Thursday, February 19, 2015

Book Review: This Shattered World

Title: This Shattered World
Author: Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication Date: December 23rd, 2014
Read: January 2015
Where It Came From: BEA Galley + Purchased Copy
Genre: YA-sci-fi-space-opera
Rating: Averages out to 2.5 stars. (Which we can’t see anyway, because they’re hidden by clouds, of course.)

Alas, seduced by a pretty cover again! You’d think I would have learned my lesson with the first book in this series, which had an equally gorgeous cover that the story living beneath didn’t quite live up to. Last year, rave reviews were popping up all over the place for These Broken Stars, even from reviewers whose tastes I find often parallel my own, and all I could think was, “…really? Am I missing something here?” I found it simply…okay.

That bit of background out of the way, I can tell you that I actually enjoyed the first one more than This Shattered World. Here’s a quick plot rundown of this latest installment: Jubilee Chase is a soldier extraordinaire stationed on the planet Avon (what the military is there for in the first place was never really clear to me). The problem with Avon is that it’s not terraforming into a habitable planet at the usual rate, so it’s a cloudy swampland otherwise inhabited only by the colonists-who-are-also-considered-natives-of-the-planet. There is a sect of rebellious colonists who live out in the swamps, wanting to take the terraforming corporations to task for not fulfilling the promises of a better life and a livable planet that they used to lure the colonists to Avon. Flynn Cormac, though hoping for a peaceful resolution to Avon’s woes, is one of these rebels. Now, Jubilee hates rebels (do I smell a BACKSTORY?), and Flynn has reasons to dislike the military presence (yet MORE backstory??), but the two find themselves pushed together as they discover the conspiracy underlying Avon’s very existence.

So, same world, different protagonists, different planet in this latest outing in the Starbound trilogy. It probably didn’t help that I remembered next to nothing from These Broken Stars, and as bits and pieces of the first installment began to trickle back into my memory, I found myself thinking, “Oh! That thing that happened earlier would’ve been much more intriguing/made more sense if I had remembered plot point thus-and-such from book one!” Still, I think my issues with this one cannot simply be attributed to my own poor recall abilities regarding the previous installment.

Problems I Had With It

  1. S L O W pacing. And I mean grass-growing, paint-drying, other-clich├ęs-of-slowness slow. The first half of the book (which was nearly 200 pages, mind you!) could probably be boiled down to just three plot points. In fact, I think at one point Jubilee lists to herself the important things that have happened to her since the first scene, and I was like yes, only three! In this many pages, only three! The opening scenes involving a kidnapping at a bar and a subsequent vision of a disappearing research facility were promising, but everything came to a screeching all-but-halt after that. So many times I kept thinking to myself, why can’t we revisit that disappearing building thing that I know is coming back later? Why can’t it come back NOW? In the second half of the book the action picked up, aided in part by the arrival of characters from the first book (yay!). It was a lot quicker reading and a lot more interesting, but it still wasn’t enough to salvage the story for me.
  2. Lack of chemistry. Flynn and Jubilee…I just didn’t feel it. Zero chemistry between these two. There were constant references to the fact that Flynn is all charming rogue-y, but being in his head for half the chapters and seeing him through Jubilee’s POV in most of the other chapters, his actions and thoughts show him to be pretty much a straightforward, sweet, boy-next-door type. Rogue level of next-to-zero. I mean, he’s a pacifist, for the love of pete! Which is fine—I quite liked Flynn, but he is not the smooth operator I felt like I was supposed to be convinced he was. Between that and the trying-to-convince-me-there’s-chemistry-between-our-leads-when-there-is-none just made me keep internally shouting STOP TRYING TO MAKE FETCH HAPPEN! I will note, however, that this was another thing that improved in the second half of the book. I’d still say I’m not fully feeling the Flynn-Jubilee love connection, but I’m more inclined to live and let live now.
  3. Vague worldbuilding. Things I am learning about myself: I value worldbuilding. A lot. My opinions of books live and die by worldbuilding. Now, to be clear, good worldbuilding does not necessarily mean a ton of background information and history and culture dropped into the text. If writing is good, it can let you know the world of the story is fully conceived, with internal logic and a depth and life like that of our own world, without having to sit and explain every single aspect of it to you. Heck, even if a ton of background information and history and culture is worked into the text, it should still feel like you’re only scratching the surface of that world, and that there are infinite depths beyond what you can see. …That is not what happened here. Vague can work in some stories, but not this one. Two books in, and I still don’t have a clear picture of the greater shape of this world. What’s the association between the planets in this overall system—what’s the government like? How have people spread across the galaxy/universe/whatever? Whose military is this, who controls them? Why the hell are all the Avon colonists still so strongly Irish this long after humanity has spread to the stars? If you want me to be invested in a story, you’ve got to make it real, and I wonder how much more I would enjoy these books if they were a little more fully fleshed out.

Overall, the first half of the book was a struggle (2 stars), but in the second half things became a little more interesting (3 stars). Though the worldbuilding is often annoyingly vague (when not outright deficient), bringing in some of the plot threads from the first book made me a little more invested in the story. I wouldn’t say Jubilee and Flynn won me over by the end, but they were tolerable. And maybe that was the problem with this one for me—it never made me do more than simply tolerate it. It was passable sci-fi—I’ve read worse, but I’ve also certainly read better. When the third volume comes out at the end of this year, I’m sure the cover will be beautiful again, so there might need to be an intervention to keep me from buying it. You know what they say—fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice and thrice…well, you know how it goes.

*As ever, much as we are grateful for the copy, our review is based on the finished book rather than the galley, and at any rate is uninfluenced by its source.

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