Yeah, this was trash. Really ableist trash, which is always the fun kind! /s I came in with low expectations, but clearly NOT low enough.
**This review contains mild spoilers**
I knew this was going to be a bad book when the heroine SHOT AN ARROW at the girl bullying her because ‘she knew had really good aim so she would just miss her’, and then the book treated that as a totally normal prank that a normal person would do. Like what the fuck was that. That’s not normal, that’s unhinged. I really love unhinged women, and I think it would have been cool if Evike were not normal! But no, we can’t have nice things. Anyway, it somehow devolved from there?
Let me get the good things out of the way first. The prose was occasionally over the top and didn’t always make much sense (…what on earth does ‘drowned up to the waist’ mean), but in general, I actually really liked it. I will admit to kind of preferring prose that verges on purple, though, so ymmv, but I thought it painted a really nice picture of the setting! Also, I adored the heroine’s father? Just when I had given up on enjoying any part of this book, the heroine’s father came along and proved me wrong. He’s amazing. I love men who are wise and kind and dignified.
Uhhh what else. I guess I kind of liked Gaspar? (Sorry my keyboard can’t put the cool little accent marks on top of the a’s. American keyboards should be able to do that, this is unfair. Anyway.) I hated him at first, but then the book kept going and Evike got on my nerves more and more, until Gaspar honestly wasn’t that bad by comparison. He was kind of cute! I will admit to having a weakness for woobified softboi heroes, as terrible and embarrassing as it is.
The magic systems were…sort of interesting, I guess. Please keep in mind that I know nothing about Hungarian paganism, but in general, magic in folklore is just cooler than shown here?? Scottish witches could cause shipwrecks and turn into hares! Icelandic witches could nurse a thing made from wool and the rib of a dead man and set it loose to steal milk for them!* The witches in this book…can set things on fire and/or magically forge weapons and/or see the future sometimes. That’s it. 0/10 there should have been more taking apart dead bodies. And I think you could potentially do a lot of things with magic based on medieval Catholicism! One thing I’ve heard historians say is that the difference between a saint and a witch is where the power comes from, and tales of miracles and tales of witchcraft are sometimes fairly similar. So I think you could build a really interesting magic system based on tales of wonder-working saints! Instead it’s just ‘they set things on fire lol.’ I thought the magic system that the Yehuli characters practice was pretty cool, but it barely came into play except at the ending. (It also probably helps that the Yehuli characters were the only likeable ones, but you know. I’m more inclined to be charitable if I really like the characters.)
*These examples are from the 19th and the 17th century, I think, but my point still stands as far as magic in folklore and mythology being really cool. It’s about the neat little rituals for me, especially when the rituals are weird
Don’t even get me started on the plot. I’m not even joking when I say that the first 200 pages could have been cut. Everyone’s going on a trek across the countryside trying to find the turul, and then they don’t even find it and they go on home??? The whole quest was only in there for some cheap, half-hearted relationship development that wasn’t even compelling? Are you KIDDING me. I was so bored.
But yeah, all of that aside, I wanted to strangle Evike throughout the story. She already raised my red flags when Gaspar was introduced and she seemed to kind of hint that his missing eye was scary, but then she JUST. KEPT. GOING. Hold on, I saved some of the quotes in my reading updates on Goodreads:
But I can’t see the left half of his face without wondering morbidly what lies beneath the black patch, and how he ever summoned the strength to pluck out his own eye like a crow picking over a corpse.
You can’t stop morbidly wondering what lies beneath his eyepatch? That sounds like a you problem, but okay.
“What would you know? A wolf-girl from a tiny village, who’s never set foot outside Ezer Szem—”
“More than a pampered, one-eyed prince,” I cut in.
I know I love whenever I get into an argument with a non-disabled person and then they say, “Well, you’re disabled, so what do YOU know?” Especially when the argument had literally nothing to do with the disability and they bring it up completely out of fucking nowhere! Everyone knows that that’s the surest way to a disabled person’s heart.
(That’s actually the surest way to get a disabled person to attack you with cudgels.)
And it actually manages to get worse from there! They get high on magic juice (long story), and Gaspar makes out with Evike before coming to himself and rejecting her. While they make out, Evike asks to take off Gaspar’s eyepatch, Gaspar gives her a very clear no, and then SHE TAKES IT OFF ANYWAY. BECAUSE HE DIDN’T PHYSICALLY FIGHT HER OFF OR SOMETHING, SO THAT COUNTS AS CONSENT I GUESS. This happens again when he tells her not to kiss him near his missing eye and then she just. ignores him??? AND THEN SHE HAS THE FUCKING AUDACITY TO GET MAD AT HIM WHEN HE COMES TO HIMSELF AND REJECTS HER. Girl, you’re lucky he’s still willing to talk to you! She NEVER apologizes for this, and it’s never even hinted that that was something she shouldn’t have done! Evike also outright states that the magic has pretty much the same effect as getting really drunk, which isn’t supposed to make you kiss someone when they say no, so it’s not even like she has the weird fantasy juice as an ‘excuse’. I guess when you’re disabled, you give up the right to bodily autonomy or something??? /s
Oh, and it gets worse, because when Gaspar rejects her, she immediately takes this opportunity to throw his history with his abusive father in his face. I should probably mention here that the abuse was racially motivated, because Gaspar is mixed-race (his mother is coded as Middle Eastern), and his father hated him because of that. Like, Gaspar literally described that his father would yell slurs at him and his mother, and that his father CUT OUT HIS EYE, and then Evike decided to call him his father’s dog and make fun of him for trying to please his father?? I’m sorry, but why. Why would you EVER do that to someone you say you love. At that point, you don’t love him, you’re just attracted to him and view him as more of a thing than a person.
Anyway, yeah, this was a trainwreck if the train hit a garbage truck and then both the train and the garbage truck caught fire! I did not have fun. All that and I’m still probably going to read the author’s next novel, because I’ve never managed to come across a Juniper Tree retelling before and I love that fairy tale. I just like putting myself through pain, I guess.
So yeah, this was not a fun experience. Feel free to rec me your favorite fantasy novels with disabled main characters in the comments!
I’m currently rereading this series because I was curious as to whether I’d still like it, and I have Thoughts on the first book. Oh boy do I have thoughts. Anyway, I decided to write a review about it! So, here you have it, a list of my problems and a few things that I liked! I’ll probably review the other books as I go, because I need an emotional outlet somewhere.
(This is a completely random rant, but I wish people would get JKR’s books secondhand. They’re cheaper that way, anyway! Her ‘activism’ is currently focused on making trans people’s lives harder, and I just feel kind of weird when people give money to Ms. Known Transphobe. I definitely don’t think it’s bad to still like the books, though, I’ve seen people talk like that and it’s so stupid.)
**This review has spoilers for the Harry Potter series**
Okay, I won’t lie, the beginning is pretty iconic. “Mr and Mrs Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” That’s great.
This chapter seems pretty set on making wizards out to be the cool nonconformists that your suburban parents HATE!!1! Mr. and Mrs. Dursley don’t like these people, because they’re different, and they don’t dress normally, and they’re not normal!!! And then wizards end up being the most privileged assholes ever, including characters that we know and love. This would be fine if the series admitted this as it started edging into young adult territory! But the series is never willing to actually face what’s there.
McGonagall literally goes (paraphrasing here) ‘are we really going to leave Harry Potter with that sort? I’m not sure you could find a family more different than us. Are you sure a non-magical family can actually raise Harry?’ And I’m supposed to be just fine with that, I guess. Yeah the Dursley’s are awful. No, they aren’t awful because they’re muggles, wtf.
Anyway if McGonagall met me in real life she would microagress me
The beginning of the book was very slow, and a lot needed to be cut. I don’t need to know all the details about Dudley’s boarding school, for example.
I especially don’t need all the spiteful jokes about a fat eleven-year-old. What is up with this book making fun of a literal child? Was this author not aware that fat children were going to read her book?? I’m honestly furious.
I’ll freely admit it, though, I still do find Vernon Dursley kind of funny. The sheer breakdowns he has at the mere mention of anything REMOTELY magical was a nice touch, I’ll admit. And of course that just ends up making everything look even more suspicious.
Although! I do think the Dursley’s abuse should have been on an emotional level. I think Harry should have more trauma with the absolute neglect that he goes through? He does have trauma that shows up later in the series, definitely, but it just seems like there should be…more.
This is beside the point, but Vernon slaps Dudley around at times and I didn’t notice that when I was a little kid.
I HATE the scene where Hagrid gives Dudley a pig’s tail so much. So, so much. And he says he was trying to turn Dudley into a pig?? DUDLEY IS ELEVEN AND HAGRID WAS MAD AT DUDLEY’S FATHER. I HATE THIS I HATE THIS I HATE THIS.
The worldbuilding is legitimately fun in places! I will admit this! It’s a very ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ type of worldbuilding, and there are so many details?
Having said that, there’s also a TON of weird stuff. “The goblins are an oppressed class who do all our banking, heehee. I sure hope this isn’t reminiscent of anything. And also the goblins are ruthless and EVIL. You know, kind of like Shylock? This isn’t reminding anyone of anything, right? Oh, and also the goblins’ skin color is ‘swarthy.’ I sure hope making the goblins brown won’t offend anyone. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll be fine!”
Also, since people keep misusing death of the author, it doesn’t matter if JKR intended this or not, because it’s still a valid interpretation, imo. From my understanding, death of the author is basically this: The author’s interpretation does not matter. Only the readers’ interpretations matter, as long as the reader can back up their opinion with evidence from the text. Some people seem to think it means that it doesn’t matter if the author is a bad person, which…that’s not what it means. Sorry for the derailment, just a personal pet peeve of mine! [Disclaimer: I am not an English major]
Basically, ‘is it okay to like problematic works’ is a COMPLETELY different conversation than ‘death of the author.’
The wand stuff is actually cool, if not built on enough. If you’re going to imply that wands have a special bond with their wizards, then go all the way and give me the semi-sentient weapons! I feel like the wands should have had a bit more personality, so to speak.
This might be more of a personal thing, but I prefer soft magic systems to have so many vibes, and Harry Potter magic does not deliver enough for me lmao. Where are the vibes here?
The characters aren’t too deep, but I’ll excuse that because it’s a kid’s book and I didn’t notice this when I was a kid
I honestly like Draco? He comes across as a legitimately annoying little kid instead of the Worst Person Ever (which of course would have made me like him, because I’m contrary that way). I have trouble with some middle grade that tries to make their villains into the Worst Person Ever and then the villain is just……literally eleven. I know I’m not the target audience, but. There’s something about Draco that feels pretty convincing, though. Yeah, that’s a real little kid. (It’s the treating little things as Very Very Important. Harry does this too, and it’s actually a really good touch. Thinking that you’re going to get kicked out for breaking a rule and panicking when you lose a single point from your house is such a little kid thing to do.)
The treatment of Neville, Percy, and (to an extent) Hermione honestly pained me, though. Like. Do these characters come across as really really neurodivergent to anyone else?? Why does the story keep making fun of them for this?
I won’t lie, it was a bit of a punch in the gut when Neville got laughed at for forgetting to put the hat back after he got sorted and I guess I was supposed to find it funny? I didn’t find it funny! It was something I might have done as a kid! The book would go ‘it’s bad to bully Neville 😇’ and then turn around and make him the butt of yet another bad slapstick joke. If you’re going to put in an anti-bullying message, then maybe give the ADHD-coded character an actual personality instead of making him a collection of clumsy mistakes? Maybe don’t make him a person that even the good guys think is mildly annoying?
And Hermione is literally just infodumping about her hyperfixations I think. She’s not annoying.
I’m a little hesitant on this one, but I genuinely think Percy is autistic. He sees the world through rules because he has trouble understanding people, and when people break those rules, he doesn’t know how they’re going to react and it makes him upset. Idk I could be wrong, but I just think he kind of reminds me of people I’ve met before? It makes me upset when the book keeps making fun of him or villainizing him! He’d actually be a really interesting character if the book cared about any of the characters outside of the main cast! (I’m willing to change my opinion on this as I keep reading the series, but this is just what I noticed as of the first book, anyway?)
Anyway, that just made me mad. I don’t think Rowling likely meant it to come across this way, but I definitely read it that way now, especially in Neville’s case!
What is UP with the cat hate in a book about witches? Mrs. Norris is literally just a little kitty. Why do people keep expressing a desire to kick her or sic a dog on her? I don’t care that she’s suspected of reporting to Filch! She’s just an animal! Mean cats don’t deserve to be abused, and these comments were honestly disturbing.
I also hated how the story would bend to serve the plot? Like why on earth did Harry and Ron sneak off to go save Hermione from the cave troll when they could have just told Percy or something? If they were older, I’d fully believe that they’d learned through experience that every authority figure in their book is useless, but they’re still eleven! They haven’t learned that yet!
Okay, every adult in this book is useless, but this is just laughable: McGonagall ignores three little kids telling her about how the sorcerer’s stone is in danger? Like. It’s one thing to go, ‘oh, some kids are panicking over nothing again,’ but if literal children know about your secret macguffin, maybe you should be a little more concerned?
Scratch that, the adults are worse than useless. McGonagall docks fifty points each from Neville, Harry, Hermione, and Malfoy? And then, as detention, sends them into the Forbidden Forest to track something that’s killing unicorns, something that even werewolves aren’t powerful enough to do? All for the crime of sneaking out at night?? From an adult perspective, she was so obviously on a power trip. And then Hagrid decides to split the kids up like we’re in a horror movie???? Are you kidding me???????
Also Hagrid is literally buying illegal, dangerous exotic animals and then he and Charlie get literal children to cover for him. But we’re just going to gloss over that. Lol okay. I love when I buy a pet tiger off the black market and then no one calls me out on it and then I get to pin the blame on a bunch of children.
And then in the forest, Hagrid sends the two kids he doesn’t know very well with his dog (and expresses doubt that the dog can actually protect them? Like he calls the dog a coward?). Okay, I see how it is. Kids you don’t have a personal connection can just go off basically alone into dangerous unicorn-killing forest.
Snape is actually a really effective character in this book as the bitter and unpleasant teacher, but he would have been SO much more effective for the series as a whole if he were nice sometimes. I actually have a lot of thoughts about Snape but I’ll save them for another review because this is getting long lmao.
This is somewhat off-topic (lol like I’m ever on-topic in this article), but I hate how Harry just automatically knows how to ride a broom with no training whatsoever. And then in his first match, the Slytherin team captain has to cheat to keep Harry from getting the snitch?? Lol, Harry is tiny and the other seeker is seventeen. I am pretty sure Flint would not need to cheat in a fair world. Flint I am so sorry that you were born into a world tilted in someone else’s favor, you can commiserate with every other character who isn’t friends with Harry I guess
Other people have commented on this, but the fact that a full quarter of the students gets sorted into the evil house is just amazing. And no one thinks to question this ever. As an aside, ambition, determination, and cleverness are not like……bad qualities, actually. I also hate how hard work and loyalty are portrayed as ‘boring?’ Why is Hufflepuff the boring house? Hard work and loyalty are what builds nations. I also think it would have been more interesting if Harry had actually had Slytherin traits like the hat said…
Is it just me or is the prose kind of boring? Because I was bored. And every time I stare at this sentence the worse it gets: “The hundreds of faces staring at them looked like pale lanterns in the flickering candlelight.” Ma’am what does that mean?
I will say that the mystery was pretty engaging, even though I already knew the end!
Dumbledore being a manipulative bastard is pretty great. Can you imagine putting bait for a dark lord into a high school just because you want to get a good feel for how he and your child soldier are going to interact? Because I’m pretty sure that’s strongly implied in this book, lmao. I actually love both Dumbledore and Snape because I’m trash for bizarre, morally grey characters, even though I think they were both probably done dirty by the story (Snape DEFINITELY so).
Anyway, as you can probably tell, this book was not for me. I actually expected it to hold up better than it did. This was a real childhood favorite of mine, and it’s always a disappointment when childhood favorites turn out to be bad.
This review was way too long, so as a reward for having gotten to the end, have one of the few quotes I semi like from my bad Regulus fanfic I’ve been working on! (Is it fanfic if you’re deeply conflicted about the books that it’s based on? Is it a reward if it’s a bad fanfic quote?)
Bellatrix loved the feel of blood on her hands. It was a drug, a divinity. Something about that did not sit quite right with Regulus, but he didn’t understand why. He finally understood why people called her terrifying, though.
He was making a mistake. He had made so many mistakes leading up to this point, and now it was too late to even begin to undo them all. He couldn’t breathe. He could never breathe right around his family.
God I love Bellatrix. Everyone give one up for yet one more female villain done dirty by her author!
I forced myself to finish this. I honestly don’t know why.
**This review contains spoilers**
God. God I hated this so much.
Okay, so here’s the setup: Elaine is an oracle (cool). Elaine is being emotionally abused by her evil depressed mother, who is the only mentally ill character in this book (somewhat less cool). Elaine then goes to Avalon, where everyone is liberated and wears skimpy clothing and is neo-pagan in sixth century fantasy Britain for some reason! (GO BACK GO BACK I WANT TO GO BACK) Yeah, suffice to say that this book impressed me with an interesting first scene and then took a swan dive off a cliff. At least my expectations weren’t that high? …Still though, I was foolish enough to at least have some expectations!
Clearly, I need to stop doing that with modern Arthuriana.
I’ll get into all the ugly stuff later, but let me start off by saying that I was super confused about the plot for most of the book? Elaine’s visions led me to believe that this was going to cover all of Arthur’s reign from his rise to his fall, because she kept having visions about the arthurpocalypse and How It All Fell Apart (ooh). And then I was at the middle of the book and Arthur hadn’t even married Guinevere yet? I honestly had to rack my brains to remember if this was really a standalone. Anyway, yeah, I could have done with a few less visions! Or at least put something in the blurb to make it clear that this is about Arthur’s rise to power? Maybe?
So yeah, the plot was really boring and I honestly don’t know why I was supposed to care. Oh no, Merlin is supporting Mordred, who is now Arthur’s half-brother for some reason and also in love with Morgause because this book decided to devote its existence to making me want to throw up! Why is Merlin doing this (especially when supporting Mordred goes against everything he stood for in the legends)? I don’t know! Elaine wants to stop this, because Mordred will run the kingdom into the ground! At least in an unspecified vision Elaine had, anyway. Why couldn’t we have seen that vision? It would have given such a better sense of the stakes if we could have seen what would have happened to Albion. Elaine is all-in for Arthur for…reasons I guess! I don’t know why! Why can’t she grab power for herself and be queen if she can literally see the future? She’d do a better job of it than either of those two schmucks.
I couldn’t help but compare this to Nirvana in Fire as I read this, not because it was anywhere NEAR as good as Nirvana in Fire, but because both stories had a protagonist who puts their life on hold to get some other guy on the throne. But Mei Changsu had a clear reason for wanting the current emperor off the throne, because the emperor was responsible for the death of his family. I get why that would drive you to do really extreme things! And I also understand why he would think Prince Jing was the best guy to be on the throne. Prince Jing is a guy who REALLY cares about justice, and the corrupt royal court doesn’t have a lot of guys like that. I just…wasn’t convinced about Arthur? It’s not that he’s bad, it’s just that I don’t understand why he’s good, let alone the best guy to be on the throne. I don’t know why Elaine cares so much about this guy, other than that Nimue told her he would bring some vague ‘golden age’ or whatever. Sure, I…guess he’s better than Mordred? Were there no other options? Why are my only two options ‘evil weasel’ and ‘stale chunk of white bread?’
Also, like…Nihuang was more of a girl power icon than any of the women in these books will ever be.
Speaking of girl power! The way feminism was handled in this book was so simplistic, heavy-handed, and sometimes…just plain dumb? Probably the most egregious scene was with Morgana and the tapestry. Okay, okay, get this. Morgana walks into the room, points to the unicorn on the tapestry and asks Elaine if she knows what the unicorn represents. Elaine answers that it represents virtue, and Morgana responds that it represents virginity, and the men don’t want to tell her that because they don’t want to seem too interested in what goes on between a girl’s legs (her words, not mine). I…
POLICING WOMEN’S SEXUALITY IS THE WHOLE POINT FOR THESE PEOPLE AND THAT ABSOLUTELY EXTENDS TO HOW THEY TREAT TEENAGERS. Oh boy, I wish this were how the world worked! I sure WISH that men would pretend not to care too much about a teenage girl’s sexuality! Someone take me to this fantasy world, please! *bangs head against a wall* I have literally read an article in which a girl’s parents pulled her out of the swim team at age TEN because the swimsuit she had to wear was too tight (fitted swimsuits are required for competitive swimming)! I have heard of young teenage girls getting lectured for being a ‘stumbling block’ to the older men in their church because the young girl wore a shirt that was too tight or something. Please explain to me again how these types of men will act so bashfully around young women that they don’t even want to mention virginity in front of them.
Anyway, this was all a lead-in to Morgana’s sex joke, because of course it was. Arthur is RIDING the unicorn? Get it??? *waggles eyebrows* If your sex joke has to be explained that much in order for it to make sense, it isn’t a very good joke. Kill me now.
And then Morgana proceeds to burn the tapestry #ForTheLols, which makes me want to kill her. Embroidery is so hard and those girls worked on the tapestry so much. Just because Elaine hates the tapestry doesn’t mean all the girls who worked on it do. It must have been some of those girls’ pride and joy. That was the moment I decided I hated Morgana.
The feminism would swing between being about historical issues no modern woman would have to face and modern issues no historical woman would likely face. And sometimes issues NO woman would face, ever (see the tapestry). The corset represents female oppression!!! Get it, because the boning in a corset is like a cage?? Sort of like how real women are in a metaphorical cage?? DO YOU GET THE SYMBOLISM??? And the pooooooor women, not being able to practice archery and having to wear corsets and all that. Because medieval women absolutely wore corsets and didn’t practice archery.
…Okay, look here. Medieval noblewomen practiced archery because oh, look at that! They went hunting! They absolutely didn’t wear corsets. My God. The author just lifted a bunch of stereotypes about the 19th century in order to write her book. At one point the heroine wears a dress that has cap sleeves, which. I’m pretty sure would not have been done in the medieval period? All the women in paintings that I’ve seen have their arms covered up to their wrists, which would have been a pretty nice thing to mention if you want to talk about modesty! Oh, and at one point, Elaine literally says ‘not all men,’ to which Guinevere replies, ‘not all men, Elaine……but enough of them,’ and I’m sorry, did I stumble onto a twitter conversation somehow? Because I would like to get off. Like. Are you writing about 19th century–oh, I’m sorry, medieval oppression of women, or are you making commentary on how they’re oppressed in the present day? Or are you going to look at the ways in which the treatment of women stays the same throughout history, discussing how while times change, some of the ways in which people treat women remain the same, and–oh, you just steamrolled past that option. Didn’t even notice it. Never mind, I’m not sure what else I expected.
You know what, I give up. I’m going to have Mordred say “yes all men” and shove a guy out a window. If Laura Sebastian can do it, so can I.
(A quick note: I don’t think Arthuriana has to be historically accurate at all! It’s basically impossible to write historically accurate Arthuriana, if you want to get down to it. But my personal preference is for the world to feel more medieval than this? And I really just don’t understand why we’re segueing into 19th century women’s issues.)
I also think the feminism in this book doesn’t address a lot of women out there? The liberation in this book is found in wildness. Avalon, with its sexy sexy bonfires and women who wear skimpy clothing, is liberated. THEIR women do stuff. They can do magic and be fighters. Lyonesse is liberated. Their women are werewolves and they wear short skirts and kill people! They’re wild and they run and fight! Camelot’s women…
…Um, they’re just not mentioned? Elaine’s mom is mentioned. She’s evil and abusive. Morgause is mentioned. She’s evil because she wants power for herself, unlike good and sweet Elaine who wants power for a man. And worse, Morgause is too feminine, unlike the heroine, who is just the right amount of feminine! Morgause cares about her appearance and stuff, which makes her an evul harpy who is evul! Seriously, Morgause is such a negative female stereotype. I do not understand why you would pretend to write a feminist novel and then treat your female villains this way?
To be fair, Elaine is from Camelot, but she spends most of her teenage years on Avalon, and she has Avalon’s values. I’m not counting her. Even though she is more ‘normal’ than her friends, she still seems like an exceptional woman to me, with her powers as a seeress that allows her to influence the rise and fall of kings. What of the normal women? The women who aren’t werewolves, or sorceresses, or kingmakers?
Anyway, we never hear about the women who do fit in and what they go through. We also never hear about the women who don’t fit in in different ways from Elaine and co. The feminism is just not very intersectional. There are a few women of color, but they’re either relegated to relatively minor roles, or, uh…We’ll get to that later. The closest thing we get to queer rep is Guinevere and Elaine jokingly flirting, but don’t worry, folks! They’re very straight, they’re just flirting because they’re not homophobic and women flirting is funny or…something? I guess? Seriously, they had more chemistry in that one scene than either of them EVER do with their trash boyfriends. We never hear about any disabled or mentally ill women. Oh wait, I almost forgot! We do hear about one mentally ill woman, who is mentally ill and abusive. Can’t forget Elaine’s mom.
Look, I don’t mind mentally ill abusive characters. In fact, I think there’s absolutely a place for them. Not all mentally ill people are good, that’s stupid. We’re people, not just an identity, and sometimes people are very bad. And I do think that since mental illness affects all parts of your life (or it can, anyway), it makes sense that someone’s toxic or abusive behavior would be influenced by their mental illness. But does she have to be the only mentally ill character in the story? Does Morgana have to say “She’s touched in the head” and imply that that is the reason why Elaine should leave her? I know the author said she had depression, and I respect that she probably had a reason for portraying depression in that way, but I also have depression, and personally? It didn’t sit right with me, and I’m just a little bitter. Why can’t Elaine have depression and struggle to get out of bed and leave her tower sometimes? Why can’t Lancelot draw her out–not cure her, but make things a little better–and convince her to brave the dangers of the real world, a place that’s confusing and sometimes harsh and not at all as simple as her tapestries? Why is that not the heroine the 21st century needs or whatever?
(Like…giving her depression would have given her a connection to the Tennyson poem that she absolutely did not have lmao.)
There are a few women of color, but I don’t think they were handled well? Nimue is Black, and I don’t have too many problems with her–sure, she’s not that interesting, but it’s not like she stands out for that in that cast. Morgana and Morgause, though?? They’re both described as having ‘bronze skin,’ and the way it’s written, is, uh…
She was beautiful in a cruel way, with luminous bronze skin, long, wavy hair the color of jet, a hawklike nose, and a wide mouth painted red as blood.
I just! I don’t like how she’s described as ‘beautiful in a cruel way’ and then it goes on to describe her bronze skin and aquiline nose! This rubs me the wrong way! I hate this so much!
Oh, and Mordred has a ‘hooked nose?’ And, if I remember correctly, Morgause does, too? I…*slowly slides into the dirt* If you’re wondering why this upsets me, hooked noses are something Jewish people are often stereotyped as having. (TW for discussions of antisemitism in the link.) I’m not trying to cancel the author and I’m not trying to argue that she’s a bad person, but I wish she or her editor had googled ‘antisemitic coding’ before publishing this.
Random little things that annoyed me:
-There were places where the writing just…did not make sense? “Relief falls over Arthur’s expression like a velvet curtain.” WHAT DOES THAT MEAN.
-Mordred has ‘sand-colored’ hair in one scene and black hair in another. I refuse to believe this book was edited.
-Everyone in this book swears using the words ‘Maiden, Mother, and Crone,’ which, while I’m pretty sure it comes from beliefs about Hecate, is still a very modern phrasing? Honestly, though, the fact that half the characters in this book practiced a modern religion is the least bad thing about this book. (Nothing against neo-pagans or anything like that! I just don’t understand why the characters happen to believe the exact same thing as neo-pagans in the 21st century when they supposedly aren’t time travelers lmao?)
-The magic in this book is SO hokey. At one point Morgana literally pulls down the moon from the sky and threatens to destroy it. Okay Admiral Zhao. Admiral Zhao did it better, tbh. What even was this book.
-Morgana has purple eyes?????
-The worst thing? LANCELOT KEPT CALLING ELAINE ‘SHALOTT.’ THAT IS LIKE IF SOMEONE KEPT CALLING ME BY THE NAME OF MY HOMETOWN. WHAT PARALLEL UNIVERSE HAVE I ENTERED INTO THAT THIS BOOK EXISTS. I WANT OUT.
The ONE thing about this book that I liked is that the heroine understands the need for propaganda, and in general, the political intrigue wasn’t awful. That was the one thing. Everything else? Throw it away. Preferably somewhere far away from me, please.
Anyway, this was an awful experience! I possibly enjoyed reading Yu Wu more, and I didn’t even finish that one because the hero was a burning dumpster fire full of toxic waste. A burning dumpster fire full of toxic waste is still better than watching paint dry, though, which was what reading this felt like.
I realized I wrote a (very long) review on The Guinevere Deception and then forgot to post a review of the sequel to the blog. Oops. I kept meaning to get around to cross-posting my review from Goodreads and then I kept forgetting, but whatever, it’s done now.
The Camelot Betrayal was both…a better and a worse reading experience than the first one in the series. It was better because my expectations were way lowered after that small disaster of a first book, but. I mean, less Mordred? Mordred’s the best character, why is he barely in this. Even though the first book was kinda sorta aggressively mediocre (sorry), I still think the author really could have turned it around in the second book! As it is, though, the trilogy didn’t get worse, but it also very much did not get better.
**This review contains spoilers! And also a little bit of cursing, just in case you’re uncomfortable with that**
I probably spelled some of the names differently from how they’re spelled in the book, because Arthurian names tend to have ten different variants each and I didn’t want to look up each character lmao
I feel like I should knock off a star for making Morgan Mordred’s mom and whatever the fuck this trilogy did to the Pendragon family tree, but you know what? I will put aside my pettiness for today.
(BERTILAK IS GAWAIN’S BOYFRIEND. NOT MORDRED’S DAD. WHAT THE FUCK. LOT IS A CHARACTER THAT EXISTS, HE’S MORDRED’S DAD IN QUITE A FEW VERSIONS OF THE LEGENDS, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN FINE. MAKING BERTILAK MORDRED’S DAD INSTEAD OF GAWAIN’S BOYFRIEND IS HOMOPHOBIA. SEND HELP.)
After thinking about it for awhile, I realized my problem with this book is that it has no fucking plot. (Okay, I also have problems with Arthur and Gwen’s missing personalities, but that’s a rant for another time.) Yeah, sure, there’s some stuff about the Dark Queen–love of my life and I want to kiss her–but she’s a distant threat at best. Arthur occasionally rides off to the cursed lands to do…I don’t know what he does, actually. Guinevere occasionally ties knots. Everyone is concerned, but no one’s really doing anything about the villain? And the villain doesn’t really do anything to them? Villains who aren’t active in their own stories CAN work, but usually only when there’s another, more prominent villain to do their dirty work. Imagine Star Wars without Darth Vader, LOTR without the Ringwraiths and the orc generals. And before you ask, no, Mordred does not fulfill the role of the more active villain. In fact, let me make a list of the things Mordred does:
Convinces Guinevere he doesn’t, actually, want to kill her (this is not a trick to gain her trust and then betray her, in case you were wondering)
Makes out with Guinevere in a dream sequence/vision (was this really him though? Should I count this?)
Helps out Rhoslyn and her girls
Helps Guinevere out when she wanted to leave Camelot at the end [Edit: Okay wow you can really tell I read this in a depression-induced haze because I thought that Guinevere agreed to go with Mordred and Morgana at the end in order to find out the truth about her origins? Okay yeah I started the third book and apparently she left Camelot to find out about her origins and THEN got kidnapped by Mordred and Morgana lmao. It’s really too bad that the first time she tries to make an active decision to further the plot, she immediately gets kidnapped. But anyway! I have no reading comprehension, but my point about there not being an active villain in this book still holds. A character doing one bad thing at the end of a book isn’t enough to make them an active villain]
THAT’S IT. He’s not evil, okay? Yes, he may have committed a small act of eco-terrorism at the end of the last book, but if you’re not going to keep up those villainous acts in the second one, my memory of why I’m supposed to feel conflicted about this guy is going to fade real fast. Besides, as mentioned above, the Dark Queen is the love of my life and I want to kiss her. In my eyes, he did me a favor. Mordred just wants to resurrect grandma and then kick back in a cottage in the woods with his cute not-girlfriend Guinevere and you can’t convince me otherwise.
None of the subplots feel naturally woven into the main plots, because there is no main plot to really weave into. It’s just…Oh hey! I should save that dragon! Oh hey! I should save Iseult now! The story jumps around SO bad. Guinevere doesn’t do anything! Sure, she saves Iseult, but as far as for the main plot? What does she do?? Mordred doesn’t do anything! Arthur might do some things, but he sure as hell won’t tell Guinevere anything about that, because this is a Healthy Relationship in a Feminist Book! A feminist book that lowkey defends persecuting witches, I guess. (Yes, I’m still mad about this! ‘Oh, persecuting witches is bad, but also we aren’t going to call Arthur out for this, because that might make him feel bad.’ Cry me a river.)
Pardon me for assuming that a book with Gwenhwyfach in it might flesh out Lancelot and Guinevere’s relationship with each other a little. I was expecting Gwenhwyfach to trick Arthur into betraying Guinevere and then Lancelot would save her and Guinevere would have to deal with the fact that Arthur doesn’t actually trust her, and she would realize that she’s currently falling for Lancelot and it would be very cute and gay and–I’m getting carried away. Just. Anything but Gwenhwyfach being the annoying little sister who likes party-planning. (I mean, points for not villainizing her, though, I was getting tired of the girl hate.) Guinevere and Lancelot hardly ever have any in-depth conversations, and they don’t really seem to be on the same wavelength. I never have any idea of what they mean to each other. This isn’t even a developed friendship, let alone a romantic relationship.
I realize I accidentally make it sound like Lancelot and Guinevere have a romantic relationship in this book. They don’t. I don’t really know what they feel for each other in this book, tbh? I do think their relationship should have been WAY more fleshed out, whatever it is.
And what is up with how the story portrays Blanchefleur? She does literally nothing wrong in the legend that she’s in, from what I remember. Why is this story so bent on portraying her as an evil harpy? I believe I said this in my reading updates on Goodreads, and I’ll say it again: it’s not very feminist to turn a perfectly fine woman into a misogynist stereotype. I’ll admit I never paid Blanchefleur much mind before, but I love her now. I’m contractually obligated to love every mythological woman who gets portrayed in a shitty way for no reason.
Also, while I do definitely appreciate Brangien and Iseult’s relationship, I can’t help but feel like the story didn’t explore as many opportunities for diversity as it could have. Which is to say, STOP WRITING PALOMIDES OUT OF THE TRISTRAM AND ISEULT STORIES, DAMN IT. If Iseult can have a relationship with Brangien, why can’t Tristram have a relationship with Palomides? That’d be cute. I ship it. Palomides is suspiciously missing from a lot of retellings of Tristram and Iseult, despite the fact that he plays a prominent role in their story in the legends. He’s a Middle Eastern character, and I can’t help but wonder if that has something to do with him hardly ever showing up in retellings. Idk, it just doesn’t sit right with me. And Gawain’s potential bisexuality hardly ever seems to get explored in mainstream retellings, either. This man made out with a faery knight. I’ve heard that at one point in the Lancelot-Grail cycle, he literally told Lancelot that he wished he were a pretty girl so that Lancelot would fall in love with him. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think he’s straight. I wanted MORE from this character, but alas! He was doomed to be a bit-part role in this book. (For the record, I don’t think Lancelot’s straight in the legends, either. He and the half-giant knight Galehaut definitely had something going on)
(This is COMPLETELY off-topic, but speaking of queer retellings, I want someone to write the Guinevere/Iseult epic one of these days. They were such bros in Le Morte D’Arthur ❤ I have SO many ideas for Arthurian retellings that I’m never going to write. It’s getting worrying.)
And also?? Enby Lancelot seemed to be hinted at at some point in the first book (it’s been a while, but I remember she expressed discomfort with women’s clothing, and I seem to recall that Mordred referred to her as being in a grey area gender-wise), but it’s NEVER mentioned again in this one.
I’ll keep this part brief, because this review is already getting long, but the prose was pretty inconsistent. There were some parts that were legitimately really good, and a lot that…wasn’t. There was a LOT of telling instead of showing, and not in a particularly effective way. I also wish the worldbuilding had been better? I was super confused on how much fantasy!England diverged from real England. The setting never ended up feeling that real.
I know I’m complaining a lot, but I will say that the story was very cute. It was an entertaining read if I turned my brain off! I do like reading about Guinevere and the girls going on adventures! Mordred was also very cute and kept me from DNF-ing ❤ He’s the light of my life and the only reason I rated this more than two stars.
Something that a lot of medieval literature gets and a lot of modern retellings don’t: It’s actually kind of hard to make Arthur the most interesting character and if you can’t do that, PLEASE don’t make everything in the story revolve around him. Like I recently read a retelling from the point of view of freaking Elaine of Astolat that had her revolve around Arthur. Why would you do that. Why. (And when I say ‘read’, I mean read part of and didn’t finish. I’m going to try to finish it so I can review it on the blog, though.)
The Camelot Betrayal might be the one that finally gets me to sit down and finish a fanfic. Mordred and Guinevere were done so dirty by these books.
Weez wrote a book! A children’s fantasy book about giants and healing rifts between two worlds! And it’s good! You should go read it!
I just…I loved it?!
There’s so much here. The way mental health and depression are portrayed, the WORLDBUILDING, the characters…Actually, hold on a second, let me organize this review into parts. (For some reason that made me think of dissecting something. Which, since I tend to think visually, is not a very pleasant image. But anyway.)
The mental health rep
While it’s never said on page, the heroine Peri really seems like she has depression? And it was so well done and I’d just been lamenting about how I have so much trouble finding mentally ill characters in fantasy? (Characters in fantasy all go through traumatizing things and by miracle of God come out completely psychologically healthy–BUT that’s a rant for another time.) Anyway! It was so good and I felt so seen 😳 What’s that phrase? The mortifying ordeal of being known or something like that? Anyway! I think it’s so important to write about mental health issues, especially in kids’ books. It’s something a lot of kids go through, and erasing that side of childhood is potentially erasing a deeper understanding of what they’re going through.
Anyway, I LOVED Peri and the way the story handles depression. It was realistic and heartbreaking.
Peri–an actual queen. I related so much to her? She’s confused, somewhat angry, and trying her best to be brave. She’s such a strong character, and she feels like a real person. She’s my favorite.
Ull–I LOVED HIM TOO. HE’S MY OTHER FAVORITE. He’s a troll child with silver skin who sometimes speaks in rhymes. I love the way he loves everything, and he’s just such a beautiful smol child and *hugs him* Ahem. Sorry.
Wink–I had a little trouble relating to her, but that’s probably more of a me problem. I do like her. She’s brave and a bit thoughtless. I do think her conflict could have been fleshed out a little more–because we don’t meet her family, it’s a bit hard for me to understand what her parents mean to her and why she’s worried her mother doesn’t like her. But I still do like her a lot! She’s sweet and I love her painted pinkie nail 😊
The writing is so so good! I love the way Weez writes prose! Her writing style feels very cold when you first start (not that that’s a bad thing at all–I think my writing style can feel very cold at times), but as you keep reading, it’s so warm under the surface. If I had to pick a color range to describe the writing, it would definitely be pastels. I think lilacs and pale blues.
The setting was amazing too! It feels very hobbit-y and very much like a surreal animated kids’ movie. (I think this book would do very well as a surreal animated kids’ movie.) The giants are such sad creatures, and I really love how they’re written. My only problem is there was sometimes stuff I wanted to know more about. For example, I wanted to know more about what exactly it was the giants did to kick everything off in the first place, and I wanted to know what Wink went through during the trials. But I love the setting so much!
Things I didn’t like so much
I feel like the novel could have felt…I don’t know, maybe fuller? I don’t know if that makes sense. I definitely could have used more description, and more fleshed-out backstories for the characters. Also, while the story is very Roald Dahl-ish in feel and isn’t necessarily supposed to be realistic, I will say that what Peri’s parents are doing would definitely be considered neglect in the real world and, no spoilers, but I thought the ending was a bit pat? (Not the ending as far as the climax with Ull–that was beautiful–but as far as the denouement.) I think it would have been better if it could have ended with Peri finally going to Wink’s house and realizing that Wink’s family could become like a family to her. Or something like that. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Quotes I like
My eyes go wide. “How deep is it?” I’m not a strong swimmer. I only learned to swim two summers ago when my parents were home. I can go to the bottom of the swimming pool in town–but I’m not sure I can go farther.
Ull shrugs. “It’s magical,” he says, as though that should comfort me.
Wink shrugs. “No problem,” she says. “I’ve been swimming since I was four. I’m going to be a lifeguard when I’m older. I can handle this.”
Ull shrugs again. “It’s magical,” he says, as though that should frighten her.
Ull thinks back. “In regards to the symphony of the forest,” he says, “they did seem to have a new arrangement in which the tree frog section carried the melody more strongly.”
We decided to pretend there was nothing odd about that sentence.
Part of me, a small part, scoffs. A bad feeling–just the one? That’s nothing, of course. I have leagues of them, assailing on all sides, most of the time. Part of me wants to feel superior, somehow, for this–but of course, that doesn’t make any sense at all.
Anyway, I loved it so much. It feels wild knowing a real author 😳 I’m so proud. This gave me inspiration for what I want to write, as well! I’m glad I read this.
Before we begin, can we talk about how Mordred, the villain, is portrayed as ever-so-subtly more feminine than the other characters? Oh hey! It’s almost as if femininity is treated as a dangerous, villainous force that is only accepted when it is smothered and tamed! Which, of course, brings us to all our other issues with this book.
This review sums up my issues with this novel (and with literally every book in YA) much better than I probably could. It’s not that it’s a bad book. It felt a little uneven in parts and the setting could have been better developed, but the pacing is good and the writing is exquisite. It’s just…
…Perhaps it isn’t quite as empowering a book as it thinks it is?
Let me regale you with my extremely irrelevant personal experiences. I’ve always been a bit of an outcast, okay? Some of that came from other people, and some of it comes from myself. I naturally prefer being alone. I’m naturally hard to categorize, a thing society finds very dangerous. I don’t *rubs chin* fit in. I don’t want to fit in. Have you ever seen me without this stupid hat on? That’s weird.
Okay, enough with the stupid Riverdale references. I haven’t even watched the show. Anyway, where am I going with this?
Simply that, when a character that society has rejected gets dragged back into society and placed into an acceptable mold, it drives. Me. Batty. It’s not that this is a bad story–it’s not, it could have used better development, but it’s perfectly fine. But I’ve seen a certain trope play out over and over and over, and I am sick of it. Allow me to explain. This story has several directions it could go in as far as the ships go. Guinevere could realize that no one in Camelot is actually really there for her except three people, embrace her inner villainess, get together with Mordred, and have her happy ending (I mean, she’d better get that happy ending. Even the legends had her usually survive till the end, and those were written by medieval writers not very concerned with the perceived feminism of their work). Alternatively, she has a cute, possibly sapphic romance with Lancelot, and I am happy, but maybe won’t read the next two books, because even though I like both characters a lot, I’m going to be quite upset if the pure, chaotic femininity of the Dark Queen* gets demonized without any reflection as to how this may contradict with the themes of this work. If Gwen gets with Mordred, she can become that pure, chaotic femininity herself. Someone like Queen Maeve, like Clytemnestra, like (heh) Morgan le Fey. That would be fun.
*Yes, the villainess really does refer to herself as the Dark Queen. To be perfectly fair, it’s nowhere near the most ridiculous thing an Arthurian character has done. Also, as you can probably tell, this story is a pretty loose retelling. The setting is also more fantasy than medieval in some ways. It threw me off at first, but I got used to it eventually.
But. Of course there’s a but. If it keeps going the same way the story left off, I am going to be very upset.
We’ve all seen the story play out in some book or another, haven’t we? A character is outcast from society in some way, sometimes even persecuted. In Guinevere’s case, she’s a witch in a society that banishes and executes them, and she’s a woman in a society that is very reluctant to give women power. Arthur is not doing much to change this. Arthur is responsible for some of this. And I am terrified that Guinevere is just going to keep trying and trying to prove herself to him. I’ve read so many stories where either the heroine conforms to society and hides part of herself to be accepted (happy endings, am I right!), or else society grudgingly accepts the nonconformist part of her—provided she doesn’t get TOO uppity, of course. Alternatively, the heroine will reject society the same way society has rejected her, embrace her inner powerful villainess, and then die. Can’t have women destroying that status quo, after all! That would be threatening. We might not even have a box to shove her in! Everyone knows only men are allowed to be trailblazers, villains, outcasts who stray from the beaten path. (And even then…a lot of male characters end up getting dragged back into a socially acceptable mold eventually. Can you tell this is my least favorite trope?)
Yeah. I’ve run into stories like that over and over and over, where a character is either forced into a socially acceptable role or killed off. Some of y’all out there are afraid of powerful women, and it shows.
I JUST WANT GUINEVERE TO GET TOGETHER WITH THE VILLAIN, OKAY. (I want her to become a villain, at least in the eyes of everyone else.) Mordred didn’t grab me at first–I thought he was pretty condescending toward her at the beginning of the book, excuse me that is your queen show some respect–but he shapes up shortly after, and I’d say he treats her…maybe a lot better than Arthur does. Let’s examine the many, many sins of Arthur Pendragon as a boyfriend, shall we?
Firstly, Arthur lies to her. Like, a lot. He lies to her about quite important things. Guinevere admits this at the end! But she goes back to him anyway.
Secondly! Arthur seems to consistently undercut Guinevere’s power while pretending to give her free rein. I don’t know if he’s doing this deliberately or accidentally, but it’s a pretty big problem either way. He takes her along to settle a treaty with the Picts, which is good! But she’s only there to look pretty and be a sign of Arthur’s trust for the other leader. She’s not informed of the politics in any way! Arthur doesn’t let her in on any of his decisions in this process and doesn’t allow for any of her input. Arthur doesn’t allow Guinevere any actual power. He only allows her to be busy with very safe things that she can’t mess up too badly, so she feels like she’s doing something while not actually doing anything important. It’s entirely possible that it’s an accident on Arthur’s part! But he’s still doing it, and it’s beyond frustrating that Guinevere never points it out and struggles against that. At one point, Arthur tells her he wants her to act as his queen, it’s a really big moment, and then cut to the next scene where he puts her in charge of seating arrangements at the tournament. (Give that job to Mordred. He’s obviously in need of something to keep him busy. For heaven’s sake.) She goes so far as to say that Arthur has given her a job not important enough for a king, but fitting for a queen. Good heavens. Have some self-respect, honey.
Thirdly, Arthur just doesn’t spend a lot of time with her. He consistently puts the kingdom’s needs ahead of hers–which, sure, he probably needs to do as king, and I can get frustrated with leaders who put either themselves or their one true luv ahead of their actual duties. But at the point where Guinevere!! gets kidnapped!! and Lancelot and Mordred take way, way more initiative to save her than Arthur ever did? Arthur, maybe it’s time to put your wife first every once in a while. Even if, in the end, you put your country first, your queen still matters, and I’ll thank you to act like it.
I’m fine with heroines who try to fit in with society’s expectations and who are more willing to try to work within the patriarchy rather than against it. But it’s just kind of frustrating to have a book all about celebrating women and fighting the patriarchy, and then the heroine goes along with the patriarchy hook, line, and sinker. She should have either gone with Mordred or made her own plans, and it’s the most frustrating thing in the world to me when she goes back to the man who consistently puts her last. I didn’t get why she would. It wasn’t as though she chose Arthur as the lesser of two evils (which would be a perfectly fair thing to do. Much as I like nature, wicked queens, and fairies, I’m not THAT delusional). She just continues to insist that Arthur is the best man in the world despite all evidence to the contrary, and I don’t understand why she would.
Also, Arthur is just kind of shady in general? Arthur is apparently ordering witch hunts? Guinevere does not question this for some reason. Guinevere does not question a lot of things throughout this story, and I’m left wanting to shake her a lot of times. More on that problem later, though. And also Arthur described Merlin as being a really great guy and then later Mordred tells Guinevere that Merlin assisted in the rape of Arthur’s mom?? I’m starting to be paranoid about everything Arthur Pendragon says and does, and I’m possibly starting to be more paranoid of Arthur than Mordred “Eco-terrorist” Pendragon??
Lancelot is really cool though–she’s a knight pretending to be a man, and she’s implied to be enby (she’s referred to with feminine pronouns so far, in case you were wondering). She and Guinevere have a really respectful relationship, and I do like them a lot, and I do ship them in their own way! It doesn’t have quite the chaotic appeal for me as Guinevere going full villainess, but I still like it!
I thought Brangien and Isolde’s relationship was really nice! Thus far, Brangien is not a stereotype or anything like that. We’ll see how it is when we actually see Isolde and Brangien together on-page, of course, but so far it’s really good! I love Brangien, and she’s my favorite character besides Mordred. I’ll admit I kind of brOTP ship Brangien and Mordred. I don’t want them to become a couple or anything like that, but I want them to become platonic partners in crime. Dindrane was also a really nice character. I don’t run into characters like her too often. I was a little weirded out that someone would rewrite Blanchefleur’s character into the harpy sister-in-law when, from all that I remember, she’s a perfectly nice character in the legends, but oh well. We didn’t see much of Blanchefleur on-page, so hopefully she gets some depth added in the next two books. I do like the focus on female friendships in this book. I will definitely say that. You can’t have a feminist book without female friendships!
Honestly, back to the love triangle, I feel like there’s something wrong with the fact that I feel that which direction the story takes is dependent on which person Guinevere takes as a romantic partner, but I don’t think it’s my fault. Guinevere’s decisions are often made based on what the plot requires rather than decisions a human would actually make in those circumstances. She’s not quite as developed as she should be, and she definitely isn’t developed enough to carry a plot by herself. And it kills me, because she had the potential to have so much bite. And then she didn’t.
Guinevere was also…maybe not quite as smart as she could have been. I understand that she’s lost a lot of her memories and isn’t working with all the information she needs! But she doesn’t ask any questions. She discovers something extremely shady about Merlin? She’ll put off asking Arthur. She doesn’t want to be a bother, and they’re so happy together right now! Arthur’s been keeping something from her? Well, she won’t ask much about it. Arthur can tell her in his own time! Literally everyone who has put her in this precarious situation has been lying to her? Well, she’ll just have to trust them, after all! Arthur is a good and true king, and he must know much better than she does! Has Arthur actually given her reason to believe he’s a good and true person to her? Well, no, but everyone else tells her he’s good and true, so he must be!
It. Is so. Infuriating. I want to shake her and tell her to wake up and embrace her inner villainess.
I’m feeling kind of like an evil villain myself as I write this review. I’m like that annoying character who screams at the main character, “lEt ThE hAtE fLoW tHrOuGh YoU” or something.
(As a side note, the one thing I refuse to blame this book for is the love square. Arthuriana was built on the backs of unholy love pentagrams, and who am I to question that? Judging an Arthuriana book for a love triangle/square/pentagram isn’t really something I’m going to spend my time doing.)
I do have plenty of quotes I like in this book! Most of them from Mordred, of course. Allow me:
Mordred slipped into the shade, finding a cushion near Guinevere and lying idly at her side. “Did you miss me?” His voice slid beneath the chatter so no one else heard.
“Were you gone?” Guinevere asked.
Mordred put his hands to his heart, feigning being pierced by an arrow. He fell onto his back and closed his eyes.
“Are you going to nap instead of hunt?” Brangien asked, cross.
Look I have a type okay
“Brangien.” Mordred put a hand to his chest as though wounded himself. “You have the soul and imagination of a hammer. Stories are not nails to be driven home. They are tapestries to be woven.”
Yeah so he’s the dumb hot villain that I will hopefully forget about/feel embarrassed for liking soon enough, but until then, let me enjoy my bright spot of a slightly disappointing novel in peace.
Am I disgusted with the fact that the hot villainous eco-terrorist is, yet again, my favorite character? Absolutely. Am I going to think about why that is? Absolutely not. I feel I would find many things about myself I would be better off not knowing.
In conclusion, do I like the book? Yes. It was entertaining and funny, even if it wasn’t, again, as developed a book as it could have been. The side characters were wonderful. I think my issues with the book could definitely be solved by the sequels. The problem is, they could also be made a lot worse, and I’m really unsure which direction this trilogy is going to take. I might wait for reviews of the next two books and try to find out what happens before I read (yes, I am one of those psychopaths who doesn’t mind spoiling a book for myself).
But it did really frustrate me to see Guinevere choose the person who she knows has been lying to her and undervaluing her the whole novel. I didn’t understand why she would. I think this book would have done way better as a dark retelling in the vein of Elizabeth Frankenstein, where we know there isn’t really supposed to be a good guy, except for the poor heroine trying to navigate it all. The Guinevere Deception is definitely not the worst book, not at all! But I am left with wracking doubt for the sequels, and there are many, many books that have never left me feeling like that at all.
Also, I was having trouble imagining Guinevere so then I just imagined her as looking like Wen Qing from The Untamed instead, because Wen Qing is beautiful. This is a completely irrelevant fact that I will probably delete before I post the review.
Trigger warning for brief discussion of sexual assault and harassment
This book was…rather infuriating.
There, I said it. I am aware that this is entirely my fault. No, I should not have read this. Yes, I should have known better. Yes, I am an idiot and tried to read it anyway.
*sobs* Why am I so stupid, I honestly thought this book would be better than the first one and have better pacing and writing and stuff I’m a MORON
I honestly gave Thyon waay too much credit in my review of the previous book. Why did I fall for the classist jerk? He’s kind of a moron. Also, HE DIDN’T NEED TO STEAL LAZLO’S BOOKS. HE COULD HAVE ASKED FOR THE FREAKING PRIMARY SOURCES, WHICH PROBABLY WOULD HAVE BEEN EASIER TO SIFT THROUGH THAN SOME COLLEGE STUDENT’S DERANGED SCRIBBLINGS. Anyway, I was way too nice to h–
Strange, a god? Through all his musing, Thyon had not allowed those words to scrape against each other. “That’s absurd,” he said tightly.
Calixte agreed, though for a different reason. Thyon objected to the notion that Lazlo could be divine, powerful.
Oh. OH. I remember why I love him now. It also really doesn’t help that he’s the only character who gets called out for his bad behavior. The others, who sometimes do horrific things, do not. Yeah, it’s possible I wouldn’t have liked him in a better book, but I like him in comparison to the others. Okay. Yeah, we’re already getting off to a good start.
There were still a couple of things I liked. Eril-Fane was definitely the high point of this story. He’s a person who has suffered, but who is still going to step up and do the right thing, even if he doesn’t always know the right thing is. He’s such a brave person, and he should have been the main character. He was ten times more interesting than everyone else combined. There, I said it. He’s amazing. I do have a problem with his character arc, though, specifically in regards to how the arc handles trauma-induced fear of touching people. Why does fiction treat this like some deal-breaking thing in a relationship? I have a huge problem with Azareen saying that he’s not exactly her husband. HE LITERALLY KILLED A GOD FOR YOU, AZAREEN. I’M PRETTY SURE HE LOVES YOU. Sometimes your husband goes through horrible trauma and can’t touch you anymore, and you have to live with them and love them anyway. It happens. Aside from that, I’m pretty happy with Eril-Fane’s arc, though. That was an annoying note, but the rest of his arc was really good.
I thought the pacing in this book was better! That’s not saying much, though, considering the pacing of the first book, and there were still parts in this that dragged. But stuff happened, and the periods of time where stuff did not happen were not as common as before. I think the writing was also better; the placement of adjectives was more careful, and there weren’t nearly as many places where I had to slow down to try to figure out what the author was trying to say. In fact, there were scenes in this that really gripped me. I LOVED the scenes with Nova. Nova was amazing and also would have been a better contender for the role of main character than Lazlo Strange.
(In fact, I have a list of characters who would have made better main characters than Lazlo Strange. I’ll let you guess everyone on that list. I think I’ve made my opinions clear.)
Lazlo and Sarai, as in the previous book, were incredibly boring. It certainly didn’t change in this book. I don’t understand why on earth anyone would fall for someone just because he has nice dreams. I have nice dreams sometimes, Sarai. Are you going to make a value judgement on me based off of that? The foundation of their relationship is incredibly flimsy, so when Lazlo considers risking an entire city for her, it’s painful to watch. Especially since they’ve only known each other for what, three weeks? Also, don’t…Please don’t make out in the room where Sarai’s mother raped people for two hundred years. That’s like making out in fantasy Auschwitz.* It’s gross.
*Do note that I do not lightly compare things to Auschwitz. I just can’t think of another place with as bad a connotation as the room in the story would have in the setting.
And Thyon’s character arc. Oh my goodness. It kind of felt like…Like I guess if the author tried to make me a cake, but she didn’t know which kind of cake I liked, so then she made me a coconut cake and coconut cake makes me gag. So now I’m left with a cake I can’t eat and a feeling of vague discomfort.
Tell me if this sounds like a good idea, okay? Let’s take a character. He’ll be a rich aristocrat and the vehicle we use to talk about classism, xenophobia, and sexism. But wait! He’ll also be gay, mentally ill, and an abuse survivor! There’s no way this can go wrong!
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that cute romantic bickering should never, ever consist of Ruza telling Thyon, ‘Hey, last time we spoke you seemed vaguely xenophobic, and why are you cutting yourself, lol that’s so weird.’ It makes both Ruza and Thyon look terrible. The whole scene seems so ableist! It is bad, bad writing. Also? Also, if Ruza lists several very good reasons as to why he dislikes Thyon and follows it up with, ‘and he’s so pretty he doesn’t look real, what a loser,’* it’s not cute, okay? It gives off the impression that Ruza is only into Thyon for Thyon’s looks (which was the impression I was getting throughout the novel, tbh, because I can’t think why else Ruza would be into him). And I don’t actually care if you’re deriding someone for being too ugly or too pretty. Negative comments on someone’s personal appearance ain’t cute, Ruza. Don’t do it.
*All dialogue in this paragraph is paraphrased. Obviously.
(Also, allow me to say that if Ruza really loved Thyon, he would have gotten him gloves when they worked with rope. True love doesn’t bandage your hands after the fact. True love gets you gloves.)
Oh, and remember how I liked Calixte in the last book? Yeah, I don’t…Why on earth did she ask Thyon if he was a virgin and if he was gay? Actually, I know why. She did it in order to get under his skin. That’s scummy. It’s especially unforgivable to me since Thyon comes from a homophobic society. I just…don’t like how Calixte handled any of this, and she never had a moment where she sat down and realized that she might have been unkind. Ruza also never sat down and discussed Thyon cutting himself and apologized for not taking it more seriously. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if Thyon apologized for how he treated Ruza, either?? At least the narrative treated Thyon’s wrongdoings as horrible, though, and he had actual consequences. Ruza and Calixte never got even that.
Also, I just…do not remember any of Thyon’s alleged xenophobia from the previous book? It’s possible I just missed it. It was a long book and I tended to ignore out-of-character actions anyway. I don’t have a copy on hand, so I can’t check, but if it was not mentioned in the previous book, then just…Yeah. Okay. Racism is a wonderful trait to give a character last minute, especially right before you get him together with the brown character. And I certainly never noticed Thyon being weird to Ruza in this book (please correct me if I was an idiot and missed something), so…why was this in there? The only thing the ableism and racism do for the story is to make the romance uncomfortable and awkward. Both characters deserve better.
I also love how Sarai criticizes Thyon for having nightmares. He probably has nightmares because he has PTSD, Sarai. Why on earth would you…I don’t know anymore. I don’t know why someone would be like this. She’s seen the effects of PTSD before! She has no right to judge someone for having nightmares! I guess if the trauma isn’t caused by her parents, it doesn’t matter? I don’t know. It’s a bad book.
Yeah, I don’t…I don’t really like Sarai. Is she just mad at Thyon because he interrupted her makeout scene with Lazlo in the last book? That’s the only thing that makes sense. I love Thyon for that, by the way. He may be a problematic fave, but he’s my problematic fave who saved me from the terrible makeout session.
I HATED that Minya was given a redemption arc. She’s an abuser and a slaver. She gaslights Sarai, she took away Sarai’s medicine in the first book, and she threatens to kill Sarai for good. And she’s literally enslaved hundreds of people. This isn’t a character you redeem. There’s a reason why some villains are only redeemed in death, okay? The things they have done are so awful that the narrative CAN’T let them live. They can’t feasibly make their way back into society. Also, was it just me, or did the narrative extend more sympathy to her than to Thyon? You…You know, the mentally ill queer abuse survivor who has not enslaved anyone? It was…uncomfortable.
Ruby and Feral were AWFUL, as they were in the previous book. Ruby gets upset at Feral at one point for not spying on her in the bath without her consent. Ruby also spies on Feral without his consent and Feral claims to be…happy about it. That wasn’t creepy at all. (It was that point when I knew I was never DNFing this book. I was going to see this to the bitter end so I could scream my rage into the void that was the internet.) Ruby and Feral are…fifteen. Honestly, Ruby is so weird that I’d almost think that it’s intentionally set up to show that Ruby has no morals and has been raised by wolves, basically. That would have been fine. The problem is that people from the outside do not seem to view her general behavior as odd. That is a big problem.
Apart from the creepy consent issues (and that’s a pretty big thing to ignore), I just…don’t really want to read about a fifteen-year-old exploring her sexuality? I’m pretty sure most fifteen-year-olds don’t want to read that, either? Am I wrong?
Also, just something personal that bothered me: Why are a bunch of characters in what I assume is a vaguely pan-West Asian setting referencing purgatory? Isn’t that a very specifically Catholic concept?
As for the stuff I liked…Well, as mentioned, I loved Eril-Fane and Nova, and I thought the scenes we saw from Thyon’s point of view were interesting, even though I hated how some of the issues were handled. Honestly, some of Thyon’s thought patterns got me. The way his anxiety was portrayed was realistic, even though I didn’t like how the other characters reacted to it. I think I would have liked it a lot better if Thyon could have come to his own personal realizations away from the main friend group, both for his sake and for Ruza’s. I did think that the scenes where Thyon learned humility were really powerful, despite my issues with the arc. And there were moments where I got lost in the story! Some scenes, particularly the ones with Nova, were enthralling. Overall, though, I think a lot of this story could have been better thought through, and a lot of it could have been made more interesting. I get why other people like it. I just…couldn’t get behind it.
You know what infuriates me the most, though? When I first started Strange the Dreamer, I thought Lazlo/Thyon was going to be a thing. Thyon really was introduced like a love interest! But as I kept reading, it soon became clear that Lazlo/Thyon was not, in fact, going to be a thing. Essentially, I was cheated out of two Renaissance era gay scholars–an alchemist and a historian–teaming up to save an ancient city in the enemies-to-lovers romance of the century. I was CHEATED of that, and no, I am not over this. I will never be over this.
[Edit: My sister was reading aloud a Lazlo/Sarai makeout scene and laughing at it, and apparently…Sarai’s…hearts and veins…started glowing? Anyway, I leave you with this:
[Edit no. 2: Can I just say the way slavery was handled in this was HORRIBLE? Minya’s slaves were such an afterthought. Only three of Minya’s slaves were named. One had no lines, and the other two were villainized. Sarai briefly mentions that they really ought to free the slaves, and Lazlo hastens to reassure her that the slavery is not her fault. However, I never noticed her fighting very hard for the slaves’ freedom in either book, and she certainly wasn’t willing to sacrifice herself for them. I also notice that Nova, the woman who has freed many slaves, is villainized, while Sarai and her friends, who own slaves, are not. Essentially, what with Minya’s slavery and Ruby’s sexual assault*, both characters are doing the same thing their parents did while everyone else looks the other way. It is GROSS.
*For context, Ruby is described in the first book as forcing the slaves to kiss her and there’s this scene in the first book where she’s making out with her boyfriend and says something among the lines of “wow…his warm hands are so much better than the cold unwilling hands of the ghosts…” or whatever (I read that book when I was seventeen and I cannot remember if they were about to have sex or if they were just kissing, but the implications were still fucking weird either way. I’m pretty sure I thought they were about to have sex at the time, but I was seventeen and my reading comprehension was not great back then lmao). Anyway! That was creepy!]
Please do note that I do not blame the author for any of the stuff that bugged me. I don’t think anyone sets out to write a mentally ill queer character or a brown character with the intention of portraying them in an offensive or off-putting way (except for a few people, but let’s not go there). I don’t know the author personally, and it’s possible she’s a perfectly lovely person who just wrote something that annoyed me. It’s also certainly possible that some mentally ill queer people out there did enjoy the book! I just had problems with it, but my problems are with the book, not her.
I did get some fanfic out of this endeavour, because I did lowkey like the first book, so reading this duology wasn’t entirely pointless! Overall, though, it wasn’t really for me, and I should have known.
(As an addendum, since you could argue Eril-Fane is kind of a King Arthur figure–both characters are war heroes who killed children in an attempt to protect their kingdom, the comparison might be a stretch but whatever–can you IMAGINE how amazing Sarai would have been as a Mordred figure? I want Sarai who is an actual antiheroine instead of being ‘sympathetic’ and vaguely unpleasant. Minya does not count as a Mordred analogue btw, because for all Mordred’s flaws, he never enslaved anyone. Mordred is a good boy. Minya is not.)
Also, I am living in fear of the day the author announces that it was not, in fact, a duology and she’s writing a third book and then my stupid brain won’t let me leave the series unfinished, but hopefully that won’t happen (sorry, fans of this book)
I refuse to believe it’s 2020. I feel like, in some part of my brain, it’s still 1215 and we’re still talking about the Magna Carta and King Arthur and whatever it was we all talked about in 1215, I don’t know. But anyway, I decided to write a yearly recap of 2019 or somesuch. God knows why, because no one could be less interested in what I did this year than I am.
Or is that true? It’s true that, as of the past two months, things have been looking up. I’ve been writing far more. I’ve been (astonishingly) learning lots of things. I’ve found books I love, and have been, in general, interacting with my life more. It figures that I only start liking the year once it’s almost over.
Nah, I don’t really want to talk about this.
Okay, I turned eighteen this year! And I also did decently on my SATs. That’s…Is that all I did? I feel like I spent most of this year in hiding.
But hey, I started a blog! That’s something.
You know, sometimes I see people say, ‘so, I’ve hit such a massive reading slump lately. I’ve only read 5401 books this month,’ and I’m just…No! You people are doing fine, don’t beat yourselves up over it! Sometimes I only read two books a year!
Shockingly, I did not only read two books this year. Let’s see if I can get these in order (I may miss some):
This one was very good. This book is so delightfully quirky while still getting quite dark in places, and can I say that dark fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously is my favorite thing? I also loved the bi rep so, so much, and it came at a time when I needed it, too. I’ll admit I was a bit scared when I (accidentally) read a spoiler about Adam and Ronan, because I just couldn’t see how they would work well together? But Adam got a lot of character development in this book, and I actually like him now, and something about Ronan and him really do just click. I will admit that I do think their relationship could have been built up over the previous two books, but it still works.
And also like…the plot was good and whatever other boring stuff you want me to talk about, but we all know I’m really here for the ships.
I will say one thing, though: More could have and should have been done with Gwenllian. You can’t just drop a magical character from the 14th century there in your story and then leave her to her own devices.
Eh. The Raven King was okay, and the writing was still gorgeous as usual. But I can’t help but feel like the ending was pretty anticlimactic. I remember feeling, right after I finished it, that I wish the author had written a historical fantasy about Glendower instead. I don’t know why. (I guess it is kind of an unfair complaint to say, ‘I liked this book, but I wish the author had written a completely different book in a different genre.’) I think the history behind all the worldbuilding was the really, really fascinating thing about all this, and it’s the part of the story that is consistently underplayed.
Also, did Ronan…Did Ronan really make a racist joke behind his Asian friend’s back, or did I misread that? And Blue, who gets so up-in-arms about other stuff, was willing to just laugh it off? I hope I misread that. (I don’t have a copy on hand right now, so I can’t say for sure. It did jump out at me when I was reading it, though. I know someone else mentioned it too, so I assume I didn’t misinterpret because tired or something.) I mean, it’s definitely not unrealistic for a white boy from the south, but it is a bit…disappointing.
Yeah. It was an okay book. Definitely not perfect. I still love the other three books, though.
This was just a three star read. Maybe a two? I don’t know. It wasn’t the worst book ever, but I didn’t love it at all. I liked parts of it (the setting, a couple of the characters, how alchemy was portrayed), and I hated other parts (the fact that most of the cast was underdeveloped, among other things). I wrote a review of this, which was actually my very first book review? I’m unreasonably proud of the post, considering it’s terrible, but the review still does make me laugh, so that’s good.
On the bright side, I did write some fanfic for this, and the book got me to look up some stuff about chemistry and alchemy, so that’s excellent. Did you know that the science of chemistry actually comes out of alchemy? Darn it, now I wish I’d actually learned some more chemistry. I want to be an alchemist, too.
I actually did pick up the second book at the library, and so far it’s way worse than the first one. My plan is to power through on the sheer force of my own salt so I can write a review, but I may DNF it.
So, objectively, this is a terrible book. Or, more accurately, there are very large peaks and dips in the quality. The plotting is excellent, and it can actually get very suspenseful and creepy sometimes. The romance is freaking cringey. Like, it’s probably a Shatter Me on the levels of books that I like, as in, this got a LOT of emotions out of me at five in the morning, but is it good? Would I read it again? Nah.
But this is also the first book I’ve ever read with a bi main character. And I know it’s kind of stupid to look for representation in a Boy’s Love novel, from everything I’ve heard about the genre, but–I don’t think it was terrible? It wasn’t the best ever, but I don’t think it was terrible. And the characters honestly seem to love each other and have a lot of chemistry and they don’t die at the end. So I think that was what caused my unreasonably happy reaction over this book.
(Note that I am not averse to queer main characters dying at the end, as long as it’s because they’re going up against the evil empire and there was no way out of that alive, and not because one character dies of AIDS and the other jumps off a cliff because something something homophobia. Just like…don’t make it tacky. But it’s still incredibly nice when queer characters don’t die.)
I will say that I think the denouement is the weakest part of the book. Sex scenes are nearly impossible to get right, and kinky sex scenes are not really my preferred thing to read–no shame to you if you like them, of course (I should note that I skimmed the sex scene hard after about a quarter of the way through it, so I can’t tell you much about the quality, except…it is difficult to make a sex scene appealing to me and this wasn’t any different). And I also skimmed through a couple of the post-credits short stories and it seemed like they were kinda shit, so I didn’t read them ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ But I’m reviewing the novel here, not the short stories.
I also honestly cannot tell you if any parts of this novel were problematic, because I read this at five in the morning and my brain can not tell what’s problematic and what isn’t at five in the morning. Sorry.
Overall, I liked the book, but I’m not sure I’d read it again, just in case those happy memories were a lie.
A really excellent book overall, but I won’t say much here because I actually wrote a review and have yet to post it.
I LOVE THIS BOOK. Easily my favorite book of 2019. I do plan on writing a review, but just in case I don’t get it up, read this for demon butlers, stubborn librarians, and absentminded sorcerers. And also, the story has a Howl’s Moving Castle feel, and it’s just really amazing in general. Go read it.
I think that was all the fiction I read this year? I could have read more and forgotten, but I don’t know.
I barely wrote anything at the start of the year, but I’m starting to get back into the flow of things. I’ve actually started writing fanfiction, which I used to never write, and so far it’s really fun. I also put four short stories onto my blog! I was going to link them in this post, but then I realized I have a little page with their links up there at the top of this website. So you can check them out if you want to.
In case you were wondering about my opinion on them, which you probably weren’t, I think ‘Bran and the Bear’ and ‘The Skeleton Harp’ are the best written, technically speaking, but ‘Sepideh and the Jinni’ and ‘The King and the Courtier’ are my personal favorites. My opinion could change completely by next week.
I also finally learned how to actually plot things this year, I think. And I think my writing may be beginning to hold together better? Hopefully? Anyway, I love writing, and even though it tried to the best of its ability, 2019 did not get to change that.
Obviously, I started a blog. I also posted some things on the blog, and I can’t really pick a favorite or even list my top favorites because I’m just that self-absorbed and like all of them, but I liked all my fairy tale and fairy tale-related stuff and also I reread my Cruel Prince review every time I want a laugh.
When I started this blog, I expected to consistently cringe over my posts a month after I put them out, but I actually don’t? It feels kind of nice to put my most badly-written self out on the internet. I mean, sure, my first couple of posts are objectively cringy, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ And some of them aren’t as bad as I thought they would be. I thought my post on Mordred and Guinevere’s relationship was terrible when I first put it out, but when I reread it a couple months ago, I didn’t think it was too bad. (Now, I could be completely delusional on this matter.) (Also, man did I used to overuse italics.)
I was thinking about listing my favorite bloggers like El did (with permission to take her idea, of course), but then I realized I’d have to list literally everyone I follow, so maybe not. You’re all great, seriously.
Anyway, screw it, despite the hard stuff, it has been a great year, and I’m so happy to make it to the end of it with you guys. Thank you for supporting me this year, and happy New Year!
This book has everything I like in a story. Fairies? Court intrigue? A spicy enemies-to-lovers romance?! ANTIHEROINES?! It’s like someone had a book idea marketed personally to me!
That being said…
*sighs* *lets book fall to floor* *starts stabbing book viciously with spear*
Yeah, as you may have guessed, we didn’t work out. I feel cheated. The book probably felt pretty mad at me, too, after I chucked it in the trash along with a spider that had died on the cover. Maybe the spider read the book and decided to give up the ghost then and there. But anyway, that’s why I’m reviewing with a library copy now. Just in case you were wondering.
To clarify a few things: Firstly, I read this book about a year ago, and I am absolutely not REreading this book, so, although my memory on this book is pretty clear, it’s obviously not going to be as sharp as when I first finished it. Secondly, even though the book and I really didn’t get along and it was a pretty tough breakup, I’m going to try my hardest not to let this devolve into a rant. Not because I have anything against rant reviews–they’re pretty fun to read, and I totally get wanting to let your feelings out when a book made you mad–but because I have dreams of getting published someday, and I know a rant review would hurt to read as an author. Not that the author would ever find this review, but do unto others, as they say.
*Reads my entire first three paragraphs* Whoops. Apparently it’s too late. Anyway, I will try to talk about this in an evenhanded tone, but I make no promises, because this book made me really mad.
It made me mad for several reasons, including the badly written court intrigue (NOTHING HAPPENED UNTIL OVER HALFWAY THROUGH THE BOOK), but at a point, the plot was the least of my problems. No, my problems start with Jude and end with Cardan. They. Were. Awful.
When they told me I was getting a cruel prince, I expected someone like this:
Oh, or how about this:
Okay, technically I didn’t expect full-on Yi Heon, because I hadn’t watched that drama yet when I read this book, but I expected a character like this. Absolutely insane, completely paranoid, murdering everyone he’s paranoid of, maybe even a drug addiction that negatively impacts his life, a tense and emotionally fraught relationship with the heroine, he loves the heroine in an utterly twisted way but it’s still really sad (up to a certain point in the drama ahem), but please cut the rapey parts if you’re going to make him a first lead, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. (Yi Heon was not a first lead. We are good.) Instead, taking it piece by piece, a) we didn’t get much insanity from Cardan–probably a good thing, to be honest, because I don’t have faith in YA’s ability to handle a mentally ill villain, b) there may have been some sort of fairyland equivalent of LSD, but neither that nor the alcohol addiction seemed to affect Cardan’s life in anyway–oh please no, YA, alcoholism destroys lives, and c) it wasn’t as much a tense and emotionally fraught relationship so much as Cardan being a jackass 24/7. Oh, and finally, d) YOU FORGOT TO CUT THE RAPEY PARTS, HOLLY BLACK.
Here’s the big problem I have with this book: all of Cardan and Jude’s interactions are sexualized, but all of Cardan and Jude’s interactions are focused on Cardan humiliating Jude. And on first read, I thought the sexualization was much subtler and (most of) it was just a thing that I personally saw, but skimming through it now, I’m not so sure:
“Oh, so you’ll do what I say for her sake?” Cardan’s gaze is hungry, devouring. “Does that feel noble?” He pauses, and in that silence all I hear is Taryn’s hitched breath. “Does it?”
^ You see my point? ‘Hungry, devouring’ are two adjectives that are used a) for two characters who are lovers, or b) for someone getting off on another person’s discomfort. Considering he’s the hero, I don’t like this very much. It left a bad taste in my mouth, and you may call me a wimp if you like. But no, it doesn’t stop there.
Cardan walks behind me. “You are docile today. Did your sister admonish you? She desires our approval very much.” One of his booted feet toes the clover-covered ground, kicking up a clod. “I imagine that if I asked, she’d roll with me right here until we turned her white gown green and then thank me for the honor of my favor.” He smiles, going in for the kill, leaning toward me as if confiding a secret. “Not that I’d be the first to green-gown her.”
Okay, first of all, ewww that sounds like something a badly written Harlequin romance novel hero would say ewwwww, and secondly, when I first saw this, I thought he was threatening to rape Taryn (the sister), and I am not entirely sure Cardan didn’t mean Jude to take it that way, too. As I read on, he wasn’t…technically saying this (fairies can’t lie in this world), because Taryn does in fact sleep around with a lot of guys and is kind of a social climber, so…Um…I guess Taryn would probably have consented, as in, she’d have actually wanted to do it, but if she didn’t, I mean, how much of a choice would she still have had in that situation, and…IT WAS A BAD BOOK, OKAY? And for some context as to why I would call it rape, Taryn is human and Cardan is a fairy prince, which means she is much, much lower on the social scale than Cardan and no one else in this world would likely take her side if she told Cardan no. She is also incredibly passive, and would probably not say no even if she really did not want to. And at the beginning of the book, we are given no context to point to Taryn wanting to, and Cardan KNOWS Jude thinks her sister wouldn’t want to. That’s…getting into that territory, Cardan.
Also, any book that makes me say, “WHEW! The hero wasn’t threatening to rape the heroine’s sister! He was just slut-shaming the heroine’s sister! YAY!” Um…it’s probably leaving something to be desired.
Okay, and now I want all of you to hold hands with me and chant: “A MAGICAL ROOFIE IS STILL A ROOFIE. JUST BECAUSE IT IS PLACED IN A FANTASY CONTEXT DOES NOT MAKE IT NOT A ROOFIE.” So, uh…No one raped Jude, which is the most I can say for this book, but Cardan’s friends force-fed her a magical fruit that, basically, acts like a roofie, and then they proceeded to sexually harass her, making her take her clothes off, etc. Uh…this situation makes Cardan slightly uncomfortable, but he doesn’t do much to stop them, and, lo and behold, he even joins in a little. And yes, I went through the pain of rereading that scene just for you guys. I hope you appreciate it, because that took a lot out of me.
But it’s totally okay, guys! He’s being abused! Cardan isn’t responsible for the things he’s done or anything! (like, you know…the sexual harassment.) LOVE THE PUPPY.
And this book has a whole host of other problems, number one being that the plot didn’t start till over halfway through the book, and number two being that Jude threw herself into dangerous situations with no plan, like all my favorite YA heroines, but you know what, I don’t want to finish this review. Forget it. Not even Crowned Clown gifs can pull me through this. Although, I will say one thing regarding Madoc: he was actually the one aspect of this book I found interesting. I totally get how Jude loved him as a father figure, in a twisted way; even though he killed her parents, he’s also the only one who’s been able to protect her in a harsh, unforgiving world. Stockholm syndrome, basically. I actually really loved Madoc–he gave me Marak from The Hollow Kingdom vibes, and The Hollow Kingdom is one of my favorite books ever–and I would have 1000% preferred the story narrated by him rather than Jude. We might have actually gotten some political intrigue, for one. But no. The book focuses on the boring dumbass teenagers, as usual.
One last thing: I absolutely do not blame anyone for liking this book, heaven knows I’ve liked things that other people hated. This just didn’t work for me personally, but if it worked for you, that is WONDERFUL. Also, wow getting out my feelings in this review felt really good. I see why people like writing rant reviews now.
Mothling out. Go watch Crowned Clown, the court intrigue is interesting and the characters are about 1000 times more likable.
Synopsis: The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.
I got Strange the Dreamer from the library, not knowing anything about it but still feeling a little bit skeptical, just because popular YA novels and I don’t seem to get along for some reason–I sound like such a snob, I know. I read the first five chapters on the way home, and I loved them. The writing was lush and descriptive. The characters weren’t the worst. (Maybe ‘characters weren’t the worst’ should have been the first sign.)
And then it all went downhill from there, and I gave it up at 50-75% and skimmed the rest.
Heh. Yes, I am hard to please. But I think I read enough of the book to form an opinion on it, and I just thought I’d post my thoughts anyway, for your enjoyment (or unenjoyment). And it’s in list format! Because I like lists! And I am sorry I didn’t like this book, I feel bad and hard to please. But I didn’t. And I’m slightly bitter.
So to sum up, this is very much a just-for-me post.
Nice Mothling (the things I like):
Ooh, the cover. Blue and gold are like my favorite. And it has moths! Heh heh.
It’s definitely not badly written. The prose is amazing. It’s like eating a cake. So many writers (including myself) completely forget description. This is coated in description, and it. is. Beautiful.
The worldbuilding has holes, but it is gorgeous. And I love the sort of surrealist magic that you see. The actual magic you see the characters doing wasn’t as interesting to me, but that is purely personal opinion. Maybe I’ll write an article about the types of magic I like seeing in books and the types of magic I’m tired of. And then I can proceed to go against everything I say in my own writing, because I love not following my own advice.
I’ve kind of had a taste for surrealist magic lately, and I love the demon bones and ghost birds. Those were cool.
The characters weren’t the worst, but I do wish she had focused on character dynamics more? Character dynamics are the one thing that will keep me from nitpicking. And this does tie back into the description, because I think she focused so much on description she let this fall to the wayside a bit? It’s a problem with description when it keeps the story from feeling in the present, and yes, that happens in this story. And I do sympathize, because mixing action and character and description is incredibly hard, and I have that very same problem. But it’s so so important to do. So no hate here, but I just feel like it could have done better?
I like Thyon, and he’s the only character I deeply connected to. He suffers and hurts and overworks himself. He sort of plagiarizes Lazlo’s work–Lazlo is the one who helped him make his breakthrough on alchemy and learn about the Unseen City, also known as Weep, and yet he never says that Lazlo is the reason why he got that far (it’s a bit…more complicated, but that’s a basic summary of what happened without going into all the lengthy details). But I still understand why Thyon did that in-story. That being said, there really are moments in the book where Thyon feels like a caricature, and I’m not sure why. For some reason it always happens when he’s not working on his alchemy? He needs to work on his alchemy 100% of the time, it’s the only time when he’s a relatable character, lol.
I also like how Thyon’s abuse is portrayed and how it isn’t treated as an excuse for the things he does. That is not addressed nearly enough in fiction. Yes, an abusive background can make a character’s actions more understandable in a novel, but sympathetic? Definitely not always. Your choices are still your own. There was a bit of unreality for me in the way Lazlo handled the abuse though. Lazlo’s reaction was basically, ‘Oh, he’s being abused! I feel bad for him and want to help him! Oh wait, he’s a jerkface. Never mind.’ Please give me more conflicting emotions. Or else have Lazlo feel like Thyon has no excuse since Lazlo went through sort of the same thing! That would be a more convincing reaction, too!
Can you tell Thyon is the only thing I like in this book? He’s such a bit-part character, it’s sad. Although why did he get two chapters introducing his backstory if he was going to fade into the background for most of the novel? It’s not my fault, the novel tricked me into thinking he was going to be a major character!
Why does Lazlo miss so many cues? I could see Thyon’s motivations for wanting to leave the city, and Lazlo just…couldn’t. Lazlo, it’s not rocket science, it’s obvious. Also, that’s where Thyon started feeling like a caricature. Exact point. He recovers later, but it’s a while later.
Having an unreliable narrator is hard, I know, but what you do is put in subtle cues and clues. Show me the desperation in Thyon’s eyes when he’s offered the chance to leave the city. Hint that he has a bigger motivation than what Lazlo attributes to him.
They could have shown Lazlo as being less ‘introverted’ and more ‘insanely socially awkward without a clue as to how to relate to people’. And it would have made more sense and I would have loved Lazlo ten times more.
Oh God, I’m complaining in the part where I’m supposed to be talking about the things I like, I’m sorry
Calixte is a queen, and I needed the rep right now, thanks. I appreciate that.
I like Sarai and friends much better than I expected. Most of them. Ahem.
And I do love how this book doesn’t do the, ‘oh, someone got raped! They never think about it again and it never gives them any more emotional trauma.’ Like, that stuff is scarring and this book treats it as such.
I do like that Lazlo is a little older than usual. I’m sick of teens who think exactly like 40-year-old adults.
Minya is a frightening murder-child yet she’s so broken and I like her, not as a person, but as a character. She was grating at first, but once I saw the chapter from her point of view…Oh. My heart.
“Lazlo thought they looked like a pack of ghosts on coffee break.” THAT IS A GREAT LINE.
WE NEED. MORE SCHOLARLY. CHARACTERS IN YA. Thyon is a very science-focused character, and Lazlo is a historian, and I love that. We do not get NEARLY enough of these types of characters in YA. In fact, this whole book read like a love-letter to academics, and I really, really appreciate that. Unfortunately, there were some ways in which academics were portrayed that were…not very realistic IMO, but who knows, I could be wrong. I am a smol moth without much life experience. Although honestly I would have just liked a book that focuses more on the research side of things while still managing to have some adventure? This was mostly adventure. I loved the Amelia Peabody series for that reason!
Angry Mothling (The things I nitpick, and for some of this, do keep in mind I could just be an ignorant little moth who doesn’t know how scholarly things work):
How the heck does Lazlo teach himself to read? I don’t know if no one’s ever done it before, but…let me just say I find it about as likely as the BFG stealing a book and teaching himself to read solely from that. Except Roald Dahl was writing a charming sort-of nonsensical story, so it’s okay in The BFG.
Which leads into the next problem—Lazlo, a poor kid with no college education, has managed to teach himself linguistics well enough to have reconstructed an entire dead language by the age of twenty. By himself. Along with a good portion of the dead culture.
I thought I would love reading scholarly wish fulfillment, but it turns out all I can do is scream. Maybe I’m just jealous.
Also, Ihave trouble believing that Lazlo is reconstructing a dead culture that no one else has ever done any scholarly work on—and he has no one to check his work—and there aren’t a bunch of ridiculous mistakes. Here is how this sort of thing works, in my experience: 1.) Someone comes along to an unexplored field and does work in it. 2.) They hit on some truths. 3.) They also come up with a lot of crazy and stupid theories. 4.) Other people come along, see the work that they did, and improve their mistakes. Conclusion; history–and science, and literally anything–isn’t done alone.
Or at least have someone else who’s also interested in Lazlo’s field and who can check his work! I vote Thyon. We need more Thyon scenes.
Also, finding a record of a sale for some immortality elixir is definitely not proof that immortality elixir was real, Lazlo. People bought unicorn horns back in the day. At least his boss does point out that he could be looking at something other than what he thinks he’s seeing, but I’m kind of surprised Lazlo didn’t go in with that mindset already. (I told you this was nitpicky!)
Okay, and then there’s the entire concept of the mythical city of Weep. Why is it a myth? If they have enough primary documents that Lazlo can reconstruct the entire language, no one in their right mind would consider that a myth! Am I missing something?
Also. Why do they have monasteries and cathedrals and a freaking concept of purgatory and yet they’re all pagan? Excuse me, I just have trouble believing that you could superimpose paganism onto the Christian trappings and not change those trappings a lot.
And the characters, ooh the characters…
I just don’t like Lazlo! His bad past never really affects him strongly, not in a mental or moral way. He grows up uneducated, yet by the time he’s twenty he’s reconstructed a whole dead language. He grows up being insulted and mistreated, yet he never seems to have any deep self-esteem issues or moral problems or any mental issues whatsoever. I genuinely don’t know why he didn’t have good parents, and it would have made much more sense if he had been raised by scholarly people who could have put him on that track. Not every character needs the stock orphan backstory. Some need to be orphans, some don’t. It wouldn’t have changed anything in the story or in his character if he had been raised by Hyrokkin (who is a great character).
We never even see him work for anything. His backstory is sort of brushed over—Thyon had a more emotional, heartwrenching backstory than him, and Thyon’s backstory was told in two chapters—so we never actually see him doing the work. We only see the results. We don’t see him getting frustrated and feeling like he’ll never be able to figure out this dead language, we only see him once he already has it down. We don’t see him doing the grueling labor and getting exhausted and hot in the desert, we only see him once he’s already fit and muscular. He doesn’t work hard enough. He doesn’t have enough setbacks.
Thyon, by contrast, you see putting in grueling hours into his alchemy and getting sick over it. And it’s weird to say he’s the one who works hard since he’s the one who sort of plagiarized the hero, but I mean in the sense of what you actually see the characters doing. You see Thyon struggling to get what he wants. And yet Thyon is only given the answers to his alchemy once Lazlo the god-librarian shows up at his doorstep. And proceeds to solve all his problems within the course of five minutes, even though it’s not Lazlo’s field of study.
Oh goodness, I wrote that joke about him being a god-librarian when I was halfway through the book, and let me just say, after having skimmed through to the end…AUTHOR NOOO
This novel should have had a smaller cast than it did, there were a ton of characters, but only a few were developed. Only a VERY few were fully developed.
There weren’t really any stakes in Lazlo’s chapters, but there were much higher stakes in Sarai’s chapters, and…it was like watching slice of life try to be action-adventure. It didn’t work. I ended up bored all through Lazlo’s parts, which was most of the book. It’d be fine if it were supposed to be slice of life, and I’d actually be interested in reading slice of life fantasy. But the novel wanted to be a high-stakes fantasy, and it couldn’t.
Sarai doesn’t show up until, like, 100 pages in, and their ship and the book suffers for it. I think the point where Lazlo and Sarai got together was the exact point I started skimming? Sarai should have been a fascinating character, and I liked her, just…for some reason, we didn’t entirely click? I liked her better than Lazlo, though. She actually has serious issues she has to deal with throughout most of the book (like not dying), which made her chapters much more interesting to read. I didn’t really expect to like her chapters the best.
Ruby forced Feral to kiss her and I’m pretty sure it was played for laughs? I’ve been having trouble with YA recently for this reason. I know handling sexual assault and harassment is hard, but…Oh well, this definitely isn’t the worst portrayal I’ve seen in YA recently. Ow.
After I thought about it for a few minutes after reading, I realized that Ruby was doing the same thing with the ghosts? She mentioned kissing them, and it was definitely heavy making out. The ghosts are Minya’s slaves and magically bound to her will, and the girls can’t always tell when Minya is forcing the ghosts to do something or not. And even if the ghosts did want to, I would still seriously question Ruby for consenting to that in that situation.
If this was ever addressed as an issue, I didn’t see it. And badly mishandling issues like these can happen, I’m not saying the author is a bad person, I just wish someone had caught it. The author. The editors. SOMEBODY.
Poorly handled sexual assault will be the reason I quit reading
And I almost missed this! Shame on me!
Back to Lazlo, because I don’t want to think about Ruby anymore.
Lazlo is special
“Their vivid faces showed their surprise—not because Lazlo had called out, but because he had called out in Unseen, and unlike Thyon, he didn’t treat it like a common thing, but the rare and precious gem it was. The words, in the reverent tone of his rough voice, sounded like a magic spell.” AM I THE ONLY ONE INCREDIBLY ANNOYED BY THIS.
I don’t speak Latin like other people, especially not my arch-nemesis. I speak Latin with love.
It genuinely kind of annoyed me at first how entitled Lazlo was when he realized he wasn’t going to be able to go to the Unseen City–I’m SORRY you’re a historian with no practical skills, it happens to some of us, Lazlo–but when I reread the scene, I realized the main point where he felt like that was after Thyon was gloating to him, so…maybe understandable? I still have no idea why Thyon did that, by the way. You’ve won, Thyon. Something about that scene yanked me out of reality so hard, and I can’t exactly put my finger on it?
Remember how I said that Thyon started feeling like a caricature at a point? Well, it’s more like everyone felt like a caricature during that point, and Thyon suffered too. Lazlo…tended to pass sweeping judgments on everyone and it was a little hard to read? Or maybe the novel passed sweeping judgments on everyone? Minya was handled much better–she worried me at first, because I was worried they wouldn’t address what she was doing, but after a while, it was clear she was supposed to be bad. But though she was bad, the book didn’t pass judgment on her, per se. It just let her actions stand for what they were. She doesmuch worse things than all the other characters, and yet the bad characters in Lazlo’s sections are treated as being one-dimensionally bad, even characters who by rights should have been very complex.
Lazlo has every right to be angry at those people, but he doesn’t have the right to not be emotionally complex about it.
And then when Lazlo was proven right about the bet. Ugh. We get it, Lazlo! We don’t want to read your high school diary entry about how your bullies got their comeuppance in every way!
Notice how much longer my negative part of the review is. I’m sorry I’m so mean, guys.
And I’m making this novel sound awful, but it’s definitely not the worst book I’ve read, there are just parts of it that grate on my nerves!
Of course Lazlo’s ‘male scent’ is sandalwood and musk (yes Sarai said that). That is the only scent males have. Remember that, romance writers.
I hate this word, but I sort of think of Lazlo as a Mary Sue? I like all the characters who are not him. Or Ruby. Ugh. *cue much visceral shuddering at the mention of Ruby*
After giving up on this book, I feel drained and exhausted, sort of like Thyon after distilling too much Azoth
In conclusion: I am never forcing myself to try to finish a book again, especially not when it’s six hundred pages. I know I sound incredibly bitter, but it really wasn’t the worst book, I just didn’t like it. The problem was that I tried to force myself to finish it, and apparently I lost that ability at age fifteen. Which is why I am left a bitter and angry moth, rather than the happy moth you know and love.
But we do definitely, definitely need more scholars in fiction. I do love that aspect, even though I don’t think it was explored enough. There is a hole in the market.
I am sorry this got so scathing. And so long. I had a lot to say.