Desire and Indian Folklore in “A Star-Touched Queen”

Roshana Chokshi’s A Star-Touched Queen was a New York Times bestseller for good reason. Steeped in Indian folklore and myth, Chokshi’s YA fantasy novel brings a world of romance, heartbreak, intrigue, and untold secrets to life.

Maya, a princess who has been told from birth that she was cursed to bring death and destruction to those around her, knows she will probably never marry. However, her father’s desire to bring hasty end to a years-old war sets her up to marry a man who not only seems to love her, but who draws out parts of her she didn’t realize she had. As she sets out to untangle her new husband’s mysteries and the mysteries of the seemingly empty kingdom over which he rules, she discovers her own immense power, desire, and a past she didn’t know she had.

Told with vibrant descriptions, I fell in love with the world and the characters almost immediately. The characters drew me into their lives, their dreams, and their desires. I found myself passionately involved in relationships and outcomes of even the smallest characters. Maya in particular, really kept me invested. Her struggle to know who she is, in and out of a relationship is very relatable. It can be so difficult to know where you stop and your partner begins and vice versa, and the fear of losing yourself can be very real.

I loved this story of love, desire, and trust, and would not only recommend it, but I would urge you to read the sequel too. It was AWESOME!

 

Advertisements

“Jane, Unlimited”: A New Novel by Kristin Cashore

Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore is an interesting novel about the significance of seemingly insignificant choices. Written in a style originating from the choose your own adventure story, this third-person-present POV novel follows Jane, a young woman lost in her life, in her sexuality, and her finances. Working at a bookstore and barely scraping by after dropping out of college, Jane runs into an former wealthy acquaintance, Kiran, who invites her to come to her family’s private island for as long as she wants to stay.

As she arrives, several mysteries unfold, and Jane is faced with a seemingly innocuous choice, which leads to several dramatically different endings.

While I found the premise of this story intriguing, I was disappointed in the actual product. While well-written, Jane Unlimited felt too much like a very thorough and drawn-out writing exercise.

Each ending was unique and original, but it was disorienting to have to go back after each ending to the same place after such exciting developments, not just with plot but also with characters.

It was difficult to go from reading about a Jane who, for example,  loves and cares about a dog, about her art, and is confident in who she is, to a Jane who is insecure, unsure about everything, and doesn’t know who to trust again. I really enjoyed the first ending because there was a great lead up and it flowed really nicely and everything felt natural. The ending had payoff. But when I had to return to the middle of the story again, I had forgotten a lot, and the Jane I was now reading about was not the Jane I’d come to love, and I had to start over again. By the third ending I was feeling pretty fed up, and I really only skimmed the fourth (which seemed to be the weakest of the endings anyway). But the fifth did feel a little fresher, and I enjoyed it almost as much as the first.

On another note, there was quite a bit of language, mostly at the beginning of the book, but sprinkled throughout. So if swearing bothers you, I would pass on this book. Also, as a general note, the main character struggles a little bit with figuring out her own sexual preferences throughout, and this does play a part in character development, if not plot.

I enjoyed Jane’s character, and many of the others, but it was hard to keep my feet under me throughout this book as it seemed like a realistic mystery novel at the beginning and transitioned to a highly fantastical novel by the end, and kept jumping back and forth in the in-between parts. It felt inconsistent and just plain odd. I would rather have had it all realistic or all fantastical.

The jumping back to the middle annoyed me as well. I would much rather have had a linear story that incorporated all the plot points, and mysteries that the various endings addressed. But maybe “choose your own adventure” stories just aren’t my thing.

Overall, I would rate this a 3/5.

Welcome to “The Night Circus”

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern has given me withdrawal. Since finishing it, I find myself pining after a story that has sadly ended. I know I should move on, but instead I spend keep thinking of all the nuances of the story, the characters, the writing.

The Night Circus is a beautifully crafted story of a circus, two magicians, romance, and fate. Written in first, second, and limited third person, The Night Circus brings the circus to life through the written word, with complex characters and a mysterious story line.

I loved the gorgeous prose. Each chapter and section of prose was carefully and purposely placed, bread crumbs that when added together create a beautiful and delicious cake (I know that’s not how it really works, but just roll with it). If you are in a rush to read, then it may seem a bit slow at first. But if you are in the mood to savor each lengthy, yet beautiful description with little thought for plot, this is the book for you. If you aren’t in the mood for a slow book, but you still want to read The Night Circus, then read the first third of it as quickly as you can, and enjoy the wonderfulness that is this book.

A large part of what makes this book so awesome is the characters. Morgenstern has done an excellent job of creating complex and realistic characters, many that we love, some that we hate, but all that we believe. The main characters Marco and Celia have unconventional childhoods, and we see how their upbringing affects the rest of their lives, allowing us to also understand their actions. Each side character is detailed in such a way as to allow us to get a good grasp of who they really are and how they are important in the story. Because each character, no matter how small their role, is incredibly important to the storyline. If a character is included, they are important.

I absolutely loved this book. While I was somewhat disappointed by the ending, the journey was incredible enough that it made up for it, and I can’t say that much for a lot of books. Normally the ending makes or breaks a book for me.

The magic in this story is contagious, it refuses to stay contained within the pages it was written. I find myself thinking about the world of The Night Circus, wishing I could visit. If you are looking for a beautiful work of art with gorgeous descriptions, you will definitely enjoy this book.

**FYI: For those who are more sensitive to language, there is one strong swear word in the first chapter, but after that it is completely clean of swearing.**

 

Revenge and Choice in “A Creature of Moonlight”

Rebecca Hahn’s A Creature of Moonlight is a beautifully written tale of a young girl finding and making her home and her destiny. In a world where everything is chosen for young women, many have been drawn to the magical forests in an attempt to escape their seemingly inevitable destinies. Once these young women enter the forest, they are never seen or heard from again.

This is the case for all except one. Marni’s mother came back from the forest, pregnant, but otherwise unharmed. But when her brother discovers her pregnancy, he tracks her down and her young child. He kills her, and threatens to kill Marni too, but she is saved by her Grandfather, the king, who trades his kingdom for her life.

After growing up near the forests, Marni is being pulled between two worlds: that of the magical forest where her father, a dragon, lives, and that of the kingdom to which she is the sole heir.

Hahn does an excellent job of telling this original fairytale through a feminist lens, focusing on a woman’s right to choose her own destiny, and the importance of that choice.

(Warning! Some minor spoilers lie ahead). Continue reading “Revenge and Choice in “A Creature of Moonlight””

Reading “Graceling” by Kristin Cashore

An emotionally inaccessible young woman with a deadly gift – the ability to kill quickly, easily, and with a single blow – learns the meaning of humanity in this 400+ page fantasy debut novel. Kristin Cashore writes beautifully in the first installment of the Graceling Realm trilogy, Graceling, in which she creates a world where certain people are born with “graces” or special abilities. These people are ostracized from society and such is the world that our protagonist, Katsa, is born into. The niece of a king, Katsa’s deadly abilities lead her to lose herself to rage and fear. The king uses her to do his dirty work, and Katsa, not quite understanding the extent of her power, blindly obeys, hating herself and her uncle for her cruel assignments. However, when a stranger opens Katsa’s eyes to her ability to control her emotions and actions, and choose  for herself what she will and will not do, Katsa becomes a new woman on a quest to redeem her former actions.

This book explores themes of humanity, suggesting that humanity shows itself when we control our base impulses and emotions, and is lost when control is forsaken. I really enjoyed the exploration of this theme through not only Katsa, but also through the villains and some side characters.

The romance within Graceling easily sucks the reader in, loving Katsa and Po throughout as they learn to trust, and to accept what cannot be changed. While the romance was a highlight of this book, it was targeted toward an older audience, containing some suggestive scenes.

The plot, while somewhat straightforward at the beginning, continually surprised me. This was partly due to the pacing of the book, which was unconventional. Cashore portioned out the novel so that an unusual amount of time was spent on specific actions. For example, a longer amount of time was spent on a scene where the main characters are preparing to face the villain, and when the face-off finally happens, it is surprisingly fast, and simple, not the usual climax. Surprisingly, the book does not suffer for this unusual pacing, rather it helps shape the tone of the book. Instead of focusing on the action of the novel, the pacing helps to shift the focus towards the ideology, characters, and relationships within the novel.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The world Cashore created felt fresh and exciting to me, and the storyline always had me guessing. I would recommend this book, with the advisory that there are some suggestive scenes that might influence some people’s decision of whether it.

Stephanie Meyer’s Rebuttal

Twilight first became popular in my early middle school years. As I entered high school, I watched it transform from something every teen girl was excited about, to something scoffed at, scorned, and belittled. It became cool to make fun of Twilight and anything associated with it and has since become the target of many many jokes, and criticism. Academic criticism has stemmed largely from Bella Swan’s (the main character) inability to save herself and her huge dependence on Edward (the love interest) to fully live life.

20170217_171019

Critics have called Bella a “weak character” and have specifically criticized her as a role model for teenage girls, saying that she is representative of a step backward in the face of current feminist movements. And it doesn’t take too deep of a reading of Twilight to find evidence for all these arguments.

However, in the face of such heated criticism, Stephanie Meyer has countered that Bella does not have a “female problem” but rather a “human problem.” Bella is not weak because she is female, but because she is human.

To support her claim, Meyer wrote Life and Death, a version of Twilight where the genders are switched for almost all the characters.

What resulted was a fresh take on the traditional love story. While this new version of Twilight was not as polished as its original (due to a quick deadline to publish on the 10th anniversary of Twilight), I found it to be an excellent rebuttal. I enjoyed reading Life and Death from Beau’s (the male Bella) perspective, and I found Meyer’s argument convincing.

However, while the gender role reversal solved some of the problems critics have pointed out in Bella, the majority of characters still came across as static, and shallow. I suggest that this might be, in part, due to the genre to which this book largely belongs: romance. Because this story is about a romance, with a tiny bit of action at the end, there is little substance in these books, Life and Death and Twilight, that does not pertain solely to Bella and Edward’s/Beau and Edythe’s relationship. For many readers, this kind of substance is not substance at all. Many readers crave something more, while others are content to relish Bella/Beau’s thoughts and the tiniest details of her/his relationship with Edward/Edythe.

While I am not arguing that Twilight or Life and Death should be considered among the great American novels, I am suggesting that Twilight may not be as bad as so many people say it is, and perhaps it is time to take a step back and see it for what it really is—no more and no less.

A Dystopian Dynasty: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

At the end of the gothic vampire fantasy craze in 2008, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins kicked off the dystopian era of YA literature. An era that seems to be coming to a close as audiences begin to snub dystopian film adaptations. However, amid the apparent burn-out on the dystopian fiction genre, one dystopian novel managed to top the New York Times bestseller list in its first week, leading many to wonder if perhaps contemporary audiences aren’t tired of dystopian trilogies after all. I suggest though, that this new series offers something new to the genre, breathing new life into it.

It’s true that as I read the back of the cover of Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, wondering what this hype was all about, I began to feel a little excited. In this series there are two different types of people: those with silver blood, and those with red. Those with silver blood have super powers and those with red do not, creating a severe class distinction, and civil unrest. I was immediately intrigued by the steampunk mixture of super powers in a somewhat feudalistic and aristocratic society. I was excited at the prospect of a protagonist   with superpowers who goes undercover in enemy territory. I was expecting a sort of political thriller.

Sadly, with all my expectations, this book had little hope of living up to all of them. However, despite my potentially unrealistic expectations, I do feel that this novel fell remarkably short of its potential.

The problems with this novel are with the plot and character development. While the premise of this novel was promising, the plot did little to pull me in, and the characters seemed to undermine plot points. Sadly, I struggled to maintain my suspension of disbelief as the text continually contradicted itself, showing one thing and telling another.

For example, throughout the novel the main character, Mare, struggles with her relationship with the two princes. One, Cal, she feels instantly attracted to. The other, Maven, she feels only supposed friendship. Mare meets Cal who is in disguise in her village. He gives her money, and then gets her a job at the castle thereby saving her from being conscripted into the military (and almost certain death). Later in the novel it is revealed that Cal goes into the village regularly, attempting to learn more about the neglected people he will someday rule. He regularly laments the injustices against her people, and even implements a plan to make the military a place of equality rather than subjugation for the red bloods. Despite this kind of evidence to the contrary, Mare continues to convince herself that he is a cold-blooded killer who will do no good on the throne.

This kind of contradiction instills a sense of mistrust with the narrator, making the reader feel that Mare is a bit of an idiot to be seeing all the same things that we are and yet twisting the information to an unbelievable degree, an effect compounded by the fact that it is written in first person. I can only assume that Aveyard was attempting to surprise the reader with a twist in the end about Cal’s goodness, while simultaneously dropping hints throughout the novel that Cal was a good man. Unfortunately, the execution fell short.

Another problem with this novel is related to the character development and portrayal, specifically that of Mare. Because this novel is written in first person, Mare is the character the reader should connect with. There must be points on which we can identify with her, and also trust her. For reasons stated above, the reader’s trust in Mare as a narrator is shaken very early on. Not only this, but I found it difficult to identify with Mare. She seemed, especially at the beginning, a paper copy of Katniss from The Hunger Games. Such similarities between Red Queen and The Hunger Games only grew, given the premise of a people who are suppressed by a rich and well-fed elite class, and who are looking to incite a revolution. While the similarities between Katniss and Mare slowly ebbed as the novel wore on, the similarities were replaced with lack of development.

Mare seemed to become a shell of a character by the end of the novel. She is racked with enormous guilt at the casualties resulting from revolutionary activities, but apart from that she does not seem to do much. She is pulled along by the choices of other characters, blithely awaiting her fate. Despite the book being in first person, we don’t actually get to hear many of her thoughts, the result being that Mare becomes a passive narrator, merely existing to tell us what happened rather than influencing the outcome.

Overall, these, and other such holes in the novel left me with a bad taste in my mouth after reading. While the premise was inspired, the execution left much to be desired.

I realize that I am harsh in my judgement of this novel, perhaps because I was so disappointed by its failure to live up to its potential. But I hope that if you enjoyed this book that you will continue to enjoy it.

However, if you have not read Red Queen, I cannot favorably recommend this book, but hope that you will judge for yourself whether it is worth the read.