DNF Reviews: Tarnished are the Stars & The Good Luck Girls – Why does YA Hate Me? (I’m Open to Suggestions)

Here’s a fun stat for you: I DNFed 5 books in the past month and a half, and four of them were YA SFF. And I’m pretty sure they’re at least 60% responsible for the reading slump I’m currently in.

Conclusion?

1) Recent YA SFF is just missing a lot of the stuff I crave. Also, I should be more selective about the books that I request, and for god’s sake, read some reviews beforehand.

or

2) I’ve been (VERY UNFAIRLY) cursed by the bookish gods and now I must travel to the heart of the Northern Canadian woods to capture a Wendigo and make an offering–

Yeah, clearly 2 is the way to go.

 

book cover (1)

(Stopping point: ~45%)

You say “steampunk” and “divided loyalties” and “cat and mouse” and “queer”; I say,  “Please–I offer you my first born.”

Well, I hope the bookish gods accept cancellations because Tarnished are the Stars is definitely not worth my first born. Or any of my born for that matter.

I always say that I can forgive poor worldbuildng if I’m able to connect with the characters. But there’s a limit to that. And my limit is this book. I found the writing to be so sparse of detail to the point where it felt like a slice-of-life contemporary than a sci-fi–heavy with dialogue and a vague sense of setting, which isn’t at all helped by how short each POV chapter is.

And a slice-of-life-esque worldbuilding is fine if the story itself is slice-of-life. This book? Nothing close to that. It’s a steampunk space opera with intrigue and a organics-versus-technology plotline, and therefore I want to see something more than Scene A – generic store, Scene B – generic mansion, and Scene C – generic field.

 

 


Now, this next book has the exact OPPOSITE problem. So at least my DNF reads were…varied? Yay?

The Good Luck Girls

(Stopping point: ~38%)

ME: So, it’s kind of weird how there are no characters in The Good Luck Girls…but at least the setting is neat!

*vague whisperings in brain cavity*

ME: Uh, what do you mean I’m looking at the characters?

Ah yes. The good old problem of “interesting worldbuilding, flat/invisible characters.” This is a more familiar territory for me.

Let’s get to the positive first: the worldbuilding and the general premise of the story is super fascinating. There are two groups of people who live in Arketta, dustbloods and fairbloods, and they’re more or less alike in appearance minus one little detail: dustbloods don’t cast shadows. And while fairbloods are offered privileges and opportunities, dustbloods are forced to live in indentured servitude–as prostitutes, for example, which is what the Good Luck Girls are.

The writing itself is really solid and descriptive, and all the little details about the setting are a nice touch. Also, copious descriptions of food equal a very happy Kathy.

All of this was negated by the characters. Holy friggin’ coconuts, the characters. You have this cool western setting–rich and dusty and unforgiving–and it’s somehow populated with characters with less personality and depth than the back of a cereal box. They were just…blank. And eerily so. I couldn’t find myself caring about any of them, or their predicament, and well, that was that.

 

flourish

So. What books should I pack for my Wendigo-hunting trip? And what’s your go-to remedy for bookish curses?

(I’ve been a BIT sleep-deprived this week–I don’t know if you can tell??)

Blog Tour Spotlight + Giveaway (US): Tarnished are the Stars | Feat. Character Art

zRF1gusQ.png

Tours, tours, tours! I forgot that I signed up for so many of them. I’m still on a semi-hiatus right now, but there are majorly exciting news coming in the next couple of weeks, and I CANNOT WAIT to tell you all about it. I’ll just say…if you’re a fan of a certain fantasy series that revolves around tarot cards, then you might want to keep your eyes peeled on the blog and on Twitter. *goofy grin*

Now, for the book in question! Tarnished are the Stars is an ownvoices steampunky scifi story (which is the best kind of story, really). It wasn’t for me, unfortunately, and that’s 100% a “ME” thing–I’ve been intensely picky about books lately, and if I can’t get into the writing style, I just can’t get into the story.

I’ll be posting a mini review after the tour ends, so in the meantime, enjoy this spotlight!

 

flourish

 

book cover (1).jpg

Author: Rosiee Thor
Release Date: October 15, 2019
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre(s): YA Science Fiction
Subject and Themes: LGBTQ+, Steampunk

 

A secret beats inside Anna Thatcher’s chest: an illegal clockwork heart. Anna works cog by cog — donning the moniker Technician — to supply black market medical technology to the sick and injured, against the Commissioner’s tyrannical laws.

Nathaniel Fremont, the Commissioner’s son, has never had to fear the law. Determined to earn his father’s respect, Nathaniel sets out to capture the Technician. But the more he learns about the outlaw, the more he questions whether his father’s elusive affection is worth chasing at all.

Their game of cat and mouse takes an abrupt turn when Eliza, a skilled assassin and spy, arrives. Her mission is to learn the Commissioner’s secrets at any cost — even if it means betraying her own heart.

When these uneasy allies discover the most dangerous secret of all, they must work together despite their differences and put an end to a deadly epidemic — before the Commissioner ends them first.

 

 

About the Author

2IVnvAPw.jpeg
 
Rosiee Thor began her career as a storyteller by demanding that her mother listen as Rosiee told bedtime stories instead of the other way around. She lives in Oregon with a dog, two cats, and four complete sets of Harry Potter, which she loves so much, she once moved her mattress into the closet and slept there until she came out as queer.

 

 

 

Character Art

 

tarnished

Left to right: Anna, Eliza, Nathaniel

 

tranished.png

The Commissioner, Thatcher

 

Giveaway

The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Ends October 29th. Enter HERE.

 

 

Tour Schedule

You can check out the rest of the tour stops HERE.

 

Review: The Infinite Noise – Fine with a Dash of Soft & Sweet and a Landing that Doesn’t Stick

91SnBiRP3wL.jpg

Title: The Infinite Noise
Author: Lauren Shippen
Publisher: TorTeen
Release Date: September 24th 2019
Genre(s): YA Sci-Fi
Subjects and Themes: LGBTQIAP+, Mental Health, Superpowers
Page Count: 336 (hardback)

Rating: 6.0/10

 photo addtogoodreadssmall_zpsa2a6cf28.png photo B6096376-6C81-4465-8935-CE890C777EB9-1855-000001A1E900B890_zps5affbed6.jpg

 

 

 

 

Caleb Michaels is a sixteen-year-old champion running back. Other than that his life is pretty normal. But when Caleb starts experiencing mood swings that are out of the ordinary for even a teenager, his life moves beyond “typical.”

Caleb is an Atypical, an individual with enhanced abilities. Which sounds pretty cool except Caleb’s ability is extreme empathy―he feels the emotions of everyone around him. Being an empath in high school would be hard enough, but Caleb’s life becomes even more complicated when he keeps getting pulled into the emotional orbit of one of his classmates, Adam. Adam’s feelings are big and all-consuming, but they fit together with Caleb’s feelings in a way that he can’t quite understand.

Caleb’s therapist, Dr. Bright, encourages Caleb to explore this connection by befriending Adam. As he and Adam grow closer, Caleb learns more about his ability, himself, his therapist―who seems to know a lot more than she lets on―and just how dangerous being an Atypical can be.

flourish

First of all, if you haven’t check out the The Bright Sessions podcast, please please please do so. From a bird’s eye view, it’s a story about superpowered people attending therapy, but really it’s so much more than that.

Second of all, I highly, highly recommend listening to the audiobook for this (narrated by the VA’s who play Caleb and Adam in the podcast). That might be presumptuous, seeing as how I haven’t even tried the audiobook version yet, but…. *whispering* Shippen’s prose just isn’t as engaging in print form as it is in audio form (TBS fans can skewer me for that). I mean, it’s fine–very casual and conversational, which fits her teenage characters–but it’s also kind of plain, and I had a hard time differentiating between Caleb and Adam’s narration. And a multi first-person POV book in which the narrators blend together is Kiss of Death territory for me.

Well, at least it would be if it weren’t for the fact that (1) this is a Bright Sessions story, and (2) this is a Bright Sessions story. And TBS at its core has always been about the power of empathy and human connections, which remains very true in this adaptation.

Caleb is the jockish empath with the heart of gold, kind in a way that obliterates the typical jockish stereotype (I would go to war for him), and Adam is the quiet bookish boy who’s dealing with more mundane but still very real demons of his own. It was nice to see a more in-depth look at their relationship that we don’t get in the podcast. Shippen nails the messiness of being a teenager, psychic or otherwise, and her descriptions of anxiety and depression are some of the best I’ve seen.

It’s not dark, it’s…the absence of light. Like some sort of void. It doesn’t weigh down on me, suffocate me. It’s empty–just total nothingness. But it’s sucking me in and I feel like if I go inside of it I’ll stop existing entirely, and that scares me but at the same time it would be a relief. 

The Infinite Noise talks about feelings–their shape, their depth, their colour–probably more than any other speculative book I’ve read. And I so, so appreciate that, not only because rifling through emotions and assigning imagery to them is something I always do (because that makes it easier for me to process them), but also because it goes such a long way towards normalizing vulnerable masculinity in media.

So the majority of the story is slow-burn relationship building with bits of sci-fi elements, which is good. The last 10% or so is really where things fall apart for me. And most of that has to do with the structure of the podcast, and how some of it doesn’t translate to a two-POV book environment. Sequences that are interesting and well-paced in the podcast come across as incredibly abrupt and jarring here, and…I don’t know, I just think the book could have benefited from an extra 40-50 pages to flesh things out.

Overall, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. It was nice to revisit these characters in novel form, but I don’t think if it brought anything majorly new and exciting to the table that the podcast didn’t. That being said, I…still recommend checking it out. I think it’s a fine intro to the TBS universe for newcomers, and the way I see it, any story that champions kindness and empathy is worth at least a quick browse.

 

flourish
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Review: Wilder Girls – A Strangely Beautiful and Flawed Gem (Minus that Ending)

81YpesZPk5L.jpg

Title: Wilder Girls
Author: Rory Power
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: July 9th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Sci-Fi
Subjects and Themes: Friendships, LGBTQIAP+ (f/f), Body Horror
Page Count: 368 (hardback)

Rating: 7.0/10

 photo addtogoodreadssmall_zpsa2a6cf28.png photo B6096376-6C81-4465-8935-CE890C777EB9-1855-000001A1E900B890_zps5affbed6.jpg

 

 

 

 

It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

flourish

 

This is another one of those books that make me wish I didn’t have a rating system. Ones that send me into reviewer crisis mode because they’re impossible to pin down with a number.

Just keep this in mind when you get to my rant at the end: I do recommend the book. I love what it represents–girls loving girls, girls willing to fight for girls–and I love that it tries to do something different. And when it comes to art (or anything, really), shoot for the stars, even if the landing is a bit of a disaster.

Prose and atmosphere-wise, I loved it. The setting is vividly drawn, and the descriptions of the Tox and the way changes the girls, and the feelings and emotions orbiting that change, are done brilliantly. Terrible and grisly, for sure, but also infused with an uncomfortable kind of beauty.

The main characters are a bit of a hit and miss. Power describes the girls’ relationships beautifully, and I really appreciate that she took the time to explore intense friendships and romantic love and the idea that there’s room for both in your life. I also love the fact that all of these characters are allowed to be selfish and mean–not because they’re terrible people but because their circumstances aren’t kind and there’s only so much kindness you can dredge up when it feels like your life is teetering on a knife’s edge. Forever give me all the flawed female characters who aren’t always nice.

The thing is, while I was invested in the feelings that the three girls have for each other, I wasn’t invested in them as characters. I think there are two main reasons for that. One being that they’re all more or less defined by their love, and not by any strong individual characteristics that I can hook onto. And the second being that their character development doesn’t happen gradually and smoothly, but in staccato bursts. For example, one of them would say something that would trigger a sudden shift in their opinion of the other person. (spoiler): Or when Hetty goes from freaking out about killing someone in self-defense to murdering someone else in cold blood, and the latter doesn’t seem to affect her in the slightest. It can be quite jarring.

The plot and prose were engaging enough for me to shove those negatives to the side, though. And I say that as a big proponent of “characters over worldbuildng/plot.” Like, if tomorrow you tie me to a chair and tell me that the only books I can read for the rest of my life are the ones with high plot concepts but weak character building, I wouldn’t be unhappy with something like this–unsettling and horrific and strangely beautiful for it.

…And I really wish I can end this review here. I really do.

But I got to talk about that ending.

 

That Ending

ramsay

This is where things go off the rails for me. And I’m trying to purge it from my brain because just thinking about it ruins the experience I had with the rest of the book. From Hetty’s actions and how it wraps things up with the other characters, to the very sudden, very shoddy explanation for the Tox, the ending is the equivalent of strolling along a creek, tripping on a rock, twisting my ankle, and landing face-first into water that’s filled with piranhas–painfully unexpected, makes zero sense (because piranhas in Canada, what?) and puts an abrupt end to what was turning out to be a nice afternoon walk. It tried to go with a scientific route, in which case the explanation should have been doled out in small pieces over the course of the story instead of just dumping it onto your lap at the end. It’s almost as if the author wasn’t sure how to close things off, so she just went with an explanation that’s popular and topical (spoiler: climate change), and it feels so incredibly tacked-on. I’d rather have had no explanation than the ones we got. As for the ending it gives to the characters, it’s one with zero emotional payoff.

The story would have benefited so much from at least 50 more pages of content and I’m truly baffled as to why this is the endpoint the author decided on.

My initial point still stands, though. I do think this is a book worth your interest and perusal. Just…know that it may not wrap up in a way that you were hoping for.

 

flourish

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Review: This is How You Lose the Time War – This is How You Write a Time Travel Story

this is how you lose

Title: This is How You Lose the Time War
Author: Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone
Publisher: Saga Press
Release Date: July 16th, 2019
Genre(s): Sci-Fi, Romance, Epistolary
Subjects and Themes: War, LGBTQIAP+ (f/f)
Page Count: 208 (hardback)

Rating: 9.5/10

 photo addtogoodreadssmall_zpsa2a6cf28.png photo B6096376-6C81-4465-8935-CE890C777EB9-1855-000001A1E900B890_zps5affbed6.jpg

 

 

 

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

flourish

This is it.

After years of searching, this is the time travel book I’ve been waiting for.

This is How You Lose the Time War is a stunning achievement of prose and storytelling. It’s a love story dressed as a chess game played out on the shoulders of poetry. It’s got moments, especially near the end, that gave me full-body shivers and touched me to my core. It had me muttering “This makes me want to make out with someone” over and over to myself and to my roommate (who’s gotten used to my weird out-of-context comments about books). And I just can’t stop thinking about it.

Before I get into it, just a small note regarding the worldbuilding: this book doesn’t explain much to you–not about the nature of the war or its factions (though you do get some sense of the differences between Red and Blue’s homeland by the end, and let me tell you, they are fascinating)–and you either have to accept that ambiguity or have a very frustrating time with it.

Okay, so here’s the part that I absolutely love and something I think is genius: there are two different kinds of time travel that exist in this book.

The first is your typical “temporal and spatial movement from Point A to B.”

My issue with a lot of time travel books is that I don’t often get a good sense of the time period and setting that the characters travel to. And aside from the superficial descriptions, Point B doesn’t feel all that different from Point A. It’s like when you’re watching a school play and the castle scenery changes to a forest one, but some of the props are reused and you can still see all the scuff marks on the stage, so the illusion is kind of lost.

But here? Things feel very organic. You can see the texture of the places that Red and Blue visit–ancient pilgrims moving through a labyrinth, a Mongolian forest camp, Atlantis burning and sinking. Descriptions that snag on the most important aspects of a culture and time period and drag them forward. It’s economical and at the same time not, because of how purple the prose is, and just all around beautiful and atmospheric. El-Mohtar and Gladstone manage to convey a sense of time and space in the span of five pages better than some books do in a hundred, and I bow down to their collective talent.

blue.png

The second type of time travel is done through letters.

This is the part that gets me jittery and giggling with joy–that in this future of advanced technology, Red and Blue are sending physical letters to each other, using anything they can get their hands on and being creative with it (paper, tea leaves, seeds, and lava, just to name a few). And they have such fun with it. I can’t even begin to tell you how romantic I find all that.

…And that was a lie. I will tell you.

I love exchanging letters. I love saving letters. I love letters, period. My closet contains boxes of all the letters and postcards and notes I saved from since I was a kid. I’ve made amazing, long-lasting connections through years of penpal exchanges. If you’re friends with me I’ll probably send you a letter at some point whether you like it or not. And occasionally, on rainy days, I take some of those letters out and read them, re-living memories and re-reading passages I want to commit to memory because I found them particularly beautiful or vulnerable or funny. They’re like books, in that sense. Except they’re stories about you, and me, and the path that our relationship ended up taking.

“There’s a kind of time travel in letters, isn’t there?” Red writes at one point, and there’s such truth to those words. Letters are snapshots of a person at a particular time, and when you send a letter, you’re essentially carving off slices of yourself, preserving them, and gifting them to the recipient (that sounds dramatic, but hell, this whole book is dramatic). And there is romance to that act which defies explanation. This book gets that. My god, does it get it.

“I want to chase you, find you, I want to be eluded and teased and adored; I want to be defeated and victorious–I want you to cut me, sharpen me. I want to drink tea beside you in ten years or a thousand.”

red2.png

I also adore the way the authors portray the characters’ love as a kind of a mutual surrender to one another: blades to each other’s throat, exchanging vulnerabilities with vulnerabilities, and feeling content in the knowledge that one can destroy the other at any moment. Not all love is that intense and all-consuming, but for two people who have dedicated their lives to being the best and always winning and holding themselves to stratospheric standards, it fits perfectly. They need this. Surrender is freedom. And that’s so fucking sexy, I can’t even.

So please, please, please give this a try.

It’ll make you believe in love all over again.

flourish

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Broken, Awkward, Incompetent, Mismatched Heroes: Why We Need Them in Stories

Broken.png

I’m not sure what the umbrella term for these types of characters should be. Atypical heroes? Messy heroes?

Well, whatever the term, I adore them. And my love grows stronger every time I come across a protagonist who’s graduated from the academy of perfect heroes. You know–the shiny put-together ones. The ones whose mistakes are just tiny blips in their character designed to further the plot.

My first issue with those characters is that I’m kind of bored of them. Selfish, I know. But I think I’ve seen and read enough of them to last me a lifetime.

My second issue (and probably the more pertinent of the two because it goes beyond “Well, I think it’s boring, so YOU should think it’s boring too!”) is that they spearhead the idea that the only way to be a hero in your story–to win the battles, collect the friendships, score the romance, change the world for the better–is to be confident, bold, determined, to always know what to say at the right times, and have an emergency stash of witty quips in your pockets.

And if you occasionally say the wrong things or step out in the wrong direction? Well, hey, no worries! They’re nothing permanent! Your weaknesses only exist as temporary obstacles to overcome so you can scratch another notch on your Badass Post.

But what about the rest of us?

Because there are many faces to heroism and not all of them involve being extroverted or confident or even necessarily good. Maybe they’re a hero who has crippling shyness and social anxiety. Maybe they’re just not super into the idea of quests and adventures. Maybe they’re trying so hard to be perfect and unflappable that it’s breaking them from the inside out.

So some quick bullet points on why I love these characters and why I want to see more of them:

  • They’re relatable. I mean, that’s kind of the biggest reason, right? As humans we’re all messy and imperfect, and we like seeing that reflected in media.
  • They can force you to look at a well-worn genre from a new angle.Take The Adventure Zone podcast, for example. Thanks to a cast of lovable idiots who could have been pulled out of a sitcom, your typical D&D fantasy story turns into a feel-good, slice-of-life, goofball comedy of hilarious mistakes and equally hilarious successes.And Bright Sessions, which is another (incredible) fiction podcast and one that runs with the idea of superpowered people going to therapy. It’s most definitely scifi, but the characters aren’t your usual X-Men variety, in that they’re messy in every sense of the word and everyone’s dealing with something. It’s almost like a self-help guide disguised as a scifi story and I’ve never encountered anything quite like it.

bright-sessions-banner.jpg

  • They show us that no matter who you are–how successful and powerful and magical–being a hero doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. Having powers doesn’t preclude you from having doubts. Being strong doesn’t shield you from being broken. And there’s comfort to be found there. We can look at that and feel less alone in our struggles.

 

https://pagesbelowvaultedsky.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/flourish.png?w=300&h=27

Now let’s look at some of the specific character types and examples of them in media!

The Incompetent Hero

A story starring an incompetent hero doesn’t have to be a comedy of errors. Nor does it mean they should stay incompetent from beginning to end.

For me, it means being thrust into a position the character is wholly unprepared for and every step from there on is a hard, awkward learning process riddled with stumbling blocks and many steps backwards. And maybe it takes them a little longer to pick up on certain skills–things like politicking and swordplay don’t come overnight (or overweek or overmonth). Side characters may even have to help prop them up until they can stand on their own. And just as in real life, there’s nothing shameful about that.

sei_57689566.jpg

Sansa Stark from ASoIAF/GoT is the biggest example that comes to mind: a sheltered girl who likes pretty boys and the lure of the city and is very good at embroidery. A girl who’s thrown into a pit of vipers and tries her best to learn and survive.

Sansa has also unwittingly become the biggest example of the issue surrounding people’s response to these fish-out-of-water characters, usually the female ones–that they’re annoying and useless and whiny and “Why doesn’t she do x and y and z?” and “Arya is SO much better.” (On the flip side, if they’re “too competent” they’re called Mary Sues. Female characters just can’t catch a fucking break, can they?)

A character who’s bad at something doesn’t make them a bad character. It makes them normal. Relatable. Human. And while a quiet story about learning and survival may not be as a exciting for people as one with swordfights, it’s nonetheless a journey of courage and strength.

I find it interesting (read: frustrating) that WW2 fiction nowadays are often filled with fish-out-of-water heroes and readers gobble them up, and yet when it comes to speculative fiction–fantasy and scifi, especially–people have so little patience for them. Which kind of makes sense–different readership, different expectations–but also not at all, because shouldn’t we expect more incompetent characters in a world that demands that they win wars, fight/befriend dragons, and juggle fire balls all at the same time?

 

“I’m Fine (But Really, I’m Breaking Inside)” Hero

tenor.gif

I see the “I’m FINE” trait more often with side characters than main ones which is kind of a shame. The fun thing about these characters is that from the outside they resemble your typical heroes: proactive, capable, and confident. But peel back some layers and you start to see cracks, which then resolve into chasms.

These are characters who try so damn hard to project an aura of okayness, both to themselves and to others, that they can’t tell where the pretense ends and where their real feelings begin.

Karin Lowachee does this beautifully with Jos Musey in Warchild, as does Seth Dickinson with the indelible Baru Fisher in Baru Cormorant. And if you want non-speculative stories (because heroes can exist outside of SFF settings), Neil Josten in All for the Games series is another great example.

wb2.png

 

“Baby, I’m a Fuck-Up” Hero

This part got LONG so I cut some of it out and will probably make a separate post on it at some point. But here’s the gist: we need more fictional characters who fuck up. It’s especially important nowadays when social media has us privy to every morsel of success your friends and family and random strangers have achieved. The amount of pressure that’s placed on young people to get the perfect grades, get accepted into this and that college, get ‘x’ number of degrees by the age ‘y’ is ridiculous and makes you feel like there’s zero room for mistakes. Either you walk that tightrope from end to end or you crash and burn. There’s no in-between. And seeing more of these kinds of heroes in media might have saved me an ambulance bill.

And people can say that’s giving fiction too much credit, but here’s the thing: art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s a product of our world and it, in turn, feeds back into the world as a reflection of the things we want to see more of. And if we see more characters in books and movies and games who genuinely mess up and are made stronger for it, then that’s kind of an invitation to ourselves to be less fearful and more forgiving of our failures.

And I honestly believe that can save lives.

Some wonderful examples of these characters include Millie Roper from The Arcadia Project series, who I would give my left arm for, and Mae Borowski from the game  Night in the Woods. She’s a pansexual college-dropout with depression, and I would happily give my other arm for her.

81e+UsYqToL.jpgMae-Gif

 

 

Awkward, Antisocial, and Shy Hero

91mhfrdtkel
Eliot of In Other Lands is unlike any other protagonist I’ve come across in YA fantasy. To be blunt, he starts out as a kind of a little shithead: he’s prickly and awkward, says the wrong things at the wrong times, makes the worst first impressions and consistently gets on people’s nerves. But it works because it doesn’t come from a place of “I’m doing this because I’m an asshole and want to fuck with people,” but rather, “I’m terrible with social interactions and I feel out of place in this world.”

And how beautiful and necessary is it to see a teenage hero who’s not all that nice?

These characters tell you that it’s okay that you don’t know what to say or how to act in certain situations. You’ll step on the wrong feet and piss people off and that’s fine because that’s life and you’ll learn from it (hopefully).

And seeing that kind of sentiment in media is such a weight off your back, you know? Especially when you’re young and still trying to figure yourself out.

 

81R2XfnvXuL.jpg

Murderbot from The Murderbot Diaries

People adore this series and for good reason. Personally it doesn’t do much new in terms of plot and worldbuilding (from what I’ve read so far anyway. I still have two books to go), but character-wise it’s everything. Because the story is all about murderbot, and murderbot would much rather spend its time alone watching dramas than interacting with a group of people. I mean, come on–an awkward, introverted protagonist in scifi? And an A.I. at that??

Why isn’t that more of a thing in fiction?

 

 

 

“Save the World? Sorry, I Can’t. I Have to Wash My Hair” Hero

sponge

AKA reluctant heroes.

So, I have this weird attraction to the scenario of characters being offered the role of a  hero or Chosen One or whatever, and them responding with, “Thanks but no thanks” because they feel that there are more important things to worry about. Like, take some penniless college student trying to juggle six classes per semester along with a part-time job, and then one day a Chosen One Messenger bursts through their door yelling, “Guess what, Harry? Yer a–”

“Chosen One. Yeah, I know. And what’s the monthly salary on that?”

“Er, well. You’ll earn satisfaction in the knowledge that your actions will herald the salvation of– “

“Wow, tempting! But I think I’ll pass.”

“This isn’t an optional–“

“Plus, I’m not really Chosen One material, you know? I mean, the other day I dropped my Starbucks cup on the way to chem class and didn’t even bother to pick it up. I don’t think you want a litterer as the poster child for your quest, do you?”

“Well, it’s not–“

“Try the guy next door. He volunteers at the animal shelter or something so he’s, like, literally saving puppies and kittens in his spare time. There’s your Chosen One.”

“But–“

“Also, my name’s not Harry.”

…Ahem. Sorry, I got carried away.

But yes, reluctant heroes! Heroes who, for whatever reason–maybe because they’re afraid of fighting, maybe they’re super busy and this whole quest business is incredibly disruptive to their livelihood, maybe they just really like sleeping in during the weekends–aren’t all that enthused about their new role.

It’s not that they have a disdain for the continued survival of humanity. It’s just that, in their world, “continued survival of humanity” ranks a few entries below things like “Pass the ochem exam” and “Don’t mess up that date on Friday” and “Do something about the gnomes that are eating all the vegetables in the garden.”

I love them because they’re relatable and cathartic and exude Tired Millennial energy. And sometimes I feel like there’s an unspoken rule that SFF heroes need to be eager adrenaline junkies and glory hounds. And those are great! They’re fun! But not everyone wants to risk their lives to save the world. Not everyone wants to be kings and queens and politicians and insert themselves into every major event that shakes up a nation. Some people just want to live their lives peacefully in relative comfort, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

91zPO9KaRwL


Jalan from the
Red Queen’s War series is a great example of how such a character can be done well. At the start of the story, his life basically boils down to gorgeous women, good food, comfortable bed, and …that’s…about it. That’s the height of his aspiration. Well, until he gets dragged into a war against his will. Then he adds “Don’t die” to the list.

While Jalan grows as a person over the course of the series, he still remains true to who he is, in that he’s not going to be leading nations and giving inspirational speeches anytime soon. Yet he’s still, against all odds, a hero.

And I find that super endearing.

 

https://pagesbelowvaultedsky.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/flourish.png?w=300&h=27

And there you go! What are your thoughts on these characters? Send me all your juicy, juicy thoughts!

 

Reviews: Contagion & Immunity by Erin Bowman – Biological Space Horror and Maple Walnut Ice Cream

580917585.jpg

Title: Contagion (Contagion 1)
Author: Erin Bowman
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: July 24th, 2018
Genre(s): YA Sci-Fi, Thriller, Horror
Subjects and Themes: Microbiology, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 432 (hardback)

Rating: 7.5/10

 photo addtogoodreadssmall_zpsa2a6cf28.png photo B6096376-6C81-4465-8935-CE890C777EB9-1855-000001A1E900B890_zps5affbed6.jpg

 

 

 

After receiving a distress call from a drill team on a distant planet, a skeleton crew is sent into deep space to perform a standard search-and-rescue mission.

When they arrive, they find the planet littered with the remains of the project—including its members’ dead bodies. As they try to piece together what could have possibly decimated an entire project, they discover that some things are best left buried—and some monsters are only too ready to awaken.

flourish

This is one of those “I liked it! The end!” books, so the review is going to be obscenely short.

Contagion offers something I desperately want to see more of in sci-fi: biological space horror. Bowman combines the fear of outer space with that of alien biological entities–all the more scary because they’re microscopic–and creates a entertaining, claustrophobic tale with breakneck pacing and moments that are genuinely creepy.

It also boasts a fairly large cast and multiple PoVs, with an intern named Thea being the central character. I loved the fact that Thea’s not a leader–not your typical confident SFF hero with a smart tongue. She’s introverted yet resourceful and, being the youngest of the crew, feels she has something to prove. Some of the other characters aren’t as developed as she is, but Bowman gives you just enough information to keep you interested in their well-being (or demise).

I do wish the effect of the contagion was less…mundane than what it turned out to be. Something a little more visceral and insidious. Because after the reveal of the “monsters” (space zombies, essentially) a lot of the initial horror was lost. But I enjoyed the atmosphere and tension leading up to that moment so much that I’m mostly willing to forgive it.

And…that’s all you need to know, really. Go read it. You’ll have fun.

And, hey, Netflix? Get on it. I needed a movie adaptation yesterday.

flourish

 

81wch4gyEUL.jpg


Title:
Immunity (Contagion 2)
Author: Erin Bowman
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: July 2nd, 2019
Genre(s): YA Sci-Fi
Subjects and Themes: Microbiology, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 448 (hardback)

Rating: 7.0/10

 photo addtogoodreadssmall_zpsa2a6cf28.png photo B6096376-6C81-4465-8935-CE890C777EB9-1855-000001A1E900B890_zps5affbed6.jpg

 

 

 

 

Thea, Coen, and Nova have escaped from Achlys, only to find themselves imprisoned on a ship they thought was their ticket to safety. Now the nightmare they thought they’d left behind is about to be unleashed as an act of political warfare, putting the entire galaxy at risk.

To prevent an interstellar catastrophe, they’ll have to harness the evil of the deadly Achlys contagion and deploy the only weapons they have left: themselves.

flourish

Immunity is a completely different beast to Contagion in terms of genre and plot focus. So much that I got mental whiplash reading them back-to-back.

Here, the biological horror slips away into space politics and human-on-human horror. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I was hoping we’d get to explore more of the contagion, and instead it’s relegated to the role of a side charactera chess piece in the conflict between the Radicals and the Union–and in the process some of what made Contagion interesting.

I don’t want to rag on an author for choosing to take a story in a completely different direction from what I was expecting because it’s ultimately their creative vision, but I can’t say I’m not nursing a spot of disappointment. It’s like going to an ice cream shop and asking for Strawberry Cheesecake but getting Maple Walnut instead. I have nothing against Maple Walnut; it’s still a great flavour and life is too short to be prejudiced against any flavour of ice cream (except Bubblegum which is a devil’s concoction and not in a sinfully good way). But it’s no Strawberry Cheesecake, is it?

That being said, I still had fun with it. The characters are bigger focus in this sequel and we get to learn more about the three characters and see their relationship develop into something more solid. A new member also joins the cast: a medic-in-training named Amber who surprised me in the best way. Give me all the soft characters who seem meek at first glance but reveal themselves to have nerves of steel. And there’s no denying Bowman is a great storyteller. She knows how to balance action with intrigue and quiet character moments, and the ending wraps everything up neatly.

Overall, this is a fun, addictive duology that I recommend to anyone with an interest in microbiology and space thriller/horror, and doesn’t mind a bit of genre-swapping.

flourish

Thank you to Wunderkind PR for providing the review copies. All opinions are my own.