The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater – Great characters can make a book

 

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I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages, and here I am now, reading it when the whole series is over. I feel a bit bad, because I won’t have to wait like all the other fans did.

So, The Raven Boys. This book was really good, but for reasons I didn’t expect. I didn’t document myself about the series, just followed a couple of recommendations and the beautiful covers. I was expecting a typical out-of-the-ordinary girl interacting with some hot boys she can’t possibly interact with for some dramatic reasons. Add to that some supernatural elements and some greedy bad guy, and you’ve got your ordinary ya story.

Blue, the main girl of this book, is an out-of-the-ordinary person – both confronted with normal people and with her psychic-filled family, where she’s the least talented. And the group of uptown boys she’s involved with is made out of dark and mysterious personas – but that’s only very first chapters.

The Raven Boys is a great piece of character building. Blue is not your perfect teenager ya girl, but neither is one of those characters who spend all the time fake-putting themselves down. She’s simply unpracticed in her human relationships, stubborn and eager to find a place in the world. I particularly loved how invested she became in the supernatural search the boys involved her in. She joined them to guard over them, yes, but also because she wanted to find true magic in the world, to be involved in the action. There’s a quality of self-contentment and assertion in Blue that’s usually lacking in ya heroine.
I also loved that Blue wasn’t alone. Knowing the gender ratio of the main characters was 1 to 4, I was expecting a testosterone-fueled story. What I found was that the main girl being surrounded by a tight family of badass women. Blue has her mom, her aunts, random visitors coming to practice magic – she’s surrounded by competent, sassy, loving women and their interactions are amazing. Female interactions are not as many as it should be in young adult books, expecially if you consider they are targeted to predominantly female audience.

And now the boys. Character building was done with A+ ability with the raven boys. The four main dudes – Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah – have their own personalities and character’s journeys, and the reader never feels like reading about four versions of the same man. I loved Gansey and Ronan the best, but all the boys are very well-written.

Now, the character building is amazing, and it’s actually the reason I finished this book. Mind me, the story is very good too, but action doesn’t kick until halfway the novel, and I’d have dropped it way before that, if it wasn’t for the characters. The first half felt like a long introduction, though it somehow worked because the eerie, persistent feeling of upcoming doom keeps you glued to the pages. It takes talent and technique to make a very good novel out of 80% anticipation and preparation for the action to come, and Maggie Stiefvater clearly has it. And with an interesting writing style too!

This is the perfect book for people who love characters-based stories and are sad and tired of the dark brooding dickhead 99% of ya heroines fall in love with. I would totally date anyone of these raven boys, but guess what? The best thing is that I would also be their friend. And so would Blue – she actually is. And that’s just great.

 

 

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Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn – Yet another twisted masterpiece

I’m working Gillian Flynn in reverse – first Gone Girl, sensational bestelling movie-adapted third novel; then Dark Places, second coming of a newly-started author, apparently living up to the expectation of her debut, Sharp Objects – which I’m planning on reading ASAP, because few authors get me like Flynn can.

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The Uglies Trilogy, by Scott Westerfeld: The YA Dystopian Gem who was There Before Them All

Dawn raises over a not so distant future where calamities and man’s stupidity have destroyed much of the world we know. A city, filled with dormitories where teenagers reside en masse, awakes. A girl, named Tally, wakes up knowing one day less separates her from the day she’ll receive a standardized operation to make her “pretty”, part of the elite who spend days and nights in never-ending parties. But things start going awry for Tally from the moment her best friend Shay elopes …

Bored? Don’t be. This is only the premise to one of my forever-favorite dystopic stories: the awesome, praises-worthy Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. The books (Uglies, Pretties and Specials) came out in 2005/2006, years before The Hunger Games and the dystopian mainstream fashion. It became one of those silent winners, climbing best-sellers lists without getting the overwhelming fame very few YA series get. (Also, no adaptation. And that’s bad, because Westerfeld’s work would generally deserve more adaptations.) This a compelling series who gets way to little appreciation: it’s got good, conflicted characters, well-paced storytelling and a creepy, thought-provoking world building.

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Too-fast-paced bloodbath – Half A King, by Joe Abercrombie

“Imagine George RR Martin, with a third of the pages and sixth of the characters.”

This was the friend’s advice via which I landed on Joe Abercrombie‘s iron-hardened world. As advice goes, it was very good, but now I feel strange, wondering what my friend meant.

If by “imagine GRRM” you mean blood-bathed, politics-laced high fantasy, then Half a King is 100% GRRM-esque fantasy. The main character, Yarvi, is the mutilated second-born prince crowned king against everyone’s best hopes, and immediately sent to avenge his father and brother’s deaths. He’s also immediately betrayed, pushed to his death in the sea, “saved” by his enemies, and sold at the slave market. The rest of the book is a desperate journey through sea and snow to get back to Thorbly, Yarvi’s capital, with the unlucky prince finding unexpected friends in a gang of assorted criminals, freed slaves and one mysterious, crazy soldier.

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I don’t know about you, but me? Middle-book syndrome is the bane of my existence. I measure the writing and storytelling abilities of an author on how much they can grip my attention during a middle-book, or the second to last book of a series.

With young adult and fantasy books in particular, I need some impending sense of doom to remind of the stakes, else I’ll either fall asleep or pray for some minor character to die.

Yes, I can get  that bloodthirsty. No, that doesn’t mean GRR MARTIN can kill more characters in his last two ASOIAF books. He needs to stop. No need for more deaths.

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Life and Death: We could have had it all – instead of Twilight Reimaginated

It’s been ten years. Ten years since Twilight made its appearance on the literary market and turned it upside down. No, don’t make that face: you know it turned48141990.cached it upside down. Twlight sparked the urban fantasy/paranormal romance trend. A lot of more than valid series had been already published, but Twilight was the blockbusting, bestselling phenomenon that carried them all onward, populating our libraries and our televisions with dark covers and fanged romances. When it comes to the young adult genre, I think only The Hunger Games did what Twilight did, only with the dystopian subgenre.

Did you read Twilight? I read Twilight, and you know what? I’m glad I did. Twilight propelled me toward the young adult, new adult and paranormal literary worlds. I would have missed a lot of awesome books, if I’d never read Twilight.

Ten years. I cannot believe it’s been ten years.

And apparently, none can Stephanie Meyer – since she decided to celebrate Twilight 10th anniversary by …. rewriting Twilight.

That’s it, you got it now, yes? I’m not talking about Twilight, here. I’m talking Twilight Reimaginated, aka Life and Death, aka WHY.

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Dornish Debacle – What We Lost with GOT’s depiction of House Martell

Season 5 of Game of Thrones marked the beginning of the uncharted territory that put book readers and non book readers on the same page – a non existent page, in fact. Season 5 onward, we’re leaving the books behind, because the books are over, since we’re still waiting for the sixth installment by good ol’ Mr Martin.Sand-Snakes-Season-5-Game-of-Thrones

As a book reader, I wasn’t particularly worried with the dive in unknown waters, because the show has been changing the plots since the beginning. I had previous issues with some of the changes, but nothing too unbearable. Then came Season 5 and my list of issues grew longer than Arya’s murder list.

I want to talk about the biggest issue I had with Game of Thrones Season 5. I want to talk about Dornish women.

HBO’s portrayal of House Martell in S5 was abysmal. In my humble opinion, it was one of the worst book-to-screen adaptation I had the displeasure of seeing, and I’ve seen a lot of horrid adaptions. Whoever was responsible for it took a cast of complex, compelling female characters and cut them down to a small group of cardboard copies of one single trope. That trope being the dreaded disease I call bloodthirsty badassitude. The trope that dictate how female characters can only be “strong” when they yield weapons and crave for blood.

Game of Thrones does invalidated this trope with some characters, I’ll give it to you. We’ve got Margeary Tyrell, with her cunning and the shameless use she does of her femininity to charm and plot. We’ve got Brianne of Tarth, a female warrior who’s still capable to be unsure and tender – but she’s still a warrior, isn’t she? She’s got a sword to fight with. Olenna Tyrell, yes, she’s a great politician, and Dany is doing great as a queen. And then we have Sansa, and Melisandre, and Catelyn.

But the presence of some incredibly complex female characters does not excuse the erasure of the Sand Snakes’s personalities and story lines. Mostly, because all of the previous awesome ladies are almost always isolated in their position of power. Melisandre and Dany are playing their game while surrounded by men; so did Catelyn. Margery and Cersei are antagonist, and Sansa is woefully pushed more and more in the victim role. The greatness of the Dornish women would have been that of a female-driven political plot portraying a group of women all engaged toward a similar aim.

I wish I hadn’t had such high hopes, to be honest. Prior to Season 4, I was terrified my beloved Martells would have been reduced to POC stereotypes and sex scenes. The sex scenes abounded, but I found Pedro Pascal and Indira Varma’s portrayals more than good, retaining all the quirkiness, boldness and unashamed love for life and for each others the original book characters have. It made me hope, it made me excited about the upcoming Season 5 and the action moving in Dorne. Season 5 dashed my hopes and made me question for real if I ought to keep watching the show.

Non-readers viewers are probably wondering what’s all the fuss about. Here’s what the fuss is about: the Dornish arc in the books portrays an incredible variety of awesome female characters. Here’s for what we lost with the on screen adaptation.

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