When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, was published in 2009 by Yearling.
By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, and who to avoid. Like the crazy guy on the corner. But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a kid on the street for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives, scrawled on a tiny slip of paper: I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. I ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter. The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message bringers her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.
When You Reach Me is a book that, after I finished it, I was surprised to look back and find that I liked it. I mean, while reading it, I was engaged in the story, and I had this overall positive impression throughout the book. So I suppose it’s not really so surprising that I enjoyed the book. But it is surprising that Stead could include such a strange turn of events in the plot and the entire premise and I still wound up enjoying the book despite its oddball reveal.
I don’t want to say too much, because it is such a strange and random revelation that saying it might make the novel seem cheap. It’s not—it’s a Newbery winner, after all—but a simple description or summary really doesn’t do it justice. I don’t know how I felt about the reveal, but Stead incorporates it in such a way that by the time it is revealed, I cared enough about the characters that I could roll with the punches.
Without the “surprise” of the novel, the story itself is delightful—a simple story about a girl growing up, trying desperately to fit into a changing environment and dealing with changing friends, rivalries, and odd and scary neighbors. Stead portrays nicely the changing dynamics of friendships as people grow older. Even though not too much development is given to the secondary characters, Miranda’s friends and family, they’re still interesting enough that her time spent with them seems meaningful. It’s also nice to see a rivalry story that isn’t over-the-top dramatic.
When You Reach Me has a bizarre reveal that actually works with the story as she developed it, so that even as strange as it was, it somehow seemed to fit with the story. It’s a unique sort of novel, and the main story itself, without the twist at the end, is good enough to warrant the Newbery medal, in my opinion. The twist doesn’t make the book better, but it certainly makes it stand out more.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Genre: Children’s, Realistic, Science Fiction
I was named after a criminal. Mom says that’s a dramatic way of looking at things, but sometimes the truth is dramatic.
“The name Miranda stands for people’s rights,” she said last fall, when I was upset because Robbie B. had told me during gym that I was named after a kidnapper.
Dragon’s Blood, by Jane Yolen, was published in 1982 by Delacorte.
Jakkin is fifteen and a bond servant, which is little better than a slave. He labors for Master Sarkkhan in the dragon barns, tending to the beautiful beasts who are raised to fight in the pits. Jakkin’s only hope of freedom is to steal a hatchling, secretly train it as a fighter, and win gold enough to pay his way out of bondage. But does he know enough to train his dragon to become a true champion?
Clearly influenced by Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, Dragon’s Blood is a science-fiction/fantasy that didn’t turn out to be anything I was expecting when I picked it up. I thought it would be a fun dragon book (How to Train Your Dragon still makes me squeal in excitement); I was not expecting something akin to McCaffrey’s works. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing—it just caught me off guard.
I’m not a huge fan of science fiction, especially this kind, where strange terms and words are introduced and everything is described in detail—but sometimes not until midway through the book, where it seems strange. So I didn’t love Dragon’s Blood. I have nothing against Yolen’s worldbuilding or plot; there was some neat stuff at the end and as a whole the world made sense and the plot was pretty strong, though perhaps a bit rushed at the end. I simply don’t really like science fiction.
I can’t even say I dislike Dragon’s Blood for being such an obvious tribute/imitation of McCaffrey. I have read some of McCaffrey and liked it, but I had the same problems with it as I do with Dragon’s Blood. I like my dragons in fantasy, not science fiction. I like my worlds less meticulously and strangely described, or perhaps at least more smooth integrations of infodumping. This is a genre issue, not a particular issue with characters, world, etc. In fact, I didn’t even really dislike Dragon’s Blood at all—I just didn’t really love it.
Science fiction. It’s just not my thing.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Some innuendo, breeding terminology.
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction
All dragons, he reminded himself with the conventional trainer’s wisdom, all dragons are feral, even though they have been domesticated for over two centuries. And especially dragons like Blood Brother.
As if hearing his name, Brother jerked his head up. Deep inside the black eyes there was an iridescent flicker, the sign of a fighter. Involuntarily Slakk stepped back. Errikkin stood his ground. Only Jakkin went forward, holding out a hand.
“Hush, hush, beauty,” he crooned, letting Brother sniff his hand. “It’s the baths for you.”
Raiders’ Ransom, by Emily Diamond, was published in 2009 by Chicken House/Scholastic.
It’s the 23rd century, and much of England—what once was England—is underwater. Poor Lilly is out fishing with her trusty first mate, Cat, when greedy raiders pillage the town—and kidnap the Prime Minister’s daughter. Her village blamed, Lilly decides to find the girl. Off she sails, in secret. And with a ransom: a mysterious talking jewel. If she saves the Prime Minister’s daughter, she might just stop a war. Little does Lilly know that it will take more than grit to outwit the tricky, treacherous pirate tribes!
Raiders’ Ransom is the type of novel where I enjoyed it enough to finish, but not enough to forgive perceived errors. To be honest, I’m not sure what compelled me to keep reading the book, but I did, even when halfway through I thought “Hmm…I’m not sure I want to keep reading.”
First of all, the world makes very little sense and Diamond doesn’t do much beyond vague mentions of floods and storms to establish how the world got the way it is. And floods would only account for part of the worldbuilding; things like the people’s view of technology, seacats, the “reset” to an eighteenth/nineteenth century world, and the odd division of power and property were never explained. I didn’t see any reason why, even if England had flooded, it would somehow make everyone forget/hate technology and set everything back a couple hundred of years.
Second, the voice was really annoying in this book, and by the end of it I was ready to scream any time someone said “Cos” or “But” or “And” at the start of a sentence because of how many times sentences were set up that way (clarification: I’m knocking the repetition, not the use of the word). I don’t particularly like novels written in dialect, so maybe that’s also why I had a problem with the voice/writing.
Finally, the convenience of the plot sometimes was a little too much. So Lilly just happens to be a descendant of the jewel’s former user and so she just happens to be the only person able to activate it fully? That’s incredibly far-fetched. I understand that Diamond needed some way to limit access to the jewel, but it could have been done in a less contrived way.
However, I did finish the book, and I did enjoy some of it, so maybe there’s some small amount of merit in Raiders’ Ransom, after all. A lot of the plot was pretty clever, even if it was contrived, Lilly was a good protagonist (even if the “I cut my hair and thus immediately look like a boy even though girls with short hair don’t really look like boys” moment was so contrived and unrealistic) and I think younger readers would probably really enjoy the book.
Starglass, by Phoebe North, was published in 2013 by Simon & Schuster.
Terra has never known anything but life aboard the Asherah, a city-within-a-spaceship that left Earth five hundred years ago in search of refuge. At sixteen, working a boring job and living with a grieving father who only notices her enough to yell, Terra is sure that there has to be more to life than what she’s got. But when she inadvertently witnesses the captain’s guard murdering an innocent man, Terra is suddenly thrust into the dark world beneath the Asherah’s idyllic surface. As she’s drawn into a secret rebellion that aims to restore power to the people, Terra discovers that her choices may determine life or death for the people she cares about most. With mere months to go before landing on the long-promised planet, Terra has to make the choice of a lifetime—one that will shape the fate of her people.
I really liked Starglass at first; I’m not a fan of science fiction but I do like “soft” SF if it’s written well—and Starglass is. I was intrigued by the concept of a Jewish community on a ship (and luckily North added the information that more than the Asherah were sent out; that tons of cultures and groups and communities sent out their own ships) and although the Judaism is really mangled, it makes sense that it would be—not only does the journals of one of the first travelers hint that the ship was, in the beginning, only surface Judaism, but 500 years with different generations, different commanders, etc. would be enough to distort some aspects of it. Yet…I don’t know. I’m still dissatisfied with its representation.
However, my uneasiness with the representation of Judaism is not the biggest issue with Starglass that I had. My main problem was with the main character herself. Terra is one of the most irritating protagonists with which to be stuck because throughout the book she rarely thinks of anyone besides herself and how she feels. Things just happen around her and she barely does anything about them. The only time she does anything actively, rather than passively, is near the end of the book when she acts on impulse and rage. Then she makes the brilliant decision to abandon everyone to what’s going on in the ship and leave because she wants to be with an alien she dreamed about.
That brings me to the plot, which was filled with cliché, irritating mechanics. The Koen/Rachel thing was incredibly abrupt and made no sense except as a means to generate tension and show, once again, how selfish Terra is. The bait-and-switch at the end was more aggravating than surprising, especially because there was absolutely no foreshadowing beforehand. Then Terra makes the stupidest decision ever and then the book ends.
I have absolutely zero interest in picking up the sequel. The plot and Terra irritated me too much in Starglass, and the fact that the last 3/4s of the book are sensual scenes of Terra making out with her boyfriend and then moping around, I’m completely not into whatever the sequel will bring, which is apparently more of the same except that now Terra makes out with an alien. No thanks; I think I’ll pass.
Recommended Age Range: 16+
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
“Um, Rebbe Stone?” I said, clearing my throat. “I can come back later if you want.”
She waved a hand at me, but her gaze didn’t move from the microscope. “Don’t call me ‘Rebbe’! The council might think they can make me teach you, but they can’t force me to be as formal as all that.
I chewed my lip. “You didn’t request me?”
“Bah,” Mara said. “‘Request.’ They’ve been trying to strong-arm me into retiring for years. They think you’ll be my deathblow. Sit down!”
Nick and Eryn’s mom is getting remarried, and the twelve-year-old twins are skeptical when she tells them their lives won’t change much. Well, yes, she says they will have to move. And they will have a new stepfather, stepbrother, and stepsister. But don’t worry, Mom assures the kids. They won’t ever have to meet their stepsiblings….For Nick and Eryn, this news begins a quest to find out who these other kids are—and why they’re being kept hidden.
I used to love Margaret Peterson Haddix, but I’ve found her most recent novels to be underwhelming. Under Their Skin is a mess from start to finish. It felt rushed and incomplete, and it breaks absolutely no new ground in any genre, let alone science fiction.
My main problem with Under Their Skin was not just the incomprehensibility of the plot, but the whole idea behind it. Recently, there’s been a trend to try and justify the treatment of non-humans as human, which means you get a lot of “but robots are people too!” arguments that tend to fall flat on their faces once you look past the surface. Under Their Skin tries to tackle this idea in the same way and fails spectacularly. I understand if Nick and Eryn are hesitant about destroying something that’s close to them, but don’t say that it’s “vile and cruel and inhuman” to destroy a machine. It’s not. Maybe wasteful, maybe a poor idea considering the circumstances, but certainly not “cruel.”
I think, however, that even if that idea was not present in this novel, I would not have enjoyed it anyway. The whole book feels rushed, as if it was written in a very short amount of time, and it’s hardly high quality middle grade caliber. It wasn’t interesting, it wasn’t exciting. It was odd and stilted and annoying and boring. Under Their Skin makes me not want to pick up anything written by Haddix, which is a shame because I used to quite like her older books.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Science Fiction, Middle Grade
“At least now we’ve seen pictures of Ava and Jackson,” Nick said.
“Yeah…,” Eryn said. She thought for a moment. “But didn’t something about those pictures seem kind of weird?”
“They looked like normal kids to me,” Nick said, finally turning around to look at her.
“That’s the problem,” Eryn said. “Didn’t they look maybe too normal? Like those pictures you see in frames at stories where it’s just some actors or models trying too hard to look like normal people?”
When Calamity lit up the sky, the Epics were born. David’s fate has been tied to their villainy ever since that historic night. Steelheart killed his father. Firefight stole his heart. And now Regalia has turned his closest ally into a dangerous enemy. David knew Prof’s secret, and kept it even when the Reckoners’ leader struggled to control the effects of his Epic powers. But facing Obliteration in Babilar was too much. Prof has now embraced his Epic destiny. He’s disappeared into those murky shadows of menace Epics are infamous for the world over, and everyone knows there’s no turning back….But everyone is wrong. Redemption is possible for Epics—Megan prove it. They’re not lost. Not completely. And David is just about crazy enough to face down the most powerful High Epic of all to get his friend back. Or die trying.
Calamity was, honestly…a little disappointing. Maybe “disappointing” isn’t the correct word. “At times annoying,” maybe, or even “confusing.” There were several times throughout the book when I either 1.) expected more from a scene, 2.) became confused at the plot developments or 3.) grew irritated with the way Sanderson was taking the whole Epic powers idea. I’m not sure if I liked what Sanderson said about corruption and goodness and the choices people make, and I especially didn’t like it delivered in such a “This Is The Moral Of The Story” way. And the whole parallel worlds thing was confusing as all-get-out.
But—David is still a great protagonist, even if his similes are annoying, and I’ve grown to like Megan more and more with each book. Sanderson can still weave a plot very well, even if this time I felt slightly less satisfied at the end than I normally do with his books. And even though a certain part of David’s development in this book was shouted from the very beginning—seriously, it’s so obvious that the book might as well be screaming at you—I still enjoyed the culmination of that development. I also enjoy that it wasn’t used as some sort of excuse to have a huge final battle—you know, the kind where the protagonist gets initially defeated by the villain and then fully realizes his powers and defeats the villain. Instead, David simply does a lot of talking. The powers part comes later, and in true David fashion, doesn’t work out quite as well as he hopes.
I don’t think Calamity is as good or as gripping as Steelheart, and maybe not even Firefight, but it is, at least, a mostly satisfying end. The moralizing bit at the end made me roll my eyes and wonder what Sanderson was trying to say, but I think if you liked the first two books you will probably enjoy this one, too. All my complaints aside, I know I did.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
“Why do I get the feeling there’s something they aren’t telling us?” Megan said. “That girl was looking at these cupcakes like they were scorpions.”
“Yeah,” I said, nodding. “Right. Scorpions.”
Megan eyed me.”
“Or tiny nuclear warheads,” I said. “That works too, right? Of course, you could strap a scorpion to a nuclear warhead, and that would make it even more dangerous. You’d have to try to disarm the thing, but wow—scorpion.”
In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now. Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’s passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them—whether she wants to or not. Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the travel who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are playing, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home…forever.
Passenger has an interesting world, one that reminds me a little bit of D. J. McHale’s Pendragon series if only because of the passages. The travelers travel through passages between different years, arriving on the same day of that year as the one they left. Bracken neatly avoids the “running into yourself” time-traveling problem by simply having travelers incapable of traveling to times they’ve already been to, although I think they could get around that by going to an earlier year and then waiting it out normally. She also avoids the “erasing” problem by having the traveler be thrown somewhere in time, before the timeline got messed up, rather than erased completely.
So, I did like that aspect of it. I thought it was mostly well-explained and woven into the world nicely. The worldbuilding and writing were great; Bracken has really improved on that score since Brightly Woven.
But what ruined the book for me was the romance, which was boring and completely like every other YA romance written. Not only is there insta-love, but Etta and Nicholas follow the usual patterns: Boy and girl secretly like each other. Girl wants to get with boy, but boy resists because of reasons. Boy finally gives in (usually in some sort of dangerous situation where they’re forced in close proximity to each other). Boy and girl fight after getting together. Something happens to boy or girl, boy and girl are separated, boy and girl vow to get back together No Matter What Happens.
I hated the romance the instant it appeared and hated it more and more the longer time was wasted with Etta thinking about the warmth of Nicholas’s skin and the ripple of his muscles. The romance dragged the plot into the ground and made the middle of the book incredibly slow-moving and tedious. I had to skim by the last quarter of the book because I was so irritated. It does get slightly better at the end, but despite my love for Bracken, Passenger is not a win for me. I doubt I’ll pick up the sequel.
Recommended Age Range: 16+
Genre: Realistic, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Looking from face to face—the knit caps, a crooked and fraying wig, a few wet eyes discreetly wiped against shoulders—her mind began the work of piecing it all together as if she were sight-reading a new piece of music. The notes became measures, and the measures phrases, until finally the whole melody drifted through her.
She was not in the museum. So, obviously, the rescue workers must have carried her out into the street, away from that strange explosion of noise and light. Her skin, hair, and dress were drenched through and through, because—because of the building’s sprinklers, right?
And the costumes…maybe there had been some kind of play going on in a nearby building and they’d rushed out to help? Etta wasn’t sure—what did firemen actually wear under their uniforms? No, Etta, she thought, they don’t wear loose white shirts, or buckle shoes, or hats straight out of Masterpiece Theatre.
Newcago is free. They told David it was impossible—that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet Steelheart—invincible, immortal, unconquerable—is dead. And he died by David’s hand. Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life simpler. Instead, it only made David realize he has questions. Big ones. And no one in Newcago can give him answers. Babylon Restored, the city formerly known as the borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic Regalia, Babylon Restored is flooded and miserable, but David is sure it’s the path that will lead him to what he needs to find. Entering a city oppressed by a High Epic despot is risky, but David’s willing to take the gamble. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David’s heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic—Firefight. And he’s willing to go on a quest darker and even more dangerous than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answers.
Firefight improved on a lot of things that I wasn’t all that fond of in Steelheart, such as tuning down David’s ridiculous analogies (and, by the way, thank you, Megan, for pointing out that they’re not metaphors, as he’s been calling them, but similes. You have no idea how much that bothered me. Technically, even my use of “analogies” is incorrect) and fleshing out the nature of Epic powers and weaknesses. It’s an incredibly solid second book overall, and it has less of a “second book in a trilogy” flavor to it than most.
David becomes even more awesome in this book, which I love to see in protagonists—and Sanderson manages to balance keeping David the same character while also building on that and changing him in certain ways. I loved the part where he had to face his fear of the water, which led him to both resist what Regalia tried to do to him as well as inspire the same bravery in Megan (technically, that happened earlier). David is a great character because he inspires other characters to be more than they were before. He inspires Megan to face her own fears and sees things in other people that they can’t see themselves. I’m looking forward to how the third book will play out in regards to David, Prof, and Obliteration (and even Calamity).
I am a bit disappointed that most of the new Reckoner team were basically Red Shirts (expendable crew, basically), though. Both Val and Exel have pretty bland personalities and we don’t get as attached to them as we do the stand-out Mizzy or the first book’s Cody and Abraham. So, it’s a little obvious that Val and Exel are set-up to be expendable characters where we won’t care much if they end up dying—a sure sign that they will, at some point, end up dying.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Once, I’d absolutely hated Epics. I realized I couldn’t feel that way any longer. Not now that I’d known Prof, Megan, and Edmund. Perhaps that was why I rebelled against killing Regalia. It seemed to me she was trying to fight her Epic nature. And maybe that meant we could save her.
All of these questions led me toward dangerous speculation. What would happen if we captured an Epic here, like we’d done with Edmund back in Newcago? What if we tied up someone like Newton or Obliteration, then used their weakness to perpetually negate their powers? How long without using their abilities would it take for them to start acting like a regular person?
If Newton or Obliteration weren’t under the influence of their powers, would they help us like Edmund had? And would that not, in turn, prove that we could do the same for Regalia herself? And after her, Megan?
Firefight improved on a lot of the things I had difficulty with in Steelheart, although that improvement was slightly mitigated by Firefight’s own problems, such as the blandness of some of the characters that clearly indicates their “This one’s going to die” status. As for the plot and the action, it’s Sanderson quality as usual—which means that it’s good. I’m excited to see where the revelations in this book lead us to in the final book.
Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary people extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. Epics are no friends of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man, you must crush his will. Now, in what was once Chicago, an astonishingly powerful Epic named Steelheart has installed himself as emperor. Steelheart possesses the strength of ten men and can control the elements. It is said that no bullet can harm him, no sword can split his skin, and no fire can burn him. He is invincible. Nobody fights back…nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, the Reckoners spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them. And David wants in. When Steelheart came to Chicago, he killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David has been studying, and planning, and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience. He has seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.
I have to admit, Brandon Sanderson has never failed to disappoint me. Not only is he an incredibly prolific writer, churning out what feels like a book a year, but he is a consistently good crafter. His plots are tight and surprising, the action is awesome, and there is always an edge of humor to take away from the tension. I started reading Steelheart and I could not put it down.
Despite the fact that I guessed a few of the plot reveals, it was the sort of anticipatory guessing that I see as more positive than the guessing that leads to boredom; the sort of guessing where you can’t wait for the reveal just so you can squeal “I knew it!” in delight. And a few things that I guessed weren’t correct at all, so I was suitably surprised as much as I was wiggling in anticipation (I did actually wiggle while reading this book).
David’s nerdiness/awkwardness (there are not enough nerdy heroes) was a delight. I love it when heroes stave off bad guys using their wits, which is pretty much what David does the entire time (with moments of stupidity interspersed). The action scenes involving the take-down of the Epics were gripping, and pretty much exactly what I want to read when I read action.
I am glad that Megan got more dimensionality towards the end because for a while I was a bit worried that she was just the Hot Action Girl Love Interest and nothing else. But since Sanderson is awesome, and knows his stuff, she gets better, and more intriguing, and feels more like a character rather than a cardboard cutout.
I did think, though, that “Newcago” was a bit of a twee name, and the running gag of David’s terrible metaphors, while humorous, just went slightly over the edge into “too much” territory. I also spent way too long wondering how in the world Curveball’s powers worked. Does he spontaneously generate bullets so that he never runs out? Does he take them from somewhere else? Is there a giant warehouse stuffed full of ammunition just so Curveball can never run out of bullets? The characters mention at the end how incomprehensible some of the powers the Epics have are, which I was glad for since Curveball’s, above all the others, pretty much just boggled my mind.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
“Yeah, caber toss….It’s this sport we had back in the homeland. Involved throwing trees.”
“Little sapling? Like javelins?”
“No, no. The cabers had to be so wide that your fingers couldn’t touch on the other side when you reached your arms around them. We’d rip ‘em out of the ground, then hurl them as far as we could.”
I raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“Bonus points if you could hit a bird out of the air,” he added.
“Cody,” Tia said, walking by with a sheaf of papers, “do you even know what a caber is?”
“A tree,” he said. “We used them to build show houses. It’s where the word cabaret came from, lass.” He said it with such a straight face that I had trouble determining if he was sincere or not.
“You’re a buffoon,” Tia said.
I had a few slight issues with Steelheart, but the book is amazing in suspense, action, imagination, and fun. I couldn’t put it down and I enjoyed wiggling and saying “I knew it!” at plot threads I guessed correctly and saying “Oh my gosh, what?” at plot threads I didn’t guess correctly (or didn’t guess at all). Sanderson is one of the most consistently good writers out there at the moment, and Steelheart is another win from him.
Winter, by Marissa Meyer, was published in 2015 by Feiwel and Friends. It is the sequel to Cress.
Spoilers for the Lunar Chronicles.
Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana. Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend, the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.
I loved the first three Lunar Chronicle books and I could hardly wait to start reading Winter. Unfortunately, though, Winter was a huge disappointment. The thing I enjoyed most about the first three Lunar Chronicle books was the devotion to and adaptation of the respective fairy tale without neglecting or skimping on original plot. Yet in Winter, the fairy tale was almost non-existent and hardly imaginative. Winter felt like a side character in her own novel due to the amount of time devoted to Cinder & Friends and their takeover of Luna. A better idea, in my opinion, would have been, if not to leave Winter out entirely, at least not make her Snow White and try to dedicate an entire book to her.
There were far too many viewpoint characters and far too much jumping around, and poor Winter’s plot really suffered because of it. Jacin had no personality and I could not have cared less about his romance with Winter. Again, it would have been far better not to have tied Winter with Snow White—a lot could have been cut out of the book that would have given it a needed trim and then there wouldn’t have been such a sad little Snow White retelling.
Other problems I had with Winter: I loved Cress and Thorne in Cress, but it bothered me to no end that he basically admitted he was just the type of guy who flirted with other girls and that Cress would have to deal with it. He didn’t say that, exactly, but it was very much implied. I’m sorry, but no.
Another problem I had was the tediousness of the plot as a whole. Winter is a whopping 800+ pages long, and boy, does the plot drag in places—especially the parts where one of the team gets caught again and then escapes again and then someone else gets manipulated by a Lunar again and then Cinder has to try to snatch them back/kill the thaumaturge again. After about the third iteration I was sick and tired of the characters committing the same mistakes and repeating the same process over and over.
The last problem I’ll talk about here is the whole Levana reveal as a whole. I didn’t actually read Fairest, the prequel that reveals some of Levana’s backstory, and maybe I missed out on something, but it really bothered me that at the end of it all, the thing that was revealed to be the crowning piece of evil on top of her evil head was that Levana had been using her glamour to hide her burn scars. The whole “she’s not just evil, she’s also UGLY AND SCARRED” vibe is just wrong on so many levels. Then Cinder has a “aw, poor thing” moment and out of everything that she could have felt pity about—such as Levana’s terrible childhood or the fact that the reason Levana is so sociopathic is because she’s never had a healthy relationship in her life and doesn’t understand how to do anything except manipulate people—it’s because Levana is burned. And it wasn’t a “what a traumatic thing that happened to you that was caused by your own family, I’m so sorry” pity thought, it was a “aw, poor thing, you’re so ugly” pity thought, which made Cinder seem more like the 30% machine she is and not the 70% human.
Also, I really don’t like the “machines are just like humans!” plot lines of science fiction.
There’s much more I could say about what disappointed me about Winter—sloppy plot reveals, dangling plot threads, and the deflated tension of Wolf’s transformation when you realize it didn’t even affect him at all and was used mainly as some sort of “I don’t care what you look like, Wolf, I still love you” plot—but I think my disappointment in the book is already clear. There were some things I enjoyed about it, but overall, Winter was a too-long, tedious, all-over-the-place finale and my enjoyment of the series as a whole has decreased because of it.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Violence, death.
Genre: Science Fiction, Fairy Tale, Young Adult
Winter gasped delightedly and laced her fingers beneath her chin. Everyone spun to her, startled at her presence, which was not uncommon. “Do you think the Earthens brought us gifts, Stepmother?”
Without waiting for a response, she lifted her skirts and trotted toward the cargo, climbing over the uneven stacks of crates and bins until she reached the lower level.
“Winter,” Levana snapped. “What are you doing?”
“Looking for presents!” she called back, giggling.