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REVIEW:  Dark Skye by Kresley Cole

REVIEW: Dark Skye by Kresley Cole

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Dear Ms. Cole:

Back in 2008, Jane wrote about the romance trope subversion found in the “Immortals After Dark” series, in which the conventional male/female roles are often flipped. That continues in this story, which features a completely inexperienced hero and a heroine who’s been around the block quite a few times in an immortal lifespan. Unfortunately, it doesn’t save the book from being kind of meh.

Most Lore immortals have to wait centuries for their fated mates to turn up, but the Vrekener prince Thronos is just a boy when he recognizes his in 9 year old Melanthe (Lanthe), one of the Sorceri. Their people are enemies — the righteous Vrekeners make it their business to steal powers from the supposedly evil Sorceri — but none of that matters… then.

‘To me, you smell like no one else in the world ever has, or ever will.’ His gray irises glowed silver with emotion. A breeze ruffled his sandy brown hair. ‘It means you and I are going to be best friends. When we grow up, we’ll be… more.’

They do indeed become best friends, for a short time. But though Melanthe is Thronos’s fated mate, he is not necessarily hers. ‘Sorceri don’t have mates’ and ‘Sorceri don’t believe in fate,’ she asserts. In any event, while the adult Thronos desperately searches for Melanthe for centuries, literally unable to have sex with any other woman, she feels no such restriction. Instead she suffers a non-specific loneliness and longing for love that has made her something of a Lore joke, since the immortals she sleeps with often take advantage of her and steal her powers. Nonetheless, she refuses to be shamed by Thronos, who is not only a virgin but from an extremely repressed society. (Even kissing before marriage is considered an “offendment” — you can guess how they feel about masturbation.)

If you’ve read Kiss of a Demon King, you’ll know that this is only a small part of Thronos and Lanthe’s complicated history: there’s betrayal and hurt and bitterness up the wazoo for these two. But as it turns out — rather disappointingly — those issues are more like Big Misunderstandings: once they learn the truths behind their past, the real conflicts between the fated lovers are Lanthe’s sexual history, and Thronos’s incredibly uptight and controlling plans for her.

The story is an Odyssey, an almost Yellow-Submarine-esque series of adventures in strange dimensions. The pair begins traveling together (initially as prisoner and captive) after the destruction of the Order prison they were both in. (The beginning is pretty abrupt: for backstory on their escape, see Dreams of a Dark Warrior and Demon from the Dark.  Chronologically, this is set during the events of the previous five books in the series.) The trip is not only highly dangerous but full of portents and allegorical elements. I didn’t find the adventures or world-building here very enthralling. Much of what happens is highly convenient in terms of their relationship growth — It’s almost as if someone deliberately created a bizarre world just to get these two together! — and there are what seems like dozens of random, cryptic portents and prophecies to be interpreted.

What happens in their relationship is somewhat more compelling. The rigid Thronos begins to loosen up, particularly as he becomes inadvertently exposed to his demonic roots. (His winged, sky-living people claim angelic status, ignoring all signs of their demonic origins.) And Lanthe once again begins to trust him and to believe in his feelings for her. There’s some well-imagined, gut-punching angst, and interesting themes: Thronos learning to see shades of gray, Lanthe reclaiming her power as a sorcerer, both of them learning to forgive, accept the past, and deliberately choose each other.

But I kept being tripped up by the actual prose. I don’t recall ever having this problem with the series before, but the writing uses many short, declaratory sentences, tends towards telling rather than showing, and is riddled with exclamation points. Consequently, even some of the most dramatic moments of the book felt flat. There was much less snark and sparkle than I expect from this series, and both characters feel like paler versions of previous ones.

It sadly added up to no more than readable and intermittently emotional for me. Very sadly, since like many other readers, I was just dying for this couple’s story. There is movement towards the overall Accession plot, but I’ve never been as interested in that as I’ve been in the romance and couple dynamics.

This is a long series, but considerable backstory is given, so you could probably enter here if you wanted to. (And perhaps it would seem less disappointing if you did?) I haven’t read the two books immediately preceding this one yet, but was able to follow the threads well enough. C

Sincerely,

Willaful

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REVIEW:  Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine

REVIEW: Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine

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Dear Ms. Fine,

When it comes to YA speculative fiction, I’ve been looking for something different. I’m meh about urban fantasy and paranormals. I’m just about done with dystopians. And many a science fiction title has earned my side eye, because they were dystopians in disguise! But when I read about your novel, Of Metal and Wishes, I was intrigued. Interesting titles go a long way with me! Also, there’s an Asian girl on the cover and she has a face!

(I know five years seems like forever in internet time, but I remember the Liar cover controversy. This is progress.)

After the death of her mother, Wen leaves her family’s picturesque cottage to live above her father’s medical clinic located adjacent to a slaughterhouse. Instead of embroidering fabric, she now sutures wounds while assisting her father. It’s obviously a huge change in circumstance.

The slaughterhouse is in turmoil. Hungry to increase profits, the factory bosses have brought in foreign workers as cheap labor. As you can imagine, this only stirs up the latent class and race issues. Further complicating things is that a ghost supposedly haunts the factory, granting wishes to those it deems worthy. A skeptic, Wen demands the ghost prove its existence — which it does, in dramatic fashion.

I would say Of Metal and Wishes is a cross between Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Phantom of the Opera. Wen is torn between Melik, a charismatic foreign worker, and Bo, the factory’s ghost. It is presented as a love triangle, although it is very obvious where Wen’s true affection lie (not-really-a-spoiler: with Melik). The relationship between Wen and Melik is borderline instalove — Wen comes to Melik’s notice when his friend trips her and lifts up her skirt. Yeah, classy.

This actually leads me to my main complaint about the book. There is a whole lot of rape culture. Wen is harassed and molested by one of the factory bosses. At one point, she is almost sexually assaulted. But it’s not just major incidents — Wen herself spouts some of the more insiduous beliefs. When she’s alone with Melik early in their relationship, she thinks that if something happens to her, it’ll be her own fault because she was alone with a boy. There is a parlor near the factory that is actually a brothel, and Wen slut-shames them.

In fact, I really wanted to like Wen. She likes stitching people up! She has medical training! This is cool. But when she’d shame another woman, I’d cringe. Why is this necessary? This also isn’t helped by the fact that she’s presented as the One Good Non-Racist person. Is it so much to ask to have a character who is not the Ultra-Exceptional One? To have a female character who isn’t put forth as awesome because She’s Not Like Those Other Girls? At this point, it’s tedious. I want to think we’re better than this in our fiction. That a novel can protray a teenaged girl having positive, supportive friendships with other girls. That a novel can feature a teenaged girl being awesome and being the star of her own story without having to put down other female characters too. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

The worldbuilding is a little handwavy. Wen’s culture is clearly a Chinese-analog. I actually don’t think Melik’s people are meant to be white but with much being made of their paler skin, pale eyes, and red hair, I couldn’t help reading them as such. Based on the factories, the world’s technology is definitely industrial although there are elements of steampunk. In theory, this should all fit together nicely but overall I was left feeling disatisfied for reasons I can’t articulate.

The novel has an open-ended conclusion, which led to the discovery that this is the first book of a duology. I guess that’s better than a series, but I’m not convinced it was necessary. Perhaps more of the race and class tensions will be explored in the second novel, because I went in expecting more of that in Of Metal and Wishes. It’s not a cliffhanger, though, and in all honesty, I think the book stands alone well.

Of Metal and Wishes might appeal to people who love Phantom of the Opera for the similarities. I was more interested in the similarities to The Jungle, but I will warn that for a book written in a dream-like style, there is a surprising amount of blood and gore. Not surprising, given the subpar factory conditions, but for readers who’ve never been exposed to The Jungle, the contrast may be jarring. Overall, I don’t think this was a bad book but I do have many reservations. C

My regards,
Jia

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