Review: Prince of Fools

Prince of Fools
Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yet another fantastic audio experience from the great Tim Gerard Reynolds.

Here’s the thing about audiobooks: no matter the book, you’re almost entirely dependent upon your narrator. A good reader can make even an okay story a little better, and a terrible reader can make even the most heart-stopping, breathtaking tale put you right to sleep. Tim Gerard Reynolds — whom I frequently refer to by his initials, TGR — is one of those first kind. He can make even a story that, objectively, had I been reading it, would have been a 2.5-3 star book into a 4-star book (c.f. my review of Legend of the Galactic Heroes).

I picked up this book from Audible because of TGR, and ended up finding myself a really fun story. I had previously read Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns and, while I didn’t really enjoy it all that much, I found Prince of Fools far more enjoyable. Our protagonist, Jalan, is a self-described coward who loves both the drink and the ladies. And there’s something I can’t help but admire about that honesty; that Jalan never lies to the reader about his own failings. Sure, he may try to hide many things under bravado to other characters, but his “conversations” with the reader (his inner thoughts) show us how he really feels.

I have a bad habit of blanking unpleasantness from my mind—something I’ve done since I was a child. They often say the best liars half-believe their lies—which makes me the very best because if I repeat a lie often enough I can end up believing it entirely, no half measures involved!

Through a brief, but violent event instigated by the mysterious Silent Sister, Jalan finds himself magically bound to a great, hulking Viking named — I kid you not — Snorri. And this bond isn’t something that Jalan can just ignore; these two both undergo a physical sensation of wrongness whenever they are separated. Basically: they’re stuck with each other. The playboy, ne’er-do-well prince, and an honour-driven Viking on a rescue mission. They come together in order to try and find someone who can destroy their magical bond, and their bromance becomes one of my favourites I’ve read.

Especially as they have to deal with the forces of hell — or, I suppose it should be, Hel, since we’re dealing with Norse mythology here — and try to not kill each other in the process of trying to free themselves. I love relationships like this, especially as these two are the perfect foils for each other while, at the same time, bringing out the best in each other.

Also, best part for me: no romance. Not a single romantic subplot or any of that nonsense and thank goodness for that. First of all: it would not have fit within this story and including it probably would have killed the book for me. Second: it’s all the about the bromance and seeing people develop an alliance, albeit an uneasy one.

It’s a great ride, with imminently likable protagonists and enough mystery left that I’m itching for the next one.

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Review: Rebel of the Sands

PLEASE NOTE: This review has been truncated due to spoilers. You can find my full review, including the spoilers, over on Goodreads.

Rebel of the Sands
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

*2.5/5

A brilliant first chapter squandered by shallow, poorly-executed attempts at world-building, inconsistent Western influences and attempt at flintlock fantasy, and a plot that doesn’t actually appear until the last chapter or so of the book. (And even then, it wasn’t worth it.)

Rebel of the Sands was pitched to me as a Western-and-Middle-Eastern-inspired fantasy about a young female gunslinger named Amani who meets a foreigner named Jin, after which shenanigans ensue.

Let’s show our hands here: I love Westerns. I grew up watching the “spaghetti Westerns” of Sergio Leone, and I even studied the Western genre while at university as a part of my film studies. They’re a genre I hold near and dear to my heart. Tell me you’re mixing it with Middle Eastern fantasy and you’ve piqued my curiosity. My mind goes to flintlock fantasies like The Shadow Campaigns by Django Wexler, or even the Disney film, Hidalgo. My body is more than ready.

At first, I thought my growing frustration and distaste for this novel was my own misunderstanding of the story I was going to get: I thought I’d get something like The Quick and the Dead. But, no: this isn’t about sharpshooters in a contest for their lives, despite the fact that’s how this novel begins. The first chapter is the best part of the novel, opening in media res at the sharpshooting contest promised in the novel’s jacket blurb. We meet Amani, already disguised as a boy to try and win some money to get the hell outta dodge, and the “mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner” (so sayeth the jacket blurb) named Jin. The opening sequence at the sharpshooting contest is great, easily harkening to films such as Quick and setting the tone for the story.

Except, it doesn’t. Not really.

What follows after that opening sequence is a book without clear purpose that takes far too long to not only introduce the entirety of its world, but to execute its plot. That opening sequence — which is, essentially, the entirety of the book’s dust jacket blurb — occurs in what’s probably less than 100 pages, and then the book has no idea what it wants to do. Amani and Jin wander through the desert with very little clear purpose, and no logical reason for the author to continually throw them together with the exception of their insta-love relationship that, at one point, actually made me half-scream an expletive aloud. I’m holding Rebel of the Sands personally responsible for waking my dog from his nap, because I got thrown serious canine-shade when this happened.

[SPOILER REDACTED]

Road trip stories can be great — most of the great Western stories involve road trips — but this isn’t really a road trip story. As the book kept shifting and changing, I thought: so if it’s not about a sharpshooting contest and it’s not about a road trip…what the f*ck is this novel about? This confusion and mounting irritation was compounded upon by the fact that the worldbuilding was so poorly executed. Things that had been happening for centuries, things to which we should have been made aware early on in the novel, aren’t mentioned until we’re practically halfway through the story. Like, “Oh yeah, you didn’t know this?” Well, no, we didn’t because you didn’t tell us. These are elements I should have felt form the beginning — there are magical creatures such as Skinwalkers and Nightmares who don’t even get mentioned until they spontaneously appear more than halfway through the novel.

This is similar to how I felt when reading An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir: shallow, inconsistent worldbuilding with little to no purpose. These creatures feel like an afterthought of the author — as if she was just making it all up as she went along. There’s no proper set-up for them, nor even true mentioning of them, so they feel like spontaneous additions just to create random conflict or jam the not-subtle message of “people don’t like what they don’t truly understand” down our throats. In addition, I have to object to the naming scheme: Amani is from Dustwalk, and it’s he only place-name that doesn’t sound at all sound like it has a Middle Eastern influence — seriously, it’s the only one. Cue more confusion as to why I thought I was getting a Western novel. And the worst part about that is how Hamilton virtually abandons the Western influences as the novel goes along. They disappear to the point that I was left thinking: wasn’t this supposed to be a Western?

You want to do a Middle Eastern-Inspired fantasy, go for it! They can be fantastic. You want to do a Western-inspired fantasy? Please, be my guest! You want to do a combination? Even better — but you have to commit equally to both aspects and remain consistent with them.

The action-packed finale, where the actual plot magically appears like a mirage in the desert, is fine, but by that point I had no investment in the characters or the world. I wouldn’t have cared if all the characters had spontaneously burst into flame right then and there and turned to ash — or maybe sand is the better material for this imagery…

The book takes far too long to make its point, and by the time it does, it didn’t feel worth it. Such a disappointment as I had hoped this would be a book I would enjoy and a potential series to continue, but I have zero interest in carrying on with any future novels.

*nota bene: This book earns its rated 2.5 by virtue of its strong opening sequence and the one moment of Jin’s snark in the beginning third that made me laugh.

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Chemical X

Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) has released into theatres after much buildup and promotion to rather scathing reviews.

Is anyone particularly surprised?

BvS had more work to do than most superhero franchise films, coming off of a much-maligned first film, Man of Steel, while also competing with the films being produced by its cousin, Marvel, that have, thus far, been a steady cash-machine of positive audience and critic scores. BvS needed to re-establish faith in the DC brand in terms of films and answer the question: could DC make a good superhero movie?

It’s not like they haven’t done it before.

DC had an incredible hit on their hands when Christopher Nolan took the reins of the Batman franchise and released his phenomenal Dark Knight trilogy. These are films that actually took home Academy Awards, one of which was even for acting (Heath Ledger, Best Supporting Actor in The Dark Knight), and that enthralled audiences and critics alike. They were hits, they were masterful examples of their craft — I actually studied The Dark Knight as a part of a Film Adaptations course in university and, let me tell you, it’s a film student’s dream to study. It was brilliant, and I’m sure DC was more than a little eager to get right to it and release more films on their others heroes with the same formula.

Except, there wasn’t exactly a formula.

This is where I think DC (and the studios who hold film distribution rights) has made a crucial error: the Dark Knight trilogy did not have an easily-repeatable formula. They seem to have mistaken the idea that they got three Batman movies directed by Christopher Nolan. What they got, instead, were three Christopher Nolan movies, that just happened to star Batman. They forgot that what they got was an auteur.

In simple terms, the auteur theory holds that the director, who oversees all audio and visual elements of the motion picture, is  considered the “author” of the film. As a result, when you look at a director’s body of film work, you can see the same metaphorical brushstrokes, making their work identifiable — rather like having a signature.

200_s.gifLove it or hate it, auteur theory is something I love to talk about as it pertains to individuals in the film industry, especially directors. Perhaps this is my own education, where I spent a full semester ingratiated within auteur theory, studying the works of Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock, Sam Peckinpah, and Martin Scorsese. And I think Nolan is certainly an auteur: even if you went into one of his movies without knowing who directed it, you pick up on all the things which clue you in to the fact that you’re watching a Christopher Nolan film. From a noted sparse use of CGI — Interstellar being the one major exception to this rule — to scripts that are dark, philosophical, and verbose, Nolan has a distinct style both in his films’ looks and narrative content. And his Dark Knight trilogy is no exception: it has all the hallmarks of a Christopher Nolan movie, just with Batman as its main character. The auteur was (seemingly) given a great deal of freedom to do what he does best and create a film that was his film as opposed to a Batman film.

It wasn’t an easily-repeatable formula at the heart of the Dark Knight trilogy’s success, and that’s what DC has not seemed to grasp.

I understand DC’s urge to attempt to reproduce Marvel’s current MCU trend: the formula, the machine, as it were. A Marvel film is branded by this point: snappy/snarky dialogue, a solid three-act structure, and a visual aesthetic which is consistent across all films. This is even with them hiring auteur directors like Kenneth Branagh (Thor) and Joss Whedon (Avengers). But not only had Marvel already established the look and the feel in Iron Man, but they made sure that it was understood these are “superhero” movies first, everything else second. In effect, the director was virtually unimportant, especially as Marvel has moved on into “Phase 2” and now “Phase 3” of their films. They’re all about the consistent, superhero product. It’s not about the art or trying to do something particularly bold and daring.

Joss Whedon directing Avengers? Hell, he’s already done things like FireflySerenity, and Buffy. No brainer he can handle superheroes and extensive CGI. Kenneth Branagh for Thor? Well, it’s the closest we’ll ever get to characters spouting Shakespeare and doing some kind of hardcore sci-fi costume drama, so that makes sense.

Don’t get me wrong: I really enjoy both of these directors’ work, including their work with Marvel. But they don’t come off to me as particularly bold choices in terms of selecting someone to helm a superhero film.

DC gives the impression that they’re at least willing to swing for the fences when it comes to directors.

Before Batman Begins, if you’d told me that Christopher Nolan was going to do a Batman film, I’d have probably thought you were on some sort of extracurricular drug. The guy who brought me Memento and Insomnia is doing Batman? But he did, and he didn’t just do Batman: Christopher Nolan made a Christopher Nolan film that just happened to be set in Gotham, just happened to take place inside of the Batman universe. And a universe more of his own making than anything else.

3watchmen460Tell me you’ve got Zack Snyder lined up for Superman, and you can colour me intrigued. After all, Zack Snyder already had a superhero film under his belt with his adaptation of the critically acclaimed graphic novel, Watchmen, and even then, it didn’t necessarily feel like a superhero movie first; it was an examination of human nature and morality that just happened to feature “superheroes” who flirted with the line between hero and villain more than once. Much of this comes from the source material, and I will also admit that this is not unique to Watchmen, but it was perhaps the fact that Watchmen was not associated with either Marvel or DC that it was able to thrive in this way.

As a director, Zack Snyder is not Christopher Nolan — in fact he’s something akin to a 180-degree switch, especially in terms of visual style. Looking at his films such as 300Watchmen, et al. Snyder has a deep love of CGI and post-production effects such as colour-filters. His films read more like visual opera: bombastic and over-the-top to paint an impressionist picture as opposed to some kind of realistic still-life. They’re viscerally visual to the point of being “style-over-substance,” and not necessarily in a bad way, but in a manner of fashion that makes Snyder and easily-identifiable director much like Nolan. Snyder is an auteur, and a very different auteur from someone such as Nolan, despite their equal love of darker stories. Hiring a director like Snyder means you’re accepting a certain kind of visual style and aesthetic, one that can easily turn a lot of your potential audience off.

DC definitely got that part right: get yourself an auteur director. But they forgot about the whole “let them do what they do best” part that was the key to the success of the Dark Knight trilogy. Man of Steel was a mess, there’s no denying that fact, and I could write an entire post on all of the film-related flaws I found in that film, but let’s just baseline the conversation with the common understanding that Man of Steel was not good. And while I chalk a lot of that up to a weak script, I also think part of the problem lies in not understanding that Man of Steel should not have been a Superman movie directed by Zack Snyder, but a Zack Snyder film that happened to star Superman.

This may sound like silly linguistic nuance, but it’s important. I walked of Man of Steel feeling muddled and confused: where was the visual opera? What happened to the colour filters and bombastic intensity? In other words: where was Snyder?

In trying to duplicate the Dark Knight trilogy, it seemed that DC had put Snyder into some kind of Nolan-esque mold and, therefore, nullified all of the stylistic elements that make their director not only so recognizable, but that make his films work. No one could have directed 300 the way Snyder did, just like no one could have done The Dark Knight the way Nolan did. But, Man of Steel? Any director could have made that exactly as it was, and that was the most disheartening thing about it. Man of Steel ended up lacking both style and substance, which pretty much put BvS in the losing position before it even got off the ground.

Look, Snyder may not be everyone’s cup of film-tea, but the same can be said for Nolan, and both of them deserved a shot at creating their movie that just happened to star a DC superhero with relative creative freedom.

DC did it once, and I wish they’d do it again.

Review: Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Vol. 1: Dawn

Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Vol. 1: Dawn
Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Vol. 1: Dawn by Yoshiki Tanaka

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alright, there’s no getting around it: I’m going to be honest and admit that I don’t think I would have enjoyed this book as much without the stellar narration of Tim Gerard Reynolds. I was introduced to TGR through his work in reading Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy, which fully convinced me that I will listen to just about anything this man reads. He could read me the dictionary and I’d still be there. There’s something about his voice and the way he delivers his narration that completely captivates me.

And this book is no exception. In fact, the very reason I chose audio over print or digital was because I saw that Tim Gerard Reynolds was going to be the reader.

While I went into this novel because of a book club in which I participate, I was already vaguely aware of Legend of the Galactic Heroes prior to picking up Dawn. As a fan of both anime and science-fiction, I had heard Heroes brought up many a time as a kind of “hallmark series” for science-fiction anime lovers from many fans and reviewers of the genre. It’s been adapted for anime, manga, PC games, and even a stage play — let’s just say that Galactic Heroes has gotten around since Dawn‘s initial publication in 1982.

Now it has finally been translated into English for non-Japanese readers like myself to consume, and I have a feeling my star-rating would be at least one star lower had I chosen a different consumption format (i.e. print or digital over audio). I did enjoy the book, don’t get me wrong, but there are some things that definitely irked me while listening.

The writing style is very “cut and dry” with the kind of “this happened and then this happened and then this happened”-style that detaches me from the reading experience. This particular style is something I’ve noticed more in science fiction than any other genre I’ve read, so perhaps it comes with the territory. That being said, I think the style actually does a disservice to the various battle sequences that Tanaka peppers throughout the novel. I didn’t feel any serious excitement or tension going into them because the language wasn’t sumptuous or evocative; it wasn’t sucking me in as much as it should. Again, with Reynolds’ narration, which buoyed it up just enough to pique my interest, the different accents and voices of the characters helped to keep me involved. But the book should not be dependent upon its narrator, no matter how good he/she is.

As for the characters…meh? Like the writing style, they’re fairly straightforward with little more to them than what we get within their initial introductions. I found this lack of growth frustrating. Yes, I am aware this is a 10-book series, but there should still be small-scale character development, especially within the first novel. There is also the problem of the two protagonists, Reinhard von Lohengramm and Yang Wen Li, never physically interacting. A game of “cat and mouse” is all well and good, but you do need to have your characters in the same room at some point. I was practically begging for these two to speak, to give me some sense of why I should be invested in their rivalry.

Furthermore, what this book really needed to do was give me a reason to care about the Free Planets Alliance. I mean, I get it: never-ending war between them and the Galactic Empire because of differences in ideology, but…why am I supposed to care? I found all of the characters of the Empire far more interesting, probably because Lohengramm — although criminally underused in this book, which seemed to focus far more on Yang — was a more dynamic character than his counterpart.

On the whole, this would normally be a 3-star book: yeah, it’s fine, but I don’t think it’s anything to call home about due to an overly-dry writing style and characters that go effectually nowhere. But Tim Gerard Reynolds’ narration shines in the face of these challenges. He adopted a plethora of accents for the myriad of side-characters, manipulated his pacing and pitch throughout the battle sequences, and brought life to what was otherwise a “meh” kind of story.

Would I read the sequels? Only if Reynolds is back to narrate.

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Review: These Shallow Graves

These Shallow Graves
These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

”You, on the other hand, wish to know things. And no one can forgive a girl for that.”

Jennifer Donnelly and I have a good literary history — the first novel of hers that I read, Revolution, emotionally rocked my world and is still one of the best historical fiction novels I’ve ever read. While all the other novels of hers I have not enjoyed as much as Revolution, I still enjoyed them, and I do think that Ms. Donnelly’s narrative skills are best exhibited in the world of historical fiction. As you can imagine, I went into These Shallow Graves with a great amount of excitement and expectation, and it did not disappoint in any way.

Josephine “Jo” Montfort is a fantastic protagonist: she’s ambitious and driven, but born unfortunately born into a society that sees women as nothing more than pieces of a business transaction. If you’re born into money, especially “old money” like Jo, you’re expected to marry well, and no amount of mutual friendliness — as she has with her primary “suitor”, Bram — can disguise the fact that, at the end of the day: it’s not personal (or love), it’s business. Despite all this, Jo pushes through, even when met with resistance from her family, who serve as the perfect microcosm for NYC high society. She doesn’t do so with complete blindness; she understands the hypocrisy of her world and simply chooses to try and forge her own path, even while knowing just how difficult that is for her as a woman.

”That was what people did when they wanted to stop a girl from doing something — they shamed her.”

This is one of the best aspects of Donnelly’s work: the highlighting of both the sharp differences and similarities between the historical setting and modern world. Look at the above statement and tell me that it does not still ring true today in the 21st century. Are we better than the 1890’s? Yes. But there are still women fight for equal rights, and books like Graves only make that all the more apparent. This is the kind of book that young girls should read, not only because of the protagonist who dares to not only dream and speak, but act in order to achieve her goal while also trying to do right, but also because it is a novel in which there are men who are supportive of a young woman’s career and interests, even when most of society — men and women — are not.

“Why is it, she wondered now, that boys get to do things and be things and girls only get to watch?”

Eddie Gallagher is the 1890’s version of a #He4She-er, but not in any sort of anachronistic way. He’s still got the habits of someone from the late 19th-century, but he has every reason to understand the strength and grit of young women and how it can equal those of his own sex. Eddie is the handsome journalist who plunges Jo into the mystery of her father’s demise and the truth behind it, and he’s so much more than a love interest — I, personally, loathe when characters are simply created for a story in order to serve only as a love interest. I would rather do without the character entirely, so the fact that Eddie exists so wholly as his own person within Graves is a wonderful thing to see. Jo’s relationship with Eddie works because of their deep understanding of one another: they support each other’s dreams, chide each other for when their ambition gets them into peril, and (best of all) their romantic attraction/love story never takes away from their growth as individuals. Personal growth is not dependent upon romance and that is like the cherry on-top of an already fantastic novel.

”If you’re going to bury the past, bury it deep girl. Shallow graves always give up their dead.”

And the plot truly is fantastic. Sure, I predicted at least 3 of the 4 primary “reveals” or “twists” within the novel, but it didn’t bother me in the slightest, because Donnelly’s novels are always about more than just the plotline. When studying narratology, I was always taught that there are two kinds of “plot” in any given film or novel. There’s the “plot” — with a lower-case “p” — which is the story: it’s what happens in the book. Then there’s the “Plot” — with an upper-case “p” — which is what the book is about. This book isn’t about a compelling mystery that involves unravelling layer upon layer of secrets; it isn’t about forbidden romances, past and present, that smolder under the surface of a historical snapshot of 1890’s NYC; and it isn’t about what is truth and what is lies in the high-society, where people never seem to say what they want/mean. Sure, that’s the story and, trust me, it’s a thrilling story that will keep you digging with Jo all the way to the gripping conclusion.

“We who have means and a voice must use them to help those who have neither. Yet how can we help them if we don’t even know about them? And how can we know about them if no one writes about them? Is it so wrong to want to know things?”

This novel is about the lives of multiple women during the 1890s: from the wealthy young Jo, to the disgraced Eleanor of the past, to the thieving pickpocket, Fay. It’s about these women because, at the end of it, they’re all chasing the same thing: freedom. It seems such a simple wish, an almost silly desire, and yet it is the very thing they all lack, but it different ways. Donnelly takes us through the restricting corsets of high-society to the underbelly of the city where most of the women have been driven to prostitution. Freedom is a luxury, even when it should be a right. And, again, I think this is something that still rings so sadly true, even in today’s world. I don’t mean to get up on a soap-box, but any women/young girl who reads Graves can empathize — if not emotionally more than situationally — the situations and circumstances in which the women of this novel all find themselves. And I hope that most of us, at least, have some kind of Eddie Gallagher in our corner, even if romance is not included.

Jennifer Donnelly’s novels stick with me long after I’ve shut its pages; everything echoes through my head, weaving its way through my life so that I realize just how much I truly am able to connect with the work, both light and dark. These Shallow Graves goes up with Revolution for rocking my world, but in completely different ways than its predecessor. Donnelly is writing some of the strongest YA fiction around and you should all do yourself the favor of reading her historical fiction, because she turns an amazing mirror upon the present by illuminating the past and we are all the better for it.

“As a child, she’d thought all the noise and commotion was the most wild, wonderful game, but as she’d grown older, she understood why everyone rushed around so: they were chasing a story.”

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Review: Six of Crows

Six of Crows
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“When everyone knows you’re a monster, you needn’t waste time doing every monstrous thing.”

Well, folks: Bardugo has done it again.

I remember reading through the Grisha trilogy a few years ago and thinking it such an interesting world. I had never read a Russian-inspired fantasy before, and found the way that Bardugo crafted the world of Ravka and its magical-system of Grisha fascinating. There was a pervasive darkness to the story and the characters that made Shadow & Bone and its respective sequels stand out from other YA-fantasies that I had read.

And that darkness continues here, but with (in my opinion) a far more entertaining and action-packed plot. This book promises a magic-filled, high-stakes heist and it more than delivers on that promise. It features a true ensemble cast — read: no one character is more important than the other to the narrative — that reminded me of Ocean’s Eleven or Atlantis: The Lost Empire; the Dregs not only made me think of Burgess’s “droogs” from A Clockwork Orange, but were motley crew that ran the gamut of age, origin, body type, motivation, and personality. What they all had in common: distinguishable, unique narrative voices that not only made it easy to always remember whose perspective I was reading, but emotionally invested me in every single one of them.

I’m sure people will all have a favourite member of the Dregs that they like just a little bit more than everyone else, but I love each person of this rag-tag team equally. They’re all different, but still enjoyable, even when they’re despicable — and, oh yes, some of them really are. Bardugo loves to flirt with the line between antihero and villain, and the characters of Six of Crows are no exception. And the book is all the better for it.

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Review: The Dark Days Club

The Dark Days Club
The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Okay, let’s get something straight: when I’m promised an adventure novel about an “intrepid demon-hunter” in Victorian England, I don’t expect the book to take over 200-pages to get there. That’s virtually half of this book and speaks volumes as to its glacial pacing. And, oh, is the pacing unbearably slow — the problem lies in the writing and the protagonist.

Now, I adore well-researched historical novels. I love being immersed in a book’s setting and feeling like I’m really there with the characters. Attention to detail and accuracy are important, but only when they are done well. The historical details of The Dark Days Club smother this novel, swallowing the plot in incessant regurgitations of factoids and anecdotes that are wholly unnecessary — this could, of course, speak to my pre-existing familiarity with the time period, but even putting that aside, I cannot abide the info-dumping of this novel. It’s unrelenting in its frequency and length. Imagine someone constantly interjecting “fun facts” into a story — it distracts and damn-near derails the plot.

A plot which takes until the 50% mark for even one fight to occur on-screen, and the protagonist is merely a bystander to the affair. No. I was promised action and adventure. Why didn’t we make the Earl of Carlston the protagonist? Or, better yet, why didn’t we get a protagonist who was already familiar with this world and fully-indoctrinated within the eponymous society? Not only would this speed up the novel, but it would solve many problems with our protagonist.

And, oh, is she a special bloodydamn snowflake — equal parts insufferable and cowardly, Helen spends the entire novel as nothing more than a selfish teenager who cannot make up her mind. For virtually the entire front half of the novel, Helen bemoans her existence as a woman in a patriarchal world where the only thing she can do is get married. But guess what? She suddenly gets these amazing reflexes, can see things that aren’t apparent to other people, and fling men into walls like she’s been training for Fight Club. What does she do? Spend the rest of the novel complaining about these powers like a four year old who’s covering their ears, shutting their eyes, and screaming, “LALALA I’M NOT LISTENING. I’M NOT LISTENING.”

After all, she’s a girl and girls don’t fight. Suddenly being the strongest fastest, most gifted demon hunter ever — who can inexplicably read people’s expressions the way we do a bloodydamn book — means nothing and she’d rather get married and attend parties in beautiful gowns. Excuse me? What’s with the 180-degree flip? It’s completely contradictory, especially for someone who gets called a “rationalist” by the primary male of the novel. Can you feel my eyeroll? The eyeroll is strong with this one. Miss “special-promised-one-snowflake” Hele was insufferable — I would have rather read the novel from the perspective of her two — yes, two — love interests.

Kill me now, there was a gag-worthy love triangle that makes no sense. But that’s okay, because Helen is about as wishy-washy about her love interests as she in about her fate.

Which is why this novel deserved a protagonist who was already ingratiated within the world of the Dark Days Club. The entire front half of the novel could vanish, and the pace would not only pick up, but then Helen’s flakiness could be, at the very least, minimally tolerable as opposed to insufferably frustrating. Our interest would be in seeing a character who has done something long enough that she’s fed up with it and wants to try and have a “normal” society life, but finds herself unable to reconcile what is required of her in Victorian society — i.e. get married to someone with status and bear hairs — and the world of relative/potential “freedom” that comes with the caveat of potential harm or death. Doesn’t that sound like an interesting set-up?

From glacial pacing, a too stupid and insufferable to live coward of a “heroine,” I did not get a novel I could enjoy. I rolled my eyes the whole way through with twitching fingers that practically ached to give Helen a good clock in the jaw.

Would I read the sequels? I’d rather swallow ipecac.

Nota bene: This novel gets two stars by virtue of the Carlston who deserved so much better.

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