REVIEW: The Kraken King Part V-VIII by Meljean Brook
Dear Ms. Brook,
The journey we started weeks ago has reached its end, and even after weeks of waiting for this moment, I’m having a hard time saying goodbye. But alas, I’m not a Kraken, so I have to let go, but not before I tell you that, as you can see, this serial was so good that it put me in a cheesy mood.
Anyway, let’s get Kraken (no more puns, I promise!).
I want to be as vague as possible about events from the previous parts as well as what happens in the final four, but I do want to mention that part V opens with a heartbreaking moment of loss for Zenobia that, together with the events of the previous installments, truly sets the course of the story. She realizes that she has to rescue herself regardless of how much she trusts that Ariq or her brother will eventually save her. But she’s unwilling to be a tool to manipulate those who love her, and she wants the choice to be hers. The recklessness of her act doesn’t go unnoticed, but this is ultimately about agency. Besides, she’s so smart and clever, that there’s never a doubt that she will make it. And these things: taking action, fulfilling her dreams of adventure, and seeing the world, are the main part of a character arc in which the romance plays a key role, but it’s not vitally linked to it. Needless to say, Zenobia was my favorite part of the serial.
All the other non-Zenobia things that I liked but that I was too lazy to organize in a more cohesive, traditional review:
- Ariq is a fabulous hero who complements Zenobia and also shines on his own. His character arc is subtle (perhaps too subtle for my taste) and entirely linked to the romance. Falling in love changes his priorities and shows him things about himself that are good and bad. But love was already a vital part of his character; the love for his brother, his mother, his people, his country, and his new home, are relationships that shaped the man he is and made him a hero worthy of a great heroine.
- They fall in love fast, but Ariq and Zenobia come from different parts of the world and spend most of the time in danger. The cultural differences inform their characters and trigger believable conflict and misunderstandings that are resolved through mature communication. But their complicated and unusual situation makes Zenobia, who is, above all, incredibly pragmatic, particularly cautious, so even if she is irrevocably in love, that doesn’t stop her from having a plan B in case things don’t work out.
- And speaking of culture, I love that not only are most of the characters POC, but they are the dominant culture. There is a lot of work put into the history and world of these people, and neither the text nor Zenobia fetishize Ariq’s –or anyone else’s– features. She finds him super hot, of course, because he is big, strong and all-around swoony, but there’s no mention of how exotic he looks, how different he is, or any other charged and problematic language. There are a couple of words in Mongolian, but no long phrases that could end in disaster and send the author to Google Translate jail. Instead, we are told the language they are speaking at the moment and that’s it. I thought that, from my white reader POV, the representation was very well done.
- So. Many. Women. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I kept being surprised by how many characters that I was assuming would be men when first mentioned, turned out to be women. First we have The Twins, two wicked minor characters that delighted me for the short time I got to meet them. And then there’s the Empress and her general, the two most intimidating and fabulous sources of conflict and delicious tension I’ve read in a while. None of them clearly fit the enemy or friend categories, something that speaks more about layered characterization and storytelling than about rigid roles. This brings me to…
- …the villains! The Kraken King has two of them, and they have motivations and backgrounds that raise the emotional impact they have on our leads. These are, by far, the best villains this series has seen, and even better, the stakes are actually high. What’s at play here goes beyond the romantic HEA, and even if we can trust that the outcome will be a good one, at times it feels like getting there will be impossible. Seriously, anyone who thinks the promised happy ending makes the genre predictable should read this book.
- And last but not least, The Kraken King is an all-you-can-eat buffet of action, adventure, giant monsters and even bigger robots (kind of, this ain’t Pacific Rim http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Rim_(film)), that somehow manage to not get in the way of the main relationship or the political intrigue, because yes, this is about wit as well as strength, and they all come together beautifully during the final climax.
P.S. I still don’t like serials, but I didn’t have a hard time following yours. I thought the letters at the beginning of each part were a clever “previously on” reminder, and in a way, I’m glad I got to stretch the reading experience.