Deep Themes in “Defy the Stars” by Claudia Gray

“Defy the Stars” by Claudia Gray is a fun sci-fi book with deeper themes that give it a lasting weight.

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Well-written, and packed with deeper themes, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray is a book that highlights Gray’s strengths as a YA science fiction writer.  The first in a new series, Defy the Stars was somewhat predictable, but proved to be a good, casual sci-fi read. It doesn’t go too in-depth with the world building or complicated science-y things, so it isn’t overwhelming for the beginner sci-fi reader.

One of the things I love about Claudia Gray’s books is her use of themes. Even though each of her books has a fun, exciting plot that makes for good fun, there is always more weight to her stories that makes her books more important than just a fun story.   Defy the Stars explores themes of what it means to be human, the importance of nature, the existence and definition of love, and how far it is ethical to go in our attempts to assert independence. Gray also introduces the idea that there are many sides to every story and truth may not always be one dimensional.

Gray explores these themes through interesting characters like Noemi: a pilot and soldier of the planet Genesis in their war of independence from Earth; and Abel: an advanced android from Earth whose self-awareness and mental and emotional capacities blur the line between android and human. In pushing each of these characters to their limits physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, Gray creates a story worth reading.

If you enjoy any element of science fiction combined with a strong romance subplot, any of the aforementioned themes, or any of Gray’s earlier works, I would definitely give this book a chance. 4/5.

 

Fate and Ethics in “A Thousand Pieces of You”

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray was a fast-paced book perfect for lovers of both sci-fi and historical fiction, which means it was perfect for me. While it maintains an air of general predictability throughout, there is enough originality and creativity in the setting(s) that I would definitely recommend it.

Claudia Gray is an excellent writer. She makes it so easy to just fall into her stories and to stay there until the very last word. I really enjoyed this book. And while I don’t think it is her best work, or most creative, it is well done, and very very fun.

The premise is this: Marguerite Caine is the daughter of two brilliant scientists who have discovered not only the existence of other dimensions, but also the technology needed to visit these alternate universes. When Marguerite’s father is murdered, and the suspected murderer flees into another dimension, she follows suit in order to find and kill him.

The downfall of this book really is its predictability. By the first chapter I had the general plot pretty much figured out. It did throw in a few fun surprises at the end but nothing too game-changing.

Despite all that, I am planning to read the two sequels in the coming weeks. The characters were appealing, and the science-y adventures were too much fun. I’m still amazed that I just read a book that contained cool futuristic technology and a beautiful historical romance.

The romance was definitely one of the highlights of this book. I am a sucker for a good romance line, and this was a good one.

Gray also brought up some excellent ethical questions about the main character’s actions in other dimensions, and the morality of taking advantage of experiences that should have been taken by someone else.

This book also contains themes of fate and destiny, and whether a person is made up of experiences. Whether a soul can be significantly changed by experiences or if they will be the same person regardless of any changes made to their previous experiences.

It is these kinds of themes and ethical questions that makes this book stand out from other YA fiction. They add depth to the story and help readers learn to think about the story on a deeper level.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it. (4/5)

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!

 

“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.

“Silent” a Historical Thriller

Silent by David Mellon is a suspenseful story of a young woman, Adi, who unknowingly offends a certain man, a man who kidnaps her twin brothers in an act of vengance, leaving her only a watch and two riddles to direct her to where her brothers are. In a race against time, Adi struggles to solve the riddles before her time is up and her brothers lost forever. Set in 1914, Silent takes place in the time leading up to, and during World War I.

A story, or plot, driven book, Silent did a great job of keeping me invested, not only in the mystery, but also in the characters. I found them all interesting and believable.

The villain, always a determining factor in such books, was creepy, sometimes otherworldly, and coldly calculating. But he also very human in surprising ways. He made me curious, and drew pity, even sympathy, from me at times.

While this is a YA novel, I would really recommend this compelling novel to anyone middle grade or older. Personally, this book held me captive from beginning to end. While there were a few lulls near the middle of the book the initial premise and promise of the novel pulled me through and I found it well worth the time and effort of seeing it through to the end. 4.5/5.

 

Weight and Religion in High Fantasy with Rae Carson

Rae Carson has a talent for creating interesting main characters. In The Girl of Fire and Thorns I was impressed by her creation and development of a dynamic character who, in a world so different from our own, struggles with something so relatable as body weight.

Problems with weight loss/gain topic is quite common within contemporary YA literature but I don’t think I have ever encountered it within the high fantasy YA genre. However, this topic fits within another, more general theme, that is perhaps more common: feeling comfortable in your own skin.

Carson did an excellent job in the first installment of this trilogy of creating a believable and relatable main character, Elisa. While she struggles with her physical appearance and health, mentally she is at the top of her game.

Not only did Carson tackle body image issues, she also delved into the ever-controversial topic of religion and faith. Throughout the first installment, Elisa is devoutly religious, but as the story progresses, she is plagued with doubts about the religion she grew up with, and her faith in her God is tested.

I really enjoyed Carson’s courageous effort to create a book that addressed so many controversial topics. It could easily have turned into an offensive mess if done carelessly. But Carson was very tactful and thoughtful in her development of themes and storylines. I really enjoyed this book,. I felt is was very original and excellently executed.

If you are looking for a thought-provoking high fantasy book, I would definitely recommend The Girl of Fire and Thorns. As for myself, I am looking forward to starting the second novel in the trilogy, The Crown of Embers.

Third-Person Omniscient in “Underland” and “Unenchanted” by Chanda Hahn

Homeless and alone, fifteen year old Kira finds herself kidnapped from her cardboard home and enslaved to an underground group of monsters, doomed to spend the rest of her life doing the bidding of hideous snake people, vampires, witches, and zombies. After failed escape attempts, Kira is forced to participate in “the games”—a chance to make a name for herself and possibly earn her freedom.

This fantasy YA book was an intriguing read if you can get past the first couple chapters (they drag). While the excess of back story interludes initially weighed down the narrative, the payoff was surprisingly rewarding as it differentiated her character from that of other popular YA novels such as Katniss from Hunger Games and Mare from Red Queen. While it was nice to have a different kind of character, Kira oscillated inconsistently between being brave and vengeful, and frightened and sappy. The inconsistencies drove me a little crazy, and took me out of the story.

I enjoyed that this book was set in similar world as our own — that Kira comes from the world we already know and love. This gave me a shared perspective with Kira as I experienced the new world of Underland through her eyes.

However, Hahn’s use of third person omniscient surprised me. By jumping from Kira’s perspective to other characters’ perspectives for short periods of time, the reader ends up knowing quite a bit more than Kira. I worried that Kira’s lack of knowledge (or my excess of information) would make me frustrated, but I was pleasantly surprised. While third person omniscient still bothers me a little bit, Hahn did a decent job.

I recently read another of Hahn’s books titled Unenchanted in which she again uses third person omniscient, but much less frequently, and it bothered me much more in that book. She changed perspectives just enough that I noticed it, but not enough that it felt consistent or useful. I think that because Hahn used third person omniscient more frequently in Underland, it felt more purposeful.

Unenchanted‘s premise is that the main character has inherited her family’s curse: that she will relive all of the Grimm fairy tales until she dies or until the fairytales run out. I enjoyed this premise and the book, but I felt it fell short of what it could have been. The book felt childish at times with the main character wavering between mature and inexperienced, naive, and ignorant.

Overall, Unenchanted was a fun read because of the premises but it was not intellectually stimulating, and it felt a bit overdone (cliche’s galore). This was a clean book, but it’s not one I’m rushing to reread or recommend. Unfortunately, while the original ideas behind Unenchanted and Underland were good, they were not executed well, and both books felt inconsistent with character and relationship development.

My recommendation: if you have some extra time to burn, pass on this book, and try a different one.