About Me

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I'm immortally interested in cultural/literary deconstructions, feminism, anti-racism, South Korea, Supernatural, Sherlock Holmes, Hayao Miyazaki, Diana Wynne Jones, food (including but not limited to maple butter, tomatoes, and toast), fairy tales, parentheses, paper airplanes, films and books.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Giant (WARNING: Minor Spoilers)

Alek and Deryn are on the last leg of their round-the-world quest to end World War I, reclaim Alek’s throne as prince of Austria, and finally fall in love. The first two objectives are complicated by the fact that their ship, the Leviathan, continues to detour farther away from the heart of the war (and crown). And the love thing would be a lot easier if Alek knew Deryn was a girl. (She has to pose as a boy in order to serve in the British Air Service.) And if they weren’t technically enemies. 

The tension thickens as the Leviathan steams toward New York City with a homicidal lunatic on board: secrets suddenly unravel, characters reappear, and nothing is at it seems in this thunderous conclusion to Scott Westerfeld’s brilliant trilogy.**

The end to this fantastic series gave me mixed feelings. Here's why:

Personally, Alek was getting a lttle bit annoying with the destiny talk. Did anyone notice that in the previous books? You know when someone points out something you’ve never seen before but after you can’t stop seeing it? Deryn did that with the destiny thing and now it flat-out aggravates me. What’s wrong with him? Does Deryn need to back-hand him or something? Every chapter he talks about how maybe the newest trouble is part of his destiny or maybe the fact that someone wants to kill him is part of his destiny. Heck, I want to reach into the book and slap him.

One of the best things I found out about this book was the reversal of gender roles. Deryn was taller than Alek, stronger than Alek, heavier than Alek, much more forward than Alek and no matter how much she thought about being in love with the guy, she didn’t let something like a kiss dwell on her mind. I laughed out loud when Deryn was arguing with Volger about Alek’s delicate state of mind and how the revelation about her gender might do to him. I couldn’t stop laughing after the wildcount literally went “Dammit, she’s foiled me again!” It’s just so awesome to see a guy realizing that his best friend’s a girl when she’s saving his life. I mean, it wasn’t even during their tailoring session. They were on top of the levitation and Deryn’s trying to get him to just stay the fuck down with her arms and he's up in her face all woozy going damn, she’s amazing. Delirious Alek is side-splitting. The fact that he couldn’t stop thinking about Deryn’s kiss when she was just like “Score one! Oh, time to climb the spine,” made it all the more great. You know you’re ready excellent YA when the male lead’s more prone to fainting and hallucinations than Bella.

There’s one point in the book at the very end of a chapter where Alek is about to do something incredibly drastic and I screamed at the implication. Because it was pretty much bloody awesome. I may not be the sanest person to be speaking about this but I honestly felt like this series was going to end on the same dark note as Harry Potter. It would have been great for it to end with the same “Your parents have been murdered” vibe that it had started with. I mean, they’re in the middle of a war responsible for eradicating the majority of the world’s monarchy. *Spoilers!* Of course, Westerfield was teasing and went that route anyway but I felt disappointed. The end gave a sense of hope and fluffiness that I wouldn’t have expected with both of them heading off to Edwardian London to be spies during war. I just wished there was more meatiness – more substance. *End of spoilers!*

The label that Miss Rogers gave Deryn “the bell captain” was brilliant. It described her so well too because in Leviathan that was Deryn by the end of the book, holding on to secrets everyone had. I can’t wrap my mind around how brilliant this girl is when you compare her to the thousands of YA heroines in books that are flying off the shelves. She could singlehandedly betray every important person on the ship at any given moment and they know it.

The only problem I had with her was the way Deryn thought about revealing herself to Alek. That apparently was the worst part of everyone finding out about her disguise. Him knowing and hating her. I know that it was the girl’s first crush and she’s from the Edwardian age, but then she goes and kisses him and brushes it off, and I'm having a hard time swallowing that a girl like that would care about him hating her so much. In any case isn’t there more to lose from being revealed than having your crush hate you? Like, you know, decapitation?

I wish Westerfield had spent more time in Japan. I mean, Edwardian Japan with Clanker and Darwinist philosophies together in harmony is much more interesting than the US still fighting their civil war. Speaking of which, it would have been exciting but I feel like the Clankers and the Darwinists were on the wrong sides. I mean, why was the North (if they were still fighting the civil war) with the Clankers? The civil war separation was caused by the North wanting to abolish slavery, a concept that was propagated by the English. So why wouldn’t the North side with the Darwinists (aka the English)? (Although I understand the whole themes of the cold north and their mechanics, and the warm south with all those warm-blooded animals.) I didn’t really get that part (Am I getting my history wrong?). The Mexican Revolution however is such an expansive subject that I hated how lightly it was touched down. Like people have said, it was a bloody, bloody affair and I didn’t like how simple it was rendered when you compare to the second book dedicated to the troubles of Istanbul. The explanation as to why would have made sense but only if it was explained in the book. That part could have easily been substituted for a different country without it affecting the story.

There’s also this feeling of mellowness. You’d think that a girl hiding as a boy would be constantly alert because it might not be a crime but it certainly wouldn’t be allowed during World War I. The revelation of Goliath and what it could do was terrifying at first but then it just got muddled into a potential telecommunications device? I didn’t understand no matter how many times I re-read that part just what the Goliath could do. Was it like a video phone? Did it transmit lightning-like radio waves through the earth? Whatever it was, once Tesla gave his demonstration, it felt like the stakes in the book just dropped. No one ever seemed to be in danger. There was no urgency that I could feel even during the battles. They seemed so longwinded and caught up in the explanations of the logistics. Even the kappas, they just seemed like intelligent crocodiles.

On the other hand, the twist at the end was thoughtful. It felt like Westerfield was saying that man’s greatest enemy isn’t war or one another but themselves. I thought it was a nice touch despite the lack of urgency.

Best thing about the book though? Alek not wanting Deryn to lose her “swagger” and the awesome lorises. Lorsises for president!

All in all=☆☆☆☆

*This book was provided by the publishers at Simon & Schuster.
**The summary was taken from Goodreads.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Drink, Slay, Love (aka I'm back from my months-long hiatus!)

So what happened was, I went to Africa. Ethiopia, specifically, and blogs are blocked by the Internet so I had to give it up for months. When I got back, I had a pile of written reviews that I had yet to type up, but school got in my way and NaNo was finally given me the incentive just write, regardless of time. I'll be here to stay now, thank you very much.

Pearl is a sixteen-year-old vampire... fond of blood, allergic to sunlight, and mostly evil... until the night a sparkly unicorn stabs her through the heart with his horn. Oops.

Her family thinks she was attacked by a vampire hunter (because, obviously, unicorns don't exist), and they're shocked she survived. They're even more shocked when Pearl discovers she can now withstand the sun. But they quickly find a way to make use of her new talent. The Vampire King of New England has chosen Pearl's family to host his feast. If Pearl enrolls in high school, she can make lots of human friends and lure them to the King's feast -- as the entrees.

The only problem? Pearl's starting to feel the twinges of a conscience. How can she serve up her new friends—especially the cute guy who makes her fangs ache—to be slaughtered? Then again, she's definitely dead if she lets down her family. What's a sunlight-loving vamp to do? **

Drink, Slay, Love = WIN.

I'm not sure just how I'm going to be able to convey how wonderfully awesome this book is but I will try in point form because doubtless I'll end up incoherent otherwise.

1) Durst knows how to do atmosphere. Better yet, she can write amazing characters, great plot and do atmosphere which seems to be a hassle for many new YA authors. I felt awe as I read and went through the cool night and opened into a beautiful, warm sunny day (over here it's cloudy 24/7) and then back into a dark, dank mansion that would have creeped me out if I wasn't so in love. Atmosphere in an supernatural book is a must and without it, this book I feel would have suffered.

2) Pearl. Ever heard of a female character with such a feminine name end up so fantastically kick ass? If you thought Buffy, go get yourself a cookie and let me tell you about a second equally wicked one. Despite the fact that she's the second successfully written one I've discovered yet, Pearl remained as un-Buffy like as possible (unlike certain other protagonists). Buffy had that mixture of popular and girly-cool while Pearl just oozed a femme fatale cool not many YA heroines can get nowadays. Personally, I loved her in the first chapter but her new conscience warmed me to me as the book went on and her nickname for the unicorn "Mr. Sparkly and Pointy" won me over. I mean, she's a vampire. Imagining those words coming out of her fanged mouth was hilarious. And then at the end? When she completely turned over an impression Jadrien had made of her? She's just classy. In a way a vampire hasn't been since ... Prime example: Picture a female Damon with a conscience. Yeah. That amazing.

3) Bethany was just ... augh. Best girly female character I've met yet. SPOILER! And she organized the whole thing! How gosh darn amazing is that?! END OF SPOILER. To be honest, all the female characters really are GREAT. You've got the popular girl who doesn't rule the school with her looks but with her self-esteem fueled confidence and at the end, after all that's happened to her, she's STILL got her part of her confidence intact. Albeit it was a bitch move, but isn't that exactly what "bitch" means? Bethany could be considered one as well if it wasn't for the fact that she's ridiculously nice (diabolical plans aside). And oh my God, I loved her even more after I read that she wasn't in love with Evan. Let me rephrase that:

The secondary female character - NOT IN LOVE WITH ANYONE ELSE IN THE BOOK - is exceptional smart, confident and still nice. Seriously. Durst, where have you been hiding?

4) Unicorns. Of course unicorns can give vampires a conscience! They're made of sugar, rainbows, puppies and virgin maidens! Why hasn't anyone thought of this before? Unicorns and vampires are a match made in heaven. Especially the twist which I - the analyzing beast - did not see coming. I loved it though. SPOILER! I mean a guy as a unicorn? Other than the kind of pedophilic undertones I thought of in the insistence the guy ever goes near any little girls, young or not, the reveal made me smile. END OF SPOILER!

5) The romance wasn't exactly pulse pounding but it was the kind of sweet that most YA authors are lacking nowadays. Then again, I had the feeling that physical attraction had a lot to do with it as well. Not to say I didn't enjoy it, but I would have actually felt a lot more satisfied if the book had ended with Pearl and Love Interest admitting their attraction for each other and desire to date. But hello, subversion number one!

6) The subversions were priceless and one of the main reasons why this book just made me want to hug it. We had the (finally!) mean/popular girl outed for what she was: popular because of her confidence. And can I say that I loved that she wasn't even that pretty? She was popular because of her confidence or bullying or whatever it was that made her the best. I actually wished she could have stuck around. Her interactions with Pearl were the best I've seen since the fish-out-of-water scenes in K-dramas. But I do want to say that if this was a real school, Bethany would have been the popular one. I never get how all these mean girls end up popular. In my school (which was full of rich suburban white kids) the most popular girl was yes pretty but she was also really sweet and OK, a little clueless. The same with the popular guy. Man, he wasn't even a jock. He was a really good musician with an excellent personality to match. To this day, no matter how much I enjoy the better written mean girl tropes, they still puzzle me.

Moving on, you have the next subversion, which is the "nice guys are not allowed by universal law to be the main love interest" trope. It brought tears to my eyes, that did. After I got over the whole stalkerish vibe of course, but that was explained later to my relief. In any case, I hope that newer YA writers take this as an expample. Pearl had a perfectly functional jackass as a boyfriend (you could say that this book is a sequel to a book I never want to read) whom Durst calls Jadrien (I laughed when I read that since I first saw that as Jace. Heh). She's aware he's an asshole but then so is she. Then she meets the nice guy and realizes that he's an asshole who cares more about having her because she's hard-to-get and would look good next to her than an actual understandable reason. You see, 1000+ YA female protagnists in the PNR genre? See how Pearl realized this in the space of half a book? So much win.

Bethany is another subversion of one-dimensional secondary "best friend" character of the new girl. Brad is another of the whole victim and "what's one to a million" trope. SPOILER! In most vampire books, once someone dies, that's it. That's literally the end of their existence. But Pearl not only remembers him but the fact that he had a personality right before he died cemented him in her mind and I had to stop from squealing when she was reminiscing. END OF SPOILER!

This last point leads me to the reason why I couldn't wholeheartedly love the book: the cliches. OK, so I understand that Pearl's family are all vampires and that they haven't had a stab in the heart yet but the gothic cliches? I cringed. It's not like they're forced to dress that way. They're vampires! They should have classy style. I can never wrap my head around why vampires would go around wearing human-made imitations of a style that existed in their time. It didn't make any sense to me. Also their attitudes were just ... really? You could have made them much more dynamic. Antoinette was a start with her Molly Ringwald obsession and so was Jeremiah, who I honestly wished I could have seen more of. He's a crazy vampire! Who doesn't love a crazy vampire?

*cough* Drusilla *cough*

He remained a dynamic character to the end and it made me sad to see an opportunity for Durst to flesh out a person affected by tragedy and influence Pearl a little more than done wasted. Then there was the vampire king who gave me the creeps when he was described as seventeen. Why seventeen PNR authors? He's a vampire! He could be any age! Seventeen is such a typical number. At least give me a college age guy so he doesn't feel like a bratty teen king a la Joffrey. Regardless of the age factor, I felt like there was a story behind the king that could have made me look beyond that magical number. A story that could have led to a personality. Sometimes I want to scream: EVIL DOES NOT MEAN PERSONALITY. Voldemort had character because he had a reason behind everything he did.

Why do all these characters assume that they're evil because they kill for food (which we humans do as well)? They're f*cking predators now! Of course they kill humans! Now I understand that vampires are a "species" of humans, which is why it causes some discomfort, but when you look at the news, people are killing each other for no reason everyday. I think that being a vampire with no other healthy blood source, you have to be granted some leeway. Now the king is cruel. He kills someone for violating standing protocol and for not being strong enough to even stand up. This sounds like pretty much every king/emperor/pharoah/dictator/president that ever lived. The latter is even considered a freaking mercy kill.

Another opportunity I felt flew by was Bethany and SPOILER! Pearl's father. I mean it screamed opportunity. Imagine if Bethany turned out to be a spy for Pearl's Daddy? It would have just, I mean ... OK, what actually played out made sense as to get her into  the game. But still. What if Pearl's Daddy turned Bethany? And she took Pearl's place? END OF SPOILER! Augh. So much good dramatic possibility. Most authors can't replicate other people's drama well let alone create this much in between their original set up. It could have gone and elevated itself to a five the same Wildefire was able to elevate itself with simply its ending. Because that's the kind of whiplash that feels good.

Unfortunately all the wasted opportunities plus the cliches cost this book a star.

All in all=☆☆☆☆

*This book was an ARC provided by NetGalley.
**This summary was taken from Goodreads.