Friday, January 18, 2019

Vicious by V. E. Schwab: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Vicious by V. E. Schwab
Vicious (Villains 1) is an excellent book that works on every level: the premise, the story and its execution, and the characters. It’s deceptively simple, the narrative gives only the information the reader needs and nothing more, but grows more complicated towards the end. And the ending is satisfying.

The book is set in a vaguely American town, though it’s never explicitly stated that it takes place in America. The society is contemporary and like ours, with the exception of EOs: ExtraOrdinary people. They’re not a widely known phenomenon in that society, and the reader isn’t given any comprehensive explanations about them. Two college students, Victor and Eli, set out to study them, and they find a way to create EOs. They never ask if they should, they simply set out to do it.

Victor and Eli are friends, not because they necessarily like each other, but because in their college they are the only two people who they find affinity to. They are both damaged in some ways, mostly because of events that are alluded to but never clarified (Eli’s father flocked him, Victor’s parents neglected him), and both have brilliant minds. They are competitive and envious of one another’s successes, and the friendship doesn’t seem healthy. When Eli successfully becomes an EO and then denies Victor the chance, Victor goes behind Eli’s back to become one too. It leads to a spectacular falling-out between them. Ten years later, it’s time for payback.

The story is told in two levels: the countdown to the showdown, and the events that led to it in the past. Mostly, we follow the events through Victor’s eyes, and while the reader is ready to treat him as the main character to root for, he isn’t a good guy or a hero. Eli believes he’s a hero, but even the chapters in his point of view don’t manage to create sympathy for him. That both main characters are fairly unsympatheticthough Victor comes out bettermight make a rather unpleasant reading, but luckily there are a couple of side characters that bring warmth to the story, and show Victor in a better light too.

The showdown, Victor’s revenge, is built carefully in short chapters, creating tension and raising the stakes, so that the reader is more or less convinced that it won’t work and that Victor will lose. And while that is in some ways true, it’s also untrue. The ending is immensely satisfying.

Vicious is both a psychological study of unhealthy friendships and dangers of unchecked ego, and a thriller. It works on both levels. It might work even if it didn’t contain the supernatural element, but that’s needed at the showdown. It’s a complete, standalone book, and it doesn’t need a sequel. I can understand why it has taken the author years to write one. But now that it exists, I’ll definitely read it too.

***

At the end of my edition of the book was a short story called Warm Up, which is available separately too. It’s marketed as a prequel to Vicious, but it’s more of a vignette, a story of an EO and his encounter with Eli and the inevitable consequence of it. It doesn’t add anything to the Villains world, and it isn’t necessary to read it.

Warm Up by V. E. Schwab


Friday, January 11, 2019

Prisoner of Night by J.R. Ward: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Prisoner of Night by J.R.Ward
Prisoner of Night is a shorter paranormal romance set in Black Dagger Brotherhood universe, with no familiar characters, though short is relative. It was about 180 pages instead of the usual 600. The story has a fairly straightforward premise: Ahmare tries to save her brother from a torture chamber of a sadistic vampire crime lord, and for that she needs to infiltrate the bunker of another sadistic vampire to fetch something. In this, she is helped by Duran. He’s the son of the latter sadistic vampire, and has spent the past twenty years being tortured by the first. And he has a revenge of his own to deliver.

Had the story been as simple as that, rescue and revenge, it would’ve been fairly good. It was action-filled; brutal in parts and heart-breaking at times. The stakes were constantly high, not least because Ahmare knows that she won’t get her brother free unless she returns Duran to his torturer. However, this was first and foremost a love-story, and that didn’t work for me at all.

The shorter form of the story required instant love between the characters, which is in part explained by the biological tendency of vampire males in BDB universe to bond with their chosen mate. But Duran has grown up in a cult, watching his father rape and abuse his mother, so what does he know about love? Yet he doesn’t seem to have any problems with emotions. Then, barely past adolescence, he’s spent twenty years in captivity, being tortured constantly. He should be a PTSD mess that takes centuries to heal. But apart from a freak-out in the beginning, and another at the end, he functions fairly rationally throughout. Ms Ward has written tortured characters before in her BDB books, guiding them through their healing processes in fairly believable manner, with more needed than a good woman’s love to make things right. Zadist especially is such a character and after several books, he’s still healing.

Here, however, there is no room for healing before the couple is already having sex. The scene was troublesome in many respects, but mostly because everything was forced on Duran by Ahmare, who acts as if his reluctance to seduce her is because he’s being gentlemanly, not because there might be an underlying cause for itwhich then comes apparent at the climax of the scene. I’m not saying she abused him as such—though it came closebut the whole scene could’ve waited until Duran had recovered. That both of them expected to die on the mission didn’t really make the scene feel right.

For her part, Ahmare is depicted as a nurturing person forced into violence by circumstances, but she doesn’t really seem to suffer from the consequences of her actions, like beheading a person. She’s decisive when needs to be, and most of the time pushes the action on in her need to save her brother. And her nurturing nature doesn’t extend to Duran. All in all, the two made an odd pairing.

There were a couple of side characters who were also given their happy endings in the story. The most notable of these was Nexi, a Shadow who’s also fled the cult. A review mentioned how the scenes between her and Ahmare worked better emotionally than those with Duran, and suggested that they should’ve been made a pair in the end. At the very least, Ahmare should’ve shared the inner thoughts with him that she did with Nexi to make the connection between them more believable.

Duran gets to avenge his deaths in the end, and the epilogue paints a happily-ever-after he and Ahmare deserve. Nevertheless, the creepy parts of the story made me give only three stars of five to this story, probably to first ever that I’ve given to BDB series.

***

To recover, I read a twenty-page short story by Karen Chance that was free on her website with many other stories. If you’re a fan of her Cassandra Palmer and Dorina Basarab urban fantasy books, check them out. Updating Pritkin was a funny little story about trying to make everyone’s favourite war mage less scruffy, with pictures. The ending was a lesson to all and a win for Pritkin. However, as the story had barely any Pritkin in itthe scenes where he should’ve appeared were omitted, like so annoyingly in the books tooI only gave it three stars out of five. But it made me happy. And I’m definitely looking forward to Siren’s Song, which should be in his point of view completely.

Updating Pritkin by Karen Chance

Monday, January 07, 2019

The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Invisible Library series truly matures in this fifth book, The Mortal Word. The story-line that began in the previous book about the peace conference between the fae and the dragons continues, with extremely high stakes. A murder has taken place, which threatens the negotiations, and Irene, with her friend Detective Vale, is called in to investigate. The plot is complicated, with multiple suspects who all seem plausible from the beginning. Even the Library is implicated, which causes Irene a great deal of worry. She has to use all her skills and ingenuity to bring clarity to the situation. Luckily, she has by now enough experience of both dragons and the fae to pull it off.

Irene has learned a lot during the course of the series and grown in strength. I’m not sure, however, that she has grown as a person all that much. The focus of the books has always been on the action, leaving character development to a backburner. For example the revelations concerning Irene’s parents were staggering to her, yet the one time they are present in the same world, she doesn’t even meet them. I found that a really odd turn of events.

Lack of character growth is especially true when it comes to side characters, Kai the most important among them. He is only described from Irene’s point of view, and the few chapters there have been in his point of view have concentrated on action. He still very much comes across the way Irene first pictured him, as an immature young man, and the attempts to give him some depth in the past couple of books haven’t really worked. I had hoped that now that he is no longer Irene’s apprentice, he would mature a little, but he was absent for much of the book, and so that didn’t happen. The few times Irene concerns herself with him and his feelings, she feels pity or fear for him, which I find to be the emotions of an older sister or a mother, or the teacher she was.

This reflects on the romantic relationship, too, that has been building between Irene and Kai. The reader is supposed to understand that the two are falling in loveor at least developing some sort of feelingsbut the one time that there was room for it in the book, the door closed before anything happened. And I don’t mean I required a description of the bedroom action. I wanted the romance that preceded it. Unfortunately the reader isn’t given access to it, which makes the entire romance feel unreal. I hope this improves in books to come.

Other minor characters, even the recurring ones, remain fairly two-dimensional too. The villains of the piece were given much more depth, which obviously improves them greatly. The fae especially are interesting with their affinity to stories and tendency to formulate themselves according to them. With impressive villains, the final battle is impressive too, and the solutions aren’t easy, especially since Irene has a tendency to handle everything herself. Maybe one day she’ll learn to delegate.

This book ends with a new chapter beginning in Irene’s life that promises to be interesting. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next book in the series to find out how that turns out.

The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Books I hope to read in 2019

It’s been five years since I’ve posted on this blog, and I think it’s time to revive it. I haven’t stopped reading, or reviewing books; I just published the reviews on my other blog, Susanna Writes. I’m not entirely sure writing two blogs is sensible, but I’m about to give it a goagainanyway. It’s one of those things that make sense at the beginning of a new year. So here goes.

It’s been my habit for the past couple of years to write a list of books that I hope to read at the beginning of the year. There are so many books being published, that it’s hard to keep track of them all. With a list, I’ll at least remember the most interesting ones. So far, I haven’t once read everything on the list, as I keep reading outside it, but it’s worked well otherwise. If you want to know what I read last year, here’s a post I wrote on my other blog (although, in hindsight, I should probably have published it on this one).

This year, I pledged to read sixty books in Goodreads Reading Challenge, meaning that I should read five books a month. For the past two years, I’ve read fifty-five books a year, so I’m not entirely hopeful that I’ll be able to do it, but it won’t be for the lack of reading if I don’t.

The list for 2019 has sixty-nine books. Fifteen are transfers from the previous list, eight of which were already on the list before that one. Only the books that I really think I want to read, even if I didn’t find time for them before, made it to this year’s list too. Thirteen books are published this year, and they mostly belong to ongoing series by my favourite authors. The rest are mostly books that I already own, but haven’t got around reading, or belong to series that I haven’t managed to catch up with yet. I even went through my Kindle to see what gems I had hidden there, and added them on the list.

My list is heavy on urban fantasy and fantasy: thirty UF books and nineteen fantasy books. That pretty much reflects my reading habits in general. Everything else is genre fiction too; it’s seldom that I read literary fiction these days. There are ten sci-fi books that I want to read, but only one contemporary romance, which is odd, considering that I write them myself, but those tend to be the books that I add on my list as I come across them. Here are some of the books that I’m especially eager to read this year, in no particular order.

Summoned to the Thirteenth Grave by Darynda Jones. This is the last book in her Charley Davidson UF series of a grim reaper that I absolutely love, so it’s with part eagerness and part dread that I wait for it to come out. The publication date is January 15, so not long to wait anymore. And then it will be over. Forever.


Vicious and Vengeful by V.E. Schwab. I love everything she writes, and I expect to find these two books exciting too. I got the first as a birthday present last year, but then waited to read it until I had the second book too, which I got for a Christmas present. So those go to the top of my reading pile.


Wolf Rain by Nalini Singh is the latest in her long Psy-Changeling paranormal romance series. There hasn’t been a weak book yet, so when it comes out in June, I’ll be reading it instantly. And she’ll probably publish other books this year too that aren’t on my list, and I’ll be reading all of them too. This one doesn’t have a cover yet.

The Savior by J.R. Ward is another auto-buy. It’s the book seventeen in her Black Dagger Brotherhood UF series of vampire warriors, and each book has been excellent. She’s publishing other books this year too, and all will go on my list. The first of those is Prisoner of Night, which is set in the same BDB world, and is published next week.


The Wicked King by Holly Black is the second book in her Folk of the Air series of fairies and humans living among them, and it’s published January 8. The first book was exciting, and I expect the follow up to live up to its predecessor.


Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone is a space opera published in June. I’d hoped there would be a new Craft Sequence book, because the next one can’t come fast enough, but I’m sure this will be great too. Another book by him that I’m waiting for, written with Amal El-Mohtar, is This is How You Lose the Time War that comes out in July. I’m not exactly sure what genre that one belongs to, but it has everything, spies, time-travel, and love.


Brave the Tempest by Karen Chance is the latest in Cassandra Palmer UF series. It’s been too long since the previous book and this one can’t come fast enough. Until then, I can return to her UF world with Siren’s Song, a shorter story, which doesn’t have a publication date yet, but should come out soon.


That’s just a small sample of what’s to come. I also look forward to reading Atlas Alone by Emma Newman, fourth book in her Planetfall series, Exit Strategy and Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells, which belong to her Murderbot Diaries series, and Raven Tower, the new Ann Leckie book. And, truly, all books on my list are those that I want to read. It’s just that occasionally I have to prioritise.


The first book of the year has been selected already too. That’s The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman. It’s the fifth book in her Invisible Library series, and so far it’s very good. I’ll write a review once I’m finished. Until then, let me know what you’ll be reading this year.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The age of easy reading

I was upset over a one-star book review today. It wasn’t even for my book. It was for a book I had read and enjoyed and given four stars to. A book that deserved better.

One-star reviews aren’t exactly rare, and they aren’t always fair. They aren’t something to get upset over in general. But I was upset with this one.

The review is actually fairly positive. The reader thinks the book was well written and interesting, and even recommends it to others. But the reader didn’t understand the book. And because of this personal failure, the book only merits the lowest mark.

And that’s what upset me. I find the idea peculiar that a book should be understood in order to be good.

Sadly, I don’t think the reviewer is alone in the notion that a book should be easy to understand. We want our books to have plots that move on well-defined paths we can follow – and anticipate. We want the satisfaction of a story that fulfils our expectations. Genre fiction reigns supreme for that reason alone. If the book doesn’t meet our expectations, the book is to blame. And if we dont understand the book, its not our intelligence that is lacking. Its the book’s fault.

I like genre fiction just as much as the next reader. I write books that are easy to understand. Occasionally, though, I like to challenge myself. I pick a book outside my comfort zone and try to make sense of a more alien narrative. I don’t always like those reads. I don’t always finish them. It is seldom, however, that I blame the book for it. And so I don’t really have sympathy for a reader who faults a book because its too difficult.

But readers who want to be challenged by their reading are in minority. Markets for literary fiction dwindle as readers prefer easier books. In a free market economy that would eventually lead to literary fiction disappearing completely. Luckily, there are authors who go against the markets and write books that aren’t easy. That way there will be something to read in the future for those who aren’t afraid to exert themselves.


Here’s a link to the book, in case you’d like to read something different (for UK readers here). Ella is a short novel, so it won’t strain you unnecessarily. And, quite frankly, it isn’t that difficult. But it is interesting.