[REVIEW] The Selection – Kiera Cass

imagesSummary
Characters – 2/5
Plot – 2/5
Style – 3/5
World Building – 2/5
Overall – 2/5

Quote
“I hope you find someone you can’t live without. I really do. And I hope you never have to know what it’s like to have to try and live without them.”

Review
Prince Maxon has finally come of age and all eligible young women across the kingdom have been invited to take part in The Selection. The entire process is televised throughout Illéa, showing the 35 lucky girls as they are whisked away from their families to live in luxury and compete for the hand of the prince.

America didn’t think she stood a chance when her letter arrived, having to be pushed by her mother and boyfriend, Aspen, to take the chance for a better life. When her name is called as one of the chosen few, America’s life changes forever. Automatically bumped up the caste system whether she wins or loses, America can never return to her normal life again. Fiercely loyal to her family but heartbroken by Aspen’s recent betrayal, America plans to stay in the palace for as long as possible just to escape reality – Prince Maxon doesn’t even factor into her ideas.

While I ultimately enjoyed THE SELECTION as an easy break from more taxing reads, I took great exception to the simpering nature of the main character, America. She spends the vast majority of the book fawning over her first (and secret) love, Aspen, while simultaneously falling for the bland Prince Maxon. Love triangles and relationship drama are no new phenomenon in YA, but it’s the positively pathetic and generic way America handles herself that frustrated me most of all. She has all the makings of a perfectly acceptable (if not boring) heroine, but her one dimensional thoughts just perpetuate the outdated stereotype of women swanning around in pretty dresses and weeping over men.

THE SELECTION comes complete with a tiered caste system, vague mentions of poverty, rebellion and a general resentment of the upper factions to create a generally predictable world. There is even a somewhat embarrassing attempt at exposition, with a whole history class on the Chinese invasion of the US. Then the Russian invasion of the US. Then the US becoming a monarchy. Sigh.

It’s a perfect example of the infuriating trap of the modern ‘dystopian’ trilogy. For a start, there is hardly any motivation for this book to be a dystopia. Throwing a poorly judged and terribly insipid few paragraphs on World War 3 completely undermines the reader’s intelligence. Worldbuilding like this needs to be explored sensitively and expansively; not simply comprise of a throwaway reference in order to classify as a popular genre.

Additionally, there is absolutely no need for this book to end on such a poor cliffhanger except to make it ‘fit in’ with the current market. YA publishers seem to be forgetting that, no matter how many books in a series, each novel needs a complete story arc. There is nothing even close to a complete story arc in THE SELECTION – we don’t even see the whole selection process! Is there any reason to drag this plot over three books that doesn’t boil down to money? Not that I can see.

I can appreciate why this has become so popular with the slightly younger YA readers, but it’s the kind of novel that I dislike myself for finding even somewhat entertaining. I’m growing so tired of the incessant bandwagon that is YA dystopian trilogies. Light, fluffy, mindless reads are only going to satisfy the community for so long and I can’t wait for the industry to finally move on.

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[REVIEW] Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo

Image

Summary
Characters – 1/5
Plot – 3/5
World Building – 3/5
Style – 2/5
Overall – 2/5

In a Tweet
“Stoic orphan finds she has
immense magical powers &
leaves to train to save the
world. Love triangle, betrayal
& a beauty obsession ensue.

Review
SHADOW AND BONE is the first novel in the young adult fantasy series collectively known as The Grisha Trilogy. Orphan Alina Starkov along with her best friend, Mal, have grown up in a world divided by a dark stretch of land known as The Fold, riddled with unseen horrors. When her work as assistant cartographer in the First Army forces Alina to join the crossing of the void, her unknown power saves everyone from certain death. Dragged away to a new life as one of the magical Grisha, her new-found power means the weight of the world now rests on her shoulders.

With a distinctly Russian feel to most names and places, Alina’s world is an exploration of grand, fairytale castles and sprawling nature which are both vivid and wonderful. While these descriptions are detailed and relatively well written, the emphasis on ‘beauty’ is one of the main sticking points of this novel. Alina’s world felt superficial and shallow to me, as Bardugo’s insistence on force feeding the reader with ‘beautiful’ after ‘beautiful’ started to get old very, very quickly.

This persistence wasn’t only irritating, but definitely helped to throw off the narrative in a big way too. While countless long, sprawling, chapters are dedicated to parties in the castle, gossiping and making Alina look ‘pretty’, life changing decisions and journeys are rushed and glossed over. This leaves little time for Alina to show any kind of inner turmoil, development or even basic characterisation. She takes her new life in her stride without a hint of any real emotion (aside from her belief she just simply isn’t pretty enough to be a Grisha!) yet kicks up a fuss over what colour robe she wants to wear. I mean, really?

And it’s not just Alina who feels shallow and unbelievable. Mal somehow turns from the stereotypical brash, womanising soldier to a pathetic sap within a few pages. His words and actions towards the end of the book feel completely at odds with his original persona, making him seem entirely disingenuous.

The plot itself was relatively interesting with unexpected twists and turns popping up often enough to keep me reading. The concepts and ideas working within SHADOW AND BONE could have made for a better read in the right hands, but Bardugo’s lack of characterisation and annoying obsession with aesthetics made working my way through some chapters a real chore.

Although SIEGE AND STORM (The Grisha #2) was released earlier this year I don’t think I’ll be picking it up; while I’m intrigued to see Alina’s next move after a dramatic end to SHADOW AND BONE I’m not sure I can bring myself to trudge through another round.