[Siege and Storm: The Grisha Trilogy II] Leigh Bardugo

Anything worth doing always starts as a bad idea.

I came off of reading Shadow and Bone, the first novel, feeling decidedly unimpressed. It was a good novel; I enjoyed reading it, but it wasn’t quite something I was raving about despite the impressive amount of love there is for it. Siege and Storm is so much better. I think it helps that the novel is longer. Bardugo is able to explore her world a bit more, showing readers the corners that hadn’t yet been introduced fully.

Keith Thompson is one of my favorite illustrators. I didn’t realize that he was the one who created the maps! So talented.

After defeating the Darkling on the Fold, Alina has been running and hiding. She and Mal have been trying to make a life for themselves in a strange land, but as the days pass, it becomes more and more difficult for Alina to hide who she is. When she discovers that the Darkling survived against impossible odds and is now more powerful than ever, Alina realizes that she’s going to have to face her past and confront the Darkling and his allies.

Alina came into her power in the first book, which meant that she finally is a character I like in this second book. I found her pretty annoying in the first book, a standard heroine that whines about her powers (or lack of) while doing little to advance herself. Obviously that had changed toward the end of the novel, but I still wasn’t sure of her and the Grisha series. Now I’m pretty eager to finish the series.

 I am a soldier. I am the Sun Summoner. And I’m the only chance you have. 

One of the best things about Siege and Storm was how much Alina struggled. She had been told by the Darkling that Mal, an otkazat’sya–someone without powers–would never understand her and her power. As much as she tried to ignore his words, they stuck with her, barbs that keep pricking at her heart even as she gets closer to Mal. The resulting inner conflict that Alina goes through makes her a much better character. I felt far more invested in her this time around because I wanted to see how she would overcome–or succumb to–this inner darkness that seems to have been planted in her by the Darkling. As the book progresses, Alina realizes that she maybe can’t blame the Darkling for all of the negative thoughts, greed, and thirst for more that has grown in her. I loved that. I loved that she owned up to her feelings instead of blaming someone else for it. She has all of these pressures on her that are personal and political, and sometimes they become too much for her.

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[Paper and Fire: The Great Library II] Rachel Caine

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In the sequel to the world created in Ink and Bone, Rachel Caine has created more suspense and intrigue. Jess knows all too well what the Library will do to those who dare step out. Every move he makes is closely monitored, and it’s likely only a matter of time before the Library finds some way to make him disappear. Jess and his friends have to navigate this world as they discover more secrets that the Library has been keeping–secrets that are more deadly than any they’ve discovered before. Change will come from within.

I didn’t think that I could get more immersed in the world of the Library. Now that Jess has an official place in the Library in Paper and Fire, the benefits and shortcomings of it become more glaringly obvious. Yet, even as Jess becomes aware of how bad the Library can be, he still likes the idea of the Library. The ideal is wonderful, but over the years it became corrupted. Most people don’t see it, so I liked how Paper and Fire gave us more information about how this happened. It really focused on how things can be corrupted; something may be good, but those that are in control will warp it to their own advantage–even if it harms others. Paper and Fire really focused on the old aphorism “Knowledge is Power.” Of course, power is corruptible and Jess continues to learn just what that means.

As with Ink and BonePaper and Fire had the same addictive, couldn’t-put-down quality to the writing. The plot was steady and engaging. As a second book in a series, it was great. If anything, I was more interested in the events of the second novel than the first because we were pulled even deeper into the world of the Library. Of course, this wouldn’t have been possible without the events in the first novel. The benefit of this is that the world could be advanced instead of explained.

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[Broken: Disappeared II] Bronwyn Kienapple

This series has been sitting in my queue for a month and I’m excited to finish. Find the first review here: Imperfect. There will likely be small spoilers for the first book below.

First of all, I have to thank the author for providing me with a copy of Broken. There are so few reviews for this lovely little book that I really hope my review will help others to choose it as something they’d like to read. What follows is my honest review for Broken.

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Staying in the Nextic world is more difficult than Theo imagined, especially when everything seems to be falling apart–literally.  The mysterious and beautiful world that Theodosia decided to stay in is no longer the safe haven that it once was; the growing presence of the half-beings threatens the well-being of the Nextic people in an increasingly inescapable way. Their options are running thin, and Theo and Ahuil are willing to do anything to save it. When anything becomes too much, Theo realizes that there is one way to save Ahuil and those she loves, consequences be damned.

Broken dealt with decisions: what it means when you have tough choices to decide between and the repercussions to follow. It details the complications of dealing with the decisions you made and being unable to go back on them. For Theo, this means she is torn between the people she loves. Naturally, she misses home and her younger sister, Louisa. But if she returned to England in the 1800s, she would lose the love and the comfort she finds in Ahuil. There’s a wonderful conversation that highlights this fact: although she does know that her family loves her and wants the best for her, they do not know her, and therefore, do not know what is best for her. Arranged marriages aside, I think this feeling of being lost and not being known is something that is highly relatable to readers. Everyone wants to be known, and we often search for this knowing in our friends and relationships. Theo feels that she as finally found love and knowing in her relationship with Ahuil. It’s an impossible choice to make because she’ll always have that longing for the other regardless of what she decides.

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[Divergent Trilogy] Veronica Roth

This has been out for several years and I don’t think I wrote anything that qualifies as a spoiler, but just in case, WARNING: this is a review for the entire series.

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I tried reading Divergent right before I moved. I had checked it out from the library with the intention of finishing it before my moving date, but unfortunately, its slow start pushed me away. I recently got my hands on a copy of the trilogy bound together in one book, and decided to try again. A lot of people love this book the way they love The Hunger Games trilogy, and I wanted to see why.  I forced myself to read until chapter five, which is about the Choosing Ceremony. The Choosing Ceremony was the first part of the book that I thought was really cool. Each candidate must choose their faction and let their blood fall on the contents in the metal bowl of their faction: gray stones for Abnegation, water for Erudite, earth for Amity, glass for Candor, and coals for Dauntless. It was a really nice visual. We get Beatrice’s inner dialogue of “Abnegation or Dauntless?” while the other candidates slice their palms and choose their factions. When it finally comes to Beatrice’s turn, she stands and chooses the faction that I knew she was going to choose based on clips of the movie I’ve seen and the way that she had focused on the actions of the Dauntless in the book. Her initiation begins immediately as she follows the Dauntless and the Dauntless initiates to jump on a train going out to Dauntless headquarters. Beatrice changes her name to Tris, and so life in her chosen faction begins.

Divergent focuses on Tris’ growth as a member of Dauntless. Although she is called “Stiff,” a slur for the Abnegation, by other initiates, she doesn’t allow that to stop her. She hones her soft Abnegation body into essentially a weapon, one that knows how to hold a gun and throw a knife. She makes friends but doesn’t always know how to keep them. Most of all, she wants to solve the mystery of Four, her training instructor. Tris gets to know him more and begins to fall for him. We only get Tris’ point of view, so we–along with her–are supposed to wonder if he likes her too. Since he is the only love interest presented we know that they will end up together. Everyone else is either already in a relationship or disgusts Tris. This means that Divergent does fall into the young adult dystopian trap of having the heroine not understand why her love interest likes her. That is something that these dystopian novels could do away with; have a heroine that doesn’t second guess her relationships constantly.

I can see why readers have liked Divergent. When Tris is learning about who she is and going through the simulations, I couldn’t stop turning the pages. It’s very fast paced, and we only know as much as Tris knows. It stays true to the first person present tense voice that Veronica Roth has chosen. It’s not the best thing I’ve read in present tense, but it was decently executed. At the conclusion of Divergent, I couldn’t wait to get started on Insurgent. Divergent, minus the chapters where I felt nothing was going on, was a good set up for the rest of the series. The plot was straightforward in the way that The Hunger Games was straightforward: the people in charge are bad, and they must stop them. Unfortunately, the characters were shaky. I was able to get a good read on Tris because the entirety of the novel was in her point of view, but that meant that I only saw the other characters through her eyes, which were often biased. We are given very simple details about the other characters, even though several of them are her friends. I have a difficult time believing that Tris wouldn’t know more about the friends she is living and training with, so it is unfortunate that Veronica Roth didn’t explore that more. We do get enough information on Tris’ love interest, but it is tough for two characters to hold up an entire series.

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Insurgent starts immediately on the heels of Divergent. There is no pause for the characters to catch their breath. Divergent focuses on the Abnegation and Dauntless factions, so we only know small bits and pieces about the other factions at this point in time. In the second novel, we start to see more of the differences between the factions when they spend some time with them. Amity and Dauntless are as different as they can be. Amity values inaction in the name of peace and Dauntless can’t sit still when some injustice is occurring. Seeing the differences between the factions was fascinating. In Divergent, we were given very loose differences; in Insurgent, we get to see the Candor use their truth serum during a confession. The drive that started in Divergent continued to pull me through Insurgent. 

Tris’ actions in this novel were very understandable. We are often blinded by grief, and Tris can only see one way of dealing with her own. There’s a lot of growth that Tris has to go through mentally in order to get past the things that are plaguing her. She becomes a much stronger character both mentally and physically and realizes what her role is in the faction and factionless conflict. That is one of the reasons that I enjoyed Insurgent. The first two novels fit together so nicely and were filled with action. They make sense.

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Then comes Allegiant. 

This book devolved so quickly from what was set up in the first two that it seemed like it was another series completely. The problem between the factionless and those who want the factions back are glossed over and only described when Tris and the others are in the control room. The control room is where–Surprise!–they are being watched by the Bureau members. Why is there a Bureau, you may ask? It’s because Tris’ world is not actually a dystopian one, it’s purely an experiment that has been going on for 20-40 years (or perhaps more, because it’s never very clear). To a reader who has been told that Tris’ city may be the only one left after a war, thus qualifying it as dystopian (to a point), it is like a slap in the face. This discovery should have happened and been explained in the middle of the series, not crowded in at the end. There are too many new things introduced and poorly explained. The new problem was only vaguely related to the original problem of what it means to be Divergent and the factionless vs factions fight.

This is not helped by the fact that Veronica Roth decided to switch to the dual perspective route of writing. This time,  we also get Four’s point of view. I’ve read some nice young adult novels with two narrators before, so I don’t hate this choice. However, Divergent and Insurgent were only in Tris’ point of view. I would have liked seeing some of Four in Insurgent if Veronica Roth had planned on the third novel being in both their voices. It would have softened the blow of the sudden switch. That said, even though Allegiant  is written in Four and Tris’ points of view, the only way I could tell the difference was by remembering to look at the name at the top of the chapter. Their voices were so similar that I often had trouble remembering who I was reading. There is no point in having multiple points of view if they are both the same voice. Which is a pity, because I actually like the character of Four and wish I had enjoyed his narration. Unfortunately for me, Four–who in the first two books was a physically strong, very straightforward character–became this whiny caricature of himself. Sure, he was still physically strong, but he continually made horrible decisions without much thought for how it would affect those around them. It was completely out of character.  Allegiant continues the trend started in Insurgent of Four acting like a jerk because he is worried about Tris. Their relationship becomes strained in a way that seems very insincere. The focus of the novel becomes their relationship and not the fact that the world they know back in the city is on the verge of utter destruction. The focus is lost.

After reading the first two of the series, Allegiant was a boring conclusion. Everything was wrapped up the way a four year old wraps presents. The plot drags itself to the end and concludes with a final chapter and epilogue that is very unsatisfying. The only semi-redeeming quality of Allegiant was Four’s reaction to the end events. It was heartbreaking, further cementing my wish that the Divergent series had been from Four’s point of view. He had a rich back story that was only touched on occasionally.  Overall, Divergent and Insurgent were enjoyable binge reads for me. If Allegiant had continued that trend, I would have enjoyed the series more. It’s unfortunate that the author made the decision to have Tris act the way she did, because I felt that it didn’t ring true with the path her character was on and destroyed the series for me.

Breakdown:
Divergent 3.5 stars
Insurgent 3 stars
Allegiant 1 star. There was just too many things that bothered me about it. It should especially not be this way when it’s the conclusion to a trilogy.

Average rating of 2.5 stars, but I’d round it up to 3 stars because of Divergent and Insurgent.