Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Review: Clockwork Princess. I have waited so long.

This review is going to be... difficult. Here are some things you should know about me in advance:

  1. I hate change. I hate change as much as Holden Caulfield hates change. I hate change as much as the Doctor hates change. I just really. Hate. Change.
  2. I hate goodbyes. Especially when it comes to saying goodbye to my favorite characters. I don't like being forced to do it.
  3. I try really, really hard to be positive. But sometimes I just can't.
That said, what you're going to get here are two different reviews written by the same person (me), about the same book. Review #1 is my positive side rearing its optimistic head. Review #2 is my selfish side, who can't stop focusing on things I wish had been different.

Review #1

Clockwork Princess was everything I expected it to be and more. Which says a lot, coming from a girl who has been counting down since December 11, 2011, when I finished Clockwork Prince. I've spent the past 15 months in a general state of anxiety over these characters' lives-- lives that infiltrated my music, landing me with a 22-song playlist entitled "worse than demon pox," lives that have been in my mind for so long now I've forgotten what it was like not to have them there. I've made friends over these lives and I've thought about these lives as if they were a part of me. Because they are. And now I've turned the last page on these lives. This is all I get.
And I'm okay with it.
This book completely blew me away. The attention to detail is nothing short of extraordinary, and as usual, the characters come to life on the page. I admit I was caught off guard by Jem and Will's tendency to trade places in this one-- Jem being the reckless one and Will being the responsible one for a change-- but it was realistic too. Will couldn't have gone on acting as he always had; there was no reason for it. He didn't have to be that person anymore, the person who distances himself using calculated cruelty and measured thoughtlessness. In that person's place is the person whose heart is broken. He's not going to be the same unstoppably snarky Will who could make a joke out of any situation. To have portrayed him as that person would have been a disservice to the character, for it would have made him seem invulnerable even after everything that has happened to him.
He's pushed everyone away for five years, believing it to be for their own good if nobody loved him. He finally opens himself up to the girl he loves, and finds out she's engaged to his best friend. He believes she doesn't return his feelings, and he can't even talk to the one person he wants to talk to about it because that person is the one causing him pain. No, the Brighter Burning Star is not going to shine quite so bright anymore.
"The hero's journey is not from weakness to strength, but from strength to weakness." Will Herondale is the definition of this. And, make no mistake about it, he is the hero of this story. He and Tessa may have decided that he was not a hero-- one of my favorite scenes in any book, ever-- but they were looking at it from the perspective of real people. To them, they are not characters in a book, so Will is not a hero any more than anyone is a hero. But we, as readers, can view Will the way he views Sydney Carton or Heathcliff-- though we know he is not the same as them. That's right, folks: Will Herondale is not Sydney Carton. He is better. He had reasons for his self-hatred and the way he acted, more than Sydney Carton ever did. Will's love for Tessa is not the kind that prevails only through destruction-- he would give his life for her happiness, but Tessa refuses to be Lucie Manette. They prevail together. Their love gets them through a war; all Sydney Carton's love for Lucie got him was an honorable death.
As for Jem... well, he is steady, as always. He has not changed much, except to become happier and also sicker. He faces unafraid the shadows that creep closer to him every day. He's an open book. This is what I love about Will and Jem: their stark contrast to each other. Where Jem is light, Will is dark. Where Jem is a flame, Will is a star. Where Jem is strong in the face of crippling weakness, Will is weak in the face of crippling strength. [before you go telling me that "crippling strength" doesn't make sense, think about it. Will has always had to be strong, to never show vulnerability, and it nearly ruined his life.]
As for the ending, "bittersweet" doesn't even begin to explain it, though it's probably the word that comes closest. Everybody gets what they want, but everybody has to sacrifice something. My favorite thing about it, though? One relationship really stands out. My favorite relationship. To me, it was always clear why Will and Tessa loved each other, but in this book they lay it out for everyone to see. They don't let there be any doubters left, nobody left to say "but why does Will have such strong feelings for Tessa?" or "but how can Tessa love Will when Jem is so much nicer?" He loves her because she's infuriatingly inquisitive and stubborn, because she listens to him and makes him laugh and remembers his words, because she loves the same books as he does, and because she could never help but see the good in him. She loves him because he says the things she thinks but would never say, because he loves the same books and has a remarkable memory for quotes, because he thinks up ridiculous songs and sees the truth in everything, and because they are unusual in the same ways.
This ending was perfect because it gave everyone what they wanted the most, without being too Happily Ever After. Tessa's immortal; she cannot have either boy forever. But she got a lifetime with Will, and Will with her-- that was all he ever wanted. He deserved his happy ending, and he got it. Jem, presumably, gets the same: the lifetime he promised Tessa a long time ago. We don't know where it goes, but we don't really need to-- Will and Tessa ended up together (Tessa insisting that Will be only Will, not a polite version of himself), and then Jem and Tessa ended up together. Happy, but with a price.

Review #2

I'm not going to take back the positive things I said in Review #1 about the book itself, but in this review I'm going to be selfish and state my grievances about things I wanted and did not get.
I wish that Clockwork Princess had not lacked the humor that both Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince had. No matter how depressing Clockwork Prince was at times, no matter how much Will hated himself, he could always be counted on for a well-timed joke. I miss that about him. He's still the same, he's still got that Herondale bitter humor, but he seems to be hiding it now that he's stopped hiding other things about himself. Clockwork Prince was a better kind of pain.
I wish that I had never had to say goodbye to Will Herondale. I was hoping the spirit in Tessa's angel, after leaving the star mark on Will, would extend its protection to him, and that that would somehow make him immortal too. I didn't want to see him age while Tessa didn't, and it kind of seemed like Cassie wrote herself into a corner with Tessa's immortality. While I appreciate that nobody cared that he looked old enough to be her grandfather even though he was her husband (because they were Will and Tessa) I wanted things to be different. I wish that his death had been an active scene instead of a remembered one-- that I could know what his last words to Tessa were, how he felt about his life, whether he wished he could stay with her. For so long now I've felt like I understood him, and then in his last moment he became a distant story from 70 years ago.
Basically, I just wish the epilogue had not happened. I wish Jem had stayed a Silent Brother-- or better yet, just died. I'm not saying this because I wanted Jem to die; I'm saying this because I have always been used to the idea that he would. I always thought Jem was too. He believed in reincarnation, and it just doesn't seem consistent to me that he suddenly decided to throw away his next life, where he was sure he'd meet Will and Tessa again, for longevity.
The only way to describe how I really feel about the ending is subverted. I had things that I knew would happen and things that I hoped would happen, and yet I feel like I've been played. I cared too much about one person, when the ending was written for people who couldn't choose. It was written to satisfy everyone with mild feelings, and in the process it alienates everyone with strong feelings.
I know I should be happy for the characters, for their happy endings. None of them were dissatisfied with what they had in the end. I should be happy because Magnus says the first one always hurts the worst, and Will was the first one. But I can't help it-- to me, it's always been Will and Tessa. I feel like the epilogue undermined everything these three books had built, like it's not fair that Will had to be the one who died first. Will, the one who was always the most alive, ends up being the one glossed over first. Meanwhile, Tessa is young forever and Jem gets his youth back, and they get their second chance. The irrational side of me kind of sees this as a cop-out. Will and Jem never get their second chance. I feel betrayed on Will's behalf. For me, no one would be able to follow Will Herondale. No one would be enough after that-- not even Jem Carstairs.

All in all.... yeah. Like I said, this was difficult for me to write. I can't choose a side. While I appreciate every single thing about this book and I think it's about as genius as a fantasy/paranormal book gets, the ending was just not what I wanted, and I can't help but take that into consideration. The choice not to find a way around Tessa's immortality seems less about the story and more about the message, which is a problem for me. 
That missing half-star pains me.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Your argument is invalid: Trolls.

Internet trolls are the ugliest of all trolls
So, tonight I have had the displeasure of being directly confronted by a troll on the Internet. Have we all been there? I feel like it is a universal belief that everyone has been there, but certainly I have not been there very often. When it happens to me, I'm sometimes a little bit shocked, because I try to be fairly agreeable on the Internet. I have a knack for seeing every single possible side of an argument-- it's why I'm so indecisive. I often can't pick which side I think is right. So when someone attacks me because they disagree with me on something, it sets me off. I don't think that's an unreasonable reaction. What maybe is a little unreasonable is that I have an oddly physical reaction to trolls who direct their hatred toward me, which is that my hands shake and I find my facial temperature rise a few degrees.

When this happens, my immediate response is to type as quickly as I can in defense of myself. I don't know why I feel the need to defend myself to strangers on the Internet; but I do. I'm sure this is not uncommon. But tonight's troll wasn't just attacking me, he was attacking everything that I find good about the Internet, everything I like. He was attacking the foundations for many of my friendships and my hard and fast belief that the things I like are worth liking.

And that is something that makes me angry.

The troll's argument is that books like Divergent and The Hunger Games are not worth the adoration they have been given by "idiot teenage girls" (direct quote, because apparently only girls are foolish enough to like these things and guys are superior). Now, let me clarify that I am neither an idiot nor a teenage girl. But these are two of my favorite series. The troll is obviously a book snob who believes that the name of the author carries more weight than the words he or she has written-- he probably sings of his love for Kerouac and Thoreaux and Salinger from the mountaintops, but scoffs at the names Rowling, Collins and Meyer. He cannot distinguish between "literature" and "classic literature," or between "classic literature" and "good literature."

As someone who can distinguish between these, I could have responded to this by explaining that while The Hunger Games may not be classic literature yet, it is still literature. And good literature at that. These books have knocked even the toughest of critics off their feet. As someone who enjoys reading both modern and classic fiction, the Hunger Games books are steadfastly my favorites of all time. And I have bookshelf after bookshelf full of other books-- from classic to historical fiction to paranormal to contemporary and beyond-- to which I can compare them. I will read just about anything fiction. To illustrate my point, let me tell you that that this week I finished reading the Vampire Academy series and then started reading A Tale of Two Cities. I'm no stranger to appreciating a variety of books.

The thing is that the troll, well, is.

The troll does not understand that just because a novel isn't lyrically written with grandiose vocabulary, or driven by descriptions of every single thing that happens or exists in the novel, does not mean that it isn't literature. I could have set him straight by explaining exactly why The Hunger Games is fodder for teenage girls and literature enthusiasts alike, but I think this guy already did a pretty good job of that. It would be a waste of my time.

What I feel like I do need to defend, however, is my right to like The Hunger Games, even if the troll doesn't. I have a right to be a part of the Divergent fandom, because to me, there is no reason not to be a part of it. I guarantee you that every single person in that particular fandom is well aware that those books are not perfect-- but we have a right to love these series and these characters, because we do love them. We can see past faults, and it's worrisome that some people cannot. There is nothing inherently wrong with the message or the themes portrayed in the series, as there are with a series like Twilight. There isn't the overall idea that a girl is incomplete without a boy, or that it's okay to change everything about yourself in order to be with someone else. There are no ideas that set society back. But even if there were, we'd still be allowed to like it. People are allowed to like Twilight. I am allowed to enjoy anything I want to enjoy. To love the things I love with or without anyone else's consent. My love for them is not hurting anyone-- certainly not the troll himself-- and so I don't see why it should stop.

You cannot take away someone's right to like things. You can use your words to belittle us all you want, call us idiots, try to make us feel like we're not smart because we read a certain type of book, but you cannot take away from us the things that have made us feel better, the things that tell us we are not alone. That's what these books do for us, and your telling us that we're wrong for feeling that way is just proving to us how little you know about the world. Your argument is invalid. Take your blows to make yourself feel stronger, but you're not making us any weaker. We've built communities around the things we love-- can you honestly say you've accomplished as much? What has your hatred built?

We are people who read stories. We can spot foreshadowing, metaphor, and parallelism the second we lay eyes on it, whether it's in The Hunger Games or Moby Dick. We analyze and question and intellectualize everything. We know the importance of storytelling, which is more than we can say about you. Because if you don't understand why the world needs these stories, you don't understand why the world needs stories. Period. Every story is important, and it's a shame that anyone would live in denial of that just because he takes pride in classifying himself as a literature snob.