REVIEW: Artificial

Artificial by Jadah McCoy

In the future, humans battle for their life in Elite City. Like in many dystopias, humans destroyed the earth through their own hubris. The humans created the androids, the androids disappeared, leaving humanity to its fate. . That is, after the androids (the Glitches) developed emotions. Massive, bug like Culls show up, and Syl learns that the androids created a plague to turn humans into Culls, infesting the human cities and wiping out the remaining, normal humans. The initial info dump was necessary because some of this background information is confusing. It’s not the sleekest of world building, which is an unfortunate trend throughout this story.

I didn’t care about Syl. There’s nothing to her beyond the plot. She’s a plot piece, and that makes the entire story thin. I can’t understand why Bastion likes her. For me, this undermined the entire book, and there wasn’t anything else to save it. Syl wasn’t surrounded by a stellar cast of characters, either. I didn’t care about Lucca or Sarge. The characters are spectacularly boring early on, which is a killer for me. I will forgive a lot of faults if there are fleshed out and exciting characters. Bastion and the introduction of New Elite City is a relief in the narrative, but it’s ultimately not enough to rescue this book.

The action sequences work, and there are some nice death jump scenes. Even though there’s action, it started to feel as if nothing was happening, and I’m sure my dislike of the characters furthered that feeling. I was always waiting for there to be something more to this story, but if you don’t like this book in the first twenty pages, there’s no more depth to it. If you can get over the characters, maybe something else in this story will interest you. If the characters were more engaging–or built more organically with this future world–this would’ve been a better read.

This is the first in a series, and I’m not hooked. If there was anything to hold back for a second book, it should’ve gone into Artificial to make it more interesting. Sci-fi and fantasy need real depth in at least one area–character, plot, setting–to push the story over the edge into an enjoyable read. None of those areas quite delivered for me. Let me take a moment to speculate on why (but I’m not telling other authors how to do their jobs, just swapping the reader’s brain for the writer’s brain). There should be a potential between all the elements in a story, making the sum greater than its additive parts. In great novels, a positive feedback develops between the world, the character, and the setting, blending with the author’s voice and creating greater themes in the work. None of that is present here, and it’s because everything feels like it’s there to serve (a weak) plot. My bias is that I personally believe there are few plots (and authors that plot like gangbusters) that sustain a novel and keep me solely reading based on plot alone. There are plenty of novels with ‘meh’ plots but engaging, fully-realized characters and quirky, meandering world-building that keep me reading right to the end and are memorable, even though I’ve guessed how the story will end. Plot is not enough. Even the most careful plotters, if they’ve written their stories well, can only fool the eagle-eyed reader to an extent. This is where the quirks of the setting and the vibrancy of characters is needed: to sustain the story between major plot moments. This book has a plot, but there was nothing to sustain the story, which is what really matters.

Notes:

  • There’s a bit of an early info dump. If you’re not interested after reading it, put the book down. That’s all there is to this world and the world-building therein.
  • The Culls are great. They’re gross and were the most interesting element of this story for me.
  • This story should’ve maybe been about Bastion. He wasn’t much more interesting than Syl, enough so that he helped make this read manageable. This would’ve been DNF without Bastion.
  • If you can get into Syl’s character, there’s some great early book action scenes.
  • Why can’t they tell Syl is a human? Why??? They’re androids. I’d think they’d be able to tell. This drove me freaking nuts.

Rating: 2 stars

There was so much in this book I thought I’d like (perpetually on the look-out for non-human centered sci-fi) but the characters all ended up feeling thin. Syl and Bastion are barely memorable, let alone anyone in the supporting cast, and they all feel like they’re there as plot chess pieces. Artificial unfortunately wasn’t an engaging read.

REVIEW: The Pages of the Mind

The Pages of the Mind by Jeffe Kennedy

I wanted to like this book. I really did. It has a fantastic cover, a great title, and it implied it was going to be about a badass librarian. I was hooked on that concept. Unfortunately, this story didn’t deliver. It’s not really about Dafne, the aforementioned librarian, and if there’d been a focus on her earlier in the book (or if the book had started later when she became more important to the story), I would’ve cared about her more. This story also should’ve been told in third person. It simply would’ve worked better, and I don’t come across many stories where I feel that way being that I don’t prefer a POV. It’s author’s choice, but first POV did nothing to help this story or build Dafne’s character.

Ursula is the new queen, and this book picks up where the previous book in the series left off. The early parts of this book are chronicling Ursula and Harlan’s more interesting adventures, and Dafne literally sits on the sidelines. This is why this didn’t work well as a first person POV–Dafne tells someone else’s story. That’s massively boring. When the early part of the book doesn’t involve the main character at all, I’m concerned.

It took 20% of the book before it felt like Dafne was the main character. The story should’ve just started there or else the earlier parts of the book needed to make Dafne important. She’s a wall flower, and that’s not interesting, even for an introverted character. There’s a lot of characters talking about the plot and not a lot of plot. I felt like this story is about Ursula, which makes sense in the context of the series, but not for this book in particular.

The characters spend so much time talking about things. Less dialogue would’ve helped because there was too much of it. I know, there’s this thing about not putting info dumps and unnecessary description into the story, but less dialogue would’ve tightened this narrative. But shouldn’t characters be interacting? Yes, but when they prattle, all of the meaning in the dialogue is lost. The importance is gone, and all of the conversations felt meandering and useless. In the latter parts of the book, it becomes more descriptive and starts to rely on Dafne’s internal narrative more, and that’s the only reason this book became remotely bearable. This makes the early parts of this book baffling. It feels like an infinitely worse book and a completely different story!

King Nahoka KauPo and the descriptions of his people and traveling to the island relieved the amazing boredom of the earlier parts of this story. This happens a third of the way through, and if you can’t get to this part, I honestly can’t blame you. The first third of this book is DNF bad, but the volcano king’s island focuses the world building and presents Dafne with definitive challenges. The bad news is that the remainder of the story leaves Dafne languishing on an Nahoka’s island, which delivers the story back to some of the more monotonous elements of the earlier part of the novel.

The narrative voice of this novel (and the choice of 1st POV) grated on me the entire time. It was like sandpaper in my eyes. The positives of the book kept drowning in this problem, and no mistake, it was a huge problem for me. I already mentioned the drastic change in writing between the first part of the book and the latter part of the book, and I ‘d honestly skip the first 100 pages if I were to start reading this all over again.

Notes:

  • Maybe it’s because this is an ongoing series, but there’s a lot of ‘fantasy speak’ and fantasy name dropping. So much so that it pulls me out of the story, which is rare.
  • If Dafne keeps talking about other characters instead of doing something, I’m going to stop reading this freaking book.
  • We’re going to talk about sex a lot but not have any actual scenes with sex in it. *sigh*
  • The women in Ursula’s court (the Hawks) are SUPER SASSY. *sigh*
  • Shape-shifters having clothes when they shift back is dumb. This is my official opinion.
  • This also features the world’s most unimportant and boring dragon.

Rating: 2 stars

The major issues–this book not feeling like Dafne’s story–is fixed in the latter two-thirds of the book.  If I hadn’t tried to hack it through the first third, I probably would’ve enjoyed this book a bit more. This was a wildly inconsistent book.

REVIEW: Crown of Ice

Crown of Ice by Vicki L. Weavil

Thyra Winter is the Snow Queen, her powers gifted to her by Mael Voss. Her fate is bound to his task of assembling a magic mirror before she turns eighteen or else she’ll become one of the disembodied wraiths that haunt her frozen castle. Thyra suppresses her emotions to deal with the oppressive nature of living with Voss and with the seeming impossibility of her task. The premise is interesting, but the focus veers away from all of that and delves into Thyra immediately trying to recruit a local yet somehow brilliant boy, Kai, to help her construct the mirror. This is a problem because Thyra’s struggle with Voss and his old mentor, Sephia, could’ve made an interesting story if it would’ve been the focus.

Spoiler: it wasn’t. Instead of this more interesting book, we get Thyra chasing a boy, Kai, and adopting a puppy, Luki. I ended up enjoying Luki as an animal companion, but the fact that the dog is the most interesting character in the story says something for how shallow the remaining characters are. Thyra’s character veers into Frozen fanfic territory. No, really, it’s Frozen fanfic. She uses the phrase ‘Let it go’ too many times for this to be a coincidence. This served to limit Thyra as a character for me, and she doesn’t step beyond being a shadow of Elsa’s (more vibrant and fleshed out) personality.

We get a lot of Thyra chasing after Kai and not so much of Thyra trying to build the mirror puzzle early on. There’s a lot of talk about equations and math involved in sovling the mirror, but this is never fleshed out; it’s poor world building and lacks convincing details. There’s a bit of burying the conflict early in story, which could’ve been helped if the setting and world buliding aspects stepped up to fill them in, but they don’t. For example, a scene with Mael Voss transforming the reindeer would’ve done a lot to make him scarier. The earlier portion of this book, up until Sephia’s addition, probably shouldn’t have involved any of the weaker characters like Kai or Gretta at all. I would’ve been completely okay exploring Thyra and her limited world; it would’ve made her seem more lonely instead of fixated on some boy.

 

This story was boring. The writing isn’t bad, but I kept asking myself why I was so freaking bored reading this. A large part of it, I think, has to do with the setting. Thyra’s setting–the uniqueness of her world and situation–should’ve been explored in depth. Instead, there’s a fixation on Kai, who adds nothing to this story. Thyra and Kai had no chemistry, and the story hangs so much on that element. I found myself hoping that this wasn’t a romance because it lacked romantic tension or any type of special spark between the characters.

There are other characters, but there’s always something lacking in them. Everything feels one-dimensional, and this snowballs throughout the story. By the time Thyra hunts for the shard, I was bored for so long that even the mid-book climactic moments couldn’t save this book for me. This story has one note, and it’s not an exciting one. If you like the first two chapters and can tolerate Kai, this might work for you, but the fairy tale retelling aspect wasn’t enough to hook me.

 

Notes:

  • There’s nothing wrong with fanfiction or taking story ideas from it, but without the fleshed out world of the movie, the Elsa expy characterization falls flat here.
  • Bae the reindeer is great. I liked all the animals in the novel, which adds to the fairy tale feel, and I’m a sucker for animal companions. They were the best characters.
  • Was that the most boring ball in the history of paranormal fantasy? TVD wants a word with you.
  • Greda is supposed to love Kai. If I felt anything about these two other than cardboard cutouts, I might care.
  • Kai beats Bea. I have a feeling for him now: dislike.
  • Kai likes math, but all we get is ‘equations’. It’s hard to convey a love of math and make it part of the world when it’s so vague. This might be a sci-fi bias speaking, though.
  • The real relationship in this novel is the one between Thyra and Luki, the wolf pup. It might’ve been a better story with just the two of them.

Rating: 2 stars

There’s so much in this premise for a unique retelling, but very little of it delivers. Something in this story needed to be stronger (characters or setting) to elevate the basic plot into something special and exciting. Still: magic animals.