May 22, 2016

The Winner's Curse: A Rambling Review

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
I've been on a great reading kick lately! I tried this one about a year ago, and DNFed as I just wasn't getting into it. Finally I picked it up again, still had a little bit of a tough time connecting at the start, but soon enough I was quite absorbed in it. I was reminded of The Seer and the Sword by Victoria Hanley, and to a lesser extent Archangel by Sharon Shinn.

I really like how it was plotted; I won't spoil, but there's an event that occurs around the halfway point that completely turns the tables, and the juxtaposition between the first and second halves is interesting. There's also an unexpected turn of events towards the end, setting things up for book 2 (it requires some suspension of disbelief, but it does complicate matters!).

Their positions in society makes Kestrel and Arin's relationship one of push-and-pull, unpredictable and messy, and certainly one of the highlights of the book. I liked that Kestrel was at best average, perhaps even mediocre, at fighting (rather than being one of those 'kick-butt' female characters we so frequently see in YA fantasy who are somehow naturally fantastic at combat), but excelled at strategizing. She and Arin were well-matched in that respect. It was also interesting to have as a protagonist someone who owned slaves, and who, despite treating them fairly well, was not desperately fighting to change the status quo. I was not convinced, at least for most of the book, that Kestrel was particularly bothered by the fact that the Valorians enslaved the Herrani. As the general's daughter she seems to have been raised to accept that this is the way things are; that you must be stronger than your opposition so that you are the victor rather than the dominated. I think there is a shift in Kestrel's viewpoint towards the end of the book, but it certainly takes a while to happen.

Arin was more of a mystery to me. I didn't really feel like the reader was let into his head as much as with Kestrel. There's still a fair bit of backstory there that I think could be explored (and perhaps will be in later books?)

One quibble I had generally is that I could have used some more description, particularly of the characters. I had the hardest time picturing what Arin looked like! A map also would have been a huge help. Any discussion of military strategy makes so much more sense to me when there is a map to refer to.
Final verdict: 4 shooting stars.

May 14, 2016

Station Eleven: A Rambling Review (Adult)

Why yes, here I am, sporadically posting another blog post after about 2 months of silence! *waves*

This isn't in one of my regular review formats — it's just my thoughts that I wrote up on Goodreads,  more of a reaction than a formal review. (I don't really feel like re-writing it to fit a certain format, lol.)

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Okay, so that just sort of...ended. I feel like I missed the point of this book. Or, was there a point? It seemed to be trying to be "deep" but in the end didn't come to any important conclusions. There also really wasn't much of a storyline, beyond the one involving the creepy cult. Everyone not involved in that storyline just sorta wandered around contemplating life before and after the apocalypse.

I will say, this is undoubtedly one of the most realistic depictions of a post-apocalyptic world I've read. It's bleak and lawless and yet still contains remnants of social rules. I wish we'd seen more of the actual 'end of the world' itself so that we knew how we got to the world as it is post-apocalypse. (You do still have to suspend your disbelief somewhat for how things unfold, as is usually the case with apocalyptic fiction.) I really enjoyed the intense feeling at the beginning of the novel as the flu breaks out and everything spirals out of control, but it was so short! And then most of the rest of it was people walking here and there trying to stay alive in the post-apocalyptic world, or flashbacks to their lives pre-apocalypse.

And sadly, I never cared all that much about any particular character, I think in part because it kept jumping to another character every one or two chapters. We're introduced to Jeevan initially, and I actually liked what we saw of him (I could relate to his anxiety issues) but then we switch to Kirsten and the Traveling Symphony 20 years later, and we don't get to see Jeevan again for the longest time! I also connected with Miranda, and found her an interesting character (at least when she was younger, in the flashbacks), and yet we don't spend much time with her either (despite the fact that she is, after all, the author of the Station Eleven graphic novels that the book is titled after). Kirsten probably gets the most page time, and unfortunately I never particularly connected with or related to her; I didn't think she had a very distinctive personality.

The author did do well with linking all of the characters' stories together, even in small ways (such as one character ending up with an item that another character had had at one point). I always appreciate when authors make use of details like that. Another point in the book's favour was that the quality of the writing was undeniably solid.

Overall, though, I'm just not too sure what I'm supposed to take away from this book. Life without modern technology, thrown into anarchy, living off the land, would basically suck? The ending leaves some room for hope, so I guess that's something. Still, it left me very unsatisfied. I spent the whole book waiting for *something* to happen; apart from a little suspense and action with the whole cult/prophet storyline, it didn't happen. I realize this is intended as one of those quieter, thought-provoking post-apocalyptic books, rather than action-packed, but still.

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