Monday, November 24, 2014

A Suspenseful But Clichéd Page-Turner

Source: Author Website
The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave #1) by Rick Yancey (Putnam Juvenile, 2013, 480pp.)

Drop a 16-year-old girl on the set of The Walking Dead, minus the zombies. Now, give her a teddy bear, an M-16, and a mission to rescue her lost baby brother, and what do you have? You, my friend, have the beginning set-up of The 5th Wave. The heroine, Cassie Sullivan, was a normal teenage girl until the Others destroyed her world. She's lost both parents, and has been separated from her sweet little brother, Sammy. Like any good big sister, she’s determined to get him back at any cost, despite the impossible obstacles standing in her way.

This book had the potential to be amazing. The first third of the story is nightmarish, brutal, and gritty as Cassie looks back on the life she used to have, and how it (along with everything she cares for) was annihilated. 

And then, the trouble starts. How? Unfortunately for you, reader, this is going to be one of my less objective reviews. The trouble starts when the author tosses in the inevitable love interest. Cassie has just witnessed the brutal death of both parents and countless others, and up walks this cute survivor kid that makes Cassie immediately turn bashful-schoolgirl on us. Oh no, we did not just make a pit stop at the gushy teen fountain of love on the road to the wholesale annihilation of the human race. NOT HAPPENING!

Unfortunately, though, yes, it does happen. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the “OMG is he going to kiss me?” genre, but it seriously just pales in comparison to the scary, gritty, realism of potential end-of-world scenarios. You know, the kind that makes you realize, “OH MY GOD THIS COULD HAPPEN!” The kind that automatically makes you put down your book so you can glance around, furtively but gratefully, at the familiar things and people that you take for granted: your family, your cat, your Wi-Fi, your smartphone! The moment the love interest enters the novel, we lose this. The story shrinks down to size and reveals itself for what it really is: kids pretending to be grown-ups during the apocalypse. 

Now, wait, you may say. That’s what you’re objecting to? Her meeting a guy? Oh, no. Not at all. It gets worse. At a certain point, the author takes this truly innovative work and employs a few of the more well-worn plot contrivances you see in Hollywood movies: there’s the master alien control room with the Big Board. There’s characters dressing in doctor scrubs to disguise themselves as they infiltrate a hospital run by Alien Central. And, of course, what plot-driven novel wouldn’t be complete without someone crawling through an air vent?

Now, some readers will probably love this book all the way through. I have to admit that while I had some major problems with this book, I literally could not put it down for two whole days. It’s that suspenseful. So, yes, while The 5th Wave works, both as a work of science fiction and as a YA novel, it does itself a great disservice by falling back on too many well-worn plot contrivances. Recommended for Ages 16-Up (including adults) for language, scary end-of-days violence, and some iffy romance scenes.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Changeling Prince

Source: Goodreads
The Changeling Prince (Spellbound #1) by Vivian Vande Velde (HarperCollins, 1998, 290pp.)

Weiland, a lonely, subdued teenager, has been serving the sorceress Daria in her isolated mountain household for as long as he can remember. There are very few solid facts he knows about his life: one, is that he's probably around 16 years old. Another, is that he may have been born a wolf. But the thing he definitely knows for certain is that each and every day, his life, and those of his fellow servants, is constantly in mortal danger.

His mistress, the sorceress Daria, is a terrible human being. Her hobby is to change animals into humans to act as her servants, and then torture them for her amusement. Now, no longer content with her woodland home, she relocates her household to the nearby town of St. Celia, where she plots to seduce an influential baron and discreetly kill off his wife and children, one by one. When Weiland figures out what she plans to do, he's horrified, but fears her wrath if he confronts her.

Then, unexpectedly, Weiland is offered the opportunity to challenge his mistress, at the possible expense of his own life. Will he be brave enough to take up the challenge?

A blend between morality tale and fairy tale, The Changeling Prince is by no means the most stunning work of fantasy you will ever read, but it's certainly worth checking out if you ever come across it. It's a relatively quick read, and the characters are all compelling and believable, even if their actions aren't always agreeable to the reader. A downside to the novel is that the ending is a bit sudden, and we're left with some important questions that go unanswered. This may be because The Changeling Prince is a companion volume to Vande Velde's 1997 novel, The Conjurer Princess, which I have not read.

Although I recommend it for Ages 15-up, it's a dark tale with its fair share of gore, so tenderhearted readers looking for romance or comedy should avoid at all costs. Also recommended for older readers, particularly fans of dark fantasy and the not-so-faint of heart.