True Born and True North
Author: L.E. Stirling
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Published: May 2016 and April 4, 2017
True Born: 3 / 5 Stars
True North: 2 / 5 Stars
For Those Who Enjoyed: The Hunger Games, Firstlife, Snowpiercer, The Diabolic, The Selection, The Stand, The Strain
This is not a spoiler-free review!
I received an ARC copy of True North from the publisher in exchange for an honest review!
Yikes. Another DNF series… I feel less terrible about not finishing True North than I do about Nexis and Redux because I actually made it 75% of the way through before packing it in. In any other situation, I would push through the last quarter of the book, but this was just so boring, I knew whatever happened wouldn’t be what I wanted to see out of the plot.
This series started out with an interesting premise. The world’s fallen to a plague epidemic and has been split between a hierarchy of Lasters (plague sufferers), Splicers (people who have received treatment for the plague), and True Borns (those who are completely immune to the plague). The lowest of the lower classes can’t afford treatment, and are left to inevitably die of the plague, while most of the wealthy upper class are Splicers, hogging all the possible treatments for themselves. True Borns for some reason I still don’t comprehend, are completely ostracised for being barbaric because they’re genetically different. Many of them have combined human-animal genetics, which I didn’t particularly care for. All it did give me was some pretty spectacular bloody fight scenes, which I could have had way more of. That’s what earned True Born its barely deserved third star…
Somewhere within this plot, Stirling’s trying to speak toward upper class greed destroying the world, but she just… misses the mark. The problem with this series is that she put her protagonist in the wrong class. I’ve read a hell of a lot of YA lately and far too much of it follows a princess, empress, or politician’s daughter and she’s kind of a privileged brat. All that privilege keeps getting in the protagonist’s way and it acts like a smoke screen over any message Stirling’s trying to express. The poor are depicted as disgusting and wallowing in the filth they created for themselves and there are far too many pervy old men sexually harassing girls who aren’t even legal adults yet being treated like “oh, haha, yeah, isn’t it funny how this happens so much in wealthy society??” These are things that go right over Lucy’s head and I kept waiting for her to become aware of her privilege and do something about it.
But it never happens.
There’s a little more of that in True North, where at least she’s aware of how horrible her wealthy social circle is and she tries to break away from it. But it doesn’t quite go beyond her hating the life she was brought into and feeling sorry for the Lasters for how lowly they are. She never has a real resolution to fix the problem plaguing the poor. She never considers convincing any of the elites to donate money to the cause, give them food and housing… Or even, you know, offer some kind of free clinic to help these poor people dying everywhere…
This is even more frustrating when it’s revealed that she and her twin sister, Margot, are genetic anomalies that literally hold the cure for the plague. Why doesn’t she immediately offer up her blood samples, or bone marrow to cure these people???
It may have something to do with the fact that she’s spending almost all her time falling into one of the worst YA romance traps of them all. She and True Born cat-man (yes, actually), Jared don’t even like each other. Nor do they enjoy each other’s company. They can’t have a single civil conversation with each other, but whoops! Guess they have to stick together, because they’re inexplicably in love! (Ok, but you don’t even like each other…) They spend more time arguing, then making out, then arguing again than they do making any cohesive plan to do any good. They also have one of the most bizarre meet-cutes I’ve ever read. He somehow manages to save her from falling over a school stairwell railing. They then spend ten whole pages having a conversation, while he’s holding onto her skirt the entire time. Ten. Pages. When my characters go on and on for that long in a precarious situation like that, that’s when I have to dial it back and rewrite the scene.
Girl, you have to rewrite the scene!
The romance is so dominating over everything else, it’s all the more clear that Lucy (and Margot) are utterly useless, which is shocking, considering they’re upper class girls in the middle of a plague apocalypse. Because they come from a wealthy family, they’ve been brought up to look pretty, talk eloquently during political events, and find a husband. They have absolutely no combat training, not even once Lucy joins the True Borns, who are predominantly either armed guards or soldiers. Whenever Lucy gets caught in a sticky situation, a man conveniently shows up to save her.
Because she’s a useless sack of beans.
Her sister is equally useless, if not more so. She spends the majority of the first book obsessing over boys and then playing the victim (which, admittedly was based on a horrible, traumatic incident). She’s so useless, she gets herself kidnapped and sent to Russia. That’s where True Born ends, which led me to automatically assume True North would pick up in Russia, where she’s off to find her missing sister.
Nope. We spend 300 whole pages faffing about with useless information instead. The author needed to get there from page one. I don’t need to know about how all these experiments are taking forever, and how all these socialite events are doing nothing to help her find her sister…
I know, because she’s all the way in Russia!
All of this could have been summed up within a chapter. Give me the run down, get her on a train, give her some information about her genetics, great. I’m there.
Oh, look. They’re in Russia already? Fabulous. Let’s get back to gory ass kickings and to the matter at hand. That’s all I needed.
Because we didn’t get to the actual plot until three-quarters of the way through, there was no way it was going to wrap up in the last 100 pages the way I envisioned it. True North feels more like a bizarre interlude before the series finale than anything else and I don’t appreciate it. Just make it a duology and cut the entire middle book.
There. Problem solved.
You can probably tell by now that this series in not well written. Not even the writing style has some saving grace. I often had moments where I wondered whether English wasn’t Stirling’s first language because she mixes up a lot of words with the wrong meaning. I would often read her similes and metaphors more than once just to check to make sure they were actually describing the thing she was describing. At some point, a character’s neck “bunches like grapes”. His neck. Bunches. Like grapes. Because he has more than one suddenly? I don’t know what’s happening or why Inigo Mantoya didn’t show up to inform her that he does not think that word means what she thinks it means…
I was going into this expecting kick ass blood and guts fight scenes, with maybe a zombie or two. Instead, I came out of it criminally bored.