Closer to the Chest by Mercedes Lackey

closer-to-the-chest

3 out of 5 stars.

Spoilers for the first two.

Mercedes Lackey is one of my go-to authors, especially when I am feeling depressed. She builds great worlds and can always be counted on for a happy ending. I usually take to her books right away, but this series is starting to wear on me a bit.

My biggest quarrel with this book is that, too often, things end too well for the characters. They come up with answers to problems that suit everyone, they are able to make good use of all of their resources and are able to save people just in time. It is getting to the point where it is a bit too syrupy sweet, even for me. Everything ties up in the end a little too neatly and the author always points out that it works so neatly. The characters don’t have enough flaws and were starting to make me wish for more relatable narrators.

This book is also REALLY feminist, but in a very heavy handed way. Instead of trying to understand why people might be sexist and recommending ways to fix it, she portrays anyone who is sexist as a drooling neanderthal. While that is satisfying at the outset, it makes a very unsatisfying conflict. Because the villains are so pigheaded, all you can do is steamroll over them, which is not usually something you can do in real life. It is the type of  fairy tale wish fulfillment that is good in small doses, but given how prolific this author is, I am starting to wish her writing style would evolve a bit more.

It is a good addition to the series though. Throughout the other two books, the conflicts get more serious and high-stakes and this one continues that trend. Character’s relationships change, but the characters themselves don’t. The world is the same one that has been built up over 10+ books.

This is a book that is strongly Mercedes Lackey. If you want something innovative from her, this is not it, but it is a comforting package of what we have been lead to expect from her.

Rose and Thorn by Sarah Prineas

rose-and-thorn

3 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book

Contains spoilers for the first book

This is the second book in a series that takes place in a world where an impersonal force called Story forces people’s lives into fairy tales, both good and bad. This is not a new idea, both Mercedes Lackey and Seanan Mcguire have the same basic plot, but it remains a good premise. Disney has convinced us that all the fairy tales end happily and deserve a G rating, and it takes books like this to remind exactly how bloodthirsty and disturbing some of them really were.

This installation takes place a generation after the first book. The city has realized that fighting story should probably be a priority so all stories are outlawed, curses are removed, and Watchers patrol the streets waiting for anything that looks too convenient or story-ish. After the first book, this seems like it would be a good idea, but they have gone a little too far and now everything is dreary and bleak without any sort of imagination or narrative to liven things up. After her guardian dies, Rose makes her way to the city where she is arrested for being cursed. The underground rebellion helps her escape, but Story is closing in and they cannot find a way to uncurse her.

I really like the way the author took the premise from the first book (maybe we should not let everything turn into stories), extended it to its logical conclusion (let’s make sure stuff does not turn into stories) and then have that turn out poorly too. Too many books make large, societal changes seems easy (see most dystopian fiction). The society is messed up, but once everyone realizes it, there is a rebellion and everything is fixed. I admire Prineas for being willing to say “you know what, sometimes we try and fix things and we end up making things worse. Doing stuff is hard”.

The weak point of this book is probably the relationships. They seem to be made and broken very easily. In general, this is a flaw of most YA, but it was particularly bad. The author may have expected the “fall in love instantly” fairy tale trope to cover some of it, but I just was not feeling any of the connections in this book, whether romantic or friendship.

This is a really cute series and it does some interesting things with the premise. I found though, after the initial escape from the city, we were back to the plot of the first book, where someone is being turned into a fairy tale character and everyone is trying to stop it. It felt like a rewrite of the first book. So I would rate the first half of this book 4, the second, 3.

Like a River Glorious by Rae Carson

like a river glorious

3 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this work.

For my review of the first in this series, please go here.

This is a fantasy/historical fiction series set during the California gold rush. Leah has the power to sense gold, so after her uncle murders her parents, she and her best friend Jefferson held to California in a wagon train to seek their fortunes.

In this book, Leah and Jefferson and most of their friends have made it and are setting up homesteads. Unfortunately, Leah’s knack for finding riches leads to the wrong sort of attention.

What I loved about the first book was the sense of travel and adventure. It really read like a Laura Ingles Wilder book as the group traveled across the country using oxen and wagons. It was lots of historical fiction, with the relationships between the travellers bringing most of the drama. In this installation, more of the focus shifts towards looking at Leah’s powers and the fallout that comes with being able to find gold. We see less of the friendships and struggles that I loved in the first novel, and more of Leah’s powers.

Leah’s uncle also comes back in this volume and I did not like him much as a character. He is evil, but in a very cartoonish manner. He has no redeeming qualities and seems to have no depth. It if far too easy to hate him and seems like a cheap move by the author.

Too much of the book is just Leah and her uncle, which is definitely dramatic, but not in an interesting way. He is evil and she wants to destroy him. I didn’t have to expend much brain power figuring who I was supposed to sympathize with and who would inevitably win. The other characters fade into he background and not much more of the world is explored.

This was a good addition to the trilogy in that it carried the plot along, but it really did not have the wonderful feel of the original.