Books, Reviews

Book Review: The Beast is an Animal

The Beast is an Animal

Author: Peternelle van Arsdale

Publisher: Mary K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster)

Published: February 28, 2017

Rating: 5 / 5 Stars

For Those Who Enjoyed: The Sineater’s Daughter, Stardust, Blair Witch Project, Dracula, The Raven Cycle, Carmilla, RoseBlood, A Darker Shade of Magic, This Savage Song, The Grisha, Six of Crows, “Goblin Market”, “Pied Piper of Hamlin”

Beast is an Animal

This book felt the way my soul feels. The irony if this is delicious, considering the plot follows a pair of spooky soul-eating sisters of Welsh lore. The first 50 pages of Beast is an Animal took my breath and raised goosebumps on my arms in ways a YA novel hasn’t done since Libba Bray’s The Diviners. Real, intense suspense is a rare feat in YA and for a debut author, I’m impressed by how solidly van Arsdale nailed it. It’s dark, it’s haunting, it’s gothic, it draws you in, chews you up, and spits you out, and it’s just so so good.

Those first 50 pages could almost be a completely separate novel from the rest of the story. If anything, if you’re interested in picking up this book, but don’t want to commit, at least read those first 50 pages, because it’s literary magic. The remainder of the narrative follows Alys, whose village was brutally ravaged by the soul-eaters, leaving every adult dead. What follows is a slow-moving coming of age plot as she comes to grips with the darkness within her that has allowed her to survive the sisters’ wrath. It’s one of those stories that really needs to be savoured until the very end before outright dismissal. The middle segment drags and it doesn’t become clear where van Arsdale’s going with it until you’ve hit the final act.

Although the middle lulls compared to the rest of the novel, it offers hints of Neil Gaiman level storytelling. It’s quiet, yet ominous. Alys and the remaining children get sent to a neighbouring town, which is extremely Puritanical and suspicious of them all. Fearing the threat of the soul eaters, they build a wall around the town, where Alys and her kin are forced to guard it every night while the townsfolk sleep well in their self-righteous, religious beliefs. There’s something akin to Stardust here (which I love), injected with surprisingly accurate witch-hunt context. Taking the Puritan witch hunt angle is hardly a new one, yet it still speaks to modern society more than ever. The religious, pearl clutching fear mongering does not rely on facts, but rather savage gossip against the unknown in order to justify actions. The town is, as one might expect, all white, in fear of the other. All races not like their own are labelled children of the Beast, also wrongfully assumed to be evil incarnate.

Alys’ own character arc is here to showcase how evil isn’t just evil and good isn’t just good, there is no black and white. She slips into the grey areas pretty seamlessly, giving her moments of solitude with the Beast and moments of melancholy in her power struggle against the sisters. She learns the true evil is with those who believe themselves to be morally superior above all else, despite their hypocrisy. It says a great deal about modern so-called Christians, who preach only what conveniently applies to their outlook, without any concept of empathy toward people who differ from them. Van Arsdale’s social commentary on how these people can justify racism and damnation of the Other is weaved into her narrative with such ease, there’s not an ounce of preachiness to it. It’s just raw, honest discussion of humanity and what makes us beastly.

Had I only read the first two thirds of this book, it would’ve only earned 4 stars, but stepping back, and seeing the plot as a whole, van Arsdale has three very clearly laid out acts. I love a well-thought out narrative, and I have a lot of respect for her for it. I know exactly where she split her plot in even thirds. From the extended prologue of the sisters’ attack on Gwineth, to the watchers of the wall, to the climax in the tranquil Lakes. I got it. It’s organised, not overly complicated in any way, and it makes for beautiful storytelling.

Another thing I appreciate in Beast, is that the romance takes a backseat to Alys’ confronting her fears. In fact, her love interest doesn’t show up into more than halfway through. I have to say, I approve of fantasy authors doing this more often, because it gives so much room for the protagonist to develop beforehand. Alys has a clear objective (even though she doesn’t fully confront it until years after it’s set for her; the only pitfall of the novel) and not even falling for a boy will stop her. Her relationship with Cian instead feels like an added bonus to an already fantastic plot. The romance doesn’t feel forced or intrusive or tacked on. He’s just there for her in the background, willing to wait for her while she does her thing. That’s how I write my fantasy romances…

I should also note that the Welsh folklore of the soul-eaters is the exact same myth that A.G. Howard struggled to recreate in RoseBlood. It wasn’t until near the end of Beast that I made this connection, and understood why Howard would make that leap from soul-eaters to vampires. Van Arsdale’s soul-eaters are undoubtedly vampires in that same hair-raising way that Dracula is undoubtedly a vampire. The only difference is, van Arsdale doesn’t bother bashing you over head with this parallel like Howard does (repeatedly. With a nail-spiked iron bat). She’s subtle and just lets them be what they are, and it pays off.

I loved everything about this novel. I loved that it was quiet, and atmospheric. That it made me feel like I could take my time, like an unencumbered walk in the woods. That she used the witch and vampire tropes without being cheesy about it. That her villains were flawed supernatural women giving some creepy Lucy Westenra Bloofer Lady realness. That van Arsdale wasn’t afraid to murder her entire cast. This novel made me want to get back to my literary roots. Reread all my Victorian gothic faves.

Go read this book. And then go read Dracula. Both are fab depictions of spooky creatures of the night.

Sneak Peek Weekends

March Sneak Peek Weekends #1

The first sneak peek of March releases is another set of YA fantasies! Let’s see if they’re worth a read!

Hunted

Hunted

We always know before the change comes. When a storm approaches, we feel it in the thickness of the air, the tension in the earth awaiting the  blanket of snow. We feel the moment the wind changes direction. We sense a shift of power when it is coming.

Author: Meagan Spooner

Publisher: Harper Teen

Published: March 14, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: Beauty and the Beast, The Lunar Chronicles, The Shadow Queen/The Wish Granter, Long May She Reign, Court of Thorns and Roses, The Bloody Chamber, Cruel Beauty, Robin Mckinley, The Beast is an Animal, Wintersong, Uprooted

As an agent or acquisitions editor, would I select this for publication?

As I’ve mentioned in previous sneak peeks, fairy tale retellings are very in, and for some reason, Beauty and the Beast is especially hot right now. I’m not sure what the draw is to be honest (though the new movie was a dream). I find this particular fairy tale hasn’t done many authors any favour recently. Sarah J Maas and Rosamund Hodge have both tried their hand with varying success, but I can’t really say either have done anything revolutionary or beautifully written with it.

This one might finally break the cycle.

I’m not sure why almost every single Beauty and the Beast retelling has to start with Beauty and her sisters doing something mundane before the action picks up, but I want something more exciting to open the story for once… Sarah J. Maas almost does it, but her downfall is her weak character development and terrible writing… This is beautifully written, but slow on the pick up.

Because Beauty and the Beast has been done over and over and over so often, would my instinct be to give this one a go as an agent? I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s enough to set it apart, but I genuinely hope there’s something here!

Blood Rose Rebellion

Blood Rose Rebellion

I did not set out to ruin my sister’s debut. Indeed, there were any number of things I deliberately did not do that day. I did not pray for rain as I knelt in the small chapel of our London town house that morning, the cold of the floor seeping into my bones.

Author: Rosalyn Eves

Publisher: Knopf

Published: March 28, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: Throne of Glass, Red Queen, Hunger Games, Rebel of the Sands, Divergent, Dark Days Club, These Ruthless Masks, Stalking Jack the Ripper,The Tempest

Would I select this for publication?:

This one has a nice flip to the current fantasy YA trend of special magic girl who wants to be normal. Instead, everyone’s magical and she’s not. I like it… but is that enough? This could go one of two ways: this means she got non-magical talents, or she’s more powerful than anyone else and hasn’t grown into her power yet. If it’s the former, I’m into it. If it’s the latter, we’re just falling back into the usual fantasy conventions which drive me up the wall… I do find the immediate introduction of a love interest concerning. It feels like the protagonist is going to seek validation based on a boy’s interest in her and that’s never a good sign. Unfortunately, what I’m getting most from this opener is that the protagonist is useless and boring and everyone keeps treating her like a child. The inciting incident is showcasing her fighting over a boy with her sister and it’s not endearing in the least. This one would go in the no pile, for sure.

Books, Reviews

ARC Review: True Born & True North

True Born and True North

Author: L.E. Stirling

Publisher: Entangled Teen

Published: May 2016 and April 4, 2017

Rating:

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!

True Born

True North

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.

Books, Reviews

ARC Book Review: The Inconceivable Life of Quinn

The Inconceivable Life of Quinn

Author: Marianna Baer

Publisher: Abrams/Amulet

Published: April 4, 2017

Rating: 3 / 5

For Those Who Enjoyed: Juno, Jane the Virgin, Asking For It, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, Lost Girls, To the Lighthouse, Chopin’s The Awakening

This is a spoiler-free review!

Inconceivable

I was given an ARC copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review!

Don’t ask me why, but I’ve always been fascinated by pregnancy plots. Anyone who’s familiar with my fiction writing knows I sneak it into my narratives at least once. So I was instantly interested in checking this book out. Given how taboo teen pregnancy is, I’ve seen very few books on the topic in the young adult market, so I was shocked when a chick lit type fluffy novel showed up. Why would a lighthearted book about teen pregnancy be out there in the world? I had a lot of questions about it and I needed the answer.

The plot itself isn’t a particularly original one, given Jane the Virgin’s been doing the same schtick for three years now. But the magical realism element gave it its unique heft. Unlike Jane the Virgin’s hook of an artificial insemination gone wrong, Inconceivable doesn’t tie itself to a logical explanation for Quinn’s virgin pregnancy. Most of the novel is spent trying to make sense of it and the mystery is what keeps the narrative afloat. I could have easily set this one aside one chapter in, but something about the intrigue of it all kept me going. There are so many I need to know where this is going paths that just about excuses the almost mediocre writing style.

Baer addresses possibilities for how Quinn may have been impregnated without knowing in ways I haven’t seen YA authors address female sexuality before. Going into this novel, I didn’t think she would be touching up on drugs, rape, incest, and PTSD that might come with it as much as she did. And because this is supposed to be such a light fluffy novel, I found the tonal shifts very jarring. The assumption is that something horrible has happened to her to give her regressive memory, so much so that her parents are more willing to lie and convince her she’s been victimised than they are to believe something extraordinary has happened. There’s a really serious, intense, important message building there that Baer doesn’t quite drive home. As if she’s not fully committed to the severity of the situation.

Her use of multiple narratives throughout gives Quinn’s character development some interesting depth. Quinn takes on the majority of the narration, but the novel is peppered with outsider narratives that really challenge her reliability as a narrator. There is nothing I love more than an unreliable narrator, so I would have liked Baer to really go there and make the reader seriously question whether she really is suffering PTSD or if she did have a divine experience. It would have been a far darker story, but I think it would’ve been stronger and more meaningful for it, especially as a novel written to counteract slut shaming, rape culture, gossip media and religious extremism.

I really hope Abrams and Amulet market this with all those messages in mind, because this book is definitely trying to say more than it appears on the surface. It’s opening that dialogue, in however a fluffy way, and I think that’s important.

Books, Reviews

Book Review: Empress of a Thousand Skies

Empress of a Thousand Skies

Author: Rhoda Belleza

Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin Random House Canada)

Published: February 7, 2017

Rating: 2.75 / 5 Stars

For Those Who Enjoyed: Star Wars, The Diabolic, Jupiter Ascending, The Martian, Firefly, Serenity, Starflight

This is a spoiler-free review!

empress

I’ve been conflicted about this one for months now, flip-flopping back and forth between 2 and 3 stars. It’s not that it’s poorly written, it’s just boring. Which is madness, because it should be impossible for space capers to be boring! Since this novel is so one-note, I could not tell you what happened in the plot any time I picked it up to read. The Cantina Band from Star Wars could’ve been playing in my head on a loop every single time I turned on my ereader for all I know. It would’ve by far been more exciting than what happened in this book.

The problem with Empress is that it’s essentially Star Wars, from every angle. A princess (sorry- empress) loses her entire family in a political maneuver and suddenly everyone’s out to capture her. Meanwhile, a pair of ragamuffin pilots who are clearly Han and Lando get embroiled in the mess alongside their sarcastic droid. I’m pretty sure a planet or two blew up. The Death Star was there. Gosh, I don’t know.

There’s the Cantina Band again…

The only remotely interesting thing going on in this plot is that Han and Lando– ah, Aly and Vin are dreamy to-die-for reality tv stars. Unfortunately, this nuance does nothing to further the plot. In fact, Alyosha is completely isolated and his stardom is kind of a non-entity to his character in general. I find everyone’s motives and actions in this novel baffling. The plot twists are one part “yeah, I know…” and two parts “wait, did I skip a chapter?” for how predictable and lacking in the real meat of the story it is. This is an instance where the dual narrative doesn’t do the plot justice whatsoever. Belleza has a nasty habit of ending chapters right on the climax of a scene, moving on to the second narrative, and returning to it later, completely resolved.

Did I zone out with my internal Cantina Band for half the book? Am I missing something? Wait, when did that important character die? How’d they go from being on a space bus to being on a completely different planet halfway across the galaxy? When’d they get off the bus??? I can’t answer any of these questions, because none of it actually happened on the page!

For the most part, I’m disappointed. I love a good space opera, but if I wanted Star Wars without any of the actual action, I’d squirm my way through the prequels instead…

Books, Reviews

Book Review: Firstlife

Firstlife

Author: Gena Showalter

Publisher: HarlequinTEEN

Published: February 23, 2016

Rating: 4 / 5

For those who enjoyed: Divergent, Hunger Games, Snow Piercer, Lord of the Flies, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Orange is the New Black, Beauty Queens

This is a spoiler-free review!

Firstlife

This novel is bonkers in the best way. It’s like an extremely camp version of Hunger Games and I loved it more than I should have. It’s everything I wanted Divergent to be… There is so much going on, I don’t even know where to start.

The heroine, Tenley Lockwood, who has possibly the best character name I’ve stumbled across since Wuthering Heights, lives in a dystopian society divided into two factions: Troika and Myriad. As you can imagine, one’s peaceful, one’s violent. And Ten has to choose between the two for her second life after she dies. For one reason or another, both sides want her more than anyone else and it seriously irks them that she refuses to choose in an attempt to find her own, independent way. Even though it’s totally unclear why she’s being pursued and why she refuses to sign with one or the other, that’s why I’m completely taken by her. She’s stubborn and obstinate, and unwilling to bend to anyone’s will.

Best of all, she can kick some serious ass.

It’s Ten’s fierce independence that saves her from being a stereotypical YA heroine. There are so many aspects of Showalter’s writing that teeters on the edge of cringe-worthy, but she’s exceptionally good at pulling it back to the right place. For instance, there’s two boys chasing after her? Don’t worry – she sees one of them as her brother. There’s a superficial mean girl bullying her in prison? Oh, look… she’s got complex, grey morals and now they’re best friends. Oh, the heroine keeps finding herself in dire situations she can’t get out of? Doesn’t matter, she’s already beat up her attackers, saved half a dozen people, and is on to the next thing. Amazing. I’m here for all of this.

None of the developments in this plot should work, and yet it does.

Her love interest, Killian, is your conventional bad boy with a secret heart of gold. And maybe I’ve been seduced by his name alone (what? You mean Killian Jones, right? Eyeliner wearing, leather clad bad boy pirate, Killian Jones from Once Upon a Time? Where do I sign up???), but I fell hook line and sinker for him in ways I’m never tempted by YA love interests. He comes from the violent Myriad faction and the entire way through, even though the sensible thing to do would be to join the peaceful Troika faction, the odds are stacked in favour of Myriad. I mean, you get the hot guy and you get to beat people up. It just so happens to make for the more interesting story. The chaotic neutral in me has mad love for Killian and Myriad. You know what? Yeah… go wreak havoc with your hot boyfriend. I’d far rather read that than watch her sing Kumbaya with her new guardian angel bestie for an entire novel…

The whole way through, Tenley knows better than anyone that there are flaws in both Myriad and Troika. Neither is perfect and both have their own ulterior motives she’s constantly aware of. Ten’s incredibly calculating, a characteristic we don’t see too much of in female characters. She’s earned her nickname, Ten, for her love of numbers, and the fact that she’d undoubtedly be a mathematician if the factions let her simply be what she wanted to be, does so much to set her apart from the conventional dystopian heroine. Unlike a lot of dystopian heroines who are thrown into the maylay without any skills for war or rebellion (I take it back, Katniss. You are great with a bow), I can definitely see Ten strategizing and leading rebellions in future books. The factions supposedly want her because of a prophecy stating she’ll be the leader of them all and I can see her doing just that.

The point I’m trying to make her though, is that I want more logically inclined girls in YA. I want girls to be able to read stories about girls like them who are good with numbers, or science, or leadership, so they can feel validated in what they love to do. This is what YA heroines should be doing in the grand scheme of their stories. They should be helping real life girls pursue their passions, no matter how many people tell them they can’t because it’s not a girl’s job. And I think, against all odds, Tenley Lockwood is leading the charge.

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.