Fiction: “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Maas

court of thorns and rosesThis is the first book in a YA series I’d been curious about for a while. (Eagle-eyed – or really-good-memory-having – readers of the blog may recall that I thought I was requesting this book from the Yarmouth library back at the end of 2017, only to be severely disappointed.)

A Court of Thorns and Roses was available on one of my Saturday library jaunts, so I picked it up. I’m pretty sure I read it fairly quickly; but, I did not note down any quotes except for three pages of backstory, because somehow I knew that if I didn’t at least write that down, I’d never remember it.

(Didn’t keep me from noting the characters’ names or anything … *eyeroll emoji*)

The basic premise of this book is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s … I mean, it was okay. It was very young adult, I thought, in that it was trying so hard to be adult about things.

Our story takes place in a country called Prythian, which is divided into 8 realms – the 7 courts of the Faerie, and then the human world. The humans and faeries are at a very tentative peace – basically, the humans are allowed to live in the section of land granted to them by the faeries, and should they decide to rebel the entire human race (in that area) will be wiped out. Many of the humans cower from the faerie race, but there are two other factions – those that hate the faeries for sequestering the humans, and another, smaller, cult group of people who worship the faeries, hoping to be taken to one of their courts for the chance at a better life.

Our narrator is Feyre (pronounced “Fay-reh”, as best as I can tell – look, I got this from the library, I didn’t take notes; I know I should’ve taken at least a picture of the pronunciation list in the back but I didn’t, and you’re the one who’s going to have to get over it), the youngest daughter in a family of two elder sisters and a disabled father. So it’s up to Feyre to provide for the family – she sneaks into the forest and surrounding areas … to … to hunt …

hunger games katniss eyeroll.gif

Yeah.

So at the beginning of the book, Feyre is hunting, and happens upon a wolf. And she can tell, somehow, that it’s not an ordinary wolf – that it’s a faerie in disguise as a wolf. Or maybe, she’s afraid that it is a faerie in disguise, but the thought of not taking her shot (with a bow and arrow, I mean seriously, does Sarah J. Maas owe Suzanne Collins any royalties?) and missing out on all that tasty wolf meat and/or selling the pelt in the market forces her to aim for the wolf’s eye.

Anyway. At the end of the day, the wolf was a faerie. And within, like, 24 hours, a very angry faerie is pounding on their door, seeking recompense for the death of his cohort. And faeries subscribe to the eye-for-an-eye type of justice.

But after seeing the sad family, the faerie Tamlin recalls a codicil in the Treaty the faeries signed with the humans – instead of death, the debt can be repaid by bringing the culprit back to his court on the other side of the wall. And that’s how Feyre ends up in the Spring Court, Tamlin’s home base.

So these faeries – they all wear masquerade masks on their face. As far as I can tell, the faeries are all of human form, except for these masks literally melded onto their face. Feyre is told it’s the result of a magic blight, sweeping the land. And that wolf/faerie that Feyre killed? Was out searching the human world for cure.

It takes a while, but Feyre eventually softens towards the faerie race, and Tamlin in particular. She is forced to eat dinner with Tamlin and his friend, Lucien, but Lucien also takes Feyre riding and lets her explore the countryside a bit. When Tamlin learns that Feyre really likes painting, he provides her with access to the galleries in his mansion so she can practice her art.

Over the summer, she finds herself actually falling for Tamlin. But this is also where the plot starts to deviate from the strict, Beauty and the Beast retelling – because as Feyre falls for Tamlin, she learns that the seven courts of the Prythia (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, Dawn, Day and Night) (I think) are controlled by a faerie named Amarantha, and she’s trying to get Tamlin fully into her clutches.

Let’s say Feyre’s been at Tamlin’s court for about seven months. (I have no idea if I’m right, just go with me on this.) They’ve shared a lot of romantic moments – he’s brought her to a couple of Faerie events and ceremonies, and I’m pretty sure they’ve slept together at least once. And then something happens (no, I can’t remember what the triggering event is, leave me alone), and Tamlin decides that Feyre’s debt has been repaid, so she can go back to living with her family, and don’t come back, have fun!

amber says whay.gif

Feyre doesn’t want to go – she feels that something bad is going to happen, and she wants to stay, but Tamlin won’t let her.

When she gets to her family, she is slightly shocked to learn that they are no longer poor. They have a fancy house and hang out with the other rich people in the human land. Her bitchy eldest sister, whose name escapes me, knows that something was up, but can’t figure it out. But when Feyre hears some gossip about a family she knew – and whose name she used as an alias when she ran into Amarantha – was mysteriously murdered, she knows that by remaining with her family, she puts them in danger. She tells her eldest sister as much as she can, and swears her to secrecy – just that if the sister hears gossip about a war between the faeries or something else horrifying, she is to take their father and middle sister as far away as possible.

Feyre manages to sneak back to the Spring Court, somehow, and runs into her former chambermaid, Alis (pronounced like Alice). And here’s where we learn about The Curse:

Essentially, Amarantha had a big hard-on for Tamlin, and hated that he didn’t want to rule the entire faerie land with her together as king and queen. Amarantha also harbors a huge hatred for the human race, because her sister fell in love with a human man, who then killed her (I think). So Tamlin, in resisting Amarantha’s latest attempt at seduction, spits in her face and says that he’d rather marry a human than her, and if a human was good enough for her sister it should be good enough for him.

So Amarantha gives him forty-nine years (why? who knows) to marry a human girl. But not just any human girl – a human girl with ice in her veins, who has killed a faerie out of sheer hatred. And because humans are attracted to beautiful people, Amarantha cursed Tamlin and all his subjects to have their masquerade masks melded to their face (because this all happened at a masquerade; how thoughtful).

It turns out all that shit about the Treaty was just a pretense to get Feyre to come back to the Spring Court with Tamlin. He was trying to break the curse, because it was getting close to the deadline. And when the deadline was up, Tamlin would be forced to rule alongside Amarantha.

There’s some crying from Alis about how stupid it was that Tamlin sent Feyre back to her family with only like, three days to go to the deadline, so now all the faeries are back Under the Mountain (an actual, capitalized place in this book) with Amarantha.

So Feyre is determined to go and rescue Tamlin, because that’s what Beauty needs to do to save the Beast, right?

Once there, Feyre is given three tasks that she needs to survive – or, if not, just answer Amarantha’s riddle. But she can’t figure it out right away, so down to the prison she goes, waiting for her tasks. And on one of them, she has to have one of Amarantha’s lackeys help her, because a) the lackey (Rhysand) doesn’t actually like Amarantha, but b) he uses this opportunity to get Feyre to agree to stay with him in the Night Court (?) for a week every month. It may be longer, can’t remember, don’t care.

So at the end of the novel, Feyre is able to answer Amarantha’s riddle, which breaks the spell Tamlin was under and he murders Amarantha toot suite, and the masks are all able to come off of the other faeries and everyone lives happily ever after – except of course they don’t, because a) this is a Young Adult series, and b) the next book is going to create some sort of love triangle between Feyre, Tamlin and Rhysand and with that knowledge I’m very whatever.

I did not enjoy this book as much as I hoped I would. I enjoy retellings of fairy tales, and I don’t necessarily mind when they stray from the path of the well-known plotline. But I thought there was too much going on, and I also felt like the mere introduction of Rhysand into the plot was only there to create a possible love triangle, and – young adult authors, no, you don’t need to do that anymore, really, I mean it, let the struggle be something else besides another person.

Also, I have to give a shout-out to My Dear Friend Sarah, who wanted to rate this book only one star, because based on the placement of the words on the cover, she read the title as “Court A Thorns Of Roses And”.

As for the Guster Reading Challenge: I’m going to go with “Demons” off of Goldfly. Not only because “Demons” is for reading a book that features an evil entity or someone with evil intent; but also because at Gusterfest this year, Ryan (the lead singer of Guster) pretty much admitted that the band can play their old stuff without even thinking – “‘Demons’, yeah, but to be honest I’m checking my email in my head”, and to me, that sums up this book wonderfully: sure, there’s stuff going on, but it’s so mediocre that I’m not really paying attention anymore.

Grade for A Court Of Thorns And Roses: 1 star

Fiction: “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern

Night Circus

I bought this book I have no idea how many years ago, and finally read it in March 2019. I really liked it, and I lent it to a coworker, who also really liked it. Then another coworker was interested, and I lent it to her, and – well, I’ll never see the book again.

And while I was reading it, I didn’t take notes – I don’t take “notes” on books I own! I always assume they’ll still be there on the shelf when I go back to write the review nine months later! I knew there were a couple of quotes I wanted to point out, but I felt comfortable that, when I went to find the book again, I could find them! I maybe even dogeared the pages, that’s a thing that I do!

But I don’t have the book anymore. And not only did I not have the book anymore, when it came time to write up this review, I couldn’t remember any of the book itself. None of it. Not the characters, not the plot; nothing.

I mean, I knew it involved a circus that took place at night – but anyone can assume that based on the title.

So I went to the library and borrowed it. But instead of just skimming through the pages, hoping to recall what happened in the book, I ended up reading it all over again.

In other words, expect The Night Circus to be the first book I read in January 2020. However, I better not think I need to come back and borrow the book and re-read the book again in September (based on how I’ve been rolling lately) to remember the January review – please, someone stop me if I get to that point.

But I’m also wondering if the fact that I couldn’t remember any of the plot or characters of the book is a side effect of the book itself …

The Night Circus is kind of about a circus, but it’s more than that. The book is a magic battle. Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair are bound in battle by their guardians, Hector and Mr. Alexander respectively. Hector and Mr. Alexander (or Mr. A. H—, as he’s referred to by other characters in the novel) are master illusionists, and they have found apprentices (or whatever) to battle for … I’m guessing centuries? to see which method of illusion is better. Marco and Alexander use symbols and glyphs to perform their magic, where Hector and Celia control their magic using their minds. Celia also happens to be Hector’s daughter, whereas Marco is an orphan “adopted” by Mr. Alexander.

Both Celia and Marco understand that they are in a battle for dominance, but decades pass before they realize who their opponent is. Additionally, neither Hector nor Mr. Alexander has given either of the combatants the full rules and scope of the battle.

Mr. Alexander places Marco in the employ of a theatre producer, Mr. Chandresh Christopher Lefèvre, who is looking for his next spectacle. He enlists the help of some close friends, and together they come up with the idea of a circus. But not a traditional circus – it will only be open from dusk till dawn; instead of one single tent there will be many, and patrons can wander and enter any tent they choose. There will be fortune tellers, and illusionists, and other shows, and some tents will just be interactive displays.

Celia gets hired as an illusionist for the circus, and at that point, the battle truly begins. On opening night, Marco creates a bonfire which never goes out, and he uses that as his tether to the circus – he does not travel with the circus, but performs his manipulations from London. Celia travels with the circus and makes her manipulations from within.

She and Marco continue to create different tents or experiences within the circus – Celia works with the engineer to enchant a carousel, so the animals and other structures within the carousel move and blink. Marco creates a tent called the Ice Garden – inside are beautiful gardens and trees and fountains, all made from the whitest ice. (The Night Circus – or Le Cirque des Rêves – has a specific color scheme: everything, from costumes to set design, must be in black, white or gray.)

But neither know how long this battle is supposed to go on. One day, Marco calls for Mr. Alexander and asks for clarification on the rules.

”Is this how the challenge is going to proceed?” Marco asks. “Each of us manipulating the circus? How long will it go on?”

“You have been given a venue to work within,” his instructor says. “You present your skills to the best of your ability and your opponent does the same. You do not interfere with each other’s work. It shall continue in this manner until there is a victor. It is not that complex.”

“I’m not certain I understand the rules,” Marco says.

“You don’t need to understand the rules. You need to follow them. As I said, your work has been sufficient.” [p. 115]

The circus begins in 1886. Marco is aware that Celia is to be his opponent from when he first sees her at her audition. However, Celia is unaware that Marco is hers until 1894, when she accidentally takes his umbrella (identical to hers) and finds that, not only does it keep rain from falling on her, but it also provides a blast of warmth to surround her as she walks. When Marco comes to retrieve it, she is surprised but not stunned. As the circus continues, they sort of flirt with each other by building more and more elaborate circus exhibits – but for each other, not for the circus.

Eventually, Celia and Marco fall in love. They want to end the competition, decide a victor (if possible), and leave the circus to build a life together. It should shock none of my readers that they are unable to do so.

The Night Circus can be dense. When I offered it to the first coworker (the one who returned it), I warned her that it started off slow. Much like a dream is “structured” (I’m definitely using that term loosely), you see flashes of what’s happening but not necessarily the whole picture. The perspective jumps around as well – some chapters focus on characters who are only incidental to the competition between Celia and Marco; sometimes you don’t see either illusionist for many pages. It can be hard to follow the plot – especially, as in dreams, when you are only given small scenes to work with.

Having said that, I think that structure – that feeling – is very appropriate for a book concerning itself with a circus of dreams (Le Cirque des Rêves). There are short interludes written in the second person where you walk through the Circus with a view that is partially limited.

You step into a bright, open courtyard surrounded by striped tents.

Curving pathways along the perimeter lead away from the courtyard, turning into unseen mysteries dotted with twinkling lights.

There are vendors traversing the crowd around you, offering refreshments and oddities, creations flavored with vanilla and honey, chocolate and cinnamon.

A contortionist in a sparkling black costume twirls on a platform nearby, bending her body into impossible shapes.

A juggler tosses globes of black and white and silver high into the air, where they seem to hover before falling again into his hands, his attentive spectators applauding.

All bathed in glowing light. [p. 84]

The book is written beautifully, and I’m looking forward to Erin Morgenstern’s next book. Meanwhile, I’ve got less than a hundred pages to go in this reread; please remind me to just link to this review next year, thank you.

Oh shit, I almost forgot the Guster reading challenge! So this book gets “X-Ray Eyes” off of the Goldfly album for “reading a book about a superhero or someone with strange powers.”

Grade for The Night Circus: 4 stars

Fiction: “The Invisible Library” by Genevieve Cogman

invisible libraryI picked this up from the library because … because I don’t know why. Look, I was doing that thing where I walked through the aisles with my head tilted and the spine of this book caught my eye. It had the word “library” in the title, I like books, and the description on the back of it sounded interesting – kind of a mix of Doctor Who and The Eyre Affair with some mystery thrown in. Whatever, I’m not always deep about shit.

So in the universe of The Invisible Library, there is a Library. And it is invisible. I mean, kind of. The people who work at the Library – y’know, Librarians – they can see the Library. It’s invisible to you and I, because we aren’t Librarians.

The Library is always written with a capital L. It exists outside of time or space, and acts as a hub between worlds – or as the Librarians call them, “alternates.” Librarians travel throughout the alternates to bring copies of books native to those alternates to be stored in the Library.

“Then what is the purpose of the Library?” Vale asked.

“To save books,” Irene said firmly. The words were so automatic that she didn’t even need to think about them. She’d spent all her life with the idea. But the words had never sounded hollow to her before. She made herself focus on the familiar justification. “To save created works. In time, if their original alternate loses them, we can give them back copies, so that they aren’t lost. And in the meantime, the Library exists and endures.” [p. 184]

Irene is our protagonist. She is a Junior-level Librarian; a field agent, if you will, who travels to alternates to retrieve books. In between her assignments, she is able to devote her time to research … things. Write dissertations? I don’t know, I didn’t write that part down in my notes. But Irene longs for the day when she doesn’t have to travel and can just stay in her office and study.

Today – er, the start of the book – is not that day.

Almost immediately upon her return from an alternate, she is assigned another job – and this time, she has a new recruit to take with her. Mentoring is an essential responsibility for Librarians, and Irene has been dragging her feet on taking a recruit on. Irene’s intern (I don’t care or recall if that’s the actual term used, but that’s the one I’m going with) is Kai.

Kai is very pretty.

He had the sort of beauty that instantly shifted him from a possible romance object to an absolute impossibility. Nobody got to spend time with people who looked like that outside the front pages of newspapers and glossy magazines. His skin was so pale that she could see blue veins at his wrists and throat. And his hair was a shade of black that looked almost steely blue in the dim lights, braided down the back of his neck. His eyebrows were the same shade, like lines of ink on his face, and his cheekbones could have been used to cut diamonds, let alone cheese. [p. 23]

Sure. Okay.

At first, Kai seems sullen and surly. But as he works with Irene, we see that he uses his intensity to mask a desire to learn. He’s also very respectful to Irene, which I thought was a nice character trait. I mean, you read a few young adult-ish novels where the Sullen Teen Boy is just a bit of a bitca to everyone, and when one of them isn’t, it’s noticeable.

Anyway. Their assignment takes them to a steampunk-esque alternate for Victorian London, where they meet up with Peregrine Vale, an analogue for Sherlock Holmes. A rare edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales has gone missing, and they need to get it back.

The owner of the Grimm, Lord Wyndham, has died. He was also a vampire. I don’t recall if it’s important that Wyndham was a vampire; I only wrote down that he was a vampire. So I’m mentioning it. His rival (?), Lord Silver, is a suspect – oh, maybe it’s because vampires and the Fae are mortal enemies? Oh, shit, right – so, Lord Silver is a Fae. He’s also the ambassador to Lichtenstein.

jon hamm nod

Irene runs into Lord Silver while investigating the crime scene. “But Alaina,” you cry, “Irene’s a Librarian! Why is she working the crime scene?”

confused baby.gif

Irene is almost seduced by Lord Silver – in that he Fae’s her into being attracted to him – but she keeps her cool. She uses his seduction to score an invitation to the Ambassador’s Ball where she’ll be able to do more investigating. (I cannot remember the reason why they needed to get to the Ball, but it doesn’t really matter.) While there, the Iron Brotherhood – a cult or something who worship mechanical stuff and the sworn enemy of the Fae and also Lichtenstein – attack the Ball with robot crocodiles.

That was the other reason I picked up the book – I’m pretty sure the back of the book mentioned mechanical crocodiles or something.

peter pan crocodile.gif

ANYWAY. So Irene, Kai, and their new friend Peregrine Vale escape the crocodile ball in a carriage. BUT! Their carriage gets taken over by Alberich, a rogue Librarian who is ALSO searching for the missing Grimm volume! AND! Alberich drives the carriage right into the icy cold river and uses MAGIC (which I’ll explain in a minute) to make the carriage inescapable, ensuring Team Library will drown!

But apparently Kai is actually a dragon and is able to tell the water not to drown them so they survive.

What the gif doctor who.gif

Now she was sure what Kai really was. A river spirit might have changed himself to water to save them, and a nature spirit of some other type might have cajoled or persuaded the river to help them, but only one sort of being would give orders to a river.

Kai was a dragon. What the hell was she supposed to do about that? [p. 176-177]

Um, could you explain what that meant?

Here’s my biggest complaint about this book: nothing is ever really explained. We begin the book as Irene is returning from her assignment. Before we can take a breath to learn about this strange new world, we’re moved right into the next assignment with Kai. But Kai already has a basis of knowledge about this world, so no explanations are necessary from Irene. BUT WE THE READERS ARE NOT KAI! Us readers are asked to take A LOT on faith.

Like, the magic stuff. Librarians can speak the Language – commands uttered with a Capital Letter which controls the alternate world. So for instance, if a Librarian is in an alternate and there’s a locked door but they don’t have the key, a Librarian can use the Language to order That Specific Door to Open. There aren’t any spells or magic words – it’s just capital letters.

But apparently Kai didn’t use the Language to save them in the river – he just dropped his human form (?) to become a dragon (??) to tell the river (?!?) to not drown them, and then turned back into human (?*!?), BUT WE NEVER SEE THE DRAGON THING AGAIN OR LEARN WHY IT’S APPARENTLY A BIG DEAL.

Another example is the whole Bradamant thing. Bradamant is another Librarian, and she was Irene’s mentor when Irene was an intern or trainee or whatever. Bradamant is the type of mentor to praise you when no one else is looking, and then when you do a great job out in the field, Bradamant will take credit for everything you do and then highlight every mistake you made. So in short, she’s a middle manager.

But there’s so much tension between Bradamant and Irene! And apparently there was an Incident, but the only description you get of the Incident (and that’s my capitalization, not the book’s) comes from Bradamant, who we’ve already determined to be unreliable.

“We were trying to locate a book which had been stolen by a notorious thief. Everyone knew who she was. The best police officers in the city were watching her every move and still they couldn’t catch her. And when Irene and I were trying to investigate, well …” [Bradamant] smiled again, tolerantly. “The lady in question was very charming. And it isn’t as if I was in any significant danger while Irene was so, shall we say, “preoccupied” with her. And I managed to find the book, so all’s well that ends well.”

Irene looked down at her knees and bit her tongue. It hadn’t been like that at all, but that was all the story that anyone would know now. [p. 223-224]

BUT WHAT WAS IT LIKE, IRENE?! It sounds like Irene merely tried to talk to the lady!thief and convince her to not steal anymore, but that is not clear! Why can’t you say the thing?

If you want to read a much more in-depth review, please check out the comments on the book over on Goodreads, Tinka’s especially.

When I was done with the book, it almost felt like the characters were sharks – if they stopped moving through the action, they would die. They almost had an aversion to sitting down and explaining what was going on. And with such a fantastical story as this, the story really needed to be able to take those moments and get everyone on the same page.

I mean they had mechanical crocodiles in this book and they were completely wasted.

Grade for The Invisible Library: 1 star

Fiction: “The Ring and the Crown” by Melissa de la Cruz

ring and the crownJust before Christmas, I requested two books from the library – this one, and one I’d end up finishing in January 2018. Here’s the problem – I honest to god thought this was a different book when I requested it.

I had put this on my “Want to Read” list on GoodReads back in June, and I must have gotten it confused with A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, which is also on my “Want to Read” list. In the end, I’m kind of glad I read it, but I was expecting something a bit darker, and not … royal Gossip Girl on steroids and also ~magic~.

No. I’m serious. This book is like if Gossip Girl involved royalty (not counting that one prince Blair ended up marrying for like, half a season) and also ~magic~, and then the whole thing got turned up to 11.

This book is crazy.

It takes place in a weird alternative history – it’s pre-WWI, Britain and France are one united empire, Prussia is still a thing, and also, Merlins are real but a title and not a single person. And the entire place is overrun by horny 17-year-olds.

Let’s start off with Princess Marie-Victoria of England. She’s the only daughter of Queen Eleanor, who happens to be a sprightly 150 years old. That is not a typo. I can’t remember who Marie’s father is supposed to be, but it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that a) Marie is suffering from the “wasting plague” (my notes describe that as “pretty consumption, like what Nicole Kidman had in Moulin Rouge“), and b) Eleanor wants to throw a ball to announce Marie’s engagement to Prince Leopold of Prussia.

Except Marie is in love with Gill, a commoner in the Queen’s Guard! (I had to double-check Gill’s spelling – I had taken notes longhand and looking back on them, I wasn’t sure if I had misspelled his name. But no, according to this amazing review by Goodreads user Khanh, his name really is spelled Gill.)

[Oh my god it’s so hot I’m typing this part on July 5 and I have not been able to get my apartment below 91° in more than 24 hours FUCK YOU SCOTT PRUITT I hope you live with rancid swamp ass for the rest of your miserable fucking little life]

[Note From the Future: Oh, July 5th!Alaina: honey, you have not lived the absolute hell that was the first weekend in August. Or last week. Or ANY OF THE NIGHTS BETWEEN JULY 5 AND AUGUST 31, because I don’t think my apartment dropped below 80° AT ANY TIME THIS SUMMER]

[Also, that punishment is entirely too light for Scott Pruitt. You can do better than that.]

ANYWAY. Prince Leopold has been having an affair with Isabelle of Orleans for a while. Isabelle thought he was going to propose to her, but instead, he breaks up with her so he can go marry Marie.

My notes remind me that, while reading the book, I had high hopes that Leopold was actually a Manchurian candidate-type character; no such luck. Leopold’s just a horrible person. An asshole, if you will.

Around the same time that Leopold’s breaking up with Isabelle, Marie’s childhood friend Aelwyn Myrddyn returns to the palace. Aelwyn, the daughter of Queen Eleanor’s Merlin, Emrys Myrddyn, was one of Viviane’s apprentices on Avalon. Aelwyn was sent to Avalon after she accidentally set Marie’s bedroom on fire, but she’s back now. Mainly because Emrys called her back, but also because she was in love with Lanselin (this book’s version of Lancelot) and needed to get out of that situation. It’s understood that Aelwyn will take over as Marie’s Merlin when Marie ascends to the throne.

However, Aelwyn doesn’t really contribute anything to the plot. She makes Marie prettier than she already is — seriously, the ~*magic*~ in this book is basically all the glamours and Sleekeazy potions from Harry Potter and none of the other spells. She does end up with a crush on Leopold, but it doesn’t really add anything to the love triangle between —

Well wait, it’s not a triangle. Because Marie loves Gill, Gill loves Marie, but Marie has to marry Leopold, who doesn’t give a shit, and Isabelle loves Leopold, until she realizes he’s a complete and utter asshole, and we haven’t even talked about three other people.

(Also – Jesus, poor Isabelle. Her parents are dead; she’s the ward of her horrible, molesty guardian, Lord Hugo; her best friend seems like he might have a crush on her, but once she gets over Leopold and decides to go after her friend, he’s dating some other chick. She may have also ended up pregnant by Leopold, but I cannot remember.)

Then there’s Ronan Astor, the best character. FIGHT ME. In this version of events, America is still a colony, and the Astors are destitute. Apparently, Daddy Astor invested in Science and Innovation, but ~*magic*~ didn’t go away like he thought it would and now Science is stupid, and now the Astors are broke. But they’re still rich enough to send Ronan off to England, where hopefully she can wrangle a rich, landed dude into marrying her.

When she reaches the boat, she’s embarrassed that she’s basically in steerage. But she meets this dude who’s name is Heath, and he trades her his luxury suite for her steerage tickets, and then hangs out with her the entire time. And they really, genuinely like each other!

But Heath is actually Wolf – and he happens to be Leopold’s brother! Wolf (short for Wolfgang, naturally) had been traveling across America because he doesn’t like being a member of royalty, but now he’s required to go back home for Leopold’s engagement. I think he proposes to Ronan but she turns him town, because she maybe didn’t know it was his luxury suite she ended up with? She needs to marry someone rich and she thought he wasn’t? It was a stupid reason, that much I know.

So all of these people converge on London for the ball for Marie and Leopold! Leo flirts with Aelwyn, who has agreed to pretend to be Marie via glamour so Marie and Gill can escape and be normal people! Ronan is surprised to see Heath, but really interested when she learns that he’s a prince!

You think that everything’s coming up Milhouse, and then —

[SPOILER ALERT]

Emrys Myrddyn manages to SHOOT LEOPOLD, who DIES.

AND IT WAS ALL PLANNED BY ELEANOR AND EMRYS FROM THE BEGINNING

celebrity jeopardy.gif

Yeah. I AM disappointed. Because not only is Leopold dead (which actually is totes okay), but now, WOLF has to marry Marie. And because Marie can actually stand Wolf a bit, she AGREES, leaving Gill. AND THAT MEANS RONAN IS ALONE AGAIN.

Like, what the shit is that?!

This was supposed to be the start of a series, but apparently the publisher dropped it? So the second book, The Lily and the Cross, was self-published for Amazon. I do not think I’m going to read it, unless Wolf decides to leave Marie and be with Ronan. (Which I’m pretty sure won’t happen.)

Grade for The Ring and the Crown: 1.5 stars

Fiction: “The Invasion of the Tearling” by Erika Johansen

invasion of the tearlingY’all know how rare it is for me to read the next book in a series within the same year as the last one. I mean, at one point, I was reading a lot of series – Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, J.D. Robb’s In Death; hell, even Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, to name a few. To put in perspective how great-and-by-“great”-I-mean-“awful” at reading series I am, the last time I read any of the above series was 2015, 2016, and 2016 respectively. So the fact that I read the second book in the Tearling Trilogy only eight months after I read the first book – it’s kind of a big deal.

This book picks up relatively soon after The Queen of the Tearling left off.  (You might want to click that link and read what happened in the first book before going on with this review; Lord knows I had to, notes be-damned.)

[Also: I’m putting a warning out for this book. The book has detailed passages describing domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, and other nasty, awful things steeped in patriarchy and the removal of women’s rights. Some of the scenes are horrifying. Please be warned.]

Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, the Queen of the Tearling, is readying herself and her country to deal with the repercussions of her actions at the end of the last book: she stopped the Shipment of Tear citizens to the Mort, and now the Mort Queen wants revenge – or at least, for the Shipment to start up again. Kelsea is determined to be a better queen to her subjects than her mother, Elyssa. She has sent her scant armies to the borderlands, waiting for the Mort Queen to invade. Meanwhile, after discussing with her council (led by the Mace), she has ordered all her subjects to evacuate to New London, where she can attempt to keep them safe from the Mort Queen. She’s also nervous, because the sapphires she has have been dormant for a while – in the last book, she relied on the energy coming from her jewels as a reassurance that she was doing the right thing. With the stones quiet, her doubt increases.

During all of this planning, Kelsea is also learning about the past leaders of the Tear. Mace (or another guard, I can’t remember and didn’t write it down) take her downstairs to the royal gallery, where there are portraits of all of the royalty dating back to when William Tear was the first leader of his utopian Tear. She notices a couple of things: 1) Row Finn, a former prince of the Tearling, has been visiting her at night in the fire (yeah, it’s kind of weird and mystical – it’s revealed he’s also been the Evil Thing that was spurring the Mort Queen on in the previous book), and 2) there is a small child painted at the feet of the Beautiful Queen who goes missing from the rest of the paintings.

In addition to the incorporeal visits of Row Finn, Kelsea has also been experiencing fugue states, where she drifts off from the Tear and visits pre-Crossing America.

And hoo boy – if y’all thought Gilead was bad … I mean, pre-Crossing America is still very very bad, but it’s not quite as bad as Gilead, but GODDAMMIT NEITHER OF THESE DYSTOPIAS SHOULD BE SEEN AS OPTIONS FOR SURVIVAL

(And no, I haven’t even dared to begin to watch The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. Just the thought of it sends me into anxiety. No thanks. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. )

Oh, what’s Pre-Crossing America turned into?

Rich (deemed “private”) citizens are physically segregated from the public (read: “poor”) citizens. There are private roads, for the rich and powerful people, and there are public highways, for the poor and indigent.  America has been ravaged, no thanks to their President Freeman (excellent anvil, there, Ms. Johansen): women don’t have to work, because their property belongs to their husbands. People have identity chips implanted into their shoulders, and an elaborate Security system is able to track everyone’s movements.

Also, not surprisingly, fertility and the ability to have children is prized. Fathers get promotions, so husbands need to have babies in order to hold onto their power.

Lily Herman is married to Greg, who works for the Department of Defense (or the new version of it, whatever). They live in a fabulous, private house in the suburbs of New York City, and every month, Lily is driven to her doctor for fertility treatments. Except Lily has actually been taking black market birth control for years, and is hoping that she can keep up the ruse. She tends to hide all day in the room tricked out as the nursery, because it’s the only room Greg won’t venture into. It’s also the room where she’s been able to loop the video surveillance so it looks like it’s empty.

That is very convenient when Dorian, a young woman from the “Blue Horizon” group, crashes over Lily’s backyard fence with a gunshot wound.

Lily knows she should report Dorian to the authorities, but she can’t bring herself to do it. She remembers her rebellious younger sister who was taken by Security and never seen again. Lily enlists the assistance of her personal bodyguard, Jonathan, and they help bring Dorian back to health.

Greg’s childlessness is affecting his work performance and his ability to gain a promotion, and of course he takes it out on Lily when he gets home. Greg is abusive up to and including rape. Spoiler alert!: he ends up dead. Hooray!

At a dinner party, Lily learns that the Blue Horizon group is going to be targeted and potentially eradicated by Security forces the next morning. She manages to kill Greg and steal the car to meet up with Blue Horizon in Boston, where she officially meets William Tear, and they venture to the New World, via the Crossing.

Kelsea sees that entire plotline through her multiple fugue states throughout the novel. It’s harrowing, but also feels kind of disjointed at times.

There’s also a subplot involving Father Tyler of the Arvath and the new Pope-dude (look, I can’t remember what the High Priest is called and I’m not looking it up; “Pope-dude” is good enough). The Pope-dude is terrible, and basically threatens to burn all of Father Tyler’s books if he doesn’t manage to poison Kelsea.

But Tyler is able to escape from the Arvath – and he’s able to steal the true crown of the Tear, but he isn’t able to send it to Kelsea.

There’s a lot going on in this book. Kelsea also sentences Arlen Thorne, the previous head of the Shipment to death, and executes him in a violent rage in the town square. The Mace has taken a shine to Andalie’s oldest daughter, Aisa, and teaches her how to defend herself. Aisa dreams about joining the Queen’s Guard, and she’s only like, twelve.

At the climax of the book, the Mort Queen herself has journeyed with her army to the outskirts of New London. Kelsea names the Mace Regent and ventures out on her own to negotiate with the Mort Queen. She even allows the Mort Queen to take her sapphires, but in exchange, the Mort Queen will leave the Tear and its people alone for three years. The Mort Queen agrees; but then when she takes the sapphires, they do nothing – even though the Mort Queen is that missing child from the Beautiful Queen’s portrait, Evelyn Raleigh, and she believes that she is the right true heir of the Tear.

Lily’s plot ends at The Crossing, with William Tear and Blue Horizon.

So … there’s a lot of plot to this book. A lot. And while I was intrigued by the plot of Pre-Crossing, and I felt it gave a good origin to the Tear and to show how far it has come since its inception, I felt that at times, it detracted from Kelsea’s own story. I know that she needs to see Lily’s story to influence her own, but still – it felt like two different books in one.

It also seems like Kelsea all-of-a-sudden learns she has super rage powers, as evidenced by her brutal execution of Arlen Thorne. I can’t remember if she experiences remorse for her actions – or at least, the level of brutality she evinced. I’m not sure how I feel about her at the end of the book. I admire her for putting herself at risk over her subjects, but her slip into the dark side may not have been so … slippery.

Anyway. I’ll probably read the last book of the trilogy. Not sure when that’ll be, but I’ve made such good progress on this series that I’d hate myself if I stopped now.

Grade for The Invasion of the Tearling: 3 stars

Fiction: “The Gunslinger” by Stephen King

GunslingerEven though I’ve lived in Maine my entire life (save for freshman year at Franklin Pierce College), I’ve never been able to get into Stephen King novels. Love him as a person and as a representative of Maine — and one of my best friends had dinner at his house when he [the friend] was going to school at U-Maine! — but other than Hannibal, I’ve never been a huge fan of horror.

Up until this past year, the only Stephen King novel I’d ever read was The Dead Zone, and the only reason I ever read that was because Sean Patrick Flanery was starring in the USA series based on the book, and I loved Sean Patrick Flanery – he was my favorite Boondock Saint.

So anyway. I’m not jazzed about Stephen King. But then, The Dark Tower movie was announced, starring my second-favorite Next James Bond (after Gillian Anderson or Janelle Monáe), Idris Elba. And I like Idris Elba. And I got more interested in the movie than I normally would have been, because My Dear Friend Sarah was interested in the movie.

But, I didn’t want to go into something blind – especially where Stephen King is concerned. So I put a question out into the universe (y’know – Twitter) and asked whether I should read The Dark Tower.

My Dear Friend Sarah said (essentially), “Yes, you should absolutely read the series, but let me warn you, you’re going to get to a point where you throw one of the books across the room. Don’t let it stop you, pick up the book, toss a shot back, and keep going.”

So with that recommendation – and I’m not being facetious, Sarah tells it like it is, and I appreciate that; if someone knows you well enough that they know you’re going to get frustrated with something, give that person a heads-up! — I requested the first book in The Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger, from the Yarmouth Public Library.

Hoo, boy. Okay. So. *sigh* … how the fuck do I talk about this?

I have no idea what happened in that book.

Thanks to Wikipedia for the below five paragraphs, because seriously, I remember there’s a massacre at a town, and a lot of desert walking, a young paranoid kid named Jake, maybe a spider? and a scene in a mountain that reminds me of the mine car sequence from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but at the end of it Short Round dies.

There’s a Gunslinger. His name is Roland. And he’s searching for a Man in Black. He’s walking through a desert, and stops at this tiny rundown farm, and while he’s there for the night, he tells the farmer about the massacre he caused at the last town at the edge of the desert. The next day he continues on his journey.

Roland rolls into a way station, and meets a young boy named Jake. Jake’s about ten, and he tells Roland how he got there, and apparently he was hit by a car in Manhattan but then ended up at the way station, and it sounds like our universe is parallel to Roland’s, but also maybe it’s limbo or something? Then they defeat a demon in the basement and then Jake goes with Roland on his journey.

They get out of the desert and there’s this succubus in a forest, and Roland saves Jake from it and then Roland sleeps with the succubus so he can figure out what’s going on with his quest. There’s also a pretty substantial flashback to Roland’s childhood, which is not pretty or pleasant.

Then Roland and Jake run into the Man in Black, who says he’s only going to meet one of them on the other side of the mountain. Roland and Jake cross through the mountain, using a handcar. They run into some zombies or something, and then when they get to an abyss where only one of them can cross, Roland sacrifices Jake so he can continue on his journey alone.

He does meet up with the Man in Black on the other side of the mountain, as foretold. The Man in Black tries to convince Roland to give up his quest – which essentially was a revenge killing of the Man in Black – and the Man in Black also tries to tell Roland that Roland’s true enemy is the person controlling the Dark Tower, which they can see on the horizon. The Man in Black deals tarot cards and then there’s a sequence where they go whizzing past different planets, and then Roland falls asleep and when he wakes up the Man in Black has turned into a skeleton, so Roland keeps walking.

The only quote I captured from the book itself (and not from Stephen King’s afterword) is this:

“You asleep?” the gunslinger asked.

“No.”

“Did you understand what I told you?”

“Understand it?” The boy asked, with cautious scorn. “Understand it? Are you kidding?” [p. 174]

You and me both, boy.

So, even while I was reading it, I was checking out Wikipedia. And the Wikipedia page for the book has this as its second sentence:

The Gunslinger was first published in 1982 as a fix-up novel, joining five short stories that had been published between 1978 and 1981. King substantially revised the novel in 2003, and this version is in print today.

And I went, “wait a minute …”

The version I read – the one I got from the library – was published in 1988; an illustrated version of the original 1982 publication.

This entire time – I was reading the wrong version.

CURSE YOU, YARMOUTH PUBLIC LIBRARY!

punk-ass.gif

Now, there were a couple of cool things I could take from Stephen King’s afterword, which continues to prove that I like him as a person, but not as a teller of stories.

He said this about the process of getting The Gunslinger to completion:

[…] this segment, “The Gunslinger and the Dark Tower,” was written over a period of twelve years. It is by far the longest I’ve taken with any work … and it might be more honest to put it another way: it is the longest that any of my unfinished works has remained alive and viable in my own mind, and if a book is not alive in the writer’s mind, it is as dead as year-old horseshit even if words continue to march across the page. [p. 219]

Damn straight, Stephen.

And this argument brought me right back to … oh god, what was it freshman year, Advanced Reading 101? What the hell was that stupid fucking “English” course we all had to take with Ms. Ring, where we only read two books, one of which was Into the Wild, which I already hated, and she made us use the entire writing process toolbox every time we had to write something? Anyway, this statement gave me flashbacks:

Somewhere inside I know all of these things, and there is no need of an argument, or a synopsis, or an outline (outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses). When it’s time, those things — and their relevance to the gunslinger’s quest — will roll out as naturally as tears or laughter. [p. 224]

SERIOUSLY. Look, I have this “novel” I’ve been “writing” for almost seven years now, and my worry is that it’s just a series of conversations between people and there’s no plot. But since I’m not sure how the story ends (I’ve got options), I’m not about to start outlining the fucking thing. I’ll get there eventually.

And probably, eventually, I’ll try to find the “correct”, revised version of The Gunslinger. Sarah told me it’s worth it, and I’ll give it a shot, but let me be very clear: it’s going to take me a while to work up the will to try again. Because this book was the biggest disappointment of 2017 — at least, in the book-reading department.

Grade for The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger1 star (only for Stephen King’s afterword)

Fiction: “The Queen’s Poisoner” by Jeff Wheeler

Queen's poisonerI picked this up because I thought it would be similar to The Queen of the Tearling. I was wrong.

The Queen’s Poisoner is a young adult novel, and it takes place in a setting that isn’t exactly dystopian, but certainly not modern society or a utopia. This book deals with royalty as well, but from a different perspective. But most importantly, the protagonist in this story is an 8-year-old boy.

The kingdom is Ceredigion, and its ruler is King Severn. The parents of Owen Kiskaddon are like, duke and duchess? of a province in the northern part of Ceredigion. There’s a war going on, and Owen’s father betrayed King Severn in the Battle for Ambion Hill. As punishment as a form of control, King Severn conscripts Owen into his custody, and brings him back to the royal stronghold of Kingfountain.

Owen is a terribly shy child, and Severn relishes in the fact that he frightens the boy. All the palace’s children eat breakfast at the same time, and Severn would walk around the tables while the children ate, scaring them but also making sure that none of the food was poisoned. (We find out later that Severn has magic, and his power comes from feeding off of fear of others. Breakfast scare time is like, recharging his battery for the day.)

King Severn is also drawn very much as a Richard III figure. I believe he has a bit of a hunchback, and there are rumors that he murdered or sent away his two younger brothers.

Owen’s favorite place to hide is the kitchen. He makes friends with the cook and a couple of other servants. He also finds a bag of “tiles”, which I feel are akin to dominoes. He will spend hours stacking and unstacking the tiles – he uses the motion to help himself think.

One day, Duke Horwath brings his granddaughter to Kingfountan in the hopes that she’ll befriend Owen. His granddaughter, Elysabeth Victoria Mortimer – and yes, you have to call her by her entire name – is quite the chatterbox. Owen doesn’t quite know what to make of her, and basically hopes that she’ll leave him alone if he doesn’t talk. But nope – that just makes her talk more. Eventually, they do become friendly, and Owen is able to bestow upon her the nickname of Evie.

The other person that Owen meets is the mysterious Ankarette. She lives in the tower of the castle, but doesn’t leave. She goes to him in the kitchen one day and befriends him, and teaches Owen how to play Wizr (which I think sounds a lot like chess). She knows Owen is scared of King Severn, and she teaches him confidence and also about some of his abilities. Ankarette also held the position of Queen’s Poisoner; hence the title.

Because Owen is what they call “Fountain-Blessed” – he can have prophetic dreams, or he can see things in water that other people can’t… it’s a power. But Ankarette will take the gossip she hears in the castle and feeds it to Owen in the form of a story that she tells Owen to tell Severn at breakfast the next day. And it’s usually masked in the form of a weird dream – the wolf fell over a waterfall, and when he survived, a fish was in its mouth. But that actually meant to Severn that one of his armies was close to … who knows, I can’t remember. But you get the gist.

Meanwhile, Dickon Ratcliffe is keeping an eye on Owen. Dickon is the head of the Espion, which is King Severn’s band of spies. It turns out he’s actually a traitor to King Severn – oh, shit, spoiler alert. But he’s a bad dude.

Owen and Evie go on a few adventures – jumping into the castle cistern to cool off on a hot day, sneaking through secret passageways – all sorts of shenanigans. After Severn is able to find out Ratcliff is a traitor via Owen’s “dreams”, he rewards Owen by passing the dukedom from Owen’s parents directly to Owen, making Owen duke immediately.

This was … it was weird, to me. There were a number of moments where I wasn’t sure Owen was acting appropriate for his stated age. Meaning, he’d do something that an older kid would do, but then revert right back to a different way of speaking or not speaking at all and cowering behind someone. Now, I’m not near children routinely, and I certainly couldn’t speak to how an eight-year-old is supposed to act (if there’s even such a thing). But … I don’t know, I noticed it and thought it wasn’t consistent.

I also thought Evie was too headstrong for a nine-year-ish-old, but again, I don’t know kids.

King Severn’s heel-face turn also seemed very abrupt. We went through the majority of the novel thinking Severn’s evil, and it turns out he was just misunderstood or projecting evil as a way to shore up his power.

So there you have it. This is the first book in a trilogy, and apparently each book in the series is supposed to see Owen at a different age with a different set of problems. Unlike other YA series I’ve read, there doesn’t seem to be a pressing obstacle that Owen et. al. needs to overcome, so that might be interesting. If I decide to read the next book, that is.

Grade for The Queen’s Poisoner: 2 stars