Books, Reviews

Book Review: Nexis

Nexis

Author: A.L. Davroe

Publisher: Entangled Teen

Published: December 2015

Rating: 1 / 5 Stars

For Those Who Enjoyed  Read These Instead: The Hunger Games, The Diabolic, Firstlife, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984

This is not a spoiler-free review! You can find a spoiler-free version on goodreads!

Nexis

This is as good a time to write this review as any, given how much furor Harlequin Teen has received over The Black Witch lately… I read Nexis with full intentions of reading the sequel, Redux in time for its release, but I can’t in good conscience read Redux, let alone finish Nexis. Which I feel really terrible about because I received Redux not just in exchange for an honest review from the publisher, but I got it as a granted Wish on NetGalley… If anything, I hope this post raises awareness as to the types of things publishers should be aware of when considering sensitivity reads.

This series has an interesting enough premise. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world (called Evanescence, by the way. I hope that sets the tone…) where humans have let the Earth fall to ruin. The poor are left to rot in the toxic air of the outside world while the elite literally live in their own bubble of ignorance. It’s essentially a cheap imitation of The Diabolic. The elite pat themselves on the back for doing a favour to the poor by creating virtual reality video games that allows people to essentially live a second life. (So basically, virtual reality Sims.) Fine. Cool. The author says to just roll with it and let it happen.

So I do.

In amongst this dystopian world is Ellani, who happens to go by 500 different pet names, half of them cringe-worthy. She’s a stuck up, bratty teen obsessed with boys and disrespectful to her father, who tries so hard to teach her how the Earth once was and all the terrible things human beings have done to it in their selfishness. I can see where Davroe is going with this. It’s heavy-handed, and you expect Ellani to get it at some point and realise she has to do something about it. But nope.

In one ear and out the other.

While her father’s busy trying to teach her empathy for the world that once was, she’s too preoccupied with begging for plastic surgery for her birthday because she’s the only one who hasn’t been altered in some way. She also happens to solely accept validation in the form of how many boys notice and fall in love with her. So vapid is she, she’s apparently “in love with” the prince, who never gives her the time of day, never said a word to her, and doesn’t even know who she is. Not only that, he owns what Davroe is calling Dolls, who are basically slaves he uses to experiment cosmetic surgery upon… If this were, say, The Hunger Games, this would be making all sorts of really intense social commentary on just how corrupt and beauty-obsessed society has become. But no, this, just like everything else, is treated as the norm.

Not only is cosmetic surgery completely normalised in this world, so is assimilation of culture. It’s explained early on that black people were completely weeded out of the gene pool. They’re literally extinct. At this point, I have to put down my ereader and whisper eugenics to myself, which is never a word I want to associate with books I’m reading unless it’s something making important statements against it. This book is not, and in fact, is so blasé, I almost miss when they use the actual word eugenics to explain the way people look so homogenous. And it’s not in a “eugenics happened and now the world is fucked up” way. But in a “and also, eugenics happened… anyway…” way. Casual as you please. As if the reader’s just supposed to accept it and move on. Because that’s exactly what the characters do…

So, Ellani enters the game, which takes all its world-building from how the world used to be before mankind destroyed it. And for 4.5 seconds, she’s taken with how beautiful it is and what a shame that the sky and wildlife and trees and rain are gone. And I think, thank god, maybe she’ll be motivated to do something about it in the real world.

But then a boy comes along. And it’s instalove, so everything else she was inspired by has instantly been wiped clean from her brain (not literally, but wouldn’t that be interesting?) because clearly boys are more important than stopping planetary extinction…

Just when you think I’m done describing the offensive things being so casually name-dropped in this novel, I have one more horrifying tidbit. The big, instigating plot device that gets Ellani into the game in the first place is this big crash which (spoiler alert), kills her father. Fine, you could see it coming from miles away. Alright. But then she loses her legs. And given how poorly Davroe has handled literally everything else in this novel so far, you can maybe see where this is going. Two or so chapters later, she enters the game and discovers she can have her legs back. Well, I was looking forward to seeing a disabled character kick ass in a dystopian world (again, please see The Hunger Games!), but sure, this isn’t a horrifying, ableist alternative at all

I can now glean a couple messages Davroe is leaving with this:

  1. Attention from cute boys is all the validation girls need.
  2. Being beautiful is all girls should aspire to be.
  3. God forbid, if you wind up disabled, you’re better off dead.
  4. You know what was a good idea? The Holocaust.

Cool. With that, I have absolutely no interest, or intention of reading the rest of this series. I sincerely hope Entangled Publishing reads this review and strives to do better next time.

Books, Uncategorized

Book Review: RoseBlood

RoseBlood

Author: A.G. Howard

Publisher: Harry N. Abrams

Published: January 10, 2017

Rating: 1 / 5

For People Who Liked: Twilight, The Mortal Instruments, Dracula, Phantom of the Opera, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

*This is not a spoiler-free review! (A spoiler-free review can be found on Goodreads!)

roseblood

Wow… This author sure is doing… a lot. I wish I could say it’s in a way I enjoy, but it’s not. I first stumbled upon RoseBlood at YALC back in July. I can’t tell you why this book of all upcoming releases promoted at the YA convention was the one I was going to spend months watching out for, but it was. It was the retelling of Phantom of the Opera that got me. I love a good retelling, and gothics only clinch it for me.

I guess the one thing I can say about A.G. Howard is that she knows her shtick. Not that it’s a very good shtick. Just that she knows what she likes and she does it her way. It just so happens that she does it badly. In terms of retellings, there’s nothing remotely original about this story. The way I would define a retelling is taking an old classic and spinning it into a new adventure.

That’s not what Howard’s doing here.

Instead, what we get is a bizarre information dump of every single piece of research the author’s done on Phantom of the Opera (which, according to her website and author’s notes doesn’t actually culminate to a lot). Not only do some of the original characters show up in this story, but so does the book itself. So I have to ask: is it a retelling if the characters are canonically aware of the original text? If the protagonist is obsessed with Phantom of the Opera and then happens to find herself ensnared by the phantom himself?

As a standalone completely separate from the original text, I would say maybe it’s a little more interesting? That’s being far too generous to the terrible writing though. There are aspects I would say in a far better written story, I’d really like. The story is set in this gothic abandoned opera house in France… Vampires are (sort of???) involved… There are graveyards… Mad scientist things keep happening… It could’ve been so good…

Instead, what we get is this terribly cringe-worthy narration with one dimensional characters and weird quirks that are just there… to be weird. Every single character gets a painstakingly detailed physical description from the colour of their hair to their clothes. Which isn’t that unusual as far as description goes. But Howard pairs that with their so totally weird hobbies they  do in their spare time and… that’s it. That’s her character development, done. It’s as if she’s interpreted modern day gothic literature to be the golden age of emo from 2007. All the characters sound like they shop at Hot Topic and do all the things they do just to be extra. In an opera school, which presumably teaches opera, we get a handful of weird teachers who do weird things in their spare time including: mad science experiments, having tea parties with mannequins, taxidermy, and graveyard fanaticism. This would be really cool, if it meant anything to the plot whatsoever. And guess what?

It doesn’t.

I kept waiting for there to be a big reveal at the end where they all come together to reveal “ha HA! We were in on it all along!” and they pulled together their weird expertise to culminate to something insane.

That’s not what happened.

…and I haven’t even gotten to the main plot. The premise of the story is that Rune is being shipped off to this prestigious opera school outside of Paris, which apparently only accepts American students, because she did something horrible in her hometown. But her big, quirky thing is that she has some sort of musical Tourettes. In that she sings… uncontrollably. …and apparently this is so severe, it could kill people. Oh, but it’s only ever triggered by opera. So her mother… sends her off to a school, where there is nothing but opera singers? Everywhere? All the time? Seemingly the logic here is so she can learn to control her musical struggles. This would make more sense, if there was a single hint that this school actually bothers to teach any form of music. Instead, all there is is an opera performance, which needs to find its leading lady. You would think in any other variation of this story, the protagonist would be going for that role and fight for it.

Nope.

She avoids it like the plague, even though she’s clearly the best singer there, and when she gets the part, makes an excuse and gives it to her friend. Again, this would be a nice twist, if Howard bothered to even have this friend of hers show up for longer than one or two scenes. None of these characters matter, and in extension, nothing Rune does matters. She spends an exorbitant amount of time trying to figure out what causes her uncontrollable singing and has zero self-preservation skills. She’s got no agency, and even less clue.

Which brings me to the love interest. Thorn (yes, his name is Thorn, because that was the name the Phantom gave him…) casually stalks Rune her entire life. Now, I get this is taking a page out of Phantom of the Opera itself. Christine Daae grew up with the Angel of Music watching over her, which turns out to be the Phantom, terrorizing her for his own ends. That’s dark and creepy and he gets his just desserts at the end. Cool. Except here, Thorn and Rune have this psychic connection they’ve had all their lives, so by the time he physically stalks her and watches her in her bedroom, she’s apparently fine with it? He pulls together this convoluted plan to bring her to the Phantom by giving her this bleeding rose. Bleeding. Rose. RoseBlood. See what she did there? This is a motif that shows up again and again and again as if bleeding roses are a thing that actually exist and show up on a regular basis in gothic literature? Do they? I’ve read a pretty fair amount of gothic literature and I don’t… I don’t think that’s a thing.

It’s not a thing.

After a drawn out series of creepy steps to get her to meet him for the first time, Rune shows up and is instantly enamoured with him. …even though he’s literally stalking her and intruding on her thoughts. She later sneaks out to a rave club to see him again, where he and the Phantom psychologically date rape the entire club. As in they lure people into the club, sap them of their energies and then drug them to conveniently forget? And apparently because they’ve drugged everyone, it makes it okay? There is far too much talk of “oh, but it’s okay, because they’ve just been drugged.” Um…?

When is that ever okay?

Not even if you are a “psychic” vampire is it okay. Not just vampires. Psychic. Vampires. If this were a real, legit vampire story, I want some good, old fashioned consequences to their actions. The thing with vampires is, they know what they’re doing is messed up, as does the author. That’s what makes them so horrifying. They’re predators. This is precisely why vampires shouldn’t be glamorised or romanticised! If there was a single ounce of “my god, they’re drugging the whole club and draining their souls, we should stop them!” I’d be into it.

But this is not. How you write vampires!

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One final thing that just puts the nail in the coffin for me (heh) is this mad scientist subplot (if you can even call it that), which finally comes full circle by the end of the novel. One of the other totally super weird things that happens in this novel is there are animals in the woods surrounding the opera house that make noises other animals would make. Crows meowing, swans, croaking… it’s a cacophony of weird! It turns out that Thorn’s totally super weird quirk is that he surgically experiments on animals who are hurt. Which apparently involves swapping their vocal cords. Now, I’m not an expert in anatomy, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how vocals work. Especially when it later comes to swapping other people’s vocal cords? It’s like that weird b-movie trope that if you swap someone’s brain or heart with a serial killer’s you’ll get a Jekyll and Hyde situation. That’s not a scientifically accurate thing… Maybe that’s what Howard was going for, but if she was, throw some supernatural potion in or something to make it a little more believable.

This is a cult classic d-movie in the making if ever there was one. It’s the kind of thing little emo 16 year old me and her friends would’ve read or watched and laughed at hysterically during a sleepover or something. Except there’s not a chance this would ever get filmed by anyone in their right mind. So if you’re interested in reading it, maybe… don’t. And read Dracula, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde instead… Even the original Phantom of the Opera itself. Literally any other gothic classic but this one. And if you want some campy, gothic crack, go watch Rocky Horror. (No, seriously. Watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show would be a far better use of your time, by far.) Hell. You could read the infamous worst Harry Potter fanfiction ever written, My Immortal and have a richer reading experience.

There are so many way better gothic stories out there. Go read or watch them instead.