Subverting Expectations: how misleading audiences ruins even the most beloved of franchises.

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I normally avoid writing about these sorts of things – usually what I want to talk about is already covered in a clear way – however given how common this misstep is occurring in the media these days I figured that for once I’d throw my own thoughts out to the big wide web.

Subverting expectations. Or, for those that may not be as familiar with a term that has crept its way up into the consciousness of the media we consume, the method of leading an audience to believe that one thing will happen only to trick them at the last moment by having something entirely left field happen instead.

Continue reading “Subverting Expectations: how misleading audiences ruins even the most beloved of franchises.”

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Kingdom of Ash – Sarah J. Maas

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Review can also be read at Goodreads here.

“Once upon a time, in a land long since burned to ash, there lived a young princess who loved her kingdom …”

If I had to summarize this entire book into one word, it would be: incredible.

This is how you finish a series.

I’ve been a big fan of Maas and her writing for a long while now, enough that I can very easily file both her Thrones and Courts series in my top favourite books to read. So much so that I was actually very nervous on how much this book had to deliver to meet expectations and hold up in comparison to what the story has built itself up to. And while Kingdom of Ash had some huge shoes to fill after the last two books which followed – Empire of Storms and Tower of Dawn, the latter of which proving to be a vital read in order to explain some of the events and new characters which carry over to this final instalment – Maas manages to deliver an ending which is incredibly satisfying to the reader following Aelin’s journey.

Sarah J. Maas is able to portray something which I often find forgotten by other writers in the same or similar genres, and that is realism. What I mean by that is that Maas is able to realistically show the reader how characters react to some of the toughest and most difficult situations they go through, and she doesn’t shy away from the recovery process and the scars which follow as a result. This is excellently portrayed in my favourite work of hers – A Court of Mist and Fury – during which time we follow a long journey of recovery via two of our main characters, and is once again shown brilliantly in this story. While both Aelin and Fenrys are perfect examples of this, it is also evident across many other characters we grow attached to. Maas paints a brilliant picture of subject matters such as war wariness, recovery from torture, heavy grief, the difficultly in moving on, so much so it is not difficult to feel your heart ache for what these characters go through.

“I am here, I am with you.”

Kingdom of Ash also delivers what I feel is an incredibly satisfying ending. Again, this is something which I feel Maas deserves high praise for, as the ending doesn’t stop after the final battle. Maas takes the time to show us a little bit of the aftermath of that, and we get to see how the characters are coping with things such as the cost of the war they’d just fought as well as a hopefulness towards the future. It’s a bittersweet feeling for the reader, because while you’re happy that the characters have finally reached their goal, you’re also incredibly saddened at events that have unfolded for that goal to become attainable. Plus, you’re also very much feeling as if you’re standing in the characters own shoes, as when it comes to them finally taking their own separate paths, you’re sad that it’s all over. It’s powerful stuff.

My only personal nitpick is that at times, I’d forgotten certain bits of where someone had come from, or who a certain character was. But that’s not on the fault of the story or the writing, rather it was simply because it had been a long while since I’d read the two books that came before it. Once the story progressed it got easier to remember some of the smaller details – especially of those characters which appear in some of the side stories that have been written – but I suppose I’ll mention it in this review just incase any other readers intend to take a break between reading these books. Just be aware that there is a lot going on, so try to read them all together if you can.

In summary, while I am going to deeply miss this series and characters, I am so incredibly happy of how well it has ended. I would absolutely recommend this series to any fantasy fan, or just simply anyone who was interested. I cannot wait for whatever it is Maas has in store for us next, and will be waiting patiently for the next series of hers to fall in love with all over again.

“Aelin looked at Chaol and Dorian and sobbed. Opened her arms to them, and wept as they held each other. “I love you both,” she whispered. “And no matter what may happen, no matter how far we may be, that will never change.”

Star rating: 10/10 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
(Goodreads rating: 5/5)

I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream – Harlan Ellison

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Review can also be read at Goodreads here.

“If there was a sweet Jesus and if there was a God, the God was AM.”

I first came into contact with ‘I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream’ not via the short story but instead by the 1995 video game (also involving Harlan Ellison). To me the game was an extension on to what the short story had already provided, but it didn’t make it less disturbing.

There’s just something about the horror of a super computer with expert artificial intelligence that has always been discomforting to me, and AM is no exception. A combination of computers built during the Cold War with the motive to destroy, only to develop a hatred towards the humans that created it. AM’s revenge is to destroy the human race, leaving only five alive to torture for his own glee for 109 years.

The short story is bad enough itself – it’s a twelve page read, which is probably about the right length since any longer and I feel like it would be a slog to get through such distressing and dark content – but the game seems to grow further, adding more to the characters we are introduced to and the demons of their pasts that they face. Characters like Benny, Ellen and Nimdok have a much bigger stage to play on, and in the game we get to see who exactly they are – some characters having more horrific pasts that others.

I cannot say I enjoyed this read, as I don’t really think this is a story you can rightly enjoy. It was interesting. It stuck with me for a little while. I personally preferred the game over the book, simply because I feel the game had more opportunity to expand and explain aspects the story – such as how these characters are able to live for 109 years in the first place, plus providing the characters an opportunity to ‘defeat AM’, as well as showing some hope in an otherwise very bleak setting. But, both pieces of material do their jobs well.

If sci-fi horror is something that interests you, then I recommend picking this short story up. If you’d rather run for the hills because this isn’t your cup of tea, then do. Because it isn’t a story for everyone.

Star rating (book): 6/10 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
(Goodreads rating: 3/5)
Star rating (game): 7/10 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

The Raven Boys – Maggie Stiefvater

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Review can also be read at Goodreads here.

“Fate,” Blue replied, glowering at her mother, “is a very weighty word to throw around before breakfast.” 

If I were to summarise my thoughts on The Raven Boys into one short sentence, it would be that it was an honest to god treasure to find and read. Enjoyable, entertaining and incredibly engaging, I found that once I’d started this book it was very difficult to put down.

The Raven Boys has an intriguing and unique plot, which at first has you wondering how and when everything is going to tie together. You have Blue, a teenage girl who, having grown up within a family where all the females have some kind of physic powers, finds herself to be the only one who doesn’t. Since a young age she’s been told that if she were to ever kiss her true love that it would lead to that persons’ death, and ever since she’s been careful not to let such a thing become truth.  That is until one special night – when those with physic abilities are able to see the souls of those who are to die within the next year – Blue sees’ a spirit for the first time; the spirit being that of her fated true love.

But the story doesn’t revolve only around Blue. We also spend time with The Raven Boys themselves; Gansey, Adam and Ronan – as well as, technically, Noah. They’re working on a mystery of their own, to find the old Welsh King Glendower.

The Raven Boys deserves praise for many things, and one of those is the characters presented within it. They’re very likeable and realistic, all of them struggling with their own struggles and problems. The way they interact with one another is very real to life too, which I thought was incredibly pleasing. Sometimes I’d find myself laughing at the comments thrown between characters, and other times I’d be wishing the best for the difficult struggles and situations they had to tackle. It’s incredibly pleasing to read and even more so to enjoy.

“We have to be back in three hours,” Ronan said. “I just fed Chainsaw but she’ll need it again.”
“This,” Gansey replied “is precisely why I didn’t want to have a baby with you.”

But as much as the plot and characters were fantastic, the quality I found myself enjoying the most was the writing itself. Stiefvaters’ style is honestly incredible here, and it really adds to the mood and tone of the story being told. She has a way of truly painting a picture of the scenes in each chapter so you can easily see it in your mind, from her descriptions about the boys own cars to that of the various places that are visited throughout the duration of the book. It’s not difficult for me to see why this series was picked for a television adaption, although honestly now I’m just hoping the latter will live up to this high standard.

The Raven Boys is the first part of The Raven Cycle series, and there are another three books (at the time of writing this review) that continue what this book successfully introduces the reader to. Given that I’m currently only part way through the second in the series – titled The Dream Thieves – my overall rating for this first book may be higher come the future. I am just honestly so glad I gave this series the chance it deserves, and if you’re reading this and think you’d be even the slightest bit interested in it yourself, I highly recommend you give it a chance.

“Excelsior,” Gansey said bleakly.
Blue asked, “What does that even mean?”
Gansey looked over his shoulder at her. He was once more, just a little bit closer to the boy she’d seen in the churchyard.
“Onward and upward.”

Star rating: 9/10 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
(Goodreads rating: 4/5)

Landline – Rainbow Rowell

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Review can also be read at Goodreads here.

“Nothing good is easy.”

I’ve read a few of Rowells’ stories in recent years after having found and loved Fangirl, and in doing so I have found she is an author whose stories can go either way. Sometimes I think they’re fantastic and it’s very difficult for me to put the book down. Other times, I think the story is just okay. It’s neither bad nor good, and it certainly isn’t anything life changing.

Landline falls into the second category, comfortably accompanied by Eleanor and Park.

The plot behind it is interesting enough in theory, but I feel as if that’s as far as it goes. Our main character is Georgie McCool (yes, that is her name.) and we follow her thoughts as her marriage is close to breaking down while her career finally seems to be heading the way her and her best friend have dreamed it would since their college days. When Georgie finds herself having to cancel a family vacation to visit her husbands’ – Neal – mother for Christmas Neal takes their children and goes himself, leaving Georgie with radio silence over the days that follow. Georgie, unable to return to their home due to it feeling empty without her husband and children with her decides to stay with her mother and sister in her childhood home, where in her old bedroom remains an old yellow landline phone that she used back in her college days. She uses the phone to call Neal, yet when she does she ends up speaking with a version of him back before they were engaged.

Yes, Georgie’s landline is, apparently, a magical portal phone.

Again, it’s a nice plot – the sort you might see attached to a fanfiction that you think ‘aha! This is different!’ The problem is, Georgie is such a boring and self-centred character that to follow her for a whole book as she attempts to save her marriage before it’s too late is just tiring. And neither Neal nor her work friend, Seth, are that interesting either.

“You don’t know when you’re twenty-three.
You don’t know what it really means to crawl into someone else’s life and stay there. You can’t see all the ways you’re going to get tangled, how you’re going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten – in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.
She didn’t know at twenty-three.”

Now don’t get me wrong, as I understand that Rowell was likely going for a ‘relationships aren’t easy, they require equal work on both sides of the equation if they’re to survive’ sort of moral, and that that’s something which Georgie has to work out for herself. But I’m the type of person who rolls her eyes at television shows where a couples’ main predicaments can be easily resolved by communicating.

Landline has a saving grace though, being that Rowells’ writing remains very engaging to read. In a way this is also a little frustrating, as I’d like for the characters in some of her stories to be more engaging so as to meet the level of her writing craft. When compared to her better works like Fangirl, I wish to see more of the complexity of characters in their day to day slice of life, yet in a way that doesn’t make me feel like the character is bland. I’d perhaps would have liked to even see more from Neal’s perspective. We get one very small scene told by him, but to me it would have been nice to see what he was thinking over the couple of days the story takes place rather than just assumptions from Georgie’s perspective.

With what else is out there in Rowells’ selection, I would not suggest Landline as a point of introduction into this authors work. It’s not a bad story, nor is it terrible, but it’s just not that interesting nor memorable. If you know someone who does enjoy these sorts of things however, then it might be more their cup of tea. After all, it’s not a terribly long book; a hardback copy is only 308 pages long.

“How could she ever doubt that he loved her? When loving her was what he did better than all the things he did beautifully.”

Star rating: 5/10 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
(Goodreads rating: 3/5)

 

 

Ice Like Fire – Sara Raasch

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Review can also be read at Goodreads here.

“I close my eyes, back straight, face impassive. When I look, I will see someone capable and composed, a warrior and a leader all in one.” 

After reading the second instalment of Sara Raasch’s Snow Like Ashes trilogy, I am once again left with conflicting feelings about it. I do feel that Ice Like Fire was, by some margin an improvement, but the question I ask myself is was it enough to make the overall story and world interesting?

Unfortunately, not really. At least not on the level a series like this could be.

Ice Like Fire begins not long after Snow Like Ashes ended. The remaining people of Winter have been freed from years of slavery and have finally made it back to the remains of their kingdom. Our main antagonist, Angra, is nowhere to be seen and to many believed to be dead. Despite that little bit of good news however, Winter still struggles; owing the kingdoms of Autumn and Cordell a debt – one which has Cordell’s King keeping an incredibly tight leash on Winter for. Meira is struggling with her identity as she tries to find what being the Queen of Winter means, whilst also having #boytroubles with her two potential love interests (both of whom are currently battling their own worries and troubles).

In terms of material provided from the first book, Ice Like Fire has the potential to have strong ground to begin. The conflicts of our three main characters – Meira, Mather and Theron – are actually rather interesting; Meira doesn’t really know what she identifies as anymore, and if the person she should be is different from the person she’s always been. Mather seems to struggle to determine his own worth and what role he now plays in the grand scheme, having learnt the truth of his family. And Theron is suffering from his own personal demons from the aftermath of whatever happened between him and Angra in the first book. Yet although these struggles are intriguing, at times they just become frustrating. Out of the three I have to say that Mather’s arc became the most interesting to me, which is strange since a) I didn’t really like Mather in the first book and b) Theron was the most interesting for me in Snow Like Ashes.

But the main problem for me became the world itself.

Throughout the book, Meira and Theron end up travelling to visit a variety of different kingdoms. Now usually this is one of the most interesting aspects in a fantasy story for me, as I find it so incredibly fun to discover how much variety there is in the world the author has created. Even back in Snow Like Ashes the reader’s told that each kingdoms’ ruler uses the magic the wield from their conduit for different purposes, so I was interested in seeing what each ruler was like after having only met those of Cordell and Autumn.

I quickly grew disappointed to learn that not any of these rulers were likeable.

In a way, I feel this was intentional. The main argument Meira and Theron have throughout this book is whether or not magic should be something wielded by everyone, or if it should be wiped off the face of the earth altogether. Either way, there’s a sense of equality desired in either decision. Meira feels that magic can be very easily misused, and I guess that since this book is primarily in her perspective, it makes sense that we see all these other Kings and Queens as abusing the gift they have. Throughout the book Meira passes so much judgment on how other kingdoms operate with their power, oftentimes disapproving of the way she perceives things. And while at times you can see why that would be – especially when it comes to Summer’s slavery – other times I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and think that perhaps she should be focusing on what she wants and hopes her own kingdom will one day become. And I think that was when I realised Mather’s growth as a character was much more enjoyable to me.

Horrible things have happened to us, are still happening to us, will happen every day for the rest of our lives, probably. What defines us is not our ability to never let them break us–what defines us is not letting them own us. We are the Thaw, and we will not be defeated by memories or evil men.”

For at least the second half of this book, Mather’s arc was so refreshing to read. He uses his own initiative and is probably the only character out of the main cast to actually see what’s going on around him. He meets a group of Winterians who were once slaves and acknowledges the pain of their past, but then as a group they decide they want to grow stronger and find their place. This action becomes not just the saving grace for the plot, but also in the decision of if I’ll continue onto the final book or not.

Overall, I feel like Ice Like Fire took a long time to get to the point it wanted to be at, and that the road there was not a smooth one. Perhaps with more variety in the characteristics of royalty Meira and Theron met, more time spent with Mather and the Thaw, as well as more time just giving the story the build up it needs – as everything seems to more or less happen at once towards the end rather than slowly building to a peak – things could have worked better. But as it stands, this was another very conflicting read. I will likely read the final in the trilogy just to see what happens in the end, but I won’t be reading it right away.

“You’ve fought for Winter so spectacularly, and I am more proud than I have ever been to call you my son. But don’t forget to fight for yourself as well–there is no shame in that”. 

Star rating: 5/10 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
(Goodreads rating: 3/5)

Snow Like Ashes – Sara Raasch

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Review can also be read at Goodreads here.

“Someday we will be more than words in the dark.”

Snow Like Ashes is a strange little book. On one hand it is a well written and intriguing read, enough that I felt it was worth reading in full and then to pick up the second in the trilogy (although, admittedly, that last part might be more due to the fact that I’d brought both books at the same time). But in the other, slightly more weighted palm I can’t shake how I felt the story was both underwhelming and predictable.

Now don’t get me wrong, as Snow Like Ashes isn’t a bad read. Perhaps I’m just too used to the conventional YA Fantasy fiction plot, as I can easily see how this would be an entertaining read to the younger end of the books intended audience. But for someone whose seen the same formula this story has time and time again by now, I found that any of the ‘surprises’ weren’t all that surprising at all.

Snow Like Ashes’ plot is easy enough to understand, and it does pull the reader in. Sixteen years before the story begins the kingdom of Winter has been defeated in a war against the kingdom of Spring, which is ruled by a cruel and unjust King. With the royal family deceased save for the youngest son, its citizens now forced to work in war camps under the reign of Spring’s King, and only a small gathering of those who had managed to escape proving to be the Kingdom’s last hope of reclaiming what was lost by searching their royalties source of power – a small locket that is what’s known as a magical conduit – Winter is on the cusp of being nothing more than a long forgotten memory. It is a story told from the point of view of one of the surviving refugees, an orphan girl called Meria.

Meria struggles with feeling inadequate. She wishes to fight and aid on skirmishes with others in their group of survivors, but is more often than not told no. That she needs more training, that she’s not ready, that its not safe. Which, for me, was the first alarm bell of ‘I can see where this is going’.

If your first question when you read this book is ‘why can Mather – the crown prince and last remaining survivor to Winter’s royal line – go on these dangerous skirmishes but Meria – that lone orphan girl who seems to have nothing but this group of people to call a family – can’t?’ then you’ve likely already worked out one of the biggest twists of the story.

“I don’t need made-up strength. I’m strong enough on my own—me, Meira, no magic or conduit or anything.”

Snow Like Ashes also has what many YA books with any hint of a romantic subplot tend to – a love triangle. I personally wasn’t overly bothered with this – at least until Mather and Theron – Meria’s second romantic interest – decide to have fight at one point in the book.

… Which is probably the last thing you should do, when you’re trying to find an ally in the Kingdom you’re visiting. After all, Theron is the Prince of this Kingdom, so it likely doesn’t look all that good when the Prince of Winter is trying to knock you out.

Despite the frustrations this book made me feel on more than one occasion, I will give it the credit it deserves in having a rather powerful ending. Even if you expect part of or most of what you think is going to happen, the story provides the satisfaction of an ending that feels at least deserving. I will admit there was one surprise at the ending I wasn’t expecting as much as others (although looking back on it now, it probably is another obvious thing to other readers).

But what shines for me in the last quarter are the three Winter slaves Meria meets. This for me was the part of the story I liked the most, as it gave the reader (and Meria) a chance to see how the rest of the Kingdom has fared over the sixteen year gap; and it isn’t good. I found myself caring more about these people and the dying hope they clung too of one day being free far more than I cared about others, which is perhaps why I felt the ending was, in its own way, rewarding.

So I suppose I find myself caught in the middle of enjoying and rolling my eyes at this book. Unlike other stories in this genre that I found generic I am giving the sequel, Ice Like Fire a chance, as overall I did find myself enjoying Snow Like Ashes somehow. Is it the best YA Fantasy out there? No. Is it one of the worst? No, far from it. Could Meria be a more powerful character? Absolutely she could be, and perhaps with the remaining two books in the series I’ll be pleasantly surprised to see that she does come into her own and take up the mantle of a strong female character. For now however, having just read the first book in this trilogy, I’m going to have to settle for it feeling rather average.

“Holding on to some part of your past even if it means also holding on to the pain of never again having it. That pain is less horrible than the pain of forgetting.”

Star rating: 5/10 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
(Goodreads rating: 3/5)