Saturday, October 19, 2013

Blog Post: Our Newest Seasonal Flavor: Betrayal

We've moved on from the old material with its bad guys, mustachioed villains, red-eyed demons. Jack the Ripper, who murdered people. Team Rocket, so intent on ruining Ash's quest for more Pokemon. Swiper from Dora the Explorer. Even in the Harry Potter series, there was no question that Voldemort was evil. Though he's set apart from the flatter antagonists because his life story is actually explained, he is still the person to defeat, the person beyond redemption. But lately, things have changed. Young adult authors are beginning to employ a new technique in their writing: betrayal.

Perhaps it first started with Paradise Lost, when we saw things from Satan's point of view and realized that maybe even the most canonical of villains can be a soul crying to be saved. The idea has evolved since then, obviously. While before, villains were made from people with dark pasts and twisted ideas, nowadays authors are experimenting with friends, family, lovers. The more intimate the relationship is, the better the betrayal. A popular example would be Jace from Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments. Those of us who are committed to his relationship with Clary, our protagonist, were crying for him as we watched his struggle between joining his father and being with the girl he loved. It happened again in City of Fallen Angels, except this time the puppet master was a different person. Although it was almost the same formula, people were on tenterhooks waiting, fearing what this new Jace would do. Dimitri, from Vampire Academy. We desperately grabbed onto those moments when he locked Rose up but didn't kill her, ignoring the fact that he pretty much became a crazy stalker. What about Patch, from Hush, Hush? A complete dick, to be sure, and he never made it clear whose side he was working on. But there was something strangely enticing about him, so that even as he kissed other girls and went behind Nora's back, we melted every time he showed up in her dreams or looked at her.
These situations all have something in common. The books I've chosen as examples all have love stories. Majestic, passionate love stories that easily sweep readers right along with them. These couples go through so much together, from fist fights to deaths to sex. And that's what makes the betrayal cut so much deeper. How can someone capable of so much love end up doing such horrible things? And that's exactly what makes them so redeemable. All these guys are amazing. Sweet, strong, utterly masculine, yet with such disturbing pasts that our pity is roused. It's fun. It is undeniably fun to take an inspiring love story and twist it to prove how far this frail notion of love can stretch. Why do you think there are so many retellings of epic love stories? Now Romeo wants to assassinate Juliet (Juliet Immortal) and the Big Bad Wolf is one sexy motherfucker (Scarlet). So far, the couples come back together stronger than ever. 

YA is a rapidly evolving genre. At some point, readers got tired of reading about one person battling the forces of evil. So authors decided to give them a mate, and the two of them could battle while exploring their sexual attention. When that got old, too, authors decided, it's obviously not enough for the protagonist to be battling some blatantly evil characters. Why not have her fight someone she loves too? It's a great turn of events that suddenly adds so many pages to a story. Not only does she now have to defeat the forces of evil, the protagonist must also convert her man back to humanity without killing him. It's easy to read about someone murdering a bad guy because, hey, he deserved it, right? But never would you condone the murder of someone you've seen in his moments of weakness and passion, the way we saw Jace, Dimitri, and countless others. The best authors insert a measure of humanity into their characters that it cripples us so that we can't think clearly. Of course he's evil. Of course he kills people. Of course he has blood on his hands. But I can't let him die, I just can't. 

And so this is an interesting plot development. At its best, we're thrown onto an emotional rollercoaster where we can never be quite sure as to someone's salvation. At its worst, it's a twist and another way for the story to go. Betrayal adds another layer to stories so that they're not so black and white anymore, and that's the reader's worst fear and the author's greatest advantage. A story where the boundaries are smeared and characters' intentions are never quite transparent is a story that retains its mystery and encourages people to keep reading. It's also an opportunity for there to be immense character development. I know I'm hoping to see how Alina is changed after the battle in Siege & Storm. I'm not saying that somebody must be stabbed in the back for a story to be a success. Just look how interesting Harry Potter is, even when we know all along who he's going against. In no way do I believe Hush, Hush is a work of art, and that's probably because it overdoses completely on making Patch a confusing combination of good and evil. If you ask me, I'm still waiting for the day that an author decides to take a fan favorite and keep him evil forever. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Blog Post: Calling All Readers!

photography  | via Facebook

This really has nothing to do with anything at all, but since it is related to reading and appreciating fiction, I think I'll throw it out there.

If any of you have heard of FictionPress, you'll know that it's a site where many authors start out. S.J. Maas first posted Throne of Glass on there, although she called it Queen of Glass instead. The feedback she got was part of the motivation for her to get her book published. S.C. Stephens also first introduced Thoughtless there.

There are so many other beautiful stories on FictionPress, and the wonderful thing about the authors on there is that they don't feel any need to fit into a particular category or to cater to the masses because they aren't writing for fame or royalties. They're writing because they want to hear what curious readers have to say about their work, and they're writing for themselves. Obviously I can't speak for the general masses, but most of us don't write because we want to become authors. We write because we already are authors and because we have stories we want the world to know.

While it can be annoying sometimes to sift through the piles of not-so-good stories on FictionPress (one of the disadvantages is that bad grammar is rampant), there's also that breathless sensation when a story captures your attention. I've spent many a night under my pillow, reading late into the night because I was desperate to know what happened next. I was struck by the poignancy of the stories there, of the intense love and fanaticism that they encouraged.

I wanted to encourage people to visit FictionPress, to try it out, whether it be reading or writing. If you're out of books or just want a change but don't want to deal with the bad stories that could be clogging up the website, and you love romance like me, try out the SKoW website. Also known as Some Kind of Wonderful Awards, it revolves around stories that stand out in multiple categories, from best MC portrayal to Best Breakout Author. They've just started a new round of nominations, so many fresh stories will probably be popping up. And maybe after you've read all the stories on there, you can try to find your own hidden gems on FictionPress. Trust me, there are many, though you have to search for them.

Review: Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi

Unravel Me (Shatter Me, #2)Book: Unravel Me
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Series: Shatter Me
Publication Date: February 5th, 2013
Publisher: HarperCollins
Rating: 3.5 Stars

tickticktickticktickit's almosttime for war.
Juliette has escaped to Omega Point. It is a place for people like her—people with gifts—and it is also the headquarters of the rebel resistance.
She's finally free from The Reestablishment, free from their plan to use her as a weapon, and free to love Adam. But Juliette will never be free from her lethal touch.
Or from Warner, who wants Juliette more than she ever thought possible.
In this exhilarating sequel to Shatter Me, Juliette has to make life-changing decisions between what she wants and what she thinks is right. Decisions that might involve choosing between her heart—and Adam's life.

What I think of Juliette:

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What I think of Kenji:

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What I think of Adam:

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What I think of Warner:

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In terms of problems from Shatter Me, this book still has them. We still have no idea why the world is decaying and why animals are dying. The prose, while not as obnoxious as it was in the first book, is still pretty heavy. I really don't think the strikeouts are necessary. They add absolutely nothing to the plot, and I would've enjoyed the story more if it wasn't Juliette narrating. I thought Destroy Me's prose was actually pretty good, since Warner didn't go overboard with his descriptions like Juliette does. Juliette is still annoying as hell, from her self-pity to her inability to control her own hormones or tears. In addition, she enjoys stuttering uncontrollably and rambling on and on about how she can't speak or how she's in pain. When she was told to interrogate Warner, she barely tried and instead held small talks with him. How fascinating her self-control would be, if only it existed. Now, there are places where her uncontrollable yapping does help, especially in chapter 62. Hot damn.

Kenji and Warner carry this novel all the way through. I was drooling over myself in boredom before Kenji took control of the situation and basically bitch-slapped Juliette in the face multiple times with his words. It was awesome. I can appreciate Mafi's self-awareness in this novel, but I still don't think Juliette changed much. She still whines and cries, despite all of Kenji's attempts to tell her to get over herself. The other characters are explored as well, and I like the insights into their lives that we get. I don't know how I feel about Castle yet; the way he treated Warner did seem kind of brainless, but oh well.

Warner, Warner, Warner. I was bemoaning the fact that I'm starting to crush on the bad guys in books instead of the guys the MCs should end up with to my friend. Warner is dark chocolate. Dark and sinful, with the barest tinge of sweetness. Especially in this book, we see so much more of his humanity and his capability for redemption. He develops into a person who has done bad things, who recognizes how hard it is to feel, and who wants to redeem himself for the people he cares about. Where Warner is dark chocolate, Adam is white chocolate. Not authentic, and so sweet it's liable to give you diabetes. Only good in small amounts. Mafi obviously focused a lot of her efforts on the other characters, but in doing so, she skipped over Adam's character. He makes no progress in this book; the only times we get to see him are when he corners Juliette in dark tunnels and begs her to take him back. I have to agree with Warner when he tells Adam that he doesn't deserve Juliette. While it baffles me as to why anyone would want to deserve Juliette, Adam doesn't accomplish anything. Instead, it seems like he's just there to prove everything Warner says about him correct.

A lot more shit goes down in this book, and the plot actually does take direction. It's an improvement, and I'm really hoping for some more chocolate in the next book, dark or white. But not milk. I hate milk.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Blog Post: A Discourse on Male/Female POVs

The YA world is one that is constantly changing as authors try to escape the norm and experiment with newer ideas. Whether these ideas are of any merit, however, is still up in the air. One of them, the subject of this blog post, is the idea of alternating male/female POVs. Usually, these points of view are from the main characters of the book: the girl saving the world and her love interest, or vice versa. Most times, it's the girl who's saving the world, though (feminists unite!).

The reason for this is that the authors experimenting with this sort of writing are almost always female. I know we've all had those moments reading books from only the female perspective where we wonder what the guy is thinking. I especially had that moment towards the end of Siege & Storm by Leigh Bardugo, when I was desperate to know what Mal was thinking and whether his feelings towards Alina remained the same, etc. Many authors write for their audiences, and when their audiences are dying to know what the guy is going through in parallel with the girl, they're happy to oblige. Whether they do it well is another thing altogether.

Alternating POVs are a double-edged sword. You want to keep the reader interested, but you don't want their interest to only lie with one character and make the thoughts of the other character obsolete. You also don't want to make your two characters sound the same or throw in a ton of irrelevant stuff that could've easily been covered with just one character. The best alternating perspectives build suspense, and gives each character an individuality that couldn't be seen with just one voice. You wouldn't think it given the frequency with which alternating POVs are popping up in fiction, but they're much, much harder to write than books with one lead. Think about all the effort gone into a main character: their quirks, their flaws, their background, how they're going to develop through the plot, how they react to their circumstances. Now multiply that by two (or three, or four, or God forbid, five like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, which actually wasn't a bad book). And that's only having separate characters. If one of the characters is a male, well, the problem is compounded.

While this may be sexist, males and females do have different ways of thinking. Feel free to interpret that however you want, but it's true. They handle their problems in different ways, and if an author writing a male adopts a female perspective, readers will notice. Take Point of Retreat by Colleen Hoover, for example. I couldn't connect Will's actions to anything a man of his age and maturity would do. His affection is smothering, he's too desperate, and at one point, he locks himself in his girlfriend's bedroom so she can't kick him out of the house. I know guys don't show all the things they're thinking, but that doesn't mean their brains work the same way that women's do. In Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma, Lochan's and Maya's thoughts could easily be mixed and confused for one another, although that detracted nothing from the whirlwind of angst in that book. When women write from male perspectives, the men usually end up being more sentimental. Rarely have I seen success, although Cassius from Anna Dressed in Blood is a pretty good depiction of the average male, who thinks about attractive women but also dedicates a lot of his brain space to killing and other mundane things. And the thing is, after reading the male perspective, do you really respect the lead's love interest the same way? I know after reading Will's POV in Point of Retreat and Perri's in Into the Never Sky that the guy just doesn't hold the same sort of appeal. In Into the Never Sky, I was still interested in Perri's story, but his intrigue was gone. For me, I prefer glimpses, not a full-on striptease of a guy's character, such as it is with Akiva in Daughter of Smoke & Bone and Gansey in The Raven Boys. What I don't like are guys like Sam from Shiver and Day from Legend, who completely overdo the meaning of sensitive. 

In conclusion, I admire authors who can make two completely different characters and alternate stories between them without getting them confused. But I also greatly admire authors who go the normal route and tell a beautiful story from just one perspective. Either way can be successful, but there may be many more pitfalls associated with the former, especially when a writer is experimenting with opposite sexes. Women tend to overdramatize the males they write, although male authors so far don't seem to have this problem with their female main characters. A part of that may be attributed to the fact that the girls in YA fantasy/dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels nowadays need to rely on their strength and handiness with weapons and warfare to survive. But both male and female writers can write bad characters. It comes down to knowing strengths and learning from weakness. A true writer is someone who can put him/herself into the mindset of anyone.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Review: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Siege and Storm (The Grisha, #2)Book: Siege and Storm
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: The Grisha
Publication Date: June 6, 2013
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co
Rating: 5 Stars

Darkness never dies. Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long. The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.
I AM IN MOURNING. Which is why I crawled out of my hole to post this review on my blog.

Not only am I mourning that awful cliffhanger and the fact that I won't get to read the next book until next year, I am mourning Mal, Alina, Genya, David, and all the other characters that Bardugo has mercilessly tormented throughout this book. I've never had my emotions manipulated so harshly before. This book is more scarring than a bad breakup. And seriously, what is with all the attractive but damaged men in this book? I guess you just can't have it all.

If you follow my reviews, you probably noticed that there was a lot of this:
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In between all the crying, though, I forgot to mention that there was also a lot of this:
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To be honest, Shadow and Bone didn't make that much of an impression on me. The only things I really remember about it are Russians and the Darkling turning out to be more than a fancy vampiric incarnation. This sequel, I suspect, will stay with me much longer. Like its predecessor, I got through it all within two days. If there's one thing that Bardugo does perfectly, it's her pacing. It's not extremely fast or slow, it's Goldilocks's ideal porridge.

Where Shadow and Bone was tamer, more of an introduction of all the things that the characters of Alina's world were capable of, Siege and Storm dives right in, beginning with the Darkling resurfacing and a romp on a couple of different boats. Immediately, you have to appreciate the world Bardugo has created and the intricacy of each aspect, from the mythical creatures that roam it and the elaborate hierarchy of the Grisha and royalty. I must say, I love the names she's created for each part of her world. They make me want to visit Russia and make me momentarily forget that if I do visit, I won't be able to say anything besides "Da, Kapitan." In between all the political intrigue and fighting, Mal and Alina get their moments. But these moments are so fleeting, I was always left wanting more, and that was basically what tortured me throughout the entire book. It's like watching a slow-motion car crash; you see the void widening, yet all you can do is helplessly read on. Anyway, the problem of the Darkling explored in the first book basically lays eggs and expands to horrifying proportions, but I'll let you all enjoy the gory details when you read the book, though I feel like I'm discouraging people from reading it...

I love Mal. I really do.

“No, Alina. You came here for Ravka. For the firebird. To lead the Second Army.” He tapped the sun over his heart. “I came here for you. You’re my flag. You’re my nation."

How can you not love him? Even in the end when he was pissing me off, I still loved him. I must add that the end with Alina and him really disappointed me. I just want someone (preferably Leigh Bardugo herself) to tell me that this isn't true and that they'll get their happy ending. But what are the chances of that? I mean, all hell has broken loose. There's no way. "The love she always thought would guide her." God, I'm so bitter and sad right now. To all the people who are shipping the Darkling and Alina, you guys are so twisted. He's psychotic. Yet there are parts of him that are disturbingly human, and it's just AUGH. It's freaky. Oh yeah, and while I'm extolling the males in this book, Sturmhond. Nikolai. Hohoho. Alina can take Mal. I'll take him. He's a bit confusing, and we're never too sure what his intentions are, but he's really got the cocky thing down. I look forward to a further exploration of his personality in the next book. That is, if Bardugo doesn't kill him off before that happens... She's getting a bit bloodthirsty and power hungry. Like Alina! Hahahaha. Bad joke. Okay. Moving on.

Alina is such a strong character. I'm not really a fan of the whole there is darkness within me and I'm sinking into it but there's nothing I can do struggle. But Bardugo maintains this balance between Alina's darkness and her determination that I couldn't help but admire her and go NOOOO *sob* when bad things happened because of her. Through her actions, I could understand the huge burden placed on her shoulders and how hard it was on her to make everyone happy, how the knowledge of how she was to be responsible for an entire world was eating her up inside. She's stupid, fearless (though it could be argued that those two are the same thing), determined, and strong. She is really the driving force behind this entire book, and so, so human.

There are fewer light-hearted moments in this book, though there were still snatches of dialogue that made me laugh. Part of me wishes for those simple, happy moments between Mal and Alina to be back, but I know that those are gone. The awful cliffhanger can attest to that. Also, I've heard rumors of a fourth book... Which only means my suffering is going to be prolonged another year. Shit is going down, and I want a front row seat. If you want one too, I suggest you read this book immediately and pester Bardugo until she has no choice but to urge her publishers to hurry up.

P.S. Never ever entrust your nation to someone named Vasily.
P.P.S. Apologies for any harsh words or incoherency in this review. I am not in the most eloquent of states right now.

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