Finnikin of the Rock

ImageAround the time I was being implored to give Vampire Academy a second chance, Leigh Bardugo (she of the awesome Grisha series, have you entered the giveaway yet?) was kind enough to offer a few suggestions for her favorite YA high fantasy; a subgenre that seems to be fairly lacking from what I’ve read to date.

One of those suggestions was this, Finnikin of the Rock, and I have to say, it’s a good one.

The story itself is fairly basic: at the tender age of nine, Finnikin watches as his homeland is conquered by an imposter king and the land cursed by a witch burned at the stake, his father imprisoned and his mother killed. For ten years he wanders in exile with his mentor, Sir Topher, the true King’s First Man, trying to find their people and a way to return to his land. After a prophetic dream, he is lead to a mute novice by the name of Evanjalin who claims that the heir to throne of the kingdom he loves is alive.

What makes this story so wonderful is the character of Evanjalin. You feel like you never fully know her: what her motivations are or what ends she’s trying to accomplish. At the same time, you never doubt that her ends are for a good purpose. She’s spirited, and while no trained fighter, she is not one to roll over at the sign of trouble either. She’s absolutely fantastic and really the reason for reading this book.

Also wonderful, and a reason to recommend the book, is a complete and utter lack of a love triangle. Seriously. This made me cheer. You know that Finnikin and Evanjalin will get together before they do, but there is no third party and their are no grand declarations of love until the end when it feels very convincing. In fact, if anything, Finnikin is reluctant to acknowledge his feelings and the reason for doing so feel very real. It’s absolutely refreshing.

This book is definitely a buy it for fans of the genre.

There a couple of sequels, focused a boy-thief named Froi. I’m not sure I’ll pick those up – he didn’t much for me in this novel, and blessedly Finnikin of the Rock is pretty well self-contained so don’t feel like you have to get roped into another trilogy if you’re feeling a bit weary of them.

Worst of 2013

Although it’s always fun to celebrate the best a year has given us, it’s hard to look behind us without taking a second glance at the things that made us sad, angry or generally disappointed. That’s what this list: it isn’t meant to author bash or to say that a story sucks. It’s just to reflect on what flat out didn’t work for me, and why that was. The main criteria I used for this list is that I gave it a “Don’t Bother or “Skip it” rating. All books on here are books I finished.

The division of this list isn’t quite as neat as my best of list, but again I’ll list titles in alphabetical order, separated by genre.

Adult Fiction

Broken Angel – by Sigmund Brouwer – It doesn’t matter the age range, bad dystopian novels occur at all levels. This is another novel whose secret you can figure out twenty pages; where the protagonist has no discernible personality,  and the world building has glimmers of interesting ideas that just don’t wind up getting developed. It’s ultimately a book that could have been so much more than it ultimately was.

The Painted Girls –  by Cathy Marie Buchanon – A book hyped up by the mainstream press, that left me wondering what I was missing. The characters aren’t that interesting and we really never see much of the ballet. If you didn’t tell us we were in Paris, I don’t know that you’d know. It was ultimately boring and just a miss for me.

Young Adult Fantasy

Allegiant (spoiler-free) and (spoiler-filled) – by Veronica Roth  -Okay. So “worst” is a bit overkill. Biggest disappointment is more likely. You can read my reviews for my full thoughts, but the long and the short of it is that this is a book that can serve as a textbook example of how over-explaining your central premise can utterly kill it. I always pictured Divergence as something akin to a strong-will, or maybe some kind of a sixth-sense. But no, the explanation we got, for me at least, was on the level of midichlorian of immersion-breaking. Throw in characters we don’t care about it and a needlessly confusing point of view shift and you have the biggest let down of the year.

Carnival of Souls – by Melissa Marr – Lazy. This book is lazy. There is no world building. More like…world outlining. We never see a single day in the life of these characters. We just know what we know of the world because we are told of it. Characters are flat, plot is miniscule, and the book is insultingly short in the service of trying to make you buy the sequel. To give you an idea, if this book were The Hunger Games, the book would start on the platform in the arena with 60 seconds on the timer and end with Rue’s death. No build up, no real conclusion. It feels half-baked and readers deserve better.

Illuminate – by Aimee Agresti – of all the books on this list, this book gets my nod for “so bad it’s good.” The framing device of this book not only requires a TON of suspension of disbelief, but also makes the adults look like as dumb as a box of rocks. The book gives away its own major “twist” on the cover, and what the cover doesn’t give away, names like Haven Terra and Dante do. It’s not a good a book, it really isn’t. But damn if it isn’t a compulsively enjoyable read. I still can’t honestly recommend this book, unless you’re looking for this kind of thing. Which you probably shouldn’t be.

Rampant – by Diana Peterfruend – A Buffy inspired tale of a unicorn slayer should have been more fun. But any merits this book had were ruined by the mother who may be one of the worst characters committed to the page. A woman so committed to living vicariously through her daughter that she disregards her daughters desires and dreams (not to mention the much more basic safety) and completely slut shames and blames her niece for getting raped. I still don’t understand what the author was thinking when she went this path, but one thing is certain: I will never read another of her books. I can’t. This one offended me that badly.