Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review: The Madness Underneath (SPOILERS)


I know I always start my reviews by saying that I'm probably not ready to write the review, but this time I really mean it. (Warning: I will probably also really mean it if I write one for Clockwork Princess)

It's going to be difficult for me to write this review about the whole book when all I really want to do is scream about the ending, but I shall bravely venture forth and ignore the tiny wailing Mandrake in my mind as best I can.

The Madness Underneath picks up three weeks after the events of The Name of the Star. I did not reread TNotS before reading TMU, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that my brain had lost very few details so the reread wasn't really necessary (thank you, o freakish memory). Rory is living with her parents in Bristol, and she's not super excited about it or the fact that she has to see a therapist who wants to learn Things about her Personality. She's also feeling a bit lonely, as one does when one has been taken away from her school friends and her after-school-ghost-locating friends, and bored, as one feels when one is shirking her academic duties. She's so lonely and bored, in fact, that she attempts to befriend a ghost who is apparently from the 1970s and not at all impressed by the fact that she can see him. I say "attempts" because, sadly, this friendship cannot be: one touch and poof, her groovy new BFF is gone forever. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, Rory has become a human terminus.

And there are more ghostly murders happening.
And they're not all done by ghosts.
And Rory's not stopping until she ends it.

I seriously loved Rory in this book. Maybe I just forgot how much I loved her in the first book, but DANG. I have never read a main character like her before-- one whose absolute favorite thing in the world is telling stories. Usually you just assume that about a narrator, right? I mean, if they're narrating the story, you may feel comfortable assuming that they like telling stories. But to Rory, it's like a drug. She gets weird. She likes telling those stories, like the ones about her Southern family that make people uncomfortable, or the ones that she thinks will shock someone enough to make them come out of a coma-- sorry, that was the ending slipping in there a little. *slaps hand* BACK ON TRACK.  Her favorite story in the world to tell is the one about how she once pet a taxidermied dog, thinking it was alive. Just saying.

Anyway, it's not long before Rory's back at Wexford, casually failing all of her classes... but she's kinda got other concerns, like sleeping until noon, getting drugged by therapists, and, um, popping homicidal ghosties. That was not a euphemism. She insists on being part of the team this time around, and being a human terminus gives her the leverage to do so. She's not going to take herself too seriously, but she's going to make darn sure nobody else thinks she's a joke.

And then, of course, there are Boo, Callum, and Stephen. Or, as I like to call them, Stephen. Don't get me wrong, I love Boo and Callum, but poor, unsmiling, serious Stephen has a special place in my heart. As Rory would say: Because, Stephen. This is the part where I get superspoilery so if you have not read the book yet, you should depart now. Or maybe you should have departed back before I said the thing about the coma.

It's now occurring to me that this book seemed really short. It's already gone in my brain as one of those books that I REMEMBER reading, but I don't remember spending any time reading. I don't think that makes sense. Sorry, the end kind of stole much of my brain functionality.

You see, this was my brain on The Name of the Star: "This Stephen is the exact opposite of Rory in every way. She's talkative and weird, he's quiet and serious. I now ship this for no reason other than it would be totally awesome."
This was my brain between the books: "I hear someone dies. I bet it's Jerome. There's no way it's going to be Stephen. Maureen knows we love him, but I don't think she knows we love him *that* much."
And this was my brain on The Madness Underneath: "Stephen didn't even give Rory his phone number and he signed his text message '-s.' And she knew who it was. That is so adorable I can't even. She risked the school's alarm 'Because, Stephen.' High adorability factor. Oh, Jerome, go away. Hey, Jerome is gone! HEY STEPHEN (not the Taylor Swift song), RORY'S AVAILABLE! You know you want her Stephen. Steeeeephen*. Oh look, Rory's making a move. SHE IS MAKING A MOVE. Lol, she said he wouldn't want to kiss her, and then she did it anyway. She's like Stephen, I don't care what you want. BUT HE WANTED IT. My ship is canon. *floats away*
two pages later: *falls back to earth and hits the ground hard*...what? No. This is not happening. You wouldn't do this to me. I trusted you, Maureen. All this time you've been obsessing about shipping, I thought you knew that a shipper's heart is fragile. I thought you cared about us, Maureen. You have betrayed me. But more importantly, you have betrayed Story."


I just don't know what to do with myself until I get the next book, which we learned yesterday is called The Shadow Cabinet. (Oh, I also had a revelation about why The Madness Underneath is called The Madness Underneath: there is literally madness underneath. It's where all the ghosts are coming from.) I mean, she said book 3 will address The Thing That Happened. HOW? They'll probably find Stephen's ghost, right? But then what? Rory can't touch him because she's a terminus! Will they think more about what Jane and her cray-cray cult said about "destroying death"? Does it mean BRINGING PEOPLE BACK TO LIFE? Because if so, I'm all for it. They need to bring Stephen back. Not just so my ship is canon again, but because Stephen is important. Throughout the whole book, he was Rory's rock. He was the one she called when she had a problem, or a theory, or if she needed anything. Stephen's the one who takes care of things. And that was before there was anything romantic between them. It's just who he is. And yes, it's his fatal flaw that he does everything himself (I feel you, bro. INTJ represent), but who's going to do it if he's not there? Just on the few pages at the end where he's gone, you can feel the weight of his absence. It doesn't make sense that he's not there. He's one of those characters: you don't realize how important he is until he's gone, and then you can't wrap your head around the fact that he's gone. Also it's just a serious injustice that he went comatose literally hours after they became canon. I mean, what is that.

Let's recap the things that give me hope:
  • the book explicitly mentions the words "destroy death" but never elaborates on what they mean. It's probably important.
  • The Thing happened at the end, not the beginning. Usually when Things happen at the end of a book (especially the second book in a series), it is either reversed or made more bearable in the next book
  • Story became canon
  • I'm big on analyzing the first and last words/sentences in books, and the last sentence was "And I will find Stephen." This doesn't just tell me that Rory's first priority is finding Stephen's ghost, but that her priority is finding Stephen. Like maybe she can get him back.

This book could have been so much longer, but it used its few pages well and did not waste time. It's already gone down in my head as one of those books I vaguely remember reading, because I flew through it so quickly.

*- I did have a moment where I noticed how Stephen's head injury wouldn't stop bleeding and he wouldn't go to the hospital, and I was like, "don't tell me he's going to sleep and not wake up."  I brushed it off because I thought if Stephen was going to die, it would be at the hands of some murderous ghost.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Review: Requiem by Lauren Oliver

I don't really know where to start with this review other than to just say right now, I worship Lauren Oliver. If she ever stopped writing YA books, it would be a loss from which I could probably never recover. I worship her so much I am actually probably going to read her adult book even though adult books are sometimes the bane of my existence.

Requiem is not perfect, but it is my perfect book-- and to be honest, my main problem with it is that there was not enough of it. It's right up there with Mockingjay (appropriate, considering they're both the last book in their respective heart-pounding dystopian/utopian trilogies). Bittersweet is my favorite kind of ending-- I mean, happily-ever-after is great for books like Anna and the French Kiss, but it hardly seems fitting for series in which death and destruction run rampant.

Now, to be clear, I was terrified of this book. I've been waiting for a month to get my hands on this ARC, hardly able to contain my excitement, but the entire time an evil fear lurked underneath the excitement. I had skimmed reviews from other people who had read ARCs, and the general consensus seemed to be "unimpressed."

Now I'd like to ask those people what in the world they want. Because if there is one word to describe how I felt after finishing Requiem, it was impressed.

Allow me to start, as usual, with the characters. I shall write them in open-letter format because after the amount of time I spent with them yesterday (and have, for the past two years), I see no weirdness in addressing them personally.

Lena Haloway:
Girl, you rocked this book. Remember at the beginning of Delirium when you were totally supportive of the cure and you were like "fight back?! Pshaw, yeah right"? Look how far you've come. As much as I resent the fact that your character development was basically the entire focus of Pandemonium, I have to appreciate what it did for you in Requiem. You've finally come into your own and learned how to balance fightin' Lena with lovin' Lena. You make all the right decisions for yourself and even when I started to go all NO LENA STOP, I understood why you had to make those decisions, and my NO LENA STOPs weren't so much for you as for myself. My shipper heart could not stand by and watch certain things without getting a little riled up. But in the end, you discovered the truth about yourself and your relationships and I stopped wanting to yell. Well, I actually still wanted to yell, but this time it was YES MORE OF THIS instead of NO LENA STOP.

Hana Tate:
In Delirium, I cared about Hana Tate, Lena's Best Friend. In Requiem, I cared about Hana Tate. Parts of me want to punch you in the face, and parts of me want to hug you. How can a cured character be so complicated? You're singing the praises of the cureds one minute, and the next minute you're risking your reputation-- and, consequently, your life-- to help the family of the best friend you betrayed. The measures you take to find out the truth, to still be Hana Tate even while the countdown to Hana Hargrove is on, are a reminder of who you once were-- that they can try to mute love, emotions, personalities, but the strong ones will never be silent. I refuse to believe that you do it out of guilt. You're a jealous wench who has no idea what she wants, but you're not heartless. You're cured, but you still love. They cannot take it.

Alex Sheathes:
Poor, tortured baby Alex. I missed you so much in Pandemonium, and I still kind of miss you. I miss Delirium-you, who is in my head as full of life and hope, dashed with realism, with a sprinkle of perfect hair and a backdrop of sunlight making your entire existence glow. But alas, the worst things happen to those kinds of characters (here, ladies and gentlemen, we have another example of how similar Requiem is to Mockingjay), and Delirium-you has been buried by this new Alex with the scar on your face and the almost-black hair and the gloomy presence. And, ahem, I still love you. Because you're still Alex, you still know right from wrong, you still fight for what you believe in, and you still love Lena no matter what words come out of your mouth to contradict this. Because you understand how Lena feels and give her what she doesn't even realize she needs-- you sacrifice your own happiness for hers repeatedly (metaphorically, you let go of the baby when the other mother clings and agrees to cut it in half). Oh, and because you finally get up the nerve to look Julian in the eye when he won't even return the favor. [Spoiler: And then when you're fighting and Lena tells you to stop, you agree. Then Julian charges you off-guard and you take the fall for beating him up when he totally deserved it.] Alex Sheathes, moody looks good on you.

Julian Fineman:
Oh, Julian. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't like you. I didn't like you in Pandemonium and I don't like you now. But you sure did try, didn't you? You tried to make me like you. You gave Lena her space when she needed it, you gave her comfort when she needed that, and you tried to prove yourself a fighter time and time again. But you can't do these things and then prove yourself a coward time and time again, and still expect me to like you. When you refuse to look your "opponent" in the eye while he's staring directly at you, you're a coward. When you attack someone who's walking away and then go all wounded-puppy-dog when they retaliate, you're a coward. Go ahead and get offended when the rest of the Invalids still treat you like an outsider, but I don't feel sorry for you. You're a slightly less boring character than you were in Pandemonium, but the non-boring traits you've acquired are not helping your case.

Now, moving on to the plot. It was intense. Things move pretty quickly, and you don't get a lot of time to sit there and wonder where it's going. It doesn't focus too much on the relationships, and everything that happens brings the series back to the characters and setting with which it all started. Instead, the relationships are kind of a deep undertone throughout the entire plot, making all of the stakes higher than ever. This is the kind of thing that makes it my perfect book, along with...

The ending. My initial reaction was, WAIT. THAT'S IT? BUT I WANT MORE. There is easily enough room in the end for a fourth book. Not very much is actually resolved in a blatant way-- instead, it's riddled with symbolism. The future is unclear, but it no longer seems so hopeless. To me, this is the most realistic way to handle everything that's happened in the past three books: when you've got two books that end with serious clawing-at-your-eyeballs-WTF-moments, you can't very well end the third one with a neat little bow. All you can do is hope things are clear enough, and to me, they were.

And if you're wondering about the love triangle thing... Well, it was not so much a choice as a realization that one relationship just couldn't compete with the other. You could say Lena chooses, but really she just lets go of something that could not go anywhere (Again: Mockingjay, anyone?).

Oh, and the writing? I feel like thus far in my review I've been pretty good at not going all fangirly, but this is about to change. This is the part where I am 100 percent fangirl and not ashamed enough to hide it. Can someone explain to me how Lauren Oliver packs so much punch in such SMALL SENTENCES? How she uses such simple words to BREAK ME APART AND PUT ME BACK TOGETHER? THE WOMAN IS MAGICAL AND IT IS NOT FAIR. I would give examples, but it's so much better when you read them for the first time in context. WARNING: Do not stand while reading, for you may collapse. Keep sustenance nearby.

Overall Rating:
★★★★★ or 4.5/5 stars if I take away half a star because I want more of certain thingsDelirium is probably still my favorite book in the series, but I feel like a good portion of my love for that book is pure nostalgia for the good ol' days in Portland with Alex and Lena and Hana and sunshine and 37 Brooks and parties and opening your eyes to good things instead of bad things.