Friday, May 15, 2015

Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

source: e-galley from Macmillan
publication: October 6, 2015, Henry Holt
**all quotes are from uncorrected proof**


Here's something you should know about me: the number of playlists I have for a book is directly related to how much I loved that book. My favorite book, which I read for the first time more than two and a half years ago, has since claimed 182 songs and 15 playlists in my iTunes library. I should mention that some of those playlists and songs go with the sequels, because that is relevant to what I'm about to tell you.

Six of Crows does not have a sequel yet*. I did not read Six of Crows two and a half years ago; I finished it four days ago.

It already has 9 playlists and 57 songs.

If that does not tell you enough, here are some additional thoughts:

Six of Crows is an edgy whirlwind heartbreaker of a book. It's a fantastical, gritty, emotional story about not one, not two, but six three-dimensional characters, every one of whom feels like a real person. It's a heist story, a resilience story, and a story about the vanishing line between human and monster. (I can already tell you that one of the most popular quotes of the book will be "We're all somebody's monster.")
"When everyone knows you're a monster, you needn't waste time doing every monstrous thing."
The characters and their relationships were my favorite thing about this novel, but I don't want to say too much about them because I think the experience of getting to know them made me all the more attached. I will say that they're a bunch of Weebles, you guys. They've spent most of their lives wobbling in one way or another, but they refuse to fall down. Two of them are dealing with a betrayal that cost them everything. One of them is hiding severe PTSD after a traumatic and heartbreaking experience. One is tired of always being someone else's property. One is a gambler whose loose lips get him in trouble, and the last is a runaway from a life of privilege and secret pain.
There was no part of him that was not broken, that had not healed wrong, and there was no part of him that was not stronger for having been broken.
And they have not stopped fighting for what they want, whether it's revenge, freedom, love, or acceptance. It turns out that Weebles make for really gripping characters.

So, what brings this eclectic cast of people together? Well, Kaz Brekker, of course. He's assembled this talented crew for business purposes: a man came to see him about an impossible heist that will either get them killed or win them a life-changing sum of money, and who is Kaz Brekker to turn down a deal like that?

The heist has something to do with Grisha and brings about moral debates between some of our characters, but I won't go into detail because the synopsis is similarly vague. I will say it's a new side of the Grishaverse, because now we're in a part of the world where Grisha are something to be used, not revered or respected. The novel then takes us to another part of the world that believes they are monstrosities, that their existence is wrong and must be corrected. This is the central conflict between two of the protagonists, one of whom is a Grisha and one of whom was conditioned to believe all Grisha are evil, and it's a beautiful Jongritte-esque situation if I ever saw one.

There's not quite as much magic in this one as there was in any of the original Grisha books, but that's okay because when it is used, it's used perfectly. Alina Starkov's journey was, in a way, defined by magic: when she found her magic, she found her power, but losing her magic was ultimately how she kept her power**. In Crows, magic and power are inversely linked; characters who have magic must choose how to be powerful despite it, which is a really interesting flip of the dynamic, and I actually think the unconventional approach made for more nuanced character development.

Another thing I loved about this book (okay, I loved everything, shut up) was the strategy behind everything that happened. Kaz is like a male, criminal, slightly more underhanded version of Kestrel from The Winner's Curse, so he's always ten steps ahead of everyone else and he uses any information he can get (thanks to Inej) against someone if he has reason to. He can usually think of a reason to.
Kaz cocked his head to one side, his eyes focused on something distant. 
"Scheming face," Jesper whispered to Inej. 
God, I love him. Kaz is the antihero I think everyone wanted the Darkling to be (or is still pretending the Darkling was). I could talk to you about Kaz Brekker for days without interruption. But while he may be the one I feel strongest about, he is by no means the only one who had me basically writhing with emotions. Hence, the playlists. 57 songs in 4 days. You do the math.

When I finished the book, I was all
and Leigh Bardugo was all

So congratulations, Bardugo, you have ruined me. In the best way possible.

*at least not one I have read because, hi, this book isn't even out for another 5 months.
**by which I mean, her power over her own life, which is the only kind of power Alina actually wanted and the only kind that's relevant to the main six in Crows.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Review: The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick

source: galley from Penguin
publication: August 18, 2015, Dial Books

This is going to be a very vague review because if I get into details, major spoilers will happen. Spoilers that are central to the plot and yet are not explicitly named in the synopsis, so I would feel bad about putting them out there.

As far as characters go, I think this is Huntley Fitzpatrick's strongest book yet. Tim Mason's problems may be a little far-fetched for some of us—he is, for all intents and purposes, a responsible guy, and yet somehow he is an alcoholic drug addict with a penchant for one-night stands. Everything that he could screw up in his life, he does. At the start of this book, he's been clean for a few months and attending AA meetings... and he's only seventeen years old.

So, yeah. A little bit out there. The teenage alcoholic thing doesn't always work. But with Tim, for good reason, it does. Disbelief goes out the window when you read about Tim's relationship with his father. His father has no concept of how to be a supportive parent and his mother hides from conflict, so it's no wonder their kids don't respect themselves when their parents don't respect them either. The thing about Tim is that he feels responsible for everyone but himself, because he's been told so many times by his father that his mistakes have erased everything about him worth saving.

Alice also feels responsible for everyone but herself, but that's because she has no time for herself. She's been taking care of her six younger siblings since the car accident in My Life Next Door and no one's made her a life raft to keep herself afloat. She goes out with boys who don't matter because she cannot let another person into her life who does.

Except, of course, that Tim Mason now lives in her family's garage apartment, and even though he's The Boy Most Likely to Have Even More Problems than Alice, their relationship works. I liked them together a lot better than I remember liking Samantha and Jase, just because they're both so imperfect and it's not effortless, but at the same time it's the easiest thing in either of their lives.

Now, all of that said, I did have issues. Certain scenes seemed out of place—maybe that will get fixed in editing, as I read an extremely early copy—and certain things I just felt didn't need to happen. There's a moment where Alice has a panic attack and had apparently had a previous one during the course of the book that we didn't see, so it felt a little jarring. I did not notice any indication that she had an anxiety disorder, so it was kind of "extra" in my opinion. There was also too much focus on... let's just say biological things. Without spoilers, certain aspects felt extremely tangential to the story, and one part in particular had me screaming "TOO MUCH INFORMATION."

Fitzpatrick also has this habit of writing incomplete sentences that grated on me after a while (I remembered this from her previous books as well). Narrators will drop the "The" or the "I" from the beginning of an expository sentence as if they're chatting with someone, and it just feels wrong to me outside of dialogue. I'm sure a lot of people won't notice this, but I was ready to start wielding a red pen.

So yeah. I loved Tim and Alice as characters, didn't love the pacing or all the plot points, and could have used more complete sentences. But it was a satisfying read and I'll be looking forward to her next book.