Monday, January 19, 2015

Review: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

Source: galley from Penguin
Publication: May 12, 2015, Putnam

Well, I figure I should write an actual review instead of just lamenting the fact that the book had to end. [note that all quotes are from the uncorrected galley.]
"It would not be a welcome dawn.
Already the sky told this story, with its sad halo of silver beckoning from beyond the horizon."
Now THAT is how you start a book. Don't you just want to eat those delicious sentences? Don't you just want to keep reading? Do it. Keep reading, because this book is just as mesmerizing as its first sentences. It's a wonder of writing and character, of magic and politics, of love and hate. Mesmerizing, luminous, romantic, heartbreaking, lyrical, beautiful, dangerous, funny, feminist (!!!!), endearing, and so many other adjectives that I thought of and then replaced with others when I turned another page. To be honest, I haven't felt this particular way about a book since I first read The Scorpio Races, which is a high compliment indeed. They're not similar at all except in the most important way: how they make you feel. 

Shahrzad is the heroine of heroines. She's fierce, stubborn, and good with a bow & arrow, yes, but she's also sentimental and "girly" and jealous and flawed. She doesn't let anyone think that being a girl means she isn't strong, and she doesn't let being strong stop her from being a girl. Girls have to put up with a lot of crap, and Shahrzad isn't afraid to call the world out on it. 

"Is that kind of disrespect . . . normal?"
Shahrzad lifted a shoulder. "It's not normal. But it's not unexpected. It's the curse of being a woman," she joked in a morose manner. 

Basically Shazi is fantastic and everyone should be more like her.

Khalid. Okay, so here's the thing about Khalid. Somewhere between pages 1 and 115, I kind of fell in love with him and I couldn't put my finger on why. I mean, the dude has killed dozens of women. That is not a thing that usually works for me. But something about him had me swooning harder than I've swooned in a long time. Before Khalid, I wasn't even sure I did swoon anymore, having become accustomed to dreamy male characters, especially of the let-me-hug-you-and-keep-you-happy variety. I've got plenty of characters who hold my happiness inside theirs—if they aren't happy, I can't be either—but not many who are distinctly unhappy and somehow manage to make me happy anyway. That was what Khalid did.
By page 200, I had figured out the secret ingredient that made me love him.
He's a feminist. A raging, vocal feminist who respects women not because they are women, not because they are someone's mother, wife, sister, etc., but because they are people. While he often wants to stand up for Shazi, she can stop him with a single hand on his chest or arm, because he knows that she can fight her own battles. Heck, he knows that she can fight pretty much anyone's battles.
My favorite thing about this, though? His feminism is learned. It is actively achieved; he hasn't always been this way. He was raised by a father who thought of women as property, and I can't tell you what impact that had on Khalid as a husband because it's a major spoiler, but trust me when I say that he had some poor, ingrained behaviors to outgrow. And he did outgrow them. Which is a beautiful thing.

"You are—remarkable. Every day, I think I am going to be surprised by how remarkable you are, but I am not. Because this is what it means to be you. It means knowing no bounds. Being limitless in all that you do."

"Shahrzad al-Khayzuran! You are not weak. You are not indecisive. You are strong. Fierce. Capable beyond measure." 
Naturally with these two awesome characters (who are both supposed to kill each other haha oops), the romance is off-the-charts amazing. It doesn't sneak up on you the way some of my favorites do, but that doesn't mean it isn't well developed and believable. If anyone tries to claim instalove on this one I will personally fight them on it because it was so slow and steady it was almost torturous. You just want to smash their faces together, to be honest.

Oh, and the side characters are great. I love that Shahrzad could have so many enemies in this book, considering her position on both the inside and the outside of two warring systems, but nobody was unnecessarily cruel to her. She made friends tentatively but easily, and Despina was such an asset to both her and the story itself. Jalal was an asset to Khalid. Everybody loves each other and nothing hurts okay some things hurt, but you'll like it. When people were cruel to Shazi, absolutely nobody was having it, least of all Shazi herself. God, I love her so much.

I've provided a few samples of how flawless the writing is, but what you can't tell from those samples is that the entire book is written that way. The whole book is earth-shatteringly stunning, with descriptions and lines and emotional punches that will knock you over repeatedly. Allow me to flip to a random page and find an example: "He smiled a smile to shame the sun." WHAT IS THIS WORD-SORCERY?

I love this book so much. Good luck finding a copy when it comes out because I'm going to buy all of them.

Now, you say I have to wait HOW LONG for the next one?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Review: A Thousand Pieces of You


I've decided to be more liberal with my 1-star reviews, because I realized recently that I haven't given a book one star in a few years. Why does the 1-star option exist, if not for books I couldn't even finish?

Which brings me to my confession: I did not finish this book. You can choose whether to take heed of my review or not. I mean, personally, I think the whole "You can't review a book if you didn't finish it" rule is totally invalid — people have reasonsfor not finishing books, and knowing what they are might stop you from wasting your time. Sometimes it's just a "This book wasn't for me" situation, but sometimes it's not.

This one was not.
"My hand shakes as I brace myself against the brick wall."
That, my friends, is the first sentence of A Thousand Pieces of You. Wow, what a rousing start. How am I ever going to put this book down after that?! Forget The Knife of Never Letting Go and "The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say." Forget The Night Circus and "The circus arrives without warning." This one clearly has them beat with that epic line about a brick wall. 

Snark aside: this first sentence tells you absolutely nothing, right? It's not specific to this book at all, which raises a red flag because it's a clear promise of bad writing.

And bad writing ye shall receive! Where do I even start? Okay, I know this book is YA, but here's the thing: I love YA. At least ninety percent of my favorite books are YA. But as a YA reader, I felt like Claudia Gray was talking down to me in this story. Every. single. thing. is right there on the page. There is nothing to infer, nothing to think about. Reading is supposed to be an experience where I can feel with the characters; I don't need their every emotion and question and thought spelled out for me. The writing in this one leaves nothing for me to do other than, well, read. And that's the most unsatisfying kind of writing there is. ("But, Paige," you might say, "you're not a teenager! This book isn't intended for you!" — to which I say, "BALONEY." All books are written for the people who like them. I like YA books, so this book is supposed to be written for me.)

All this transparency left nothing for me to attach myself to. Everything feels flat, like I'm being told This Is The Story You Are Reading instead of getting to feel like I was a part of it. I don't know if Claudia Gray (or whatever her real name is) has a degree in writing, but I'd venture a big no on that one — which is fine, because I don't think you need a degree in writing to be a good writer. But it would definitely help in her case, because reading this book felt exactly like workshopping a grad student's manuscript. It would have been easy to improve the writing quality and make it feel less like the author didn't trust the reader to understand, but nobody put forth that effort.

Unfortunately, the writing style wasn't the only bad thing about the book. The main character, Marguerite, is exactly as unbearable as her name. In the half of the book that I read, she did nothing but complain, contradict herself, fawn over her two love interests, and judge people. I think the fact that she's an "artist" (throw in a couple generic art references and bam! Your heroine is supposedly an artist!) is supposed to make her interesting, but we never actually see her doing any art. She doesn't look at the world with an artist's eye. Being an "artist" changes nothing about her perspective, other than making her the self-declared black sheep of the family, the special snowflake who likes art instead of science. Oh, the poor little runt.

The love interests were not much better. You've got the probable drug addict and the accused murderer, great! I could totally get behind that, if I believed that either of these guys were actually either of those things. But they're not. They're both Bad Boys Lite™, and Marguerite cares more about them than she cares about accomplishing anything. She starts off the book promising to kill Paul Markov, and then not even halfway through it he's all "But I'm innocent!" and she's all "Oh, okay." [implied: "What a relief because I never really intended to kill you anyway, on account of I am way too bland and also have no experience killing people. Also I think, maybe, not sure because apparently I haven't thought about it enough even though it's all I've been talking about, I might be in love with you."] They're both in love with her for some reason (I believe Paul more than I believe Theo, who's basically just a pathological flirt, but neither of them totally convinced me) and she's pretty much willing to go for Theo because he makes it more clear, until Paul tells her his feelings and that's the end of that. The bromance between the two of them totally could have hooked me — I am a bromance fiend, after all — but it was barely even there! Why do you promise me a beautiful platonic relationship and then not deliver?!

At this point I don't think I need to get started on the plot, so I'll just say that it was half-assed at best. So many things go unexplained in this book: questions that characters can't answer because the author couldn't answer them. Other reviewers have mentioned this, so just read the other 1-star reviews if you need examples. I'm off to read something that's actually worth my time.

Shame about that cover, though. It deserved better.