. Sound like a fabulous series permiere? Yep. Like a great first book? Nope. I just felt cheated by this book that was obvious supposed to be a screen-play. If I had not known the original of this book for the CW Network, I think I would be even more disappointed with it. At least with the TV series, I will be able to see a little of what Earth looks like.

And how fast does Morgan expect to pump these books out? If the TV show is starting now, and with so very little information in the first book, they are going to run out of story lines in like 4 episodes. So does the show carry on without the next book? Who would buy the books and watch the show simultaneously, then? Will she toss out a book every 6 months to keep up, or let the show run independently?

I also had another weird feeling when I read the acknowledgments: "I owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude to Joelle Hobeika, who not only dreamed up the premise for The 100, but whose imagination, editorial acumen, and tenacity were essential for bringing it to life." So, wait a minute... Morgan didn't even come up with the story herself? So she is essentially someone's not-so-ghost writer? That makes me even less interested in this story, which is sad because the premise and the characters are an absolute gold-mine if done well. Sadly, though, the characters felt rather shallow and one-dimensional and the premise was swallowed up by the complete lack of information and development throughout the entirety of the novel. I am sad I had such trouble with this story. It could've been great!!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

City of Losing Interest a Little

Clary and Jace aren't exactly a normal couple. In fact, they have probably had the most traumatic and bizarre relationship as any couple in history. From assuming they were brother and sister, still being attracted to one another, being attacked, death, etc., they are a bizarre couple from the word go. And in The City of Lost Souls, the fifth book in Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series, their relationship doesn't get any easier.

Clary thought it was over. Sebastian, her real brother (and also known as Jonathan Morgenstern), was defeated, Lilith was killed (or as killed as the oldest demon in history can be), and Jace was safe. She couldn't have been more wrong. When she returns to the roof, both Jace and Sebastian, who was supposed to be dead, are gone with no trace. They can't even be located magically. After an exhaustive search, the Clave can't afford to keep everyone looking for Jace. They are ready to close the search, but Clary refuses to give up. She will do anything to find him, even go to the Seelie queen. When she tries to steal the payment for the Queen from the Institute, she sees Jace, with Sebastian. As thick as thieves, the boys who were once mortal enemies seem to be the closest of friends. Clary had thought any manner of things could have happened to Jace, but she never imagined he would turn to the dark side. 

When Jace and Sebastian show up at Luke's apartment to get Clary to join them, it is clear to her that something had to have happened to Jace to change him. When they attack Luke and stab him with a demon metal knife, she knows she has to do something. But when it becomes clear that anything that happens to Sebastian also happens to Jace, their connection becomes even more frightening. One can't be killed without killing the other. Clary knows the Clave will consider Jace collateral damage in an effort to get rid of Sebastian, so she decides to do the only thing she can do- make them think she is going to join them in order to find a weakness in their connection. But what if there is no weakness?

You know when you follow a TV show for a long time and you start to think about how many times the main couple has broken up and made up, or how many guys the main girl has dated, or how many times the main characters have almost died, and it seems laughable? Like when you think about how many kids died in Buffy the Vampire Slayer over her years at Sunnydale High, but no one ever thought it was fishy? That is starting to happen to this series for me. I mean, really, how many times can Clary and Jace be in mortal peril or have their relationship completely destroyed, only to pick up the pieces and start again? Now, I have to say, I enjoyed the story, as always. But I am starting to go weary of Clary and Jace. In fact, I wanted to skip through their half of the book, but I just couldn't do it for plot's sake. 

Instead, the true gems for me are in the supporting characters. The relationship between Alec and Magnus is simply fabulous (well, honestly, Magnus is simply fabulous and by influence, so is Alec!). I love having a serious gay couple in young adult literature where they aren't romanticized or too perfect, but rather experience the same insecurities any couple faces, gay or straight. This is a great for all young adults to have experience with. In addition, Simon and Isabelle are a great couple. As complete opposites both supernaturally and humanly, they are full of twists, turns, and surprises. I honestly felt these characters were more interesting than the same old Clary and Jace nonsense, and would have been happy to just have their stories in this book. But alas, there are bigger things at work, and we must have Clary and Jace together again for the big, final, epic battle that is surely to come in the final book of the series. (Wait. Didn't it end already?!)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

More Like "The Butt-Kickin' Kingdom"

Elisa's reign as queen has never been easy, but in the final installment of the Girl of Fire and Thorns saga, Rae Carson gives us and ending so epic, it will give you shivers. The Bitter Kingdom is a conclusion like no other.

Elisa has suffered through being married off to a man she had never met for political reasons, the loss of a husband she had just come to appreciate, being kidnapped, the loss of a man she loved, assassination attempts, and now attacks upon her kingdom. As a foreign-born queen, Elisa must do more to prove to her people she can protect them. As the Invierno sorcerers finish their attack on her city, she escapes, but not before her beloved guard Hector is kidnapped. Determined to find Hector, Elisa and a trusted group of loyal friends head off through the mountains and desert to find the man she loves. 

Along the way, Elisa realizes she has tapped into the power of her Godstone through the discovery of a source of power. Storm, the Invierno traitor turned loyal subject, works with Elisa to hone her powers. While she knew she had grown since her original marriage as a plump, bored princess, she had no idea just how much has truly grown. As one of the most powerful animagus to ever live, she knows she now has the power to protect her kingdom from the Inviernos and their magic. But it is her fearless nature and determination to protect her people that is the true force to be reckoned with. People may underestimate Elisa, but that is just one more thing in her favor, because if they underestimate her, they will never see it coming when she follows through on all her plans.

I have absolutely loved this story from the first book to the last. Carson wove a web of stories that were so intricate and so engaging that you simply couldn't stop reading. There was no sophomore slump throughout the series, and the ending? Don't expect any downtime here! This story was action-packed from the first page to the last. With the exception of about 5 pages at the end to give us an epilogue with information on how life turned out for everyone, this book just didn't release its vice grip on you until you were done! If you are the kind of reader who needs to be engaged from start to finish, this really is the series for you. Not a dull moment to be found!

I have said this before, with Carson's previous books, but I will say it again. There is something so incredible about Elisa that she really has to be one of my absolute favorite heroines in all the books I have read. She is strong, she won't be broken, she doesn't scare easily, and if she does, she uses that fear to take back what is hers and find a way to resolve any solution with as few casualties as possible. I love the fact that her body is constantly discussed as well. You would think this should be something inconsequential, but there is something so important about a heroine who lived a life of pleasure, who didn't fit the "princess mold" in terms of her body type, and who still rose to the occasion and defied all expectations. And even when she slimmed down, she was still built differently. People commented on it and made snide comments, but Elisa used their derision to catch them off guard. It was fabulous! But it was her ability to negotiate and see the big picture that made Elisa so successful and made me truly love her. 

The supporting characters are just as dynamic as Elisa. Mula, the slave girl they rescue on their travels, is so funny, loyal, and appreciative that you can't help but love her! She drives them all nuts with her candidness, but that is what I love the most about her! She just tells it like it is! Then there is Storm, the Invierno traitor who became Elisa's ambassador and finally her loyal subject. Inviernos are described as a primitive race who were there before Elisa's ancestors "descended" and began taking over. Unfortunately, there isn't much information past this tidbit, but the Inviernos clearly despise anyone who isn't their kind. They also can't lie. In fact, trying to get a straight answer reminds me of trying to get a straight answer out of a faerie, as described in other novels. They can't lie, but they are more than happy to trick, mislead, and deceive. That is Storm. And his people. So his blunt honesty can be humorous or unwelcomed, but it is who Storm is! And while he drives everyone else nuts, Elisa is protective over the strange man. And his loyalty to her is matched only by her other traveling companions. 

This was just such a special story full of magic, sorcerers, strong ladies, and the lands they will die to protect. If you have any student who loves a little fantasy and needs a fabulous story to keep them interested, look no further. You have found it. As a conclusion, this was a fabulous way to wrap up a story I have followed since the first book was released. I loved it so much, I can't even find the right words to describe it! I think the beautiful complexity matched with the simplistic strength of the story will appeal to young adults as well as adult readers. And Ms. Carson? You had better be working on something new, because I cannot wait too long without something more from you!