Young Adult

Let’s Discuss — Hypothesis by Ana Bastow

There are scrolls that state that the reason magic exists and affects us is because of our…spiritual component. If you are immune, then you might not have a soul (89)

My first review of 2014 and I’m doing something a little different…How is this different you ask? Well…I was asked to review this book. That’s right. I didn’t pick this book, it just fell into my lap, showed up on my doorstep, or more accurately revealed itself in my email inbox.

Before you read this write-up you should remember three things: (1) I am very honest and (2) I’m sort of a snob BUT (3) I am open-minded (for the most part) And so with an open-mind, I ventured into the world of Nekapolis by reading Hypothesis. In this book readers will discover something of a hybrid between the realm of Harry Potter and Twilight…I suppose this can be both good and bad. Good if you like those series. Bad if you don’t. Awful if you’re sick of all things magical and vampire-related. I’ll let you decide which one I am after I’ve said my piece…

So we have Gabrielle, an undergrad physics major, aspiring Nobel Prize recipient and overall nerd*. Gabrielle’s world consists of schoolwork, a part-time job, an alcoholic mother, light doses of self-loathing and a not-so-existent love life. That is until she’s forced into working together as lab partners with a handsome brute named William. Gabrielle and William are seemingly from different worlds, but that quickly changes. William is more than just a face and a body–he’s a sorcerer. Their partnership leads them into a conflict that Gabrielle didn’t know existed: a war in the shadow world.

A man named, Sekeem Soulless, has partaken in a form of wizard-vampyrism (yes, drink magical wizard blood and become a sorcerer) And he’s done it so much that he’s become all-powerful and decided to quest for world domination under a God-like complex. He’s sort of the opposite of Voldemort**–a mudblood that wants to kill all wizards except he absorbs their magical essence…yeah…Less specified and somewhat superficial but still notable as a conflict is the idea of Science and Magic; a dichotomy that switches between a versus and collaborative situation. I hoped there would be more of that in this first book.

I have to talk about Gabrielle. She is all over the place….what do I mean by this? Well…to start she has three personalities (perhaps sides or voices is more politically correct, I don’t know) And all three have names; Brie, Elle and Gabe. Now I’m not placing judgment on having multiple personalities–no way. I’m placing judgment on the fact that not one of these voices enriches Gabrielle’s character. They don’t add dimension. I personally couldn’t identify and I felt they were just an extension of superfluous inner monologues and very cliché. I’ll go into this a little more later.

I also have to talk about William. His aura, or rather the aura the author tries to create for him, is supposed to be one of a handsome and mysterious Casanova, something akin to I-don’t-want-to-say it*** (take a guess) If I had to sum him up in a single word, it would be: corny. At one part in the story when he’s trying to prove a point to Gabrielle, he uses these pickup lines that are beyond terrible: “Nice nails…are they real? (62)”…”Is it true all blonds are dumb? (64)”  — Huh? Am I, the reader, supposed to believe that? Those lines? This is written as a contemporary piece. Something that takes place recently. So to read these lines and others like them didn’t bode well for believability(?) or enjoy-ability(?)**** Which leads me to my next point.

I have to talk about Gabrielle and William together. Their love/hate, teacher/student role-reversal relationship gets old before it ever gets started. It’s very predictable. And I think the predictability has a lot to do with how the book is written. Writing an engaging 1st person narrative is tough. Kudos to those who do it successfully. Because if you don’t, it comes off really…whiny and self-centered. And in this case, Hypothesis needs come TLC. It’s very much the diary of a teenage girl. Not quite boy-crazy but still obsessive. The numerous inner monologues are silly and pretty much unnecessary. None of this is remedied by the subject-matter of Gabrielle’s thoughts: her crush, school, hookups and virginity.

Now with all that said, Hypothesis isn’t terrible. There’s definitely a niche/market for this book and I think many YA Fantasy readers will embrace it. It could easily follow in the footsteps of the many successful YA series available today. It’s just not a book I am in the market for.

* Using the term loosely. Very subjective and not intended to be pejorative.

** HP reference!

*** Twilight Saga…

**** I made those two words up I think.


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Let’s Discuss — The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

At first, it is only a random pattern of lights. But as more of them ignite, it becomes clear that they are aligned in scripted letters, First a C is distinguishable, followed by more letters. A q, oddly, and several e’s. When the final bulb pops alight, and the smoke and sparks dissipate, it is finally legible, this elaborate incandescent sign. Leaning to your left to gain a better view, you can see that it reads: Le Cirque des Reves (5)

I’ve never been one to complain about description–sometimes I need it more than I need dialogue. The Night Circus is not short on description by any means. The book successfully recreates the ambiance of a circus; the mystique, awe and curiosity. So much so, that if you’re unable to visualize the circus after reading this, then you should just give up on imagery (and maybe the circus) altogether. I liked the idea of outsiders viewing this mysterious night circus as a wonderful place full of spectacle and illusion, and conversely, circus members sometimes viewing the circus as a cage. The descriptions and undertones in the beginning set the reader up for a great story, but it is never delivered.

“I’m not sure I understand the rules”, Marco says. “You don’t need to under stand the rules. You need to follow them. As I said your work has been sufficient” (115)

Morgenstern does a great job of setting up the place, but could have done a better job of expanding on the one thing that was supposed to move the plot along–the competition between magicians. What were the rules to this “competition”? If the two central characters, Marco and Celia, had a clearer idea of the endgame then maybe (and this is a big maybe) they would have been more dynamic. Everything about them was flat. Everything. The description on the back of my book says a “fierce competition is underway”–yeah, well you wouldn’t know from reading. It also says Marco and Celia fall into a “deep, magical love”…I beg to differ. Minor characters like Tsukiko, Isobel, Alexander and Prospero were much more interesting than Marco and Celia.

And so I return to my original qualm with this story: nothing really happened…There was no actual, well-explained conflict. For a while I accepted the ambiguous run-around because it was part of the intrigue. But I’m not that type of reader. I needed to know the origins of this competition and I needed there to be more action or at least more romance. I’m still trying to decide if the format* and all the jumping around contributed to the disconnect of the story. It’s quite possible.

Even though I enjoyed many of the descriptions, I still had a problem with the details. Not necessarily a problem with the abundance of detail, but the redundancy–the fluff**. Certain things were repeated over and over again, and I was just like I get it already! I’m not going to forget what color the tents are between pages 15 and 16. No need to mention it again on page 17.

Alas…I understand why so many people like The Night Circus. The descriptions (when not too fluffed up) are fascinating. It might be a cool place to visit–if it were real. The setting is the saving grace for the book***

* So many vignettes….so many….

** When it comes to fluff, I feel there is a difference between abundance and redundancy….am I right?

*** I’m being nice. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who isn’t eleven years old or younger…I mean even if you like magic, this book is not the book for you.

Let’s Discuss — Orleans by Sherri L. Smith

Fever make you weak at first, tired and confused. That be the disease eating up your red blood cells. Then it make it so you can’t sleep and you start seeing things. Crazy things. And skin that be black or brown or white all turn the same color–chalky yellow. that be your blood failing and your liver giving up […] Your lips crack, your mind go, and you start seeing more things that ain’t there, knowing they coming to get you (21)

For me, successful speculative fiction, specifically, books dubbed as “dystopian” need to have a healthy combination of political and philosophical undertones, and a unique source of conflict. They don’t need to happen during a specific time period. They don’t need to take place in a certain setting. (Although, innovative scenery is almost always appreciated) They just require politics + philosophy + conflict.  I relate this back to my canon of favorite speculative novels, which have not been apolitical or lacking philosophical development, or haven’t taken place on some distant planet. So where am I going with this?

I finished reading Orleans. It follows the journey of Fen de la guerre, resident of Orleans (formally New Orleans), which has been decimated by hurricanes and Delta fever. Almost every state connected to the Mississippi Delta has been abandoned by the United States’ Government, and everyone in them left to fend for themselves. The protagonist, Fen, ends up without her blood tribe, protecting a newborn child and ushering an outsider around the deadly swamps and bayous of Orleans.

While reading, I was impressed by the world-building. New Orleans has been transformed into third-world circumstance and is environmentally unstable for its inhabitants. Barter is currency, blood tribe is family and promise is just that. Established speculative fiction titles have a tendency to rely on Anglo-parallel worlds as found in High Fantasy, or futuristic space, found in hard Science Fiction. With Orleans the reader has a chance to experience something different; the parasitic and hypnotic ruins of the Delta.

When he enter me, it be through the skin. First a swift wipe of a cold cotton pad, then a needle, sharp and hot, into the biggest vein of my right arm. I cry out, but don’t dare move ‘less the needle tear me even more. He be sweating as he pierce my arm, the soft mound of vein inside my right elbow. He stroke my legs as the blood flows out of my body into the waiting bags. So red, like rubies in the firelight. He take from me until I faint (96)

So here we have an innovative setting, but as mentioned above, that is not a requirement for a successful Dystopian.  What I found very interesting about this novel is despite the source of conflict, it was oddly apolitical. Other than the government abandonment, there was no in-depth power struggle. Yes, blood tribes feud, but the reader gets the feeling these clashes are the norm. Where is the tension and build up between each faction? Who has the power?  At one point there’s the introduction of a potentially devastating element, that if placed in the wrong hands could change the future of the Delta forever, but (and this is a huge “but”) nothing happens with it. On another level, it was odd to me that political undertones concerning race and class were briefly touched upon. An entire portion of the South, which contained a significant number brown people, was basically left for dead– Let’s talk about that? No? Okay, then.

And then there’s some confusion (maybe only on my part) about personal philosophies of central characters, Fen and Daniel. And I’ll be honest I’m a little hesitant to bring up philosophy in a Young Adult storyline, but when you write Dystopian , I strongly believe solid commentary on existence or values or knowledge should be included. With that said, I found Fen and Daniel’s perspectives to be very one-dimensional in this regard. We know Fen wants to save Baby Girl. And? We know Daniel might be able to conjure up a cure for Delta Fever. And? The ABs have guns now. And? Fen cuts off her hair. And? These things happen but there is no true gravity behind the decisions or actions. They just happen…

I don’t want to seem like I hated this book because I didn’t. It had some really good elements. Specifically, the hematological ones: blood tribes and hunters.  Very cool. Hypothetically speaking, if my immediate family lived in Orleans, we would be split into different tribes and forced to barter for basic necessities. Good thing we live in the mid-Atlantic.  I just feel there was so much unrealized potential in this storyline. I also don’t think it was a successful dystopian. It can be argued Orleans is more of Southern Gothic set in the future, than Speculative or Dystopian.