Posts Tagged YA

#RomanceSaturday at SBR Returns with Sherry Thomas’s “The Immortal Heights”

It’s Romance Saturday at SBR!

Sorry about the long delay between reviews, folks…life has intervened. (To make a long story shorter: I’m struggling with my third novel, CHANGING FACES, which is due out in a few months via Twilight Times Books. And Jason recently finished a new novel, KRAKEN MARE, with co-writer Chris Smith…can’t wait to see that one come out.)  But I do have an interesting book to review today…let’s get to it.

theimmortalheights250Sherry Thomas‘s third book in her Elemental Trilogy is THE IMMORTAL HEIGHTS. (Book one, THE BURNING SKY, was reviewed here; book two, THE PERILOUS SEA, was reviewed here.) All three books feature young elemental mages Iolanthe Seabourne (also known as Archer Fairfax) and Titus, Prince of Elberon — otherwise known as the Domain. (The Domain is a magical realm that both interacts with the known world of late 19th Century England and is separate from it.) They’re running from a horrible despot known as the Bane, Master of Atlantis (yes, Atlantis is real in Ms. Thomas’s conception, but is another magical, separate place that’s known to us only via legend). Book two ended with Prince Titus and Iolanthe allied with a number of would-be sorcerers, many of them Indian (including a possible analogue for Mohandas Gandhi called Kashkari, seen here as a young man who firmly believes in sorcery and is deeply in love with his brother’s wife), committed to fighting the Bane in full. They’ve even come up with a rallying cry: “Fortune favors the brave. And the brave make their own fortune!”

So, Iolanthe and Prince Titus might be young, and still somewhat inexperienced, but they are powerful. (Iolanthe in particular is the most powerful magician anyone’s ever seen, as she has command over all four elements — Air, Fire, Earth, and Water.) But the Bane is a coercive sorcerer who’s been stealing other people’s bodies for years, in order to keep himself alive and keep his reign of terror going. How are these two naïfs going to beat the Bane?

Ah, but I promised you a romance, didn’t I?

Trust me, there’s plenty of that. Prince Titus must lean on Iolanthe quite heavily, and they are in danger throughout as the Bane is wily, skilled, and has learned much during his unnaturally long life. Yet there’s plenty of time for quieter moments, too…it’s obvious these two are deeply in love, and that love is based on friendship and shared experiences.

I loved that.

But that’s only one part of THE IMMORTAL HEIGHTS. There were many other questions to be answered here, including, “Who were Iolanthe’s parents, really? What happened to Prince Titus’s father? What will happen to Kashkari, his brother, and his sister-in-law during the epic battle?” Ms. Thomas answered these questions carefully, with great skill, and yet with an odd sort of reserve that I tend to view as particularly British…so it’s historically as accurate as a writer of our times can get, while still being a rip-roaring action-adventure novel.

As for Kashkari, I enjoyed the additional glimpses into his life and career. (In the previous two novels, Kashkari was a fellow teenage student at Eton with Prince Titus and “Archer Fairfax,” Iolanthe’s masculine alter-ego.) He was a useful presence, and while he, himself, did not have magic, he respected those who did. He could and did make plans, and aided Prince Titus and Iolanthe/Archer quite a bit, which I appreciated. Still, I wanted a lot more from him, as I sensed quite a story there, and I didn’t get it.

(Mind, maybe Ms. Thomas plans another novel in this series centered around Kashkari. If so, good, because I’d love to see him as a romantic hero in his own right. But I digress.)

Bottom line: I enjoyed THE IMMORTAL HEIGHTS quite a bit. It’s a fun book with excellent historicity, a great age-appropriate romance, and it wrapped up all the loose ends nicely (with the exception of Kashkari). But I was left wanting more from the minor characters, and didn’t get it.

Grade: A-minus.

–reviewed by Barb

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Empress Theresa — Norman Boutin’s Masterpiece (titles now laden with heavy sarcasm!)

(Warning: this review contains foul language and fouler grammar due to the reviewer’s rage and disgust. Reader discretion is advised and, quite frankly, is totally understandable if you want to get out now before the screaming and the bleeding from the eyes gets to be too much.)

Empress Theresa2Very rarely do I come across a book that literally stops me in my tracks and forces me to ask the age-old question, “What the unholy fuck?” Norman Boutin’s self-acclaimed literary classic Empress Theresa is just such a book.

From the very first page I knew that this book was going to be different. Hubris is not in the author’s vocabulary, and in the introduction alone he challenges you by saying that this is a book unlike you have ever read. All I can say to that is, “You aren’t kidding.” The introduction does give us some insight into the creative process of the author, however, and it’s a terrifying glimpse of an attempt at literature gone terribly awry.

My brain was slammed with a large, ice-cold bucket of “the fuck?” on page 1 of the book. Suggesting that Scout from Harper Lee’s classic To Kill A Mockingbird led a charmed life led me to believe that the author hadn’t even read it, simply skimmed through the cliff notes version you can pick up online, and forced me to question my own sanity when it came to requesting this book for review. I had to go back and check Wikipedia to ensure that yes, this is the book he’s talking about and no, I hadn’t forgotten the plot. I mean, holy shit man, did you actually grasp the context of the book or did you simply watch the (excellent, by the way) movie? Or are you getting this confused with John Grisham’s lame ripoff A Time To Kill? What are you doing to me, Norman Boutin? I want to know more about your character, damn it. And while the main character (Theresa Sullivan, TYVM) tells you that she has a story to tell, she really doesn’t seem to know how to tell it. So far, all you’ve covered on the first page is a screwed up comparison of a classic literary novel with a dash of fired buckshot across a brief family description! I’m not expecting the greatest opening in the history of mankind on a first-time author’s very first page, but I’d expect a little… something.

Nonetheless, I soldiered on. I chalked the first page up to new author jitters, and figured “Hey, maybe it’ll get better.”

Note: do not get your hopes up. I did, and all that precious hope was shattered and shat upon, spread across the ground and then piled haphazardly in the darkest, deepest corner of Hell.

Theresa talks about going to different places around the world in the past tense, as well as suggesting that Theresa may well indeed become something far greater than a boring little girl from Farmingham, Massachusetts. Her parents are wonderful and bland, and rely on a computer to babysit her when she plays outside while they are at work. Her parents have convinced her, at the age of 10, that she will avoid drugs and boys through her high school years. Yes, I know, I was shaking my head here too.

But her story begins with the sighting of a red fox. In broad daylight. Weird, since the only time a fox is out in broad daylight is because they’re rabid (ed. note: it was brought to my attention that foxes are out in the daylight when they don’t fear humans and live in parks and whatnot. Living on a farm, we shoot foxes because they are after our chickens, especially the potentially rabid ones out in daylight, so I’ll accept that foxes are sometimes seen in daylight. Regional bias on my part), but Theresa doesn’t fear this in any way and watches as the fox walks up her back porch, sits down and stares at her. Then suddenly, a bright ball of light leaps from the fox and slams into Theresa’s stomach. She screams and runs inside, locks the door and… calmly watches the fox disappear.

Okay, think about this for a moment. No 10 year old girl would be rational at this point, no matter how normal and boring they are. 10 year old boys and girls flip out over the weirdest stuff, and a glowing white ball leaping out of a fox and hitting you is pretty fucking weird. Hell, I’m the most rational person I know (I should get out more, I agree) and would have freaked out. Of course, I also probably would have grabbed the .22 and disposed of the fox because I don’t need rabid animals on the farm.

But I digress. This is starting to make my head hurt, and I really wish I had more booze on hand.

I really can’t get over how poorly the first two pages are written, by the way. It takes real effort to be this bad and, for a moment, I had a sneaking suspicion that the author was trolling everyone who had read the book. I looked him up and, well, he’s a real author and takes himself very, very seriously.

He is not going to like this review, I can guarantee that much.

So anyways, back to the story. Theresa admits that she’s worried about her weight (her mother says she’s too skinny, so this is the first time that the character has been portrayed in any semblance of “realistic”). Thinking she was hallucinating due to lack of food, she goes into the kitchen and makes fried eggs, bacon, toast and milk…

…and then a bunch of firetrucks appear.

No scene buildup, no suspense, just BOOM! and let’s keep moving. This could have been executed very well if the author had any talent at making the reader give a shit about Theresa. Even though it’s early in the book, this is reminding me of a book I read once called The All-American by John R. Tunis. But, you know, without the talent. Or skill. Or character development. Or a plot.

I’ve spent just about 900 words talking about the horrors on the first THREE pages and I’m starting to wonder if this is turning into a slam piece. I mean, I want to be professional about this review, but when I’ve wasted hours of my life reading this book (and never getting them back, I’ll add) I get really irritated.

Okay, so it suddenly got very warm in the middle of a summer day (she’s not in school, parents are at work, she has an idyllic lifestyle… I’m assuming this is the middle of summer here) and someone called the fire department to report a fire. I… come on Norman, what the hell? I can’t even lose myself in this book because you keep yanking my suspension of disbelief right out of the book with inconsistencies. You’re trying to make this sound like present-day, but it sounds more like Andy Griffith. I… I just…

Damn it, this review is never going to get finished. I can’t even talk about the basic plot of the first chapter without losing my shit.

Okay, I’m skipping ahead, because basically the next few chapters are Theresa becoming inhabited by an alien AI, meeting kindly Federal Agents who do not whisk her away to Area 51 to cut open her brain, and her becoming super smart and being able to throw a baseball very hard (this girl is a cheater, by the way, for using an alien intelligence to make her a better athlete than everyone else around her but hey, morals don’t matter when you’re Empress motherfucking THERESA). It’s strange, because the author even managed to make all of this completely boring. This could have been a great bit about her wrestling with the sudden expansion of her mind and awareness, discovery of hypersensitivity and perfect memory retention, or even simply watching a 10 year old outwit and outduel a grown woman (things that kids actually will enjoy reading about). Instead, the author falls flat again and deprives the reader of some quality character development.

I really can’t describe how horrid this is. Putrid, fetid stink emanating from an old urinal cake that was forced through a septic system is the closest thing I can think of, and the argument could be made that I was insulting the urinal cake. By the way, if someone sends me something like this again, I will find you, and I will do things to you that would make even Liam Neeson shudder in horror.

Now, one thing the author does well (yes, a compliment) is show the various interaction between the Canadian and British governments. Of course, the immediate question which came to mind is why the US government is completely ignoring the girl after discovering that she is interacting with an alien machine. Unfortunately, by this time the author has flayed the reader’s mind with numbing agents called “words” in a vast attempt to write a literary masterpiece that falls somewhat short of Atlanta Nights. I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m being catfished by the author the further I go. It’s like I’m Alice, he’s the White Rabbit and we did some horrible peyote before falling into the well from The Ring (complete with creepy murderous girl).

Theresa promised to save the world for Prime Minster Tony Blair but unfortunately she is unable to crack the alien code of HAL (what she calls the alien machine inside her). While the pace is moving along, I just can’t seem to garner up the energy to give a damn about Theresa or her new husband Steve. I’ve never seen an author go out of their way before to make a main character so bland and boring, and kill any attempt that the reader may make to engage her. She’s a Mary Sue, half-assed fantasy of a man who doesn’t grasp the concept that characters need to do more than walk through the pages of a book. She’s trying to save the world, and all I can think at this point is that I’m not even halfway through the book and I want to end the pain.

But I can’t stop reading, because my seemingly endless suffering is for your amusement. Yes, dear readers, I love you that much.

You all owe me. You owe me big.

The world begins to die for inexplicable reasons, droughts reign, and crops wither and die, all the while the world sits back on its ass and waits for an 18 year old girl to save it. The science in the book started to drive me crazy. Bad science, horrible science, and not even explained rationally enough to make a YA reader (because really, that’s the target audience here) to say “Okay, cool” and continue on with the story. Really, I went back and read that bit three times trying to figure it out. I mean, maybe kids would skimp over it and cut him some slack (because YA readers are a forgiving bunch; look at how well they adapted to Catching Fire after The Hunger Games came out! #/sarcasm).

This book review is starting to make me sick. I’m getting a stiff drink to see if I can finish this up without losing my sanity. I’m changing the author’s name, by the way. No more shall he be called “Norman Boutin”. No, Norman shall henceforth be known as “The Black Goat of the Woods, Shub-Niggurath, Devourer of Souls, Eater of Sanity, Beholden of Chtulhu and Smiter of the Righteous.” Seriously, our hero and savior changed the poles in the book so that everyone can have summer all year long! That’s great for people in England. Sucks to be in the southern hemisphere but hey, fuck those guys, amiright? I think that the author should have gone into the Dark Arts. They’d love to learn just how well he can cause suffering at levels they had only previously masturbated to. H. P. Lovecraft couldn’t even imagine the horrors held in these pages. This book breaks the confines of a pandemic outbreak, requiring handling in full CDC garb, and should be called “Litbola” (courtesy of a Twitter follower, @zeewulfeh)

Much of what the author shows throughout seems to have been made up on the fly, including (and not limited to) the military, the government, how things work, nature, aliens, terrorists, OPEC, treaties, gravity, physics, water…

*long suffering sigh*

Look… this is, quite frankly, one of the worst pieces of published fiction I have ever laid eyes upon. For some reason, the author thought that he could project his world domination fantasies onto a populace in the form of a young girl, fixing all of the worlds problems without considering that the basis of human nature is to fight against being controlled. This is not a book for kids (unless you want them to hate reading), and I wouldn’t even say this is for adults (adults, hopefully, know when a book is so bad that nothing can save it). This is nothing more than idiopathic projection in literary form.

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, or by merely one book review, but for the love of your unborn children, run away. Run as far and as fast as you can. Do not look back. This is your Sodom and Gomorrah, kiddies. Don’t look back or a pillar of salt you shall become. Don’t waste your money, time, or sanity trying to make it through this book. Don’t even try to start it. Don’t force yourself to get to chapter three. Don’t swallow the arsenic and push to the end. The payoff isn’t worth it (since there isn’t really any payoff) and you’ll hate yourself for it afterwards. I suffered through this so you would not have to.

Don’t make my suffering be in vain.

Grade– *is “Ebola” a low enough grade? Did I go too far? Did I go far enough?

-Reviewed by Jason (May God have mercy on his soul)

 

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Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s “Night Calls” is Excellent, Rousing YA Fantasy Adventure

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s NIGHT CALLS is about magic on the American frontier.  As such, it’s both an alternate history and a fantasy.  And as its protagonist is the young Alfreda Sorensson, it’s a story that’s meant for all ages.

So you’re to be pardoned if you think, “Well, Barb, come on!  What’s so special about that?  You’ve already reviewed Patricia C. Wrede’s THE FAR FRONTIER, haven’t you?  Isn’t that the same thing?”

Well, yes and no.  It is the same type of novel, for certain.  But Ms. Kimbriel did it first, as the paperback edition of NIGHT CALLS first came out in 1996 . . . which means that if we’re about to have a showdown as to one-upmanship (really, do we need one?), Ms. Kimbriel would come out the winner even though both authors are well worth the reading.

But I digress.

More importantly than what specific type of novel NIGHT CALLS is — is it dark fantasy?  Is it alternate history?  Is it YA?  Is it all of the above?  (Yes, yes, yes, and yes . . . ) — you need to know one thing, and one thing only.

It was written by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel.  So it’s extremely good.

The plot itself is compelling, mind you.  Alfreda starts out at the tender age of eleven thinking she’s much like other girls, even though it’s clear from the start that she isn’t.  She has a few friends, she loves to read, she loves her family, but a crisis that’s precipitated by a werewolf thrusts her magic into the picture far earlier than she would’ve liked.  When her brother’s life is lost due to the werewolf, she wonders what good magic is — this mostly is subtextual, mind you, but it’s real and it’s there — which points out that no matter how much power you have, life is something that cannot be taken for granted.

This one thing helps to ground the novel from the start, and is a welcome change from many other contemporary dark fantasy novels.  (Yes, Stephanie Meyer, I’m looking squarely at you.)

Alfreda’s adventures as she grows into her young womanhood — some quiet, some decidedly not — are excellent and rousing.  She is not the type of young woman to sit on the sidelines and wait for men to do her work for her — no, she’s going to do for herself, thank you.  And as she learns and grows, she also becomes more and more herself and happy to be so, which is why I found reading NIGHT CALLS to be both life-affirming and something that lifted my spirits no end.

Look.  I know this sounds like I’m laying it on thick, but I’m not.  Alfreda, for all her strengths — and she has many — is no one’s Mary Sue.  While she’s exactly the type of young woman every parent would like to have, being resourceful and intelligent, she still has some weaknesses as she skews like a real person.  And while she obviously has magic, she sees it as a responsibility, partly because she’s a farm girl at heart and is used to doing all sorts of chores.

So there’s the value of hard work.  There’s the value of personal sacrifice.  There’s the value of human dignity.  There’s a good deal about religion and spirituality, discussed in a quiet, calm way that I found particularly appealing.  And there’s a rousing action-adventure going on throughout that makes you forget about all of the above until the book is over and you start thinking about how wonderful it all was before you turn back to read it all over again.

Bottom line?  NIGHT CALLS is excellent.  Truly, truly excellent.  It’s a can’t-miss novel with heart, style and wit that will please all ages.  Guaranteed.

Grade: A-plus.

— reviewed by Barb

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Clockwork Angel — A Fascinating YA Adventure

Clockwork AngelSome young adult novels are hard to categorize in just one area alone. Such is the case with Cassandra Clare’s effort, Clockwork Angelthe first book of The Infernal Devices series and prequel to her bestselling series, The Mortal Instruments, which comes across as a fascinating delve into the magic of urban fantasy while still maintaining a strong steampunk undertone.

Tessa Gray comes from the United States to England at the behest of her brother, Nathaniel, who promises her a good job and pay. In mourning after the passing of her caretaker and aunt, Tessa arrives in London and immediately meets two elderly women, sisters by the names of Mrs. Black and Mrs. Dark. They represent their brother, that tell her, since he is unable to meet her at the time. Tessa reluctantly goes with them and immediately realizes two important things: the two sisters use magic, and that her life is in danger.

Tessa is trained in dark arts as well, though she is reluctant to do so. She learns how to change — to assume someone’s shape, form and memories — simply by touching something they once owned. As she grows stronger, she learns that she is to be given to the Magister — a man of much power and influence in the dark London magical underworld. Tessa tries to escape but is caught almost immediately. The sisters tie her up, but she struggles to escape once more — and runs into a boy, no older than she, who is trying to break in to the house.

Will is a nephilim (a descendant of “relations” between an angel and human somewhere in his family’s past) and is hunting the murderer of a girl Tessa “changed” into to please the sisters. After a brief battle with Will, Tessa and the evil sisters, Mrs. Black is slain but Tessa is knocked unconscious. She is then taken back to Will’s home, called The Institute, where she meets the other “Shadowhunters” and their allies: Brother Enoch, Charlotte, Sophie, Jessamine, Thomas, and the mysterious Jem.

Part of the allure of the story is the cross-mesh between a good steampunk story and an urban fantasy, something that the author does rather well. Her characters are all varying individuals with their own reasons and desires, while they still maintain their friendships and relationships, and don’t come off as trite cardboard cutouts of anyone else. Ms. Clare does a wonderful job with the painting of the character Jem who, despite being sick, is a very skilled nephilim and shadowhunter.

Another compelling piece of characterization comes from Tessa’s motivation: her brother Nathaniel. She is willing to do anything, and go to any lengths, to save him. The twists and turns Tessa must face and overcome throughout the length of the novel makes for a fascinating read, and while it has a few minor bumps (there are some points where the story stalls, albeit briefly), it’s a wonderful introduction to an authors works.

With a twist you don’t see coming and a betrayal you almost wish you’d seen, Clockwork Angel is sure to leave the reader pleased.

Reviewed by Jason 

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Dave Freer’s “The Steam Mole” — Thrilling Action-Adventure

Dave Freer’s THE STEAM MOLE is the sequel to CUTTLEFISH (reviewed here).  Many of the same characters are present, including Tim Barnabas, Clara Calland, and her mother Mary (a chemist with a doctorate who has a formula that will literally change the world), but the setting has changed; instead of them all being cooped up on the coal-powered Cuttlefish, they’re now in Western Australia (called “Westralia”).

At the end of CUTTLEFISH, Dr. Calland and her daughter were dropped off to make some sort of deal for Dr. Calland’s formula.  However, the Imperial English government still wants that formula for itself and will do anything — literally anything it possibly can — to stop Dr. Calland from giving that formula to Westralia.

This is the main reason Dr. Calland lies near death at the start of THE STEAM MOLE, originally diagnosed with a case of the flu.  Yet there’s something badly wrong here, something Clara knows even if no one else does, but of course no one’s willing to listen to her as she’s still a teenager.

This is why she goes looking for her buddy (and love interest) Tim,  thinking he’s stayed with the Cuttlefish as he is, after all, a crewman there.  But the Cuttlefish crew has split up, mostly because they need money in order to ply their trade as they used up all of their fuel and just about every other possible thing as well just getting Clara and her mother to Westralia.

Tim has gone off to work on a steam mole (used for excavation), as the way it’s powered is sensible to anyone who’s worked on a coal-powered submarine.  But the Westralians aren’t exactly friendly to anyone with a black skin, which Tim finds out in a big hurry; worse, the crew he’s with contains none of his friends and shipmates, which is why things escalate out of control in a hurry.

While Tim is able to escape from his racist temporary crewmates, it’s not without cost as he’s forced to endure the Westralian desert and cross during the day — a big no-no in Westralia due to how hot and humid the climate has become due to “the Big Melt.”  And because Tim’s without much in the way of supplies, most especially water, this quickly complicates things.

Clara, of course, doesn’t know any of this when she sets out to find Tim.  But she figures it out quickly (partly because she’s smart, partly because she has nowhere else to turn), and goes in search of Tim.

Meanwhile, Dr. Calland’s condition improves, but she’s still not in any shape to hand over the formula.  This is why the royal Duke who heads the British Imperial Empire’s secret service decides that there’s only one way left to get a handle on Dr. Calland and stopping her from giving her precious formula to Westralia– and that’s by bringing her ex-husband, Clara’s father, to Westralia as a bargaining chip.

So there’s a lot of stuff going on — first, Clara and Tim are both alone and must show initiative and fortitude if they’re ever to be together again, much less stay alive in the process.  Second, Dr. Calland has to figure out what to do with her formula, especially as she’s unwilling to deal with the Duke’s men (who are akin to terrorists in her view, though the word is never used).  Third, Clara and Tim must figure out what to do about Clara’s father, as Clara has absolutely no intention of leaving her father in the Duke’s hands once she finds out about it.

All involved must make alliances quickly.  This means they must depend on their wits, as well as their past association with the Cuttlefish and its crew, to make sure that the good guys win and the bad guys definitely lose.

In other words, THE STEAM MOLE, like CUTTLEFISH before it, is a very strong action-adventure novel with just a hint of realistic romance between Clara and Tim.  Both are strong-willed, energetic people who are self-reliant and smart.  They have just enough differences to prove intriguing and know how to work alone or together, which is a big plus for any couple — much less a couple of mid-teens like Tim and Clara.

But the best part of THE STEAM MOLE lies in the characterization of Dr. Calland, Clara’s mother.  Forced by circumstances to be apart from her daughter for a long period of time, Dr. Calland refuses to pine away despite her brush with death.  Instead, she more or less adopts one of the local young women, Linda Darlington, and encourages Linda to learn about math and science.  And because of Dr. Calland’s shining example (women really can do math and science), this young woman learns that it’s not only OK to be smart, it’s actually a wonderful thing — a life-affirming thing, to be exact.

This all goes to show that one person — one individual —  in the right time and place can make a huge difference, which is a variation on the same theme introduced in CUTTLEFISH.  This is an extremely empowering message amidst all of the action and adventure going on, yet it doesn’t slow the tale down whatsoever.

That’s a really difficult thing to do, but Freer pulls it off with aplomb.

Overall, the balance here is excellent.  The action and adventure click right along.  The prose reads well and easily.  The world is solidly built and makes perfect sense (as it should; Freer himself is a scientist, though his field is ichthyology), while the characters include many you can fully root for along with a few fully hissable villains . . . really, what’s not to like about THE STEAM MOLE?

In fact, the only bad thing about THE STEAM MOLE is that no sequels are planned as of this time, partly because Pyr only contracted with Freer for two novels.  My hope is that these two novels will sell well enough that Freer will wish to write another one, as there are obviously many more stories waiting to be told in this universe — most especially from the viewpoints of Clara, Tim, and Dr. Calland’s protegée, Linda.

Grade: A-plus.

— reviewed by Barb

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Variant — The Perfect YA Teen Book

It is already the top contender for Book of the Year for me.

There are books that come along every once in awhile and hit you with a proverbial mallet, screaming “I’m an amazing book!” Then there are the books that sneak up on you and you only realize afterwards just how good it was.

This book somehow does both, and yet I am still glad for it.

Variant (Robison Wells, HarperTeen) starts off typically enough. Benson Fisher teenage boy who has lived a life in foster care is moving to a private school on a full scholarship and is quite taken by the mysterious nature of things. However, he soon realizes that there is much more going on when he is informed that there are no teachers or adults at this school; in fact, there are only four rules one must follow. Other than that, the schoolkids are on their own.

There are three groups in the school: Society, the kids who follow the rules to the letter of the law; Havoc, the rebel kids who act more like a street gang than anything else; and Variant, the group which does not fit into any of the other groups. Benson is quickly grabbed by Society as they try to recruit him to their ranks. A scuffle shortly breaks out and soon he is fighting against both Society and Havoc, having joined Variant despite his early misgivings of the group. He then learns about point system, the uneasy truce between the three groups and the strange things that go on at the Maxfield Academy.

The story is extremely fast paced, with Benson dodging both Havoc and Society as he makes his desire to escape known. More and more of the kids begin to alienate him as they remind him that he’s never had it “so good”. Benson, though, becomes torn as he realizes that he has feelings for one of his classmates, which could interfere with his escape attempts.

Then everything changes as a whole new angle takes place.

This book… wow. Just wow. I was engaged by the author from the moment I started reading and, the further I was into the book, the better the writing became. The characters were very layered and meaningful, nobody seemed to be a cardboard cutout of a stereotypical teen (or if they were, the more you got to know them the deeper they became) and the absolute gut-wrenching twist at the end makes you wonder just who is who and what is what.

I couldn’t get enough of this. I kept babbling to others just how amazing this book is, and I am very glad I waited to review this book at the start of 2012. There’s nothing like having one of my new favorite five books to kick off a new year, right?

Best of all: this is a YA-appropriate teen book with plenty of action, suspense and mystery in it with quasi-romance — enough to fit both the teen boy and teen girl’s reading requirements.

Buy this book. Don’t loan it out, though, because your friends will steal it and you’ll have to buy a replacement copy.

Reviewed by Jason

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