Book review: “Seafire” (Seafire #1) by Natalie C. Parker

Seafire

I heard of “Seafire” months ago, and the plot of a new Young Adult fantasy book with all female pirates appealed to me greatly. I was dying to get my hands on it early and jumped on the opportunity to ask the publisher for the ARC. (Meaning, I begged. More than once.) I was so excited to receive it in the mail from Penguin Random House Canada and immediately put it on my ARC August TBR.

Synopsis

After her family is killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and his bloodthirsty army of Bullets, Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, whose lives have been turned upside down by Aric and his men. The crew has one mission: stay alive, and take down Aric's armed and armoured fleet.

But when Caledonia's best friend and second-in-command just barely survives an attack thanks to the help from a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia finds herself questioning whether or not to let him join their crew. Is this boy the key to taking down Aric Athair once and for all…or will he threaten everything the women of the Mors Navis have worked for?

Review

Before I got to “Seafire”, I read a short story “The Sweet Trade” by Natalie C. Parker in the anthology “All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages” (edited by Saundra Mitchell). It did not click in my head immediately that I was reading the story by the same author, whose book I was anticipating so much (yes, I am that bad with names), but once I did, I felt a surge of uneasy. Because “The Sweet Trade” was not one of my favourite stories. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t even be able to recall its plot now.

That did not make me very happy. I am a demanding reader, and I expect short fiction to be of the same quality as novels.

Nevertheless, I started “Seafire”.

Oh well.

Let me start by saying that I liked the world and the idea behind the book and ultimately gave the book 3.5 stars, which is not a bad rating. But I was very underwhelmed.

My biggest problem with “Seafire” came from the prologue. The prologue should not have been written. It gave us the background to the novel, explained why the characters were who they were, etc. The whole prologue was just a huge chunk of exposition. Instead, it would have been better to weave in that information into the plot through flashbacks - even that device would have been better. The readers would have been left to guess why Caledonia Styx was the way she was and why she hated Bullets so much.

Instead, everything was laid out in front of us in the prologue. More so, Caledonia is not that young in the prologue to make a mistake that big. If someone kept telling you all your life that those people were not to be trusted, would you have trusted one of them after five minutes of meeting them?

I don’t think so.

The prologue of “Seafire” annoyed me so much, I was getting stressed, thinking that the book would be like that as well. Thankfully it was not.

I do not think that Pisces would have been as trusting as we were led to believe in the book. Her insistence to trust someone who saved her life was valid but a bit too exaggerated. I even was confused by the timeline between she was off the ship and then back on it as it felt as if it was minutes but obviously could not have been. That was a weird timeline.

Certain parts of the book are really well developed. For example, everything that has to do with the navigation and running the ship was described in much detail and fabulous to read. There were certain things though, like running water in showers on board of the ship that seemed a bit too out of place, when everything else was just bunk beds and wooden furniture. (Well, I get that the author wanted to keep her girls clean, but it stuck out to me.)

The world building was intriguing, but very few things were explained. I went into the book thinking that it was a piracy age book, a colonist era, so to say. But there were mentions of the old world, and some of the technology was apparently inherited from a different time period, so the book should be classified as more of a dystopian adventure book, rather than fantasy. There were no fantasy elements in it, no magic, no supernatural abilities. Can’t say I was too let down by the lack of those, but “Seafire” turned out to be not what I had expected.

My second pet peeve with the book - besides the unfortunate prologue - was the love plotline. “Seafire” is full of teen girls, who live and fight side by side. Some of the same sex relationships were implied, but almost nothing stated outright. I was entirely sure that Caledonia was in love with her best friend and was in the relationship with her until another person came into the picture. The way the author kept throwing Caledonia together with another person felt as if she was trying to create a love triangle on purpose. But since nothing that Caledonia did or said reflected her true feelings - except for her eternal guilt for what had happened - it was really frustrating.

Do not get me wrong - I did like other characters and other pairings, but I assumed that the book written by a queer author would have more queer relationships in it. Big, visible, spelt out relationships, and not just a hint here or there. I think there was only one same-sex kiss in the book, but even that was not between lovers. I know that it can be argued that “Seafire” is not about sexuality or coming out - and I agree with that and would love to have any book in any genre with characters who just naturally happen to be in love, regardless of gender or sexuality, and not a coming of age story in a contemporary setting - but when you have the plot where all prerequisites of it exist, but the book still goes like “Nah, they are just BFFs who have been through a lot”, that is a tad upsetting.

I do want to stress that I adored the concept of “Seafire”, and all the action in the book. I was there for epic sea battles, and we got them. I did have some problems with the execution, but the way the book left off, I am very excited about the sequel. I want more books like “Seafire”. I am just sad that it did not fully live up to my expectations.

Overall, “Seafire” was a fun read, and I am very grateful to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with an ARC.

“Seafire” is coming out on August 28, 2018.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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Book review: "The Scorpion Rules" (Prisoners of Peace #1) by Erin Bow

The Scorpion Rules  

 

I purchased “The Scorpion Rules” back in a day when it came out in this gorgeous paperback. I saw this book mentioned again and again in YA LGBTQ+ recommendations and was excited to read it. But as it often happens with impulse purchases, I didn’t pick up the book until much later.

 

I was quite in the mood for a YA Sci-Fi audiobook after listening to Nyxia, and while browsing Overdrive library, I saw that “The Scorpion Rules” was immediately available.

I downloaded it to my iPhone and started listening to it right away. I had only a vague recollection of the plot of “The Scorpion Rules” from the back of the book. I knew that the book had diverse characters, was generally considered to be sci-fi, and was somehow related to Canada. For the sake of accurate spelling of names, I am providing the official synopsis below.

 

Synopsis

 

A world battered by climate shift and war turns to an ancient method of keeping peace: the exchange of hostages. The Children of Peace - sons and daughters of kings and presidents and generals - are raised together in small, isolated schools called Prefectures. There, they learn history and political theory, and are taught to gracefully accept what may well be their fate: to die if their countries declare war.

 

Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation, is the pride of the North American Prefecture. Learned and disciplined, Greta is proud of her role in keeping the global peace — even though, with her country controlling two-thirds of the world’s most war-worthy resource — water — she has little chance of reaching adulthood alive.

 

Enter Elián Palnik, the Prefecture’s newest hostage and biggest problem. Greta’s world begins to tilt the moment she sees Elián dragged into the school in chains. The Prefecture’s insidious surveillance, its small punishments and rewards, can make no dent in Elián, who is not interested in dignity and tradition, and doesn’t even accept the right of the UN to keep hostages.

 

What will happen to Elián and Greta as their two nations inch closer to war?

 

Review

 

I listened to “The Scorpion Rules” for about 10 minutes, paused and went online to look up the narrator. The audiobook is narrated by Madeleine Maby, who, judging by her website and extensive Audible presence, is a rather experienced voice actor. I was not impressed though at all. Madeleine gives all characters distinctive voices, but her intonation is clipped and artificial. (There were mentions of accents in the book, but it still didn’t make much sense to me.) I would have understood if she narrated for AI in that manner, but it was all of the characters in different variations. I found the narration for Greta the most annoying as she talked in the way that Siri or an artificial intelligence might, with odd stops between words and occasional uprise in intonation. Elian’s southern accent came and went, and seemed to be more prominent whenever there was a line in the book referring to it.

 

I was so not impressed by the narration, that I even considered switching to a paper book. However, I decided to stick to the audiobook as I wanted to listen to something during the commute or work breaks. Getting over the narration style was a bit difficult, but I somewhat got used to it by the end of the book.

 

Now, onto the plot. Sadly, I was somewhat disappointed by it too. I think “The Scorpion Rules” is more character driven than plot driven, which is usually fine by me, but not in this case. It took awhile for me to get into the plot. The first third of the book, I was bored and couldn’t figure out why things were the way they were. There is a lot of exposition in the book, which I do not like. We have even quotes and reciting from the AI that at times seemed a bit unfitting to the main narrative. I enjoyed the world but didn’t like the fact that I could barely make head or tail of local politics, not to mention rivalries and alliances between countries.

 

Regarding characters, I liked Michael the best, from the moment he made an appearance. Everything about him, his character, the circumstances of his arrival, the complications, etc. - I liked everything. But regardless of role in the plot of “The Scorpion Rules”, Greta and Elian were the main protagonists (which is confirmed in the synopsis), and I did have a lot of problems with both of them.

 

Greta seemed too plain to be anything special, and yet she was. She was too all over the place in her emotions and affections, and yet she was described as exceptional and strong. Elian seemed perpetually confused and rebellious, even when nothing was happening to warrant either. I could not understand Greta’s feelings towards Elian. She viewed him as someone who needs care and protection and at the same time - as someone dangerous.

 

There are a lot of descriptions in the text of what characters felt, lots of comparisons - the language flows most of the time quite wonderfully. However, I often felt that the lack of actual reasoning and plot holes were being hidden behind grand statements about life and sacrifice and characters’ feelings. We were often being told that something was happening just because it was happening. I would have been able to oversee it if there was more action, but too frequently it felt as if nothing was moving at all. And when something was happening, we were not really told why. At times, I could feel my mind drifting, as I was almost bored with the book. Perhaps, it is once again the fault of the narrator, who failed to make “The Scorpion Rules” sound engaging enough.

 

“The Scorpion Rules” disappointed me from the standpoint of LGBTQ+ representation too. The book is tagged and listed on GoodReads as having prominent LGBTQ+ characters, however, the only female/female relationship proved not to be strong enough to overcome the obstacles (add to that a cliched presence of a male protagonist - obviously), and the only male/male couple was not given any visibility until the tragic end. Yes, we get various sexualities in the book, and there is some sort of a gender swap, so to say, which can be viewed as gender dysphoria almost, but I am hesitant to say that it can be viewed as a representation for genderfluid or transgender people. Perhaps, it was not intended as either at all, and it was my wishful thinking trying to find more representation in the book.

 

The Children of Peace and Swan Riders come from various countries and therefore from different racial and cultural backgrounds. I liked that about “The Scorpion Rules”. In my opinion, the cultural representation was handled well.

 

Perhaps, if I approached “The Scorpion Rules” in physical format, I would have connected with the characters better. Unfortunately, I finished the audiobook feeling somewhat cheated. I didn’t get the representation I was looking for; the plot was murky; the characters - annoying, and the only thing that I liked about the novel - the world itself - was presented to us through obvious exposition, which often felt detached from the plot.

 

I like “The Scorpion Rules” much more as an idea for a book or a sales pitch, as opposed to the actual result. I can’t tell if it is the writing style that I have more problems with or the narration of the audiobook - or, maybe, both. “The Scorpion Rules”, as well as some other books by Erin Bow, received favourable reviews from multiple sources and was even listed in Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Books of 2015. I still decided to continue with the series, in spite of feeling disappointed by the first book.

 

Rating: 3 stars

 

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Book review: This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity, #1) by Victoria Schwab

 

Do you know that feeling when you open a book, read the first line and go like, ‘yup, this is my author, alright’. I got this feeling when I started reading “Vicious” - the first book by Victoria Schwab that I read. And I got the same feeling when I started reading ‘This Savage Song’. And it thrilled me to no end.

 

“This Savage Song” was doing a lot of rounds on BookTube last year, and the most mentioned thing about it was the fact that there is no romance in this book, which is incredibly rare and unusual for a young adult novel. What this book does have in abundance is monsters - both of human and supernatural variety.

 

The novel is set in a dystopian world, in the city which is divided by civil war. August Flynn and Kate Harker might seem like dystopian Romeo and Juliet but, thankfully, they are not star-crossed lovers, although there is an undeniable connection between them. There is enough gore and violence in this book to make it seem almost an adult novel. Almost but not enough. I would have loved this book to be more heavy (yes, more angsty and more intense), but I loved it for what it was worth.

 

“This Savage Song” seems like such a my book that it is surprising that it doesn’t have my name printed all over it. I couldn’t have asked for a better book (well, maybe a bit more angst and queerness) to read. I am surprised I have not written it myself, in a way. Just like when I was reading “Vicious”, I kept thinking that Victoria must be my brain twin as she created monsters that are more human than humans, and humans who are more monstrous than monsters - something that I aspire to do too.

 

I adored this book. I read it in less than two days because I just couldn’t put it down. I did, however, manage to predict who the real bad guys are, but it didn’t disappoint me in the least but rather made me more firm in my assumption that Victoria writes much in the same way as I think. Which is brilliant.

 

I don’t want to discuss plot for the fear of spoiling it, but I must say that I loved everything about this world: the monsters and their different powers; the fact that monsters are born from the vile crimes that people commit (which is something that I feel strongly about); the dystopian city divided by civil/turf war; chosen families; instant connections and unlikely friendships; being true to oneself, etc. There are so many things that I love about this book. I want to read it again. And again. And again.

 

The best thing about this book, though, is the fact that there is a sequel and I am already reading it.

 

Rating: 4 stars

 

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This Savage Song    

Book Review: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

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This is the weirdest YA book I have ever read. (Well, it is not as gory or dark or weird as Poppy Brite's novels, as it is still YA, but it is right up that alley if you take one of her books and make it funny and light as opposed to heartbreaking.) But what can I say - I loved it.

It is written in the first point of view and there are some recurring topics as well as even recurring sentences that may seem slightly weird but it all works together. Two best friends, a small town in the middle of nowhere, a strange, long time ago abandoned experiment. It is difficult to summarize the book without giving away the plot (or the plot twist at the end which I totally should have seen coming, but I didn't, because just like the main characters I was caught in the moment).

It is a weird story but it is also a very touching one. Besides all the weirdness which is happening (and if you are not squeamish and are not afraid of bugs - believe me, you will be) this book is also a coming of age story (which includes exploring one's sexuality, talking or thinking about sex 24/7, and smoking - you know, the usual).

This books has a great line which resonated with me greatly. Page 162. You know what I mean. It is probably one of the most accurate descriptions of bisexuality that I have ever read.

I don't want to spoil this story to anyone, but I just want to say that this book taught me two things:

1) adolescent boys are always horny

2) bugs only do two things - eat and fuck.

My advice: do not read this book while dealing with bug infestation - it will make your skin crawl big time. This is book not for everyone, but I loved it.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars

Book Review: The Divergent Series // July 29, 2015

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I have been meaning to read Divergent series for years. Never came around to it until last year. Everyone was very hyped about upcoming Insurgent movie and I really wanted to read the books first, so I got Divergent from the library.

I knew next to nothing about the series, except for a) it was a very popular YA series, b) it was a dystopian series, c) the main protagonist was female. I guess, I am extremely lucky not have been spoiled the ending of the series, as it would have been quite easy, as it seems that by the time I picked up the books, everyone had already read them.

I was a bit hesitant to buy the books, so I got the copies of Divergent and Insurgent from the library, but I did end up buying all four books. I admit that Allegiant and Four covers are my favourite. They are so gorgeous!

Now onto the books themselves.

Divergent

I was surprised the that book was written in first point of view and in present tense. Immediately I started comparing the writing style to Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" (which is for me an epitome of literary craftsmanship when it comes to first POV, present tense), which was not a good thing. I felt that the writing was sort of plain, although I was intrigued by the society structure and Tris' hunt for self-identification.

It was hard for me to believe that a girl would be able to build muscles and become so physically strong in such a short time. Or so fearless. But Tris is a badass and I loved it.

Only by the end of the book I got really engaged and the ending was so good that I wanted to get into Insurgent right away. I got it from the library, then was distracted and didn't finish the book on time. I couldn't extend it as it was on the waiting list, so I had to return it, then I ordered it again.

It happened twice and the waiting between those times sort of killed my thrill. Then I went into a huge slump, during which I didn't really read anything at all.

Insurgent

Six (or so) months later, this July, I finally got ahold of Insurgent again. It was a mistake not to re-read Divergent first, and I regretted it several times while reading Insurgent, as I almost forgot the names of secondary characters, and it made reading a bit confusing.

I think Insurgent is my least favourite book in the series. Tris is suffering from a PTSD and a huge amount of guilt. She is unstable and it is reflected in the writing as the narrative constantly jumps from one thing into another, some scenes are so short they are barely a couple of pages long. It is all jumbled and the relationship between Tris and Tobias is suffering too. Throughout the book I kept thinking, just get into one room together and talk, goddammit!

(Another thing that I kept thinking about while reading it was how come Tris never developed an infection, seeing as she carried a wound for the whole book and it was not really being taken cared of properly. No need to mention, she barely slept or ate. At that point Tris was almost like a superhuman.)

One of my greatest pet peeves was that the author kept killing of secondary characters, pretty much like flies! It was hard to keep track of everything, who was related to whom, who was in love with who, and who was a transfer from which faction.

There was a couple of nice twists in the storyline, and the ending completely made up for any drawbacks in style or plot. I basically marathoned the second half of the book in one day, and I wanted Allegiant RIGHT NOW.

So I went and bought the whole series - all four books.

Allegiant

I read the first 3 pages of Allegiant and had to put it down. I was not ready and very surprised to see that the narration of the book was split into two points of view - Tris' and Tobias'. I was not ready for Tobias' point of view. I was very concerned about how he perceives everything that Tris does. When I was reading Divergent, I couldn't really understand WHY he felt attracted to her. And Insurgent he kept supporting her and loving her, in spite of everything she's done, all the lies and heading into danger. (I am not saying Tobias is without a fault, but you know what I mean).

I was really relieved to see that Tobias is as genuine and gentle as he was portrayed through Tris' eyes. I really enjoyed reading chapters written in Tobias' point of view. Sometimes even more than Tris', as they gave an amazing perspective into a lot of things that I was only guessing before.

The writing style in Allegiant is way better than in the previous books. It is more consistent, the narrative is more paced. It is obvious that after the first two books Veronica Roth really grew as a writer. Overall, it was a way more pleasurable read than the first two.

The ending. Oh my god, the ending! I am not going to say anything, except for it is an epic ending, the one that I applaud Veronica for - because you need guts as a writer to pull something like that off! I feel that this ending is the reason for the lower ratings of this book on GoodReads. Which sort of makes sense in my head, as undoubtedly the hardcore fans expected something different. But for me it was a very real and fitting, albeit very unpredictable, ending. And I am okay with this ending. I am very okay with it!

There are some paragraphs at the end, which are very philosophical and very touching.

Sadly, some of my favourite characters didn't survive this book, but I am still happy to see that my absolutely favourite made it out alive.

To me the ending, the way it is, does not diminish anything that has happened in the series before it. On the other hand, it is what life is. It is the most realistic and the most believable ending. Do I wish for a different ending? Yes, in a way. Would I change this ending if I had a power to do so? Probably, no.

I was experiencing an Allegiant withdrawal, so even though I wanted to wait and pace myself out a bit, I picked up the last book, the collection of stories, right away.

Four

I loved this book. It gives a very interesting point of view on major things that happened in Divergent book, that is being the attack on Abnegation faction, the initiation process and training, all those things that happened with Tris during it. I found it very fascinating to read the same scenes but from Tobias' perspective. The collection consists of 4 stories, two of which took place before Tobias met Tris, and two - after that. There were also extra scenes from Divergent book told from Tobias' POV.

After reading this collection some things that happened in Divergent are making way more sense to me now (and some things mentioned in Insurgent and Allegiant too)! Now I am overwhelmed by the want to re-read Divergent, which I probably won't do so soon after finishing the series, but I am looking forward to watching the movies!

Tobias is my favourite character from the books, so I couldn't have asked for the better finish of the series.