I’ve discovered why I’ve struggled to get through
these books—there’s very little action. Perhaps that’s why The Crow, the book with the most action, was my favorite. The Singing is, as all the books are,
far too long, and there’s too much talking and introspection and not enough
danger and suspense. Even the final “showdown” at the end with Sharma was
Maerad also develops far too much power too quickly.
There is not a very good balance to her growth in magic; she goes from somehow
defeating a giant Elemental (within the range of what we know about her
strength) to a glowing person who leaks magic and can destroy bad guys with a
single breath, after merely sitting for ten minutes and thinking—or something.
I’m not sure what was happening because my eyes were glazing over.
I honestly think if the books were much shorter, and
if there were only three books instead of four, the whole effect would have
been much better. But there are whole chapters of this book that are
unnecessary, or scenes that go on for far too long, and after a while Croggon’s
writing style really starts grating. And it’s clear she doesn’t know how to
write action, so she limits it as much as she can, which is why so much of the
final confrontation is inward rather than outward—but because everything is
delivered in the same exact tone, there’s no suspense or tension to the scene.
There’s practically no struggle, either.
Hem remains the only interesting character; Maerad is
too flat and boring, especially in this book. The problem with making your
character super-powerful is that it also makes them super-boring without
conflict or struggle to make them interesting. Hem, who was more normal, seemed
more alive than Maerad, who spent most of the last half of the book in a daze that
wasn’t really all that important to developing any part of her character.
Singing, and the Pellinor series in general, tries so hard to
deliver on epic fantasy, but falls short in terms of pacing, action,
characterization, and intrigue. There’s no politics, barely any struggle, and
there wasn’t enough editing done to help mitigate that. I’m a bit sorry I spent
so much time on these books, honestly, but what’s done is done, and now I know
that I can’t stand them (except for The
Crow. That one was okay).
I really enjoy the format of these books, I do, but the two books after Illuminaehave been incredibly underwhelming in terms of plot and characters. It’s like Kaufman and Kristoff were so enamored with what they created in Illuminae that they decided to recreate it two more times in Gemina and Obsidio—and in Obsidio, it really shows.
Let’s start with the characters. Just like in the first two books, it’s a boy and girl who are romantically linked. Except this time, neither character is interesting in the slightest. In fact, the book barely focuses on Asha and Rhys—most of its concern is taken up with Kady, Ezra, Hannah, and Nik, the protagonists of the first two stories—and they are incredibly flat characters. Rhys was cardboard. Asha was barely better. Their actions are predictable, as is the plot.
Speaking of the plot, I suppose there’s really nothing
wrong with it at its core, but I’m not thrilled with the way the authors go
about revealing things. Kaufman and Kristoff play the same plot tricks they did
in the first two books, meaning each reveal is blindingly obvious. They pull
the “That person died!—Or did they?” trick several times, even though the
format of the book and what was revealed previously immediately proves it
wrong. They attempt to obscure the characters’ plan to get rid of Evil Corporation,
but there are so many out-of-character moments that it’s incredibly obvious
that they’re playing a part (the most prominent example being Rhys’s “betrayal”
of Asha—it’s incredibly obvious that it’s part of the Obsidio plan. If you kill
four people to protect your girlfriend, you’re not going to turn on her because
your buddy died in an explosion that your girlfriend insisted she knew nothing
The most interesting character by far is AIDAN, since
it represents all of the moral dilemmas that run throughout the book (mostly
consisting of doing bad things for good reasons). AIDAN is a great example of
how logical evil acts can be. To be honest, it’s a bit disturbing to scroll
through Goodreads reviews and see people gushing about how much they love
AIDAN. I think they mean they love
the characterization of AIDAN, not that they love mass murderers (I hope); I
found AIDAN interesting, and probably the best character in the book (though
some parts were really dumb, like its overly descriptive speech (why?) and the
“AIs can have feelings too” subplot), but I certainly didn’t love it.
So, overall, I think Illuminae was the strongest by far of the three books. Gemina was a weaker repeat (with some
new and interesting things) of the first, while Obsidio revealed just how much Kaufman and Kristoff were relying on
old plot tropes to pull through. I can’t help but feel that I read the same
book three times, or at least the same idea of a book three times.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Lots of (censored) swearing, sexual innuendo, violence.
Kaufman and Kristoff work hard in Gemina to both continue the same tone and format that made Illuminae so unique, and to add new elements to tell the story in—in this case, a journal as well as some different forms of chatrooms. In addition, they ramp up some of the other formats with pictures and other visual elements, making for some rather beautiful pages.
The plot is virtually the same as Illuminae, except a bit less thrilling, less interesting characters, and now-stale gimmicks. Instead of a virus threatening to turn everyone into raging manaics, there’s alien predators who make you basically comatose. They’re kinda scary, but mostly just distracting from the real villains, the hit squad who come to the station to murder/cover up the tracks of the villainy caused by Evil Corporation. Except the hit squad gets summarily dispatched one by one by said alien predators and three teenagers.
Hanna and Nik are the “required” boy/girl protagonist love interests of this novel, though the romance is completely unnecessary and even distracting at times. It adds nothing to either the characters or the plot. It’s like the authors think that because the protagonists are a girl and a boy, there must be a romance between them.Far more interesting is the relationship between Hanna and Jackson, her boyfriend at the start of the novel (Hanna suddenly falls in love with Nik instead along the way).
Another gripe I have with the book is the fact that
the authors pulled so many bait-and-switches that the end felt cheap. For one
brief moment I wondered if Kaufman and Kristoff were actually going to do what
I initially thought—and I was both disgruntled and thrilled that they would do
something so daring. Instead, though, they pulled something they did in the
first book (more plot repetition) and reversed everything (twice, really!),
which left me feeling just disgruntled.
I did like Gemina,
I really did, but if the third book is a repeat of plot and character
tropes like this one was, then I might stop enjoying this series.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Lots of (censored) swearing, sexual innuendo, violence.
one of the most unique books I’ve read in years. Not unique in terms of plot,
which in this book, to be honest, isn’t anything groundbreaking or even
unfamiliar, but in terms of format. The novel is told entirely through e-mails,
messages, posters, reports, dossiers, transcripted surveillance camera footage,
and the code of an oddly poetic artificial intelligence.
On paper, the plot is tired and old: planet is
attacked, people flee for their lives, now they’re on the run with a mutating
pathogen and a rogue AI to deal with. Yet, in this format, it transforms into a
compelling, suspenseful story. Somehow Kaufman and Kristoff manage to pull off
plot twist after plot twist despite the format (or perhaps because of it, as it
is easier to get small details past the reader).
Plus, the conflict and moral dilemma at the heart of
the novel is complex and not at all straightforward. Is AIDAN doing the right
thing or the wrong thing? What about Syra Boll? This book emphasizes the fact
that moral decisions are hard to make and that there’s more than one way of
looking at things—something the authors tried to get across, I think, with
their characterization of AIDAN, the AI who is trying to save everyone by
killing everyone, or something. And the scary thing is that I get it. Almost everything Aidan (and
Boll, and the other captains) does to try and stop Phobos from spreading—I
understand. Do I agree? That’s a trickier question. That’s the great moral
dilemma at the heart of the story.
And it’s a moral dilemma that Kady, the main
character, tends to trivialize—one of the major reasons I disliked her. She was
smug, self-righteous, always sure that her
way of thinking was the right one. I mean, it’s basically a great portrayal of
a teenager, but I could barely stand her even so. And the romance—ugh. The
older I get, the less I can stand teen romance. There were so many more clever
things that the authors could have done with Kady as a character and for the
romance, but they chose to hang their hat on their format and add in a tired,
stereotypical romance that was the main reason I didn’t rate this book 5 stars.
Another reason is that I got very confused at the end
with why the percentage of Phobos afflicted was dropping (but by an incredibly
small margin). Was it supposed to symbolize AIDAN malfunctioning or something??
What shines from Illuminae
is the format, which transforms an average plot into something that even
this science-fiction hater finds intriguing. I never thought I would be so
involved in a YA SF book, but this book, even with its annoying main character
and romance, proved that is possible—with the right set-up!
Recommended Age Range: 15+
Warnings: Lots of (censored) swearing, sexual innuendo, violence.
Wing is the last book in the Claidi Journals series, but it
feels like it didn’t need to be. In fact, the only thing it contributes, beyond
love angst and Girl Power, is resolution about what’s been going on in the
House for the past three books.
It’s not that I didn’t dislike the book. I liked it fine. Claidi has as unique and funny a
voice as always, and the addition of Thu made for some great fun. We also learn
a lot of things about Claidi that are kinda neat, in a “that wasn’t really
necessary, but all right, that’s cool” kind of way. And she and Argul finally
get married (and then only exchange about ten words to each other, it seems
like) and have their happy ending, so there’s that.
However, the whole book just…isn’t that necessary.
There are a lot of characters brought back, and a lot of resolution for them,
but that all happens very quickly. The majority of the book is Claidi wandering
through Ustareth’s created continent by herself, feeling lonely and jealous—or
at least that’s what it felt like. Even before that, Claidi was alone, despite
marrying Argul. And Lee throws so much stuff at the reader in the end that the
whole pace of the book is thrown off. Nothing that was revealed in this book
really changes anything from the first three, and it mostly just seems that Lee
really wanted Claidi to be someone special, so she wrote a whole book about it.
I can’t say that Wolf Wing is bad, as
I did enjoy it. But I found it, ultimately, underwhelming and unnecessary.
Something happened to these delightful Jackaby novels,
and I’m not quite sure what. The first two books were fun and charming. Ghostly Echoes, though…I struggled to
immerse myself in it. It started off promising enough, but then characters
appear simply to voice author messages and political/social stances, and the
pleasant supernatural mysteries explode into a malevolent evil plot, complete
with a trip to the Underworld.
I think what I liked about the first two Jackaby books
was that they were urban fantasy/supernatural lite. There were supernatural
elements, sure, but those were intertwined with “normal” 1800s life. Yet this
book suddenly decides to introduce immense supernatural content (such as the
aforementioned Underworld, and a sinister Dire Council) with the mystery taking
Perhaps this is simply my dislike of supernatural books talking, much like how I struggle to enjoy science fiction. I also started disliking Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys when she started ramping up the supernatural. Or perhaps it’s my dislike of authors using characters merely as mouthpieces, which is what happens in this book with the character of Lydia Lee, who serves absolutely no purpose beyond plot convenience and soapboxing. Make those characters more interesting!
Whatever it is, my enthusiasm for Jackaby has dimmed
so much that I wonder whether I’ll even read the last book. To be honest, I
have no desire to find out what happens next. That disappeared when Abigail
took a trip to visit the dead.
I anticipated that The Crow would be my favorite of the Books of Pellinor so far, and I turned out to be correct. The absence of Maerad and pages of pages of her and Cadvan doing absolutely nothing helped make The Crow more interesting, though still just as massively long. This time, though, the book is cram-jam full of action, from the siege of Turbansk to Hem infiltrating the child army of Den Raven.
That’s not to say the book was perfect. It was still
way too long, and this time there was so much crammed in that there was almost
no time to pause before being slapped in the face with tension and action all
over again. I also really didn’t like the plot convenience behind Hem getting
his hands on the second half of the Treesong, and the fact that his trek across
the country to rescue Zelika was a complete waste of time (except for that
previously mentioned plot convenience—or should I say incredibly obvious plot
Speaking of Zelika, she was a bit annoying, and I’m
sure many people probably don’t like where her character goes and how her
character is used in the book, though it didn’t bother me as it was realistic.
I just am not fond of brash, headstrong characters who do stupid things. Hem
was better, though he got a bit annoying at times, too. I liked him more than
Maerad, as he seemed more normal and acted in a more understandable fashion
than Maerad’s odd weak/strong, passive/assertive ping-pong personality. He also
used more magic in one book than Maerad seemed to use in two, so Hem definitely
seems the more Bardic of the two and also seems to understand more about many
things than Maerad does, though perhaps my memory of the first two books is
simply failing me.
Despite the problems with the book, I still enjoyed The Crow for being much more fast-paced
and action-y than the first two books, as well as less clumsy in delivery. The
characters were more interesting and realistic, though I wasn’t fond of Zelika
and Hem had his bad moments, too. The worst part of the book is the obvious
plot manipulation in the last third, which made all the other manipulation
stand out even more.
The last book promises to bring together Hem and
Maerad in one last attempt to free the Treesong and defeat the Bad Guy before
he destroys everything. I remember not liking the ending, so we’ll see how it
Wolf Queen solves lots of the mysteries that were set up over Wolf Tower and Wolf Star and sends Claidi and Argul off on a happy ending, finishing up the Claidi Journals on a sweet, sentimental note—or, at least, that’s what the book wants me to think.
See, this isn’t actually the last Claidi book, though
it’s the last one I read. Lee wrote one more, though apparently wasn’t planning
to, based on the blurb for this book. I’m excited to read it to see what
happens, as that one will truly be a “blind” read for me. This book, Wolf Queen, wasn’t quite as jaw-dropping
as it should have been, since I’ve read it before and knew the big twist
already. However, it was nice to read it to see all the hints Lee dropped
Claidi’s voice is as delightful and unique as always,
and even though this book introduces some truly outrageous (in a good way, I
think) fantasy/sci-fi elements, her voice made everything somehow more
plausible and realistic. I wish it was explained more as to how, exactly, a lot
of the magic/technology works—we’ve got clockwork people, which I understand,
but then all there are also powerful items that operate on a “don’t pay too
much attention to the mechanics” level. Ustareth’s ring is one of those, of
course, and it did bother me a bit that there was no explanation as to how it
can do half of the things it did.
I wish each book didn’t hinge quite so much on “Claidi
gets taken places,” but, again, Claidi’s voice is so delightful that she could
probably stay in one room the whole book and it would still be interesting. These
books lack a bit of something that I
can’t really explain—they’re interesting, and I like them a lot, but they don’t
grip me like some books do. However, Claidi and Argul are adorable, and the
draw of the books is Claidi’s voice, not complexity of plot or stellar
worldbuilding. I can deal with that—and I’m looking forward to exploring Wolf Wing, the book I never read, and
seeing if Lee can surprise me.
Up a Road Slowly, by Irene Hunt, was published in 1966 by Modern Curriculum Press.
Up a Road Slowly reminds me a little bit of a lesser Anne of Green Gables, but much more of Rebecca of Sunnybrooke Farm, except with less moralizing and a nicer aunt. It’s the story of Julie, who at seven goes to live with her aunt after her mother dies and learns new meanings of love and family as she deals with her older sister getting married, her wild uncle, school rivalries, the death of a student, and boyfriends. However, like Rebecca, it’s much less tongue-in-cheek than Anne, and it uses a ton of plot tropes and language that is extremely reminiscent of older literature and really dates the book.
The writing style is a little old-fashioned and very mature-sounding, even when Julie is only seven (something that is a bit jarring until you get used to it). As Julie gets older, however, she grows into her voice, and I do believe the whole thing is supposed to suggest that Julie is writing this as a memoir from later on in her life. As far as plot and theme go, I thought Hunt’s messages were very good, though they were often delivered in ways that wouldn’t be acceptable today. For example, the description of Agnes, Julie’s classmate who suffered from some sort of mental disability, made me wince a bit, though that would have been an acceptable description in the 60s. However, the language as a whole really gives the book much more of an old-fashioned feel than I think the decade it was written in warrants.
There’s also quite a few dark themes hidden in the book, the most notable being Julie’s old friend Carlotta being “sent away” for the winter after scandal erupts (i.e. she was pregnant). The book as a whole is really quite mature for a children’s book, much more suited for a young adult audience (who would probably understand it and enjoy it more).
I enjoyed Up a
Road Slowly, but I didn’t find it overly impressive, and I think it’s too
dated to really stand out. The maturity of the themes and the writing were
welcome after some of the rather more childish books I’ve read, but that limits
the audience as well as alienates them. A good book, but not one I’d probably
Brandon Sanderson is always so consistently good as a
writer—his plots are intricate, his characters are fleshed out, the
worldbuilding is superb, and there’s always a bit of humor thrown in to mellow
things out. Skyward is no exception.
I don’t normally like science fiction, but Sanderson makes it interesting—and
understandable. One of his trademarks as an author is complicated, but
understandable worldbuilding, and in Skyward
everything from the caverns to the planet, but especially the fighter
ships, is meticulously explained in a way that makes sense and that flows from
the world naturally.
This book was very hard for me to put down, since Sanderson is so good at pacing and tension. While perhaps not as fun as Steelheart was, with all of its superpowers, Spensa and the other members of her flight crew made the book come alive and made me enjoy every minute of it. I also enjoyed the mysteries surrounding M-Bot, Spensa’s spoiler-y ability which I won’t really talk about, and Doomslug (who may not be mysterious, but certainly seems that way). And did I mention that I normally dislike science fiction to the point where it’s hard for me to enjoy any book of that genre, regardless of writer or quality? Yet Sanderson made it as interesting and exciting for me as any book of another genre because he’s so good.
All right, I might be biased (like with Diana Wynne
Jones), but I did really love the book. I found a few things problematic
towards the end, especially with the big reveal about Spensa and the Krell that
I thought was perhaps delivered too fast (though there’s room in the sequels to
explore all that, I suppose) or not explained enough, but Skyward was an excellent, fun adventure all the way through.