Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

Uninvited (Uninvited, #1)Uninvited by Sophie Jordan
My rating: 3 of 5 teacups

Maybe I’m being generous. Or unfair. I can’t decide exactly how I feel about Jordan’s latest young adult novel – Uninvited. I recently had my low expectations trampled on by her impressive contribution to the new adult craze – Foreplay – and couldn’t wait to see what more she had to offer. But Uninvited was a disappointment. It suffered from flaws in the very foundation of the story and the characters, even though the author’s writing was compulsively readable enough to make me sail through it in a day and still up my rating to three stars. It’s a combination of addictive, fast-paced plotting and a worn out, unconvincing story. It’s entertaining, but also has a disappointingly weak protagonist. It wasn’t bad and yet it could have been so much better.

There is much to celebrate and Uninvited will no doubt be an easy sell for many teens. The plot moves at a breakneck pace, dragging us into the action and drama from the very first chapter and delivering new punches at every turn. It reminded me somewhat of Divergent in this sense – I found myself simultaneously shaking my head at the ridiculous ideas I was asked to believe and reading on like a crazy person in my need to see what would happen next. Even in this you can see that Jordan is used to writing books for adults or “new adults” in the mature themes she doesn’t shy away from incorporating. There are plenty of descriptions of violence that aren’t sugarcoated for a younger audience… and I kinda liked that. In fact, this book contains that which is perhaps most important when writing a good dystopian book – a very real sense of fear, frustration and helplessness. I’ve read plenty of dystopian books that have failed to convince me that things are really that bad, but there’s no danger of that here.

The story is about a music prodigy – Davy Hamilton – whose life is ruined when she is tested for and found to have Homicidal Tendency Syndrome (HTS), also known as the kill gene. Abandoned by her friends, feared by her parents and forced to change schools, Davy finds that other carriers like her might be the only people she can turn to. Even though the idea is a bit daft (well, it is), it sort of half works. I can see what the author was trying to do and many interesting ideas are brought to the table… about nature vs nurture, about humanity, about evil and hypocrisy, but I do think the romance dampens all the other powerful messages floating around. So many ideas are pushed aside by the spotlight stealing cliche of a good girl/bad boy romance. I thought we were going to learn something important but it turns out it’s another one all about being saved by lurrrve.

And I thought Davy was a weak character. It was probably a deliberate move in a bid to make us more sympathetic towards a girl who’d been accused of being a killer, but it actually made her more annoying. A lot of emphasis is placed on who she’s going to find to protect her – and many opportunities are set up for Sean to swoop in and save her ass – and she had a tendency to be mind-numbingly stupid. She stupidly puts herself in a lot of dangerous situations and constantly requires saving by Sean, neither fact particularly endeared me to either of them. But the worst bit of all was when Sean knelt over Davy, pushing her down into the bed, just to prove that she was vulnerable to anyone who wanted to rape her. It made me feel pretty sick.

Hmm, I’m not sure if I’ll be continuing with the second book. I think I might just wait and see what the reviews are like before making a decision. But I will look out for more of Jordan’s novels.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel BeautyCruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
My rating: 5 of 5 teacups

Well, I thought this was wonderful.

What is Cruel Beauty?

– It’s a gorgeously written blend of Beauty and the Beast retelling and Greek mythology.
– It’s at once a powerful, wonderful, heart-breaking love story and so so much more than that.
– It’s a dark tale that stabs you in the heart at every turn and constantly throws all new levels of craziness into the mix.
– And it’s the latest addition to my favourite YA of all time shelf.

Cruel Beauty shouldn’t work. But somehow it does. It managed to have me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. It shocked me. It creeped me out. I laughed. I cried. I’m still not sure I understand the ending but I am sure that it doesn’t really matter. In short, I loved it. It was one of those rare books that literally glued my eyes to the page, had me devouring each sentence in a mad need to find out what the hell was going on and what would happen. It was a bizarrely beautiful little addiction and I only hope this signifies the start of a great year for young adult (after the last was so disappointing).

So… Nyx. The best books are held aloft by a great protagonist and Cruel Beauty is no exception. Nyx is exactly the kind of character I love. She’s strong-willed, witty and brave. She’s also angry, bitter and ferocious. She’s lived her whole life being prepared as a weapon; and as a sacrifice. Her father made a deal with the Gentle Lord – the evil ruler of their kingdom – before Nyx and her twin sister were born. Their mother had been unable to conceive a child, so their father foolishly asked that the Lord grant them children and promised one of his daughters to the Lord in exchange. But he also lost his wife to childbirth in the bargain. The Gentle Lord’s habit of cashing in double on his deals is well-known. Nyx, as the child her father loved less, has long-known her destiny to be the wife of the Gentle Lord. When the times comes, she goes with determination, fear and anger. She does not play by the Lord’s rules. She is defiant. She tests his patience. I liked her instantly.

Then there is Ignifex, of course. The Lord that has terrorized their kingdom for centuries. The one who carries the blood of countless innocents on his hands. But, unsurprisingly, things are never quite that simple. What I liked best about Ignifex was his wicked sense of humour. There’s nothing quite like a villain who is constantly witty and hilarious. The complex layers of each character in this book just blew my mind, no one is ever simple or cliche. The heroine does plenty of bad things and the evil villain… well, be careful you don’t fall in love.

Cruel Beauty was just so unexpected. I thought I knew exactly what it was as soon as I glimpsed the cover, title and GR description. I thought I understood perfectly and I thought I’d probably read countless versions of the same book. How wrong I was. This is honestly quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I liked how everything about the book, the setting, the story and the characters was a bit like one of those Russian dolls. Something else within something else within something else. Then there’s that whole haunting bittersweet tone that permeates this entire novel. I swear Ms Hodge has perfected the art of raising goosebumps with a perfectly-spun twist on an old Greek myth. And it just got better and better.

I think this review is more of an incoherent mess of feelings, so I’ll stop now before the drooling starts. What I want to know is this: when is the author releasing another book?

The Falconer by Elizabeth May

The Falconer (The Falconer, #1)The Falconer by Elizabeth May
My rating: 2 of 5 teacups

Goodreads members have differing opinions on what kind of rating is the hardest to write a review for. Some say it’s the ones they didn’t like – perhaps trying to keep a balance between their own subjective dislikes and the overall general standard of the book; some say it’s the all time favourites – how can you put that kind of book love into words? For others, myself included, it’s those annoying books that sit right in the middle. Those books that are okay. Fine. Overwhelmingly average. When they’re neither bad nor good, what do I say? For me, The Falconer is one of those books. I feel like I’ve read this book about fifty times before (okay, five or six but shh…) and I feel like I’ve written this very same review that many times as well.

If you’re new to fantasy, if you’re new to faeries in fantasy, there’s no real reason for you not to like this novel set in an alternative Edinburgh in the year 1844. It’s a little tame for my liking, occasionally almost edging towards the middle grade end of the age range, but I’m sure newcomers to the genre will find it more entertaining. But all I can see are the same recycled features: a female warrior protagonist who’s out for vengeance, an awkwardly forced romance, another love triangle, and a cliffhanger worthy of Moning’s Fever series. In fact, this book feels like an amalgamation of several I’ve read before. It’s like Shadow and Bone without the Darkling, Throne of Glass without the entertainment (or a fabulous sequel to make the first worth sitting through), and Darkfever without, like, everything I love about that series.

The writing is fairly good, though. With some more original material, I think I could find myself returning to see what the author writes in the future. I’ve just exhausted myself on this story line. But anyway. Here’s what’s happening in The Falconer: Lady Aileana Kameron is the daughter of the Marquess of Douglas in Scotland. She was blissfully enjoying upper class life and social events until a faery murdered her mother and she became a hunter. In secret, she slays faery after faery, hoping to one day come face to face with the faery who murdered her mother and quench the need for revenge that is burning inside her. On top of that, drama ensues when her father returns and demands she choose a husband. Other possible suitors aside, Aileana is torn between her fae ally – Kiaran – and her old crush – Gavin – who has recently returned to Edinburgh.

I will say that I’m glad the author included nasty, evil faeries. While there is obviously some faery romanticization with Kiaran, the faeries in this novel tend to be the vicious, blood-thirsty kind (perfect, in my opinion). But I think there is a lot of untapped potential in this story and a bit of tweaking could have made it a more original and engaging tale. For one thing, it actually took me a while to realise that this is supposed to be a steampunk novel, those elements of it were so subtle that I didn’t even notice them at first. I’m really enthusiastic about the new steampunk genre because it combines so many different things that I love, but I find myself being frequently disappointed by the lack of it in books that promise so much. Don’t be afraid to go all out, I say! I want machines! I want old times! I want that magical blend of science fiction and historical! …please?

Afterthought: I compared this book to many others and I remember noting to myself several times that it seemed loosely similar to the Fever series. But Khanh did a fantastic (and shocking) breakdown of the similarities between this and Faefever in her review. Wow. Enough said.