Author: Rachel Hartman
First up – some house keeping! After playing around with rating systems – Good Read’s 5 star system, and the A-B-C-D-F system I’ve been using, I’ve decided to settle on a much simpler three tier system: buy it, borrow it, don’t bother. I don’t like the star system on good reads because there are times I wish half-stars were available, but aren’t. I’m not a huge fan of the traditional American grading system because although I have more flexibility than the star system, I still feel constrained and that sometimes my review doesn’t seem to align with the grade I’ve given it. I think the new system better encapsulates the feel that I want to go for. Buy it means I enjoyed this book and (if I were so inclined) I’d want to read it again and is, in all accounts, a very good representation of the genre that it’s in. Borrow it means I think the book has merit and should be read, but didn’t set me aflame. Don’t bother is self-explanatory. I’ll probably be going back and updating my previous posts since (thankfully) I don’t have too many yet 🙂
Now that’s done, on to the review!
Back when I was in high school, young adult fiction wasn’t yet a thing. Young adult books were the odd books more geared towards say, the tweens who had outgrown the children’s section but not yet ready for full-on adult fiction. I was past the children’s books even in elementary school, so I turned a genre that was pretty friendly to teens: fantasy (and to a lesser extent) sci-fi. And I read the heck out of the genre. I read Robert Jordan (I was so hardcore I read the first several books out of order because I hadn’t realized the first book I read was really #3), I read Piers Anthony, Melanie Rawn, Mercedes Lackey to Robert Aspirin. I read from the more frivolous light-heated fare to the full on epic novels. I loved plots that weaved magic and politics and intrigue.
And eventually, I burned out.
I got tired of the tropes. I got tired of the female protagonist who needed to save her homeland (I may be a feminist, but I love me a good male protagonist) and get the guy. I got tired of what could be overly complex and overwrought plots. So in recent years I really haven’t ventured into the fantasy section. But this book caught my eye and brought me back and I hoped that it would be the book that would bring me back to reading fantasy.
Alas. No such luck.
The elements are all here: there’s some interesting world building, good characters and a nice little intriguing plot. However, there is one giant thing that holds me back from loving this novel: the character hates herself. As in, she calls herself a monster (to another person no less!). She has a “garden” in her mind of what she calls grotesques. She later finds out that these people are just like her – half breeds – and continues to call them grotesques. While it does fit the world that was built – between the prejudice we see in the common people and nobility alike, to the way that her own father never quite accepts her (we often hear him say “I didn’t know [she was a dragon]”), to the way that her dragon family is pretty much disgraced because of her existence. And all that being said I can’t get behind someone who despises herself for what she is and even goes so far as to self-harm towards the end of the book.
The jacket states that the character goes on a “journey of self-acceptance,” and at the end she does have a line to the effect of “we were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful.” but for me it rang hallow. Not only was this literally one of the last lines of the book (there are all of two paragraphs after it) but I feel like she could only accept herself because she was accepted – she had a sponsor in the Princess-soon-to-be-Queen and she had a rare talent for music that could bring tears to her eyes. Were she a commoner, were she to lack these special assistance, I don’t see her getting to this same spot. I just don’t.
While I commend the author for not going the easier “I am who I am and fuck anyone who tries to put me down” route, but the way she went about it wound up being more of a turn-off than anything.
There is some good stuff here, and I do think the book is worth reading, but I can’t buy into all the hype that it has received. Maybe this won’t be issue for you, I know I’m in the minority on this, but it is what it is.
Verdict: Borrow It