Book Review: World After (Penryn and the End of Days #2)

world after

“It’s amazing how many times we need to go against our survival instincts to survive.”

Author: Susan Ee
Publisher: Susan Ee (Skyscape)
Date Published: November 19, 2013
Number of Pages: 320
Series: Penryn and the End of Days, #2

After managing to survive the initial onslaught of the Angel apocalypse through an unlikely alliance with the enemy, Penryn finds herself, along with other survivors trying to salvage some semblance of a normal life camped out with the resistance a group of civilians set on taking down the Angelic invaders. When a group of people capture Penryn’s sister Paige thinking she is a monster the spectacle leads the newly created scorpion/locusts hybrids to the survivors. In the ensuing chaos Paige escapes, leaving Penryn and her schizophrenic mother searching the streets of San Francisco to find her.

Meanwhile Archangel Raffe (Raphael) believing Penryn dead continues to search for the fallen Angel Beliel in order to seek vengeance and get back his wings. As the story unfolds Penryn makes some shocking discoveries about the Angel’s plans and privately longs to reunite with Raffe.

World After the second book in the Penryn and the End of Days series proves that Susan Ee is most definitely not suffering from the sophomore slump. This is one of the best follow ups to a great first novel I’ve read in a long time.

Picking up right where the first book left off, World After doesn’t feel like a sequel because it flows so seamlessly – Penryn’s story is so perfectly laid out, Ee ensures you remember how the first book panned out without rehashing everything.  Even better is that this series truly sets itself apart from the other major female led, dystopian/apocalypse/fantasy series out there  and that comes down to Penryn.

Penryn puts other major female heroines (Katniss, Tris, etc) to shame she’s neither so tough and self-righteous that you can’t identify with her, nor does she complain about her current lot in life. She is unapologetic for the things she’s forced to do to survive as she navigates this new, apocalyptic, angel run world. Penryn’s sense of self-preservation knows no bounds – she will do whatever it takes to protect her little sister and her mother. She is a perfect mixture of vulnerability and steeliness.

In the first book Angelfall a big part of the story revolved around the relationship between Penryn and angel Raffe. In World After Archangel Raffe doesn’t make a proper appearance until more than halfway through the book. A great choice on Ee’s part – this is Penryn’s story and though Raffe is a great character (I mean he is particularly swoon worthy) she’s not allowing him to become Penryn’s sole purpose for survival, nor is she allowing her to become dependent on him, either physically or emotionally.

That being said I found myself waiting with bated breath for their reunion – Raffe despite his incredible piety and status as an Archangel is slowly but surely developing a great sense of humanity, his interactions with Penryn, their connection and the feelings he has for her that he never truly acknowledges nor denies only makes him more accessible and real as a character.

Though it’s obvious Penryn and Raffe have feelings for each other (I mean holy chemistry Batman!) Penryn never allows herself to become so wrapped up in Raffe that she forgets what she needs to do or what she’s capable of. Part of what makes their relationship so great is that despite Raffe’s otherworldliness he treats Penryn as an equal – because he knows she’s got his back. I love that when Ee creates these intense moments between Penryn and Raffe – with all this unspoken subtext Penryn always finds a way to remind herself of what’s important – survival and protecting her sister. She gets these great moments of being a teenage girl but never dwells because she knows at the moment there’s more important things to deal with.

Ee creates a broad range of interesting and unique characters, deeply entrenched in the realism of the world she’s created. Through Penryn’s little sister, Paige who despite being “Frankensteined” maintains her sweetness and love for her sister while dealing with her newly developed savagery, their mother who in her paranoid schizophrenic state demonstrates more clarity and know how than those of sound mine, and the members of the resistance exhibit both the good and bad of human behaviour this new, dark, and cold world takes shape.

Ee weaves numerous stories into the fabric of Penryn’s overall tale – the resistance, her mother’s struggle with mental illness and Paige’s struggle with her new form only enrich the story. The Angels and their fight to be messenger – the mixture of power, politics and heavenly bodies heightens the drama and adds a sense of urgency to the fight. *Slight spoiler* the creation of the locusts to act as a sign of the apocalypse to help push for the angels agenda and dominate the world is a really great, unexpected twist.

Ee’s appropriation of Christian angelic hierarchy and the new elements she’s created (the warrior’s connection to their sword, the lightness of angels despite their power, their regenerative powers) adds to the angelic folklore we already know.

Ee is a great storyteller, she’s creating a world that readers can identify with and get lost in, with strong characters – and particularly a great lead it’s no wonder she’s become a self-publishing phenomenon. Also, little side note here, the book covers for both Angelfall and World After are amazing – dark, dangerous and beautiful they offer a perfect, wordless explanation of what to expect when picking up these books.

Susan Ee’s Penryn and the End of Days series is shaping up to be a great addition to the YA fantasy/dystopian canon – it’s a fascinating story with the right amount of edge, fantasy and romance. I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

 

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Year End Review

As 2013 comes to an end I wanted to look back on the books I’ve blogged about this (my first year of book blogging!) year. This was a year of great highs (The Silent Wife –  If you’re in the mood for something not YA this is the book to read. It’s amazing.) And some major lows (Beautiful Creatures) and some disappointments (*cough Allegiant cough*.) But all in all it was a great year of reading. Here’s to 2014 and the all the new literary gems to be discovered!

What was great

Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell EleanorPark_thumb
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

In my opinion, Eleanor & Park is one of the best YA novels of 2013. Perceptive, funny, sophisticated and touching, Rainbow Rowell’s charming misfit lovebirds melt your heart and make you yearn for the excitement and turmoil of first love.

Clockwork Princess, Cassandra Clare CP2_cover
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

The finale to Cassandra Clare’s prequel trilogy, The Infernal Devices, has been a bit polarizing amongst fans of the series. Personally I loved it. And that’s saying something because I wasn’t overly keen on the first two books. I didn’t mind them, I absolutely loved the steam punk elements and the Victorian England setting, but this last book had me finally falling in love with Tessa, Will and Jem. I truly loved the way Clare ended this story. I thought it was strikingly heartfelt and absolutely moving. Plus *spoiler alert* that whole thing with Tessa morphing into a giant angel was super cool.

World After, (Penryn and the End of Days #2), Susan Ee WorldAfter
Publisher: Skyscape

I have yet to finish my review of this book but I needed to put it on the list. Susan Ee is a bit of a phenomenon – having self published the first book in this series (Angelfall – awesome) only to see it become a massive success. This is her follow up and it lives up to the hype. Plus Penryn kind of puts to shame other major heroines (Katniss, Tris etc.) she doesn’t complain, she just gets on with it. Her sense of self preservation knows no bounds. Love it.

The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand, Gregory Galloway adamstrand
Publisher: Dutton Books (Penguin Group)

The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand is one of those little gems you weren’t looking for but have the good fortune to simply happen upon. After reading a review from the A.V. Club I knew I had to read it. Existential is the best way to describe Galloway’s novel. Adam Strand is so frustrated with life, so overwhelmed with  boredom he kills himself. Over and over again. As his frustration grows at his inability to make death stick Adam takes us on a journey through the mind of an insightful, self-absorbed, too smart for his own good teenager. Macabre, witty and shrewd The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand has to be the most unsung YA novel of 2013.

“Life is spectacular. Forget the dark things. Take a drink and let time wash them away to where ever time washes away to.”

“Life is spectacular. Forget the dark things. Take a drink and let time wash them away to where ever time washes away to.”

The Spectacular Now, Tim Tharp
Publisher: Knopf Books

Okay it wasn’t a new release but who cares? This book is amazing. Incidentally so is the movie – except for the ending. Don’t get me started on the ending. Regardless this is a book I highly recommend. Tharp’s Sutter Keely has to be the most likeable teenage-alcoholic-ne’er do well in literary history. The best part of The Spectacular Now? The ending. Which I won’t spoil, you should go read it. Like now.

Days-of-Blood-and-Starlight-HBDays of Blood and Starlight, (Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy), Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown

I’m in love with Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy. In Love. Like hardcore. Obsessed? Probably. But definitely in love. I couldn’t wait for this book and when it finally came out I devoured it – twice, back to back. Taylor’s poetic prose coupled with her knack for creating characters you can’t help but fall in love with (or hate with the passion of a thousand fiery suns – I’m looking at you Thiago) makes this series more than worthwhile. Plus the blistering, heart-breaking and overwhelmingly quiet burning passion between main characters Karou and Akiva is kind of everything.

What was meh

Allegiant, Divergent Trilogy, Veronica Roth Allegiant2
Publisher: HarperCollins

Possibly the biggest disappointment of the year, the last book in Veronica Roth’s thrilling Divergent trilogy came in with a bang and left with an astounding fizzle. I don’t despise this last book. But I can’t deny feeling a little shafted. It’s not the choices Roth made that bother me, those I respect. It’s how bloated, convoluted and downright ridiculous aspects of the book were. There was just too much going on, story lines were stretched so thin there was no authenticity anywhere. And for the first time in the series I found myself not caring about Tris and Four. And really – there’s no way Tris would have left her gun behind. Never.

13 Reasons Why, Jay Asher ThirteenReasonsWhy
Publisher: Razor Bill

I know – I know, a lot of people really love this book. And I respect that. I really loved the overall concept, I found the way the touchy subject of suicide is discussed was done in a sensitive and appropriate manner. I also couldn’t help but feel 12 of Hannah Baker’s 13 reason’s for ending her life were a bit superficial. And quite frankly, there’s really no reason that’s truly acceptable.

Dead Ever After, Charlaine Harris
Publisher: Penguin

Ugh.

“Do you sometimes wish you could fast-forward a week? You know something bad’s coming up, and you know you’ll get through it, but the prospect just makes you feel sick?” Yes. This book.

To truly understand my complete and utter disdain for this book is nearly impossible unless you’ve read it yourself. Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries was never going to be one of the great literary feats of the 21 Century but when it began it was enjoyable entertainment. Sookie Stackhouse was a great, kooky, feisty and likeable heroine. Throw in some otherworldly-ness, smokin’ hot vampire love triangles and loads of shenanigans in small town Louisiana, this series was pleasantly thoughtless entertainment. But as the series progressed it became ridiculous and laborious. By the time the final instalment rolled around in the form of Dead Ever After I was reading the books out of sheer spite (and with some minor hope that they might redeem themselves in this final outing. Alas it was not to be so.)  Dead Ever After was the worst of the thirteen book series. THE WORST. And that’s saying something. Silly, boring, predictable and with the lamest copout ever it’s quite possible Harris herself had lost all interest in Sookie’s adventures in Bon Temps.

What I can’t wait for in 2014

Avalon, Mindee Arnett Avalon
Publisher: HarperCollins
On Sale: January 21, 2014

Science Fiction doesn’t get nearly the amount of respect it deserves. I’m hoping with the release of Mindee Arnett’s Avalon that might change. First described to me as Firefly but with teenagers this is the story of Jeth Seagrave and the group of teenage mercenaries he leads who travel the numerous star systems stealing metatech. Despite being a topnotch thief all Jeth cares about is earning enough money to buy back his family’s ship from his lethal boss and getting his younger sister Lizzie away from a life of crime.

Interstellar space travel, teenage mercenaries, criminal masterminds and mind control are just a few of the many elements that make up Avalon.

Dreams of Gods and MonstersLaini Taylor GodMonsters
Publisher: Little, Brown
On Sale: April 8, 2014

So we’re back to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. This is the third and final instalment in the series and naturally as someone with an unhealthy obsession I’m obviously counting down the days (101!). Taylor’s Karou is one of the best female heroines out there, tough, witty, resourceful and vulnerable she’s a class act.

CityHeavenCity of Heavenly Fire, Cassandra Clare
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
On Sale: May 27, 2014

I love the Shadowhunter world Cassandra Clare has created. It’s inventive and fresh, and really how could you not love a world where the fabulous Magnus Bane resides? This is yet another series finale, this time for Clary Fray and the shadowhunters of the New York Institute. With (dreamy) Jace filled (literally) with heavenly fire and the sociopathic demon-angel hybrid Sebastian on the loose creating evil nephilim this is bound to be one doozy of a closer.

(Don’t You) Forget About Me, Kate Karyus Quinn
Publisher: Harper Teen Forget About Me
On Sale: June 14, 2014

Okay truth be told I’ve already read this, but it’s on my list because I want others to know how good it is. Kate Kurys Quinn weaves an intriguing, spellbinding tale of two sisters with extraordinary powers living in an extraordinary town filled with secrets. This is a story that’s both haunting and magical, unexpected and refreshing. It’s also so tightly wound that unravelling the many secrets within the books pages is a truly thrilling experience.

Despite having read and blogged about all four of John Green’s books I’ve left them off this list because let’s face it if I put in one I’d have to put in all of them. Much like the rest of the world I’m a little in love with Green. The Fault in Our Stars has become one of my all time favourite books and there are times when I wonder how any of us every lived without the witticisms and philosophical insight of Augustus Waters.

Early in the new year expect reviews for World AfterUntil YouThe Rosie Project and Hemlock.

Book Review: Allegiant

Allegiant2

Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins imprint)
Date Published: October 22, 2013
Number of Pages: 526

 

After revealing the truth about the society in which she lives, Tris Prior finally escapes to the world beyond the fence only to learn that despite everything she thought she’d discovered, things are still not quite what they seem.

That seems like the vaguest possible description for this book and there’s good reason for that. Let me start by saying I was beyond excited to read this last book in Roth’s series, I loved Divergent and Insurgent and because I’m a giant nerd I may or may not have counted down the days to Allegiant’s publication. I prepared myself for the usual two to three days of ignoring everything in life but the book and devouring it as I’ve done in the past. But that didn’t quite happen. I don’t want to say that I didn’t like the book because that’s not true. I’m glad to have experienced the completion of Tris’ story, I’m happy that Veronica Roth took some chances and made some stylistic changes (namely the dual perspectives between Tris and Four/Tobias) but I can’t help but feel that this final part of the story lacked the ingenuity and ease of the first two. To be blunt, it was a little all over the place.

The dual perspectives was a great add-on to the story mostly because Four is a character that you want to know more about. He’s just as integral to the story as Tris and it was nice to see his point of view because it helps to put things into perspective. It also makes you, as the reader, question whether Tris is always right. I liked that. Instead of having us blindly follow Tris, Roth gave us reason to doubt and question her motives – adding a level of complexity to the story that wasn’t there before.

Tris and Four

I love the relationship between these two characters. I love that they are both so flawed and that they are constantly making mistakes but that they always find their way back to each other. I found it incredibly touching when Tris (in chapter 36) comes to the realization about relationships and having to forgive over and over but that it is a choice you make. I thought it was an incredible show of vulnerability and the most human she appears in this last portion of the story.

*SPOILER* Do not continue to read if you don’t want to know how it ends

There’s been a lot of disdain, incredulity and rage all over the net about Roth’s decision to kill Tris. I have to say I don’t know why – the character always had a SUPER death wish. I mean in a way it was kind of her major character flaw. Tris Prior definitely suffered from a Messiah complex. In her attempts to always do what was right, to save other’s from the evils around them she was always willing to make the “ultimate sacrifice.” I mean in Insurgent the girl willingly allows herself to be led to her imminent death. I don’t even know how many times she ends up being shot through the series but it’s a lot. Her death was pretty much always in the works. It was clear she was not going to get her happily ever after. And I’m okay with that.

What I’m not okay with is the somewhat of a hot mess Allegiant turns into. I desperately want to love this final book. And though I commend Roth for going against the grain, for not being afraid to kill off her protagonist (a character whom no doubt she loved dearly) the impact of Tris’ death does not hold the same weight as say Dumbledore’s in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The major difference being that when it came to Dumbledore’s death Rowling had a point – it was part euthanasia but it was also integral to maintaining Snape’s role as Voldemort’s right-hand man and ultimately ensuring Harry’s success in defeating He Who Must Not Be Named.

In comparison Tris’ death seems almost unnecessary and sloppy. First – Tris is more than just a soldier, she’s a leader, a rebel and a revolutionary, and despite her anxiety about guns when it came time for her to get into the weapons room I can’t possibly believe she would have left her gun behind, regardless of whether or not she thought the possibility of encountering someone in the room was slim to none. The fact is there was still a chance. And Tris is not a character who leaves things to chance. Secondly, and more importantly, prior to this whole “sacrificial lamb” change of pace did she not go on about wanting to live? About recognizing the importance of life and fighting for a way of life that was free from division and autocrats? What purpose did that diatribe serve? Finally, I don’t care how much she loves her brother, he aided and abetted in leading her to her death. And he did so with little remorse. He even acknowledges that his willingness to sacrifice himself (to break into the weapons room) was because of his guilt not because of his love for her or anyone. (Perhaps this is just an example of my harsh stance on forgiveness for people who try to kill you.)

No doubt there’s a contingency of fans out there who are truly upset that Roth killed her main character solely because that’s kind of a big taboo in these types of stories. But I like to think that there’s an even larger group of fans out there who recognize the major holes in Tris’ “sacrifice” – namely that it wasn’t one. The fact is her death was poorly executed. Though I don’t think Roth’s intention was shock value, I think her point was muddled in its development.

Sacrifice vs. Selflessness

There has also been a lot of debate about sacrifice vs. selflessness and whether Roth confused the two. I don’t think so – that Tris was certain she could survive the death serum suggests she wasn’t really being sacrificial. That she in fact did survive it only to be shot by David proves that she wasn’t making a sacrifice, she was just being Tris and taking another risk. Was she being selfless? I think so. Was she intentionally sacrificing herself? No, not at all. She knew she could survive the death serum. And she did. But I reiterate, why would she leave her gun behind? Is it possible that a part of her wanted this ending? I wouldn’t blame her if you know, she was just tired of everything. She’s only sixteen and look at what her life has been.

Where I think some creative liberties were taken when it comes to selflessness is with Evelyn. It’s strange that a character who was so hard, so determined to get her way, not afraid of using the death serum on her own people to maintain control of the city would just back down from ruling because her son promises her a relationship. That’s a little far flung. Talk about a deus ex machina. It’s weird that Roth didn’t blink an eye at killing off her protagonist but stopped short of all out war when it came to the city Tris was trying to save. It was all a little too easy.

The Epilogue

I kept expecting that Tris would eventually show up, like it was a big ruse (for what purpose I don’t know) but still, when the epilogue started two and a half years after her death I had no clue what to expect. That Roth demonstrated that Tris’ death wasn’t in vain was important and needed. It was also great to see how the others went on to survive without her and make lives for themselves in the “new” Chicago. I also felt incredibly sad for Four. There’s a character who’s life is not one you would like to experience. If anything it was the effect that Tris’ death has on Tobias that got to me. I always felt that she couldn’t make it to the stories end. That any other life would seem out of place and unnatural for her. But Four has suffered and lost so much, it’s heartbreaking to think that after everything he has to lose her too.

That the final thoughts in the book come from him and from a place of hope within him is comforting for any fan who invested in Tobias and were heart broken at all he has lost.

Of the three books in the Divergent series Allegiant is by far my least favourite. Though I commend Roth for making hard choices and going against what was expected I can’t help but feel that the overall point of the story gets lost in a lot of excess, that there are too many holes and most importantly that she didn’t go far enough to make the loss of Tris have a strong enough purpose.

Despite all the criticism Roth is an exciting writer and this series is a great addition to the YA Dystopian canon – I look forward to whatever she comes up with next because really she can only get better.

(Also it’s quite possible six months from  now when I sit down to re-read this my thoughts will completely change, in which case I promise to acknowledge that fact.)

Book Review: Night of the Purple Moon

Author: Scott CramerPurpleMoon
Publisher: Train Renoir Publishing
Date Published: May 28, 2012
Number of Pages: 179 (Kobo)

Abby and Jordan Leigh were looking forward to watching the moon turn purple. Little did they know that the comet streaking through the night sky causing the purple phenomenon, was carrying a dangerous pathogen that would dramatically change life as they know it.

The first in his Toucan Trilogy – Night of the Purple Moon is an interesting twist on the post-apocalyptic, survival story. With a very subtle Lord of the Flies like undertone it never quite reaches the same extent of the dark, grisly, side of humanity thrown into chaos, instead offering only small glimpses.

Brother and sister Abby and Jordan Leigh faced with the fact that a seemingly harmless comet and the “space germs” it trailed across the earth have not only caused the death of their own parents but of just about every adult and teenager in the world are forced to band together to take care of their three-year-old sister Toucan and figure out how to survive in a world without adults. Soon Abby and Jordan are joined by Kevin and Emily Patel – with the Patel’s, specifically the scientifically inclined Kevin, Abby and Jordan learn that the space germs attack hormones – putting anyone who has entered puberty at risk. Knowing the cause of the epidemic and how it acts as a ticking time bomb for anyone on the verge of puberty, Abby, Jordan, Emily and Kevin soon collect all the surviving children on Castine Island and begin to rebuild society to the best of their abilities.

Night of the Purple Moon has great moments of being a captivating read – in Abby and Jordan Leigh, Cramer has created two interesting main characters whose overall personalities both clash and remain strikingly similar (which makes sense with them being siblings.) The back and forth perspectives – which are provided mainly by the siblings offer glimpses into the minds of children learning to be adults. The commune-like setting that develops through their efforts and brings together just about every kid on the island – safe for a small group of rebels, who add the perfect amount of threat and tension to the children’s’ safe haven – is an unexpectedly peaceful and well-oiled machine.

Despite this neither Abby nor Jordan hold any falsehoods that the rest of the world is living quite as peacefully, and regardless how well things function on the island the effects of the space dust wreak their havoc on the older (at 12 and 13!) population, forcing the children to mature and learn to deal with and accept death much sooner than they should have to.

The books pacing for the most part is good, however there are some moments when the story seems to drag – specifically towards the end when the race is on for Jordan and Abby to procure the antibiotic created to stop the space germs from decimating the rest of the population.  Despite this fact the change of scenery –moving from the island to the main land- adds a new, more heightened threat as both Abby and Jordan fight against the effects of the space germs but also the pillaging gangs of children out to save themselves.

There are moments in the book where it’s hard to reconcile that these kids are meant to be 10, 12 and13-years-old – especially when it comes to the budding relationships that develop between some of them – it seems too mature. But then it could be rationalized that with a world in peril, they’ve been forced to grow up faster than is generally expected.  Also there are times when certain issues – particularly when Abby hits puberty – where the description is perhaps a little too forthright. It’s really dependent on the age group this book is geared towards.

Cramer’s Night of the Purple Moon is an entertaining read, the story is clever and fresh, with interesting characters who’s overall fighting spirit has you rooting for their survival and on the edge of your seat as you wait with baited breath to find out if they can survive in a world unlike any they’ve known before. If you’re someone who enjoys stories of survival and a world in peril this is a story you can definitely get on board with.

*This copy was provided to me by author Scott Cramer through LibraryThing.