Wow. This book. I absolutely could not put it down, especially as I neared the end. This tale was expertly woven and dark and captivating. The number one rule for reading this book is that absolutely nothing is as it seems.
As the plot unfolds, it becomes more and more complex, and neither the reader nor the protagonist knows what’s real and what are the contents of her own delusions. The story is riddled with magic and mysticism and dark powers at work within an alluring and luxurious setting. At no point in the novel did I feel like I knew what was going to happen next, which is part of what makes the narrative so compelling.
If there’s one thing I didn’t like about this book, it’s that at times the resolutions seemed very ‘deus ex machina.’ In the midst of the conflict, this seems mostly fitting. There are literal gods at work in the story, and the use of this device doesn’t take away from the quality of the narrative. The real problem with this comes in at the epilogue. Here, the deus ex machina isn’t used to add another layer of mystery and dark forces, but to give the protagonist a picturesque happy ending, which feels at odds with the rest of the story. Maybe I’m just prejudiced against happy endings, but this definitely felt out of place to me, especially because it wasn’t really explained at all, it was just delivered to us and we were expected to accept it.
Despite this slight issue with the epilogue, I truly loved reading this story, and I would highly recommend it to all fantasy fans. It was twisted and enchanting in all the right ways, and despite being a retelling of the twelve dancing princesses story, it was a truly original story unlike anything I had ever read before.
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I have mixed feelings about this book. While I’d still recommend it, there are definitely some things about it that bother me.
On the one hand, the entire premise of the story was incredibly original. From the half old-school fantasy half futuristic-dystopian setting to the very basis of the plot, this book was new and fresh and unlike anything I had ever read before. It certainly wasn’t the typical young adult fantasy read.
I also really loved the main character, Keralie. She was somewhat more typical to the YA fantasy genre, and she reminded me a bit of Mare from the Red Queen series (a series which I love dearly, by the way). The character of Mackiel was also very interesting and compelling, and the storylines revolving around him and his relationship to Keralie were probably my favorite parts of the story.
Yet this discussion of characters brings up one of my first issues with the novel. If you didn’t already know, the premise of the story involves the country (aptly named Quadara) being divided into four quadrants: Toria, Archia, Eonia, and Ludia. Keralie and Mackiel are both Torians. The Torian characters are the most well developed in the book and definitely seem the most human. The characters from other quadrants often fall a bit flat and are almost caricature-ish.
This leads pretty nicely into my biggest complaint with the novel: the worldbuilding. More specifically, my issue was with the way in which the worldbuilding was conveyed to the reader. The entire time I was reading, especially in the first half, I felt like I was being condescended to. Every time a character performed an action, those actions were then explained to the reader in terms of their quadrant’s values and personality types, and those were often the only traits the characters had. It would have been fine, in my opinion, if the characters simply portrayed the traits of their quadrant, but every single time anyone did anything, it was qualified with a statement like “in typical Ludist fashion” or “because of her curious Torian nature.” It got old very fast. I soon found myself screaming at the book that I already know that Torians are curious and begging to just get on with the story. The other place where this was an issue was with Queenly Law. Before the book even begins, the tenants of Queenly Law are listed for the reader. Then, individual laws from this list are placed in certain chapter heads. Yet the characters within the story are constantly explaining to each other what Queenly Law states. It was overdone.
The second big issue I have with this book is the plot, particularly the latter half. In the beginning, I was incredibly interested and engaged. It’s a given to the reader very early on that the queens will die (it’s in the title), so it was very interesting to be reading certain chapters from their perspectives. I wanted to know more about Keralie and Mackiel and their history and what he was hiding. I was hooked. But that started to fall apart about halfway through the book. Mackiel was soon left behind, only to continuously pop up out of nowhere, and the plot seemed to diverge from its original course.
It's very hard to discuss without spoiling the book, but I’ll try my best. An event that the readers and Keralie have assumed to already have happened turns out not to have happened yet. This should be a good thing. They should be able to stop it now, and they try. Yet they end up wandering around in vain and accomplishing nothing. It happens anyway. Keralie has been unable to effect any change. The problem with this for me is that the main character lacks agency. She doesn’t seem to be in control of her own world. This problem grows much worse with the big twist of the novel, which blows lack of agency to a new proportion. From that point in the novel on, I was totally disillusioned with the plot. I couldn’t follow the timeline anymore, and I found myself wondering what the point of most of the novel even was, if Keralie never could have done anything anyway.
The other thing I didn’t like about the plot was that the mastermind behind the whole thing, the true antagonist, didn’t make an appearance until the final quarter of the book, when suddenly she was narrating certain chapters. I felt cheated out of a chance to try to put all the puzzle pieces together.
Yet still, I kept reading all the way through to the end, desperate to learn the truth of the matter and to know where Keralie ended up.
Overall, Four Dead Queens was a brilliantly conceived novel and a refreshing twist on the YA fantasy genre standards, but it was much less brilliantly executed. It was an experiment with the technique of the unreliable narrator, but it failed, because the clues weren’t there for the reader to pick up on at all. It still might be worth a read, but I’m walking away from it feeling mostly disappointed, especially since I had such high hopes for it in the first place.
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I had forgotten how much pain a good book can cause.
There is nothing quite like the physical heartache you get when you care about the characters so much and so deeply that their pain becomes your own. When you are rooting so hard for two characters that your chest is heavy and empty when they are pulled apart. When you are so invested in the character that you are the character, and you not only want them to survive, but you need them to.
It has been so long since I’ve read something that made me feel this connection, and it’s the mark of spectacular writing. Aletheia made me feel it.
The main character was such a well-rounded, fleshed-out person, and she couldn’t have felt more real. She had history that began way before the first page, relationships long past that bled into the story in an incredibly realistic way.
Besides the astounding characters, the plot was profound and remarkably strung together. There were twists at every turn, both predicted and surprising. The worldbuilding was rich, and it stood apart from the fad of YA dystopian novels in a wonderful way. The stakes were high, the consequences were real, and the conflicts were multi-layered with enemies at both sides of the table. I couldn’t put the book down.
The one and only issue with Aletheia was that it was poorly edited. The errors were at times distracting from the extraordinary quality of the story, and it hurt my heart to see such a wonderful novel hindered in such a way.
Regardless, the book was still one of the best I have read in a very long time. The prose was captivating, easily measuring up to the vast scale of the story it set out to tell. I am hanging off the edge of the seat as I anxiously await the sequel.
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I have such mixed feelings about this book.
From the very beginning, that is, before even opening to read the jacket, this book drew me in. The cover design was absolutely phenomenal, which matters to me especially as an artist. The title was intriguing; it sounded like exactly my type of book. But what really did it for me was the tagline:
“In my land, we’re known as Paper Girls… easily torn, existing only for others to use and discard. But there’s something they’ve all forgotten about paper. It can light the world on fire… and make it burn.”
From this description, I was expecting much more of a dystopian story than a fantasy one, one with rich worldbuilding, a caste system, and a story focused on rebellion. And I was excited.
So with all of this, I was sold before even opening the cover. Which meant I hadn’t read the synopsis when I took the book home with me. Big mistake.
But even if I had read the synopsis before starting to read, I would have known nothing about the elaborate half animal-half human demons that make up half the cast. Needless to say, I was very surprised to open the book a few pages in and find a description of the distinctions in humanity between the different castes. This is definitely not what I had signed up for.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I read fantasy, too. I even write it. But it can be very off-putting when it comes as a surprise, especially when it’s taken to the extreme that it is here. This is entirely personal preference on my part, but I much prefer a human cast, and this book definitely pushed the definition of human beyond what I’m used to.
Now, if I had known that this is what the book would be about, I still might have picked it up, and probably enjoyed it more than I did. But the fact of the matter is, I had built such high expectations for this book in my head that I was disappointed with what I got, which sort of put a damper on things from the beginning.
Another issue I had was that the rebellion aspect of the plot took up very little space on the page. It didn’t pop up at all until about halfway through the story, and even when it did, the main character, Lei, didn’t have very much agency or control in the plot whatsoever. If not for an unexpected turn of events that almost qualifies as a deus ex machina, Lei would have had little to no role in the climax at all.
Instead, the major focus of the plot was forbidden romance, which was well-written, and a wonderful inclusion of LGBT representation, but it just wasn’t what I was craving when I picked up the book.
That being said, the love interest was very well-rounded, and I think her character was more developed than Lei’s was, if I’m being honest. But I definitely enjoyed watching the relationship unfold, as it didn’t feel rushed or forced in anyway as you so often get in novels like this. I also really appreciated the way that the main character came to terms with her orientation and the implications her relationship held in terms of the plot.
I also enjoyed the unfoldings of the plot in the first half of the book, though they weren’t what I was expecting. Watching the main character struggle with what is expected of her, what she needs in order to maintain her integrity, and the consequences she faces was very compelling from both a plot and character perspective.
Yet one part that I thought to be very under-explored was Lei’s search for her missing mother, who was stolen years ago. I feel like the mystery that seems to drive her in the beginning of the book is almost ignored, and it’s “resolved” when she simply accepts that her mother is probably dead, which I found incredibly underwhelming.
My final issue with this book was the actual writing itself. As I writer myself, that’s something I pay attention to more than the average reader, and I have never been so annoyed with the way a book was written in my life. The author struggles from a severe lack of commas throughout the entire novel, and it was extremely off-putting for me. I found myself reading over the same sentence three times, trying to figure out why it felt so wrong and correcting it in my head. Doing this what felt like hundreds of times throughout the novel became very distracting very fast.
Yet despite all my mixed feelings about this book, I never put it down. It was aggravating, but I also found myself attached to the plot, demanding answers about how things would end up. Honestly, I can’t even tell you if I enjoyed reading it or not. As of right now, the jury is still out.
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“This might be a good time to remember that writing a novel is hard.”
Overall, Story Genius was a wonderful read with a refreshing take on the writing process. If you open up this book with even a glimmer of an idea for a novel, if you follow along, you can close the back cover well into the first chunk of your first draft. But if you’re a little farther along in your writing process, the concrete method outlined in this book won’t necessarily work for you exactly, and some pieces may be redundant or irrelevant. Regardless, there are some incredible ideas in this book about the craft and philosophy of writing that everyone can learn from. I’ve outlined some of the major points below.
1. Story and plot are not the same thing. One of the earliest and most important assertions that the author makes is this, and if you take away nothing else from her work, this should be the thing. Without a story behind it, a plot is nothing but a string of external events with no significance, and because of this, a plot on its own does not have the power to grasp readers. A story, on the other hand, is about a specific, difficult obstacle that a character faces and how that character is forced to change their worldview and deal with a specific internal conflict as a result of those events. This distinction is extremely important, and the reason goes back to the psychological reason why stories are so compelling to us as humans. A well written story leaves us so in-tune with the struggles and emotions of the protagonist that we are not merely sitting there watching as the events of the fictional world unfold, but we are living those events in full color through the character’s eyes, a phenomenon that occurs in no other medium of modern entertainment. And in striving to achieve that phenomenon, we must give our readers the juicy, emotional bits of internal conflict that allow us to experience a book as more than just a series of events playing across a scene.
2. A novel must be written in chronological order. One of the main traps that beginning writers fall into is the temptation to jump around when they’re writing from scene to scene, writing when the inspiration strikes and you get into the right mood. Now, it’s very likely that you’re thinking that this sounds ridiculous, pretentious, and arbitrary, and initially, you might be right. But upon closer inspection, this rule actually makes a lot of sense. Internal logic is essential to the success of a novel, and it must be based off of a coherent, concrete cause-and-effect trajectory. Simply put, each event (and each internal change that accompanies it) needs to have been cause by the event before it and needs to trigger the one after. Without this, your novel will be left feeling episodic, one event that happens after another, after another, but never escalating into one, distinct, climactic conflict. This interior logic will also allow your reader to try to guess what will happen next, and instead of making your book predictable, it will actually make your novel more fun to read. There is one exception too this rule, however, and it comes in the form of the ending scene. Over the course of writing your novel, it helps to have a clear destination in mind so you can make sure your plot doesn’t veer way off track.
3. Your protagonist must begin the story with a specific past. Think about it. We already know that it is essential for a successful story that your protagonist must undergo an internal change. And in order to change, you have to have a starting point that you can change from. It sounds glaringly obvious, so it’s surprising how many authors overlook this detail and fail to learn anything about their main character that happens before page one. It’s incredibly important to establish your character’s starting worldview because this internal set of beliefs will bleed their way onto the page by informing every decision that this character will make. But it’s not enough to decide on a general belief system. It’s important to delve into the specific events and circumstances that shaped your character’s worldview before the book even begins, as well as the specific ways the character reacted and was affected by them. You’d be surprised to find out how often fleshing out these early scenes early on will help when it comes time to writing your manuscript because its very likely that they’ll make it onto the page in some form, likely as flashbacks or backstory.
4. A finished novel is many layers deep, but it is important to remember that they don’t begin that way. Looking at the intricate weave of subplot upon subplot, dozens of secondary characters, exhilarating settings, internal struggle, and external hurtles, writing a novel can be extremely intimidating, and it can also lead to the misconception that novels are written this way, with all of these layers being seamlessly developed side by side, all at once. But that simply isn’t the case. A complex novel is formulated one layer at a time, so don’t let that initial fear convince you that it’s better to take the simple route and only write one layer at all, because subplots are what keep a novel interesting and distinguish it from others in its genre. Instead, as you trek along with your main story-line, notice the obvious subplots that start to evolve. As you learn more about your characters and your plot, you can start to write in the interesting details that make up a secondary story-line. The trick is, after you discover these lines, to double back to the early stages of your manuscript and make it look like you knew what you were doing all along.
So yes, writing a novel is hard. But with the wonderful insight and compelling tone that Lisa Cron provides in Story Genius, the process gets just a little bit easier.
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First, let me just say that I’m not a proponent of reading the classics just for the classics’ sake. Oliver Twist? The Old Man and The Sea? No, thank you. But I would strongly recommend reading The Crucible, as it has truly earned its place among the ranks of the great.
The Crucible is a play, and many would argue that it is best enjoyed in the form of a performance, whether that be on screen or on stage. Yet between watching the movie and reading the text, I much preferred taking it all in in the form of a book. Granted, I haven’t had the opportunity to see it live, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I would still prefer the book.
In case you didn’t know, The Crucible is a piece of historical fiction written during the Red Scare that centers on the Salem witch trials, and the main theme of the play is the drawing of comparisons between the two events. In doing this, we get to see the hysteria that develops around the accusations of witchcraft, and how the townspeople, and the court officials, use their religious beliefs to justify their persecution.
Now, Miller used this to draw comparisons to the arbitrary accusations that ruined careers during the Red Scare, but I prefer to think of the themes in a more modern context. There is no shortage of ways in which religion is used to rationalize oppression and mistreatment of peoples in contemporary society. There is an undeniable recurrence of events here, and Miller points out a troubling pattern of human behavior.
Personally, this is a theme that I am particularly drawn to, as it echoes those within my current writing. But if deep analysis of human nature isn’t quite your thing, there are still plenty of reasons to enjoy this book.
The dynamics between characters are extremely compelling and complex in this work, and there is so much more going on in addition to the main plotline. The play is exciting right from the beginning, starting out with questions just begging to be answered, and it grabbed my attention right away. Once I got going, I couldn’t put it down.
I’d highly recommend this book, but the one small drawback for me was the ending. I won’t spoil it, but it did feel like a bit of a let down after such a gripping, fast-paced story.
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It has been a very long time since I've had the free time to sit down and actually read a book, a fact which I very much regret, but this novel was captivating, and I absolutely could not put it down. Not only was the plot extremely compelling, full of exciting twists and turns, but it was also incredibly well written. I highly recommend this book to all fans of young adult literature, especially low fantasy. The Savior's Champion combines the thrill of risk of life and death competition, intriguing and complicated romance, and themes of duty and commitment to both family and country. The style of writing was refreshingly human, if at times crude, but it only serves to enhance the humanity of the characters.
The characters in this novel are some of the most realistic, well-rounded, and well-written I have ever encountered. This novel perfectly captures the nature of young men, from the way they interact with one another, to their cruelty and their lust for women and for power. Each of these characters has a distinct personality, and every single one of them is compelling in their own way.
Not only were the characters and plot astounding, but this was one of the best examples I have seen of LGBTQ representation in literature, especially in the medieval fantasy genre. The representation was present in many ways, avoiding the one token character that we so often see. It was also seamlessly integrated into the text; it was never questioned and always accepted as something that was perfectly normal, a refreshing take on incorporating representation into writing.
Overall, The Savior's Champion was the best read of 2018, and I cannot wait for the sequel.
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