Friday, October 25, 2013

YA Round-Up: Vampires and dystopias and Georgians, oh my!

Over the past few months I’ve accumulated some YA reviews that are purely internal—I have thoughts in my head about the books, but haven’t gotten around to typing them out, and now it’s been so long since I’ve read them that the details are no longer fresh in my mind. But some of these were books I quite enjoyed, and I’d really like to pass that on so maybe some other people can hear about them and possibly enjoy them, too! You see my #booknerdproblems-hashtag-worthy conundrum? Anywho, my solution is to write a mini-review for each (as mini as a verbose individual like myself can manage, anyway), preceded by the Amazon/Goodreads blurb, since too much time has passed since reading and/or I’m too lazy to blurb it myself. Let’s start things off!

First up we have a delightful specimen from the squished-together genre of YA-urban-fantasy-vampires:

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.

“Snarf” would be the word to describe how I consumed this book. I’ve loved Holly Black ever since my first acquaintance with her work once upon a high school drive back from California, when I turned around and asked my friend in the backseat what she was reading (it was Tithe, now one of my all-time favorite books). Count on this lady to inject some life back into vampire stories (har har) by making them scary and compelling again! I liked how vampirism in this world is like a disease, and the echoes of contagion/zombie fiction I found in the story were a nice twist on what I’m used to in vampire books. Tana is a strong, relatable main character, and in the usual Holly Black fashion the side characters are just as complex and complicated as the protagonist. I believe the book was meant as a standalone (yay for YA standalones!), but while it is self-contained and stands on its own perfectly well, there is room for more to come, and I would definitely read that “more.” Awesome book, and kudos to the author for writing the story that was in her heart, despite naysayers and skeptics in the post-Twilight (post-vampire?) YA landscape. Rating: 4 1/2 Garnets in a Necklace

In the middle of our YA sandwich we have a classic-meets-sci-fi story inspired by one of my favorite books:

It's been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong caused the Reduction, decimating humanity and giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.

Elliot North has always known her place in this world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family's estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress, and Elliot's estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth--an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go.

But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret--one that could change their society . . . or bring it to its knees. And again, she's faced with a choice: cling to what she's been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she's ever loved, even if she's lost him forever.

Inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion, For Darkness Shows the Stars is a breathtaking romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.

I loved Persuasion when I read it a couple years ago, so I thought this YA adaptation sounded fantastic. I looked at the cover, read the title, saw that the Wentworth character was a ship captain, and got really excited. What’s not to love about Persusasion in SPACE?!

…only it’s not in space. Malakai Wentforth is not a space ship captain, but rather an actual boat ship captain. While the blurb, cover, and title don’t explicitly state that it’s taking place in outer space, I think my assumption wasn’t completely out of the bounds of reason. I mean, look at the cover art!!! Needless to say, finding out the setting was in a post-apocalyptic agrarian dystopian society rather than THE FINAL FRONTIER was a little disappointing for me. But I got over it (mostly), and found the book to be quite enjoyable. It was full of Persuasion-y deliciousness, but was different enough to make it the author’s own. I liked the shout-outs to the original, such as Elliot being the protagonist’s first name rather than her surname and Wentworth becoming Wentforth, but the letter that is such an emotional lynchpin of the original felt a little phoned in to me in this one. Overall, though, it was a fun read, and the science vs. religion and genetic manipulation aspects of the story were an interesting sci-fi twist.

One subtle yet important difference I found between the two was that in Jane Austen’s book I never really found myself putting either Anne Elliot or Capt. Wentworth at fault for the tension between them (though there were times I wanted to shake them and tell them to stop being so silly!). You could say Anne’s at fault for allowing herself to be persuaded by Lady Russell to not marry Wentworth and his resentment is thus at least partially merited, but I never really felt like it was a “fault” thing—it was a decision, it happened, it had repercussions, and it wasn’t fun for anyone involved. By contrast, in Peterfreund’s adaptation, because Elliot is a good person she kind of had to refuse Kai—if she hadn’t, her estate and all the people on it would have suffered and probably died due to her father’s mismanagement. Which is a very valid (noble, even) reason for her to not marry him! It still sucks for both of them, but she had a responsibility to these people. Which is why it made me SO MAD when Kai was being a prime douchebag and generally jerky to her. Don’t take it so personally, dude—there were hundreds of lives at stake!!! So I spent a chunk of the book wanting to punch him in the face and for Elliot to run off with her neighbor Horatio, but this new slant to their relationship somehow ended up adding to my enjoyment of the book. I quite liked it, although I still wonder what it would’ve been like in space… Rating: 3.75 Genetically Enhanced Wheat Sheaves

And for our final entry, we have a historical spy adventure set in the royal court of Georgian England:

“A warning to all young ladies of delicate breeding who wish to embark upon lives of adventure: Don't.”

Sixteen-year-old Peggy is a well-bred orphan who is coerced into posing as a lady in waiting at the palace of King George I. Life is grand, until Peggy starts to suspect that the girl she's impersonating might have been murdered. Unless Peggy can discover the truth, she might be doomed to the same terrible fate. But in a court of shadows and intrigue, anyone could be a spy—perhaps even the handsome young artist with whom Peggy is falling in love...

History and mystery spark in this effervescent series debut.

Although it sounds like the sort of thing that would be right up my alley, this one was just…okay. The first person narration by Peggy is mostly enjoyable, but sometimes her flowery language and clever sentence structuring felt a bit overwrought. Though it was a little much for me at times, for the most part I found her distinctive voice to be an amusing and interesting perspective from which to see the workings of the Georgian court. It was clear that the author has researched the history and culture of Georgian England, but that research manifested itself at times in the form of slight infodumps. They didn’t completely eject me from the story, but I felt the info could’ve been woven in more smoothly at times. But then at other times, I was left wanting to know more of the history and culture! Okay, King George I is from Hanover, and there’s a pretender hiding out in France. Wait, how did a German become King of England?? Luckily, the ever-faithful Wikipedia was there to help me fill in the gaps in my knowledge of the history of the British crown.

I was also confused about Peggy’s place in the social hierarchy. Her uncle didn’t seem to be a nobleman, but had a high enough standing that he could marry off his niece to the son of a lord. Peggy’s mother was at court, but did not seem to have any title. So where does that leave Peggy? Was there a well-to-do merchant class at the time that was able to hobnob with the nobility? I don’t know if it’s just my lack of knowledge about the time period, but I thought that could’ve used some clarification to make the story seem more grounded in reality.

Unfortunately, one of my main problems with this book involved something that the entire story hinged on: Peggy’s ability to stand in at court for the deceased Francesca. I really had trouble suspending my disbelief that, even with makeup and a wig, Peggy would be able to impersonate her without anyone noticing. I found it very difficult to believe that she looked enough like Francesca that, especially with the dissimilarities in their personalities piled on top, even Fran’s close friends could not tell the difference.

Even taking these concerns into account, I was still pretty okay with the book until it got to the point where Peggy was jumping to some new, ill-reasoned conclusion every page about what was really going on with the intrigue. I found it to be tiresome, tedious, and a little exhausting to take the ride with her in arriving at each of these new conceptions mostly lacking in evidence. So I had a good laugh when on page 269 she said, “I listed my own proven inadequacies as a reasoner, and that list was depressingly long.” And how! At least she’s aware of it? Despite these criticisms, the book was still okay—I wasn’t shaking my fists and shouting at the heavens to get back the time I spent reading it, but I probably won’t be checking out any sequels. Rating: 2.5 Lace Fans

Have you read any good YA lately?

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (September 3, 2013)
Read in August 2013; Paper ARC from Book Expo America*

For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund
Published by Balzer + Bray (2012)
Read in September 2013; Bought it

Palace of Spies, by Sarah Zettel
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers (November 5, 2013)
Read in October 2013; eARC from publisher via NetGalley*

*As ever, much as we are grateful for the copies, our reviews are uninfluenced by their sources.


Feliza said...

You know, PALACE OF SPIES sounds like one of those things you read once and forget about. Like my copy of COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS. (Although they do fit together in more than one way.)

But FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS -- that sounds like something I need. PERSUASION is my favorite Austen. Though it would definitely be better in space.

Alyssa L. said...

Do it! I believe the companion book that is either out already or coming out soon is inspired by The Scarlet Pimpernel. Must remember to check that one out soon...

I've never read Countess Below Stairs, but it's about a girl impersonating someone, right?

Feliza said...

What is the companion book called?

It's about a Russian countess who has to flee Russia because of the Revolution. She goes to England and then, to help pay for her little brother's education, she becomes a maid in a baron's household. No impersonation. Although I guess technically she's impersonating a poor person?

Susan said...

I really want to read FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS because PERSUASION is the most beautifully crafted Austen novel and Anne and Frederick are both sweet...but I think I would need to hide the astronomy cover from myself and willfully misread Wentforth as Wentworth.

As for PALACE OF SPIES, maybe Peggy's grandfather is a rich aristocrat. Her mother could have married a member of the landed gentry, and Peggy wouldn't have a title as a result, but she'd still be able to hobnob with the nobility. Based on the rest of your issues though, I'm not convinced that's the author's reasoning. Alas.

Susan said...

In reading the summary of THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN, it strikes me that THAT is a stand alone Halloween-appropriate novel! (And evidently a great read to boot!)

Alyssa L. said...

LOL. I must've been thinking of some other nobility impersonation book. And now the title Countess Below Stairs makes so much more sense... XD The companion book is called Across a Star-Swept Sea (again with the stars! I want outer space!) and it came out on 10/14. Maybe it's set in the same world as FDStS?...but I can't tell from the blurb. :(

Alyssa L. said...

Yes! Definitely good for Halloween. OR ANYTIME. :D

Alyssa L. said...

Persuasion is my favorite! So good. As such, I kind of had to rein myself in and be like, "Okay, this is not ACTUAL PERSUASION. Don't get mad when it's not!" and then I was down with it for the most part. It does do its own thing, though--in perusing my GoodReads updates from the book I had one that said something about taking a left turn from Persuasion into Pride and Prejudice land, and then a hairpin turn into completely new territory. I can't remember the events that made me think that, but I remember being slightly confused for a moment but then quickly being okay with the new twists.

Feliza said...

Oh, I just read three really good adult SF set in spaceships: ANCILLARY JUSTICE by Ann Leckie, FORTUNE'S PAWN by Rachel Bach, and THE DAEDALUS INCIDENT by Michael J. Martinez. DAEDALUS is unique in that not only is it set on a Mars base and a spaceship, but the spaceship is also an actual boat/sea ship.

I'll have to look for both these books, though, because they do sound good. Nice to see a non-P&P adaptation, even if P&P IS a great book.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...