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Veronica Wolff

REVIEW: Isle of Night by Veronica Wolff

REVIEW: Isle of Night by Veronica Wolff

Dear Ms. Wolff,

 Jaclyn says:

When I opened to page one of Isle of Night I was expecting a historical romance set in Scotland—presumably on the Isle of Night. The ARC I had didn’t have a cover image and because I have enjoyed your books in the past I did not seek information about the story before starting to read. My assumption was half right: most of the story takes place on the Isle of Night.

Isle of Night Veronica WolffIsle of Night begins with seventeen-year-old Annelise leaving her abusive dad’s dingy Florida apartment to register for college. The specter of her father, who uses his fists to communicate, sows the seeds of suffocating menace that permeates the pages of this story. Unable to register for college and left with no money and nowhere to go, Annelise accepts the offer of a mysterious young man to drive her to the coast. But in turns out he didn’t mean the coast of Florida, and what follows is a coming of age story set in a school that trains girls to become agents for vampires—Watchers—who travel the world doing their masters’ work, whether it means gathering information or assassinating enemies. The experience of reading this book is visceral. As I read page after page my body was tense, my heart rate picked up as Annelise faced danger, I was scared for her and simultaneously wanted her to win and to escape, but mostly I wanted her to survive.

John says:

Unlike Jaclyn, I knew from the beginning what this story was about.  I was expecting an unusual setting for YA (Scotland – not the boarding school itself, which is a common trope in YA books) and something with a little more spice than the regular vampire novel.  The blurbs and marketing have been promising this as a combination of The Hunger Games and other big YA titles.  Many of the comparisons could have set this book to fail before it even began, but I was soon sucked into Wolff’s world the same way you were.

What makes me feel like this book works from the beginning is that it’s appealing to a lot of different fronts without feeling like a pretender.  I never once questioned WHY Wolff wrote this book – which I often due with these adult-turned-YA authors that come out with hyped books – and that in and of itself is something that I am impressed by.  She strikes a tone that feels completely natural, and she manages to make everything feel suspenseful and gripping.  Even the romance.  It’s a paranormal novel that really has a lot of grit to it.

 

Jaclyn says:

I agree with John about the tone and level of grit in this book. The most compelling novels create rich atmospheres that allow me to drop out of the real world and immerse myself in the events of the story. Wolff does this by appealing to all of the reader’s senses. Almost all romances offer detailed visual descriptions and appeal to a reader’s emotions, describing how things look and what the characters feel; with Isle of Night, sound, taste, and scent are deftly woven into the story, and in particular sound plays an important role in Annelise’s life and maintaining the tension throughout the story.

Annelise smuggles two things into the boarding school, a photo of her mother and her iPod, deciding that her need for the solace of music and a tangible connection to her beloved mom is greater than the potential for punishment if she is caught with the forbidden items.

During the early weeks of her training these two items become a source of life support, a moment of escape from the stress of the intense Watcher training and Annelise’s way out of the school without leaving the campus. But because they are forbidden, they also become a point of stress for the reader—will she get caught? What will happen if the items are discovered? And they are eventually discovered.

My only complaint in this whole story is the iPod: whenever Annelise listened to her iPod I found myself wondering how she managed to charge it—which drew me out of the story for a brief moment.

 

John says:

I think Jaclyn makes a really important comment above, so I’m going to reiterate it:

 “Almost all romances offer detailed visual descriptions…”

The comparison is very adequate on a multitude of levels.  What is so appealing about Wolff’s style is that she has all of the description and atmosphere detailing of a romance novel—which would make sense, considering she’s penned several historical romances—while still keeping the pacing and focus of a YA work.

What Jaclyn describes about Annelise is precisely why I enjoyed her character.  I haven’t read The Hunger Games, so I can’t say how she’ll compare to Katniss fans, but I felt like Wolff knew how to make a strong female character that wasn’t perfect.  The iPod and the picture are both obvious weaknesses that get exploited throughout earlier parts of the book, and I felt Wolff really understood that her character couldn’t be this perfect person.  Annelise’s weakness is such a highlight to the story, and it’s really rewarding to see her grow into someone who can be utterly ruthless.

I think that the characterization extended well into the side characters, too.  Annelise’s love interest admittedly made me swoon.  Even her friends caught my attention.  Wolff has really thought about what her world entails, and I think it’s most obvious when you consider the side characters.  She has an island in Scotland where the elite train to be vampires—which is already a step from the YA norm—and she places all of these really interesting and diverse people on it.  There are characters from around the world in this story, and they don’t feel tacked on at all.  It gives such a good idea of just how sweeping her world is.

 

Jaclyn says:

John makes a good point—the secondary characters enrich this story. At the same they also play into the menace—Annelise is learning a dangerous lesson about whom she can and cannot trust. Each new person she met at the school left me wondering if they would betray her, though she manages to make some genuine friends.

In the last quarter of the story violence ratchets up as all the first year trainees, including Annelise, take part in a competition for the Directorate’s Award. The girls fight in one-on-one combat. There are a few rules to the fighting, but they are not intended to keep everyone safe and the girls are often fighting for their lives. In the last match Annelise faces off against her archenemy in an epic battle. When it’s over the true threat to Annelise is revealed.

After finishing Isle of Night I sat for a moment and realized I had read it straight through. Then I immediately headed online to find out when the next book in the series will be published. Isle of Night earns a well deserved A.

 

John says:

Like Jaclyn, this book completely sucked me in.  I didn’t read it in one sitting, but if I had the time I easily would have.  Minor quips like the iPod easily brushed past my reading, and I think Wolff sets herself up for what promises to be a strong YA series.  A-

 

Cheers,

Jaclyn & John

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REVIEW:  Devil's Own by Veronica Wolff

REVIEW: Devil's Own by Veronica Wolff

Dear Ms. Wolff,

I happened across your books by accident. A couple years ago I was at the library seeking books by an author everyone was talking about-’J.R. Ward. There weren't any books by Ward in the Ws but I saw your name-’Veronica Wolff-’and, truth?, I liked your name. Veronica. Cool. I thought Veronicas must have lots of fun. And I took home Sword of the Highlands. When I saw that Devil's Own was forthcoming, I asked for an advanced reading copy so I could review it here at Dear Author.

Devil's Own by Veronica WolffThere's no comparison between the content of these books, but I have to tell you, Devil's Own started for me in the same vein as The Lovely Bones. I read the first bunch of pages, learned that a child's life is horribly ruined and I had to stop reading. Since becoming a mother I have a very hard time reading about violence against children. In the prologue to Devil's Own Aidan is kidnapped from his home and put aboard a ship. I have a son not too much younger than the ten-year-old fictional Aidan. But this is a romance novel and it must have an HEA so I started reading again a few days later. (I didn't have the same expectation of an HEA in The Lovely Bones, but I was compelled by others to keep reading.)

What I love most about Devil's Own is our heroine, Elspeth Josephina Farquharson (what a great name). She is a smart but shy bookworm who captured my heart, and watching the sweet evolution of the growing affection and love between Elspeth and Aidan is what makes this book so compelling.

Elspeth is the sole source of labor on her lazy father's sheep farm and she escapes the hard reality of her daily life by escaping into her imagination, and when she has time, reading. Her love of books is well-known in her community, which is how she and our hero end up spending time together: Elspeth is hired to teach Aidan to read.

Aidan was kidnapped at age ten and sold into slavery on a sugar plantation in the Caribbean. He has escaped his not-so-smart owner and sailed back to Aberdeen to exact revenge against the man who kidnapped him. He has stolen papers that probably identify his kidnappers, but he can't read them. Aidan barters with Elspeth he works on her farm in exchange for reading lessons.

Elspeth is painfully shy. She has never been the focus of male attention and when she first meets Aidan, who she finds attractive, she's flustered and awkward; her vulnerability is part of what draws Aidan. As he uncovers the smart, sharp woman underneath the façade of the plain spinster, he begins to respect Elspeth, desire her, and eventually love her.

Aidan is ashamed of his past as a slave and he hides his scars from the world. As he uses his knowledge of farming (gained while enslaved) to help Elspeth improve her business, he reveals his inner self to Elspeth, bit by bit, and begins to see a life for himself beyond his plan for revenge.

Watching Elspeth emerge from her shell was a real joy. Take this passage after her first kiss:

"She opened her eyes to find him starting at her with a look so tender it filled her with a rush of feelings, all strangely new. For the first time, she felt seen, and known, and safe, and wanted.   But most of all, Elspeth felt bold."

In literary-land (you know, the books that get reviewed in major media), I'd characterize Devil's Own as a coming-of-age novel. This story is about Elspeth coming into her own as a woman and gaining the confidence to actively be the woman she hides from the world intertwined with Aidan's coming to terms with and moving beyond the fetters anchoring him to the past.

About half-way through the story the focus changes from Elspeth's and Aidan's growing affections to the drama and intrigue of finding the slaver from Aidan's past, and coincidentally, Aidan's past barrels into Elspeth's present.

Earlier I mentioned Elspeth's lazy father. To continue being lazy without also being poor (his present state) Mr. Farquharson plots to marry his daughter to a wealthy man. Unfortunately for Elspeth he chooses a corrupt, wealthy man who happens to have a connection to the slaver who abducted Aidan. There's intrigue, encounters with pirates, a race to save Elspeth from an abusive, arranged marriage, and a good (if short) fight scene.

Like many romance readers, I enjoy historicals on a regular basis. Many of the books I read are set in an ideal world-’wealthy people wearing fancy clothes going to fancy parties and they fall in love, maybe dodge a scandal, and then live happily ever after. Stories set in the past fire my imagination and I am transported to another place and time to escape, for a few hours, from the daily grind of real life. This is part of why accuracy in historical novels doesn't always matter to me. As long as the story is plausible, I'm in, because with historical romances I'm reading to escape to a place where people can live happily ever after, not immerse myself in the messy facts of real life. Even so, a story must maintain a certain level of believability. If a story takes place in France in 1250 and Marie Antoinette is the queen, I'm throwing the book at the wall. (Well-unless it's a time travel romance and M.A. gets transported back to 1250.)

I bring up historical accuracy because in Devil's Own some things happen that made me wonder, did that really happen back then? In 1660, were poor children stolen off the streets of Aberdeen and sold into slavery? It's possible. Did it really happen? I don't know. Could a farming family's daughter become a bookworm, even have learned to read, as well as manage her family's accounts in a ledger? It's possible. Did it really happen? I don't know. In 1660, in Aberdeen, would men really respect a smart businesswoman? I'm doubtful on this one, but hey, it's possible, and it made a great story.

Devil's Own, the story of a sheep farming bookworm heroine who captures the heart of her scarred ex-slave prince charming earns a B+.

Cheers,

Jaclyn

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