Ensnared

This is a journey that started almost a year and a half ago, when I first heard of and read Splintered, the first part of A.G Howard’s retelling of Alice in Wonderland. I was interested and thought it would be a good read but was ultimately disappointed since it was even weirder than I’d imagined based on what I’d heard about it. I decided not to continue but ultimately my curiosity got the better of me and I picked up the second book. The sequel in the trilogy was better, which made me decide to finish the series despite my hesitation after the first novel. Now that I’m done I can safely say that I wish I would’ve listened to myself and walked away, if not after the first novel than at least after the second. Because this wasn’t good at all.

In Splintered Alyssa finds out that she’s a descendant of Alice Liddell, from Lewis Carroll’s story of Wonderland. Alyssa herself visits Wonderland together with her best friend, and love interest, Jeb, and encounters not only odd creatures and the vicious Red Queen, but also Morpheus, a man who used to visit Alyssa’s dreams when she was a child as a child himself and whom she thought only was a figment of her own imagination. But Morpheus is real and so is the fact that Alyssa is the heir to the throne of the Red Court in Wonderland.

In the sequel, Unhinged, Alyssa battles her netherling-side, keeping her tied to Wonderland, and her human side. Morpheus tries to get her to come back to Wonderland and for them to have a relationship in the magical realm, but Alyssa is in love with Jeb and dating him. She’s pulled between two lives, two men and two fates and it all come crashing down on prom night when a vicious battle erupts between Alyssa and the Red Queen which ends with Alyssa’s mother being dragged into Wonderland before the portal is sealed and Jeb and Morpheus being band to the rejectland of AnyElsewhere while Alyssa herself is sent to a psychiatric clinic in the belief that she has gone mad.

We’re now at the beginning of Ensnared and Alyssa has left the clinic with her father and is journeying to England to try to get into AnyElsewhere to save Jeb and Morpheus before continuing to Wonderland. But the path there is dangerous, not least when Alyssa enters AnyElsewhere. Everything she thought she knew has been turned up-side-down and she fights a battle on three fronts. Everyone is screaming for a part of her and Alyssa feels herself break down. But she knows that she’s the only one who can save Wonderland and she knows that whatever is trying to pull her down, she has to be stronger. But can she really handle it all?

I thought this would be an interesting read and almost looked forward to diving back into Alyssa’s mad world. I was hugely disappointed. When I believed this would be an adventure of Alyssa rescuing Jeb and Morpheus, fighting for Wonderland and finally coming head to head with the Red Queen, Howard had other plans and let the bigger portion of the book span out if AnyElsewhere. Not only that, but the fight I was looking for, the final battle between Alyssa and the cruel queen, turned out to be more of a battle for Alyssa’s heart between Jeb and Morpheus. Throughout the bigger portion of the book the two of them was playing tug-of-war with her and Alyssa, no longer dating Jeb after having hurt him on prom night by kissing Morpheus, could alter between making out with the both of them as she pleased. The entire book was basically just Alyssa going from kissing Jeb to making out with Morpheus to going back to kissing Jeb. It might have been fun if the romance wasn’t so bleak and boring.

While Alyssa was moving between guys she was also planning the Red Queen’s downfall but that too fell flat. When the big face-off finally came I was so tired of the story and only grew more tired after the battle turned out to be only a few pages of wills pushing against each other before it all ended rather abruptly. It was a long build-up to that moment and then it was past before I could really realize what had just happened.

I don’t really know what happened, either I’ve grown and changed since I read Unhinged or Howard’s writing has changed drastically, because I felt no connection to neither the characters nor the story. I didn’t care what happened to them and when I had about a hundred and fifty pages left I started to skim the pages, not caring to read every word, knowing that if I didn’t read like this I wouldn’t even finish the novel at all.

Alyssa was naïve in every sense in this book and she did a hundred things which made me roll my eyes. She also picked up a very annoying habit of repeating herself and tell the reader details that I just didn’t need to hear. In my opinion the book could’ve been cut down at least a hundred pages. It spent too much time in AnyElsewhere without being remotely interesting and I just didn’t need to hear Alyssa remind me again of that thing she’d mentioned twenty pages before. It was annoying and I got really irritated while reading. So much, in fact, that I considered not finishing at all.

The guys, Jeb and Morpheus, got on my nerves too. While Jeb has always been the nice, noble guy and Morpheus the dark, alluring one, they changed in this book and not for the better. For some time Jeb is battling himself and moving away from Alyssa. Morpheus grows boring and I found nothing he said to be either fun or flirty, just dull. Eventually the guys start to battle each other for Alyssa’s heart again it she became more of a thing than a person. She was no longer herself but someone that was supposed to belong to one of the guys and that bothered me greatly. It was as if she wasn't strong enough on her own but needed a guy by her side to be a person. Then, and this is a spoiler so look away if you don’t want that, then Alyssa compromised by deciding to live out her mortal life with Jeb and when he was dead go to Wonderland, marry Morpheus and live in immortality with him by her side. This is something Jeb knew but cared extremely little about. If anything he seemed untroubled by the fact that as soon as he was dead Alyssa would marry another man. This was not believable for me since Jeb didn’t really voice any displeasure at this and I personally think that if this happened in real life, most men would at least show some anger knowing that the one he loves will be in the arms of another man forever as soon as he’s dead. That the life he has with her might just be a speck in the ocean, easily forgotten, next to the eternity she will spend with someone else. Jeb was understanding to the point of You Took It Too Far Howard, I Don’t Believe This.

The ending, in my opinion, was too rushed, but it could’ve been a combination of me feeling like the time in AnyElsewhere lasted for the bigger portion of the book and skimming the last seventy pages. All that really happens is that Alyssa is repeating herself and not thinking anything through before she does something. That naïve, reckless streak combined with her telling the reader over and over that she was queen of Wonderland and that she had so much on her shoulders, so much to fix and that she was the only one who could fix it, made me roll my eyes again. I think Howard both tried to make me like her and to feel sympathy for her, but both fell flat and I was left with nothing but annoyance.

Another thing I found weird and irritating was that when Alyssa went into AnyElsewhere she brought her father with her. He was there the entire time, getting in the way and acting like the responsible parent while Alyssa was acting out or trying to get things right. I didn’t think he had anything to do on her quest, though he was there to save Alyssa’s mother, trapped in Wonderland. That too, was something that fell flat. I believe Howard wanted me, the reader, to be invested in the beautiful love story between Alyssa’s mother and father, but I was again just annoyed and found it to be an unnecessary distraction for the story as a whole.

All in all, this book was way too much. Like a sandwich with three layers of butter. I gagged and gagged some more. Too many unnecessary details, too much timewasting, too much repeating the same things I already knew, too many annoying characters that was either too weak, too naïve or too accepting. None had real depth, none was easy to connect to, none was truly believable. It was all just a jumble of things and places and creatures and stuff that had to happen and plans that fell apart only for things to fix itself in another way. It was too much. I did not like it at all and am glad the series is now over. The only thing I am sad over is that I already have the companion novel, Untamed, and still will read it so I at least doesn't feel that 've wasted my money. But before you waste yours, or your time, I advise you to stay away from this book.

Illuminae

After having read These Broken Stars as my first novel by Amie Kaufman (co-authoring it with Megan Shepard), Illuminae instantly got on my radar. It was still more than half a year before Illuminae was set to be released that I added it to my to-read list and the wait to read it has been long. Like the Starbound trilogy, Kaufman co-authored it, this time alongside Jay Kristoff. I’ve heard incredibly much about Illuminae and how good it’s supposed to be, how different and how fantastic, so I was very eager to dive into it myself and see if it lived up to its high recommendations. (Spoiler: it did).


The story starts on the day that Kady breaks up with her boyfriend Ezra. She knows she did the right thing even though it was one of the hardest things she’s had to do in her life. She has no idea what awaits her in the future. Because that same afternoon, her planet, Kerenza IV, is invaded and Kady narrowly escapes from it onto science vessel Hypatia. Ezra is among the few thousand other people who manages to get off Kerenza but ends up on battlecarrier Alexander. Together with Hypatia, the Alexander along with another science vessel, Copernicus, escapes from Kerenza and the assault of BeiTech Industries. The only remaining ship from the assault, the Lincoln, takes chase and without the possibility to escape through a wormhole, the three ships are left with no choice but to run as fast as they can toward Heimdall Station for help and hoping that the Lincoln won’t catch up to them. But what first seems to be the biggest problem, the escape from the Lincoln, soon pales in comparison to what goes on inside the Copernicus.

I could literally sit here and gush about this book the entire night. It has everything I could ever want in a novel and more. First off, it’s a story set in 2575 involving colonized planets and spacetravel. Second, it’s a sweet love story that does not take over the entire story. The male main character, Ezra, is a big softy with a brave heart always trying to do what’s right. The female main character, Kady, is the sassiest girl south of Sasstown with a big knowledge of coding and hacking which she most often uses for illegal purposes. There’s also a mutating virus turning people into brainless killers spreading on the ships and the battlecarrier’s artificial intelligence (AIDAN) was damaged when the Alexander escaped at Kerenza and now seems to turn against its own fleet. Help is at best six months away and all the while the Lincoln is slowly catching up to them. We are basically talking about explosions, zombie-like killers, an insane computer, explosions, a spacechase, a love story, crazy hacking skills, a big scoop of sass and explosions. Did I mention explosions? In my world it does not get any better than this.

Taking a look at our characters; we have our two main ones in Kady and Ezra and, partially, in AIDAN. Important side characters include general Torrance, a computer guy named Byron Zhang, Ezra’s friends Dorian and McNulty and a few commanders and high ranking military personnel. We get to know Kady closest but since the story isn’t an actual text like regular books but is instead told through a series of classified documents, video surveillance footage and direct messages as well as data recovered from AIDAN, we don’t get to come any closer to Kady than reading her journal at times. You can still feel how angry and sad she is though, how she fights everyone but herself most of all. How she puts all her energy and effort into finding out the truth instead of letting herself break apart. She’s hardcore, a real badass and a sassy one at that. She makes extreme sacrifices, knowing what she has to give up to save strangers and when she’s forced to kill someone, even though it’s a crazy lunatic who tried to kill her, she makes the choice of not killing again because she knows that that’s what truly breaks you. She’s hard on the outside but deep down has a soft heart and she’s absolutely perfect to carry the heavier load on this novel. Ezra, on the other side, seems like a tough guy when you look at him but it doesn’t take many pages to figure out that he’s a sweetheart. While Kady is not working on the Hypatia, Ezra is conscripted into the military aboard the Alexander as a fighter pilot. They have to work together across the two spaceships to unravel the truth, even though Kady swore she wouldn’t talk to him after they’d broken up.

Kady and Ezra brings the story forward but there wouldn’t even be a story without AIDAN. It’s a computer that runs the entire battlecarrier but after being damaged after the battle at Kerenza, AIDAN first has to be shut down and then taken back online again when the threat from the Lincoln becomes too great. AIDAN is nothing but statistics, facts and, as one character in the book says, a big calculator, but when reading through the data from AIDAN it becomes clear that the machine is actually having feelings. This in itself creates a very interesting side-story and while AIDAN seems to be a crazy computer out to kill everyone and everything, I actually have a soft spot for it and found myself not only understanding it but also caring for it. I think that AIDAN was one of the best and most interesting things Kaufman and Kristoff could’ve put in the book.

The side characters flies by in emails and IM’s but leave a footprint just the same. Sometimes side characters are empty shells just filling a void, but not in Illuminae. They all have their own story and their own background, you don’t always get to find out what that is but you can feel that it’s there. I connected to many of the characters and it hurt that not all of them made it out alive.

The writing was different since it’s not an actually story with chapters but instead is told through documents and interviews. It’s a very different way of telling a story but I really liked it! I wouldn’t be interested in reading every book this way but in this case it really fits. I think it’s even better than it would’ve been through the eyes of the characters. On top of that, the artwork, the cover as well as the inside of the book, was amazing. Black fingerprints on papers along with blood and coffee stains were among the details that made the layout even more believing. The direct messages between Kady, Ezra and their friends was written in slang with a various amount of smileys and typos, which again only added to the feeling of it all being real. I was amazed at how much feeling could be conveyed through documents in this way, rather than through the eyes of characters.

The ride you take when you start reading this book is something out of the ordinary. There are few books that has gotten to my heart as fast as this and I know it’ll stay there for a long time. It’s an incredible adventure, one I definitely think you should take. It has something for everyone and it’ll leave you breathless and longing for more. Luckily, the sequel Gemina is scheduled for release in October 2016. Make sure you’ve read Illuminae before that. You won’t regret it.

A Court of Thorns and Roses

After reading Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass and being thoroughly disappointed, I had my doubts when it came to A Court of Thorns and Roses. I was afraid that it would be a waste of time, money and energy but ultimately decided to give both the book and Maas a chance – and I’m extremly glad I did.

Living in the mortal realm, Feyre is the one to provide food for her family. They’re very poor and live solely on what she can hunt in the woods. But during a cold and harsh winter, Feyre has to kill a wolf in order to get the doe he was about to swipe from her. Feyre thinks nothing of it, even if the wolf was unnaturally large it didn’t seem to be a faerie, and she lives in peace for one day before a beast breaks into her home and demand her to either be killed on the spot or brought back to his lands in exchange for the life she took when she killed the wolf. Feyre, who realizes that the beast is among the High Fae, leaves her home to live out the rest of her life at his estate. The world is split into the mortal realm and the faerie lands, divided by an invisible wall. The faeries and High Fae’s, aren’t supposed to mix with the humans but when Feyre killed the wolf, a magical creature indeed, she broke the Treaty, written after the War between mortal humans and the immortal faeries, and she has to honoring it, without knowing what’s riding on her presence in the magical land of Prythian.

This book was more than I could ever have imagined. It’s a retelling of Beauty and the Best and very finely done as well. Maas has woven a story about Feyre, a huntress who has her family to support, and Tamlin, a High Fae with a heavy burden on his shoulder and an arsenal of secrets. Despite Feyre’s attempts to not fall for Tamlin she can’t help but love him and the life she carves out for herself at his home. But Tamlin’s secrets are dark enough to kill them both in an instant if it comes to that and Feyre doesn’t know that she’s the only one who can save him.

The story is very much like Beauty and the Best but at the same time it’s entirely its own. The world is split into humans and magical creatures, with the latter either being faeries, the lesser kind, or High Fae, the more human-like kind but with infinitely more power than the faeries. Prythian is divided into eight courts, all ruled by a High Lord – the most powerful of them all. Entering into Prythian has always been non-existing in Feyre’s mind since both faeries and High Fae are nothing but coldhearted evil creatures who slaughter humans for fun. She’s terrified at having to go with Tamlin into the land but it doesn’t take too long for her to start to feel safer around him. The story is so finely crafted in every aspect that I was in awe while reading it. It’s truly one of the best books I’ve read, not just this year but in my life.

I’ve heard a lot of praise for A Court of Thorns and Roses yet it didn’t stop my suspicions. Throne of Glass was also much loved when I read it and I didn’t like it at all. My problem with it wasn’t just the story itself, which had potential but didn’t reach anywhere near it in my opinion, but mostly the characters and the writing. That’s all in the hands of the writer and while I know a writer is constantly evolving I was still skeptical of A Court of Thorns and Roses. Now that I’ve read it I can say that while I won’t return to Maas’s Throne of Glass series, I will definitely continue with A Court of Thorns and Roses (which luckily is part of a trilogy). The writing was on a whole new level and Maas really made me feel like I was in the story in a way very few writers manages. She wrote in a way that made me see, made me feel, made me smell, made me taste everything Feyre encountered and I was amazed at how much Maas had matured since Throne of Glass.

The character department, my other worry, was also something Maas excelled at. She wrote a believable character in Feyre who was incredibly real and easy to connect to because she seemed so real. She made mistakes and fought with all she had to fix it the best she could and while I was constantly annoyed with the main character in Throne of Glass, Feyre was someone I really liked. Other characters, like Tamlin and his friend Lucien, also had a very real feeling to them and was easy to connect to. It’s been a very long time since I lived in a story the way I lived in A Court of Thorns and Roses and even though it’s extremely painful to look up from the pages only to realize what a dull and ordinary world I live in, it’s amazing to have a book like that in your hand, that can take you someplace else with just a swipe of your hand. It’s truly like magic.

The entire story had a more mature feeling than both Throne of Glass and most Young Adult novels has. Feyre is nineteen and I liked that she was older than most Young Adult heroines, who seem to be around sixteen or seventeen. Feyre was a grown-up and so was Tamlin, which made their relationship more mature and I liked that Maas had no problem with not shying away from it the way many authors who write Young Adult novels does. She told their love story from a grown woman’s perspective and it made the whole thing feel even more real than if she had smoothed over everything Feyre felt with disguised, subtitle words. At the same time, whenever something bad or absolutely disgusting happened, Maas wasn’t afraid of writing that down either. She told the story in a very raw, very real, way, no matter how gruesome or sexy it was and it felt like a fresh breeze in a world of always having to make the edges smooth so we don’t appear to brusque. But the world is raw and why not tell it exactly the way it is? I applaud Maas for this, I’m truly so happy she didn’t tell the story any other way than this, because it’s not often at all that I encounter an author who has the guts to write the truth like this.

The only thing that bothered me at times was that Feyre had a thing about repeating herself. After a while I wanted to tell her that I knew exactly what was awaiting her and all that had happened before, because she’d already mentioned it thrice before. And, without spoiling anything, there was a character that disappeared very suddenly from the story not to be heard from again. I have a feeling this person will reappear in the next installment, but if it doesn’t happen then I’m annoyed at how that was handled. But I trust that Maas has something up her sleeve when it comes to this, too.

All in all, I was amazed at how good I thought the book was. It was in fact so good that I skipped reading it for days because I didn’t want it to end. It was painful when I saw how little was left of the story, but I console myself with the fact that I can go back to it however many times I want in the future – and I know for a fact that I will. This was an incredibly good book, one that I can’t recommend enough, one that will sweep you away and give you a nerve-wracking adventure, a spicy romance and a very dark and frightening turn of events. I think you should give this a chance, regardless of who you are or what you like to read because this, this is a really good book.