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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Book Review: The Maze Runner Trilogy

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The Maze Runner Trilogy: The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, The Death Cure

Author: James Dashner

Date Published: October 2009, 2010, 2011

Publisher: Random House

This review encompasses the entire Maze Runner Trilogy because quite frankly once I started the series I couldn’t stop.  I’m a big fan of series’ to begin with but I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed this series as much as I did because it’s a little more science fiction based than I’m used to but regardless.

The Maze Runner

What’s it about?

This is the story of a teenager named Thomas who finds himself sent to an unknown location where he joins a group of castaway boys trapped in a seemingly unsolvable maze. As Thomas learns the ropes about life in their safe have, known as the Glade, and the threats that live within the maze he realizes he was sent there for a purpose – to be one of the runners whose job is to crack the mazes mystery and lead the Gladers to their freedom.

The first book in James Dashner’s series The Maze Runner has got to be one of the most suspenseful and creepy books I’ve read in a while. Maybe I have an overactive imagination but I found this first book unbelievably compelling. I wanted to race through it and at the same time it built in me such an intense feeling of foreboding and worry that I constantly felt as though I was on the verge of an anxiety attack. It was kind of awesome.

From the very beginning when Thomas wakes up in the box with no memory of who he is beyond his name and is pulled into the Glade I was intrigued. The fact that the protagonist was introduced in such a way that you already knew he was in danger but didn’t know why or what from was captivating. Furthermore he’s introduced into a totally foreign landscape and is greeted by what develops into a great cast of supporting characters.  The main Gladers (namely Alby, Newt, Minho, Chuck, Gally and Frypan,) were given such distinct and vibrant characterization despite the size of their roles.  In a weird way it was like a more grown up and far less happy Our Gang reunion – for those out there not up on their obscure references, AKA The Little Rascals – with strangely sadistic punishments (that scene with Ben being hung out in the maze and left for the Grievers – kind of harsh considering the Gladers are perfectly aware of how crazy the Griever stings can make a person, it was very Lord of the Flies.) With the introduction of Theresa the cast of characters was made complete. I have to say I wasn’t a big fan of Theresa – I found her to be a bit of a know-it-all and I kind of hated the spell she seemed to have Thomas under.  Thomas on the other hand is really fascinating as the lead character. Despite the lack of a memory he seems so complete and self-possessed.  You know just from the way he reacts to the maze and the entire situation to begin with that he’ll eventually be the leader, and you kind of can’t wait for that to happen.

The weird lingo was a little off putting, but if I’m being totally honest here by the time I finished the third book I found myself calling people ‘shuck faces’ and saying ‘good that’, it was not comfortable.

What I loved most about this book was the maze itself because it’s so unusual that the antagonist in a book is a thing as opposed to a person and really throughout this series – despite the whole WICKED thing (see below) the maze acts as the first big “bad guy” and it’s quite the doozy. The vines, the moving walls, the apparently never ending-ness of the whole thing, I’m shocked none of the characters began to suffer from severe agoraphobia. Couple the seeming impossibility of solving the puzzle with the addition of the Grievers and suddenly the craziness and creepiness of the entire situation gets kicked into high gear. That being said I found the idea of the Grievers much creepier when I didn’t really know what they were, there’s something about the idea of massive slug-like creepy crawlies that despite turning my stomach (because I think of the gelatinous quality of their bodies) makes them kind of comical. (That could just be my incredibly strange sense of humour coming into play here.) But I guess I feel that the threat of something is always more enticing then the actual knowledge of what it is. And it’s that quality that makes The Maze Runner so enthralling. You’re afraid to learn what’s going on or what’s going to happen next but you have to know. I mean how creepy is the maze? Pretty creepy. But how much creepier does it become when you know that the walls move and there’s insane monsters that howl in the night waiting out there to poke you with their crazy juice or just flat out eat you? Quite frankly I’m kind of afraid of ever going to a garden party out of fear there may be one of those hedge mazes.

When things start to go bad – the doors not closing, the lights no longer simulating day and night – the threat from the grievers becoming so heightened I couldn’t help but find it almost deliciously sadistic that they would be programmed to take one Glader every night until no one’s left. The threat of death and the need to escape became palpable. You could taste their fear. I loved every second of it.

As far as endings go for a book I found The Maze Runner’s to be pretty rad. After so much build up everything just comes crashing down at once. It was organized chaos, the puzzle was solved but that didn’t mean they were in the clear. Once everyone’s left the maze the death of Chuck at the hands of Gally is almost overwhelming. I mean really? After all of that? REALLY? Not cool. (But cool.) And of course everything’s set up to lead in to the second book.

The Scorch Trials

After escaping the maze and being rescued from WICKED the Gladers wake up to discover that they’re still very much in danger and in fact are all infected with a life threatening disease known as the Flare. They learn that WICKED (World in Catastrophe Killzone Experiment Department – possibly the coolest acronym ever) is testing them in order to study their brains, which in turn will help them to find a cure for the Flare. The Gladers are told if they follow orders and do their best to succeed the trials they will be provided with the cure.

Initially after reading The Scorch Trials I wasn’t too sure I liked where things were going. The threat of imminent death is still very much alive but this second book in the series seemed to lack some of the intense, anxiety inducing, suspense The Maze Runner built in me.

That being said in retrospect I’ve grown to really appreciate this second book if not for the simple fact that I really loved Thomas’ character development and that more concrete answers are provided. I also really love the concept of the Flare. Which, I know, kind of weird, but it was like a massive outbreak of Syphilis (cause it can make you go crazy while eating your brain, so really the Flare was in fact just outrageous syphilis, only you didn’t catch it the fun way…so to speak. Not that anyone should want to catch syphilis. This line of discussion has really gone downhill…) and I was really pleased that the Cranks were Cranks and not in fact Zombies by another name because I really hate that (I’m looking at you Beautiful Creatures with your “Casters”. Please there damn witches and you know it.) The fact that this new information came from a man that would go on to be called Rat Face was also a great way to further push the idea of ‘adult bad, teenager good’ that was kind of seeding in the first book.

*A note on Rat Face – the fact that they just kept referring to him as Rat Face was a great reminder that despite everything, these were still teenagers and that teenagers are awesome at being inadvertently funny while being rude.

I also loved that the Flare though developed by some random government and then spread to the masses by the new post-apocalyptic government is then used by the government as a means of abusing highly intelligent teenagers by putting them through a series of torturous trials to determine why their brains are superior to others and therefore capable of fighting the worst disease known to mankind. Not to mention that lovely bit of dramatic irony when Thomas realizes that he in fact played a much bigger role in the whole thing than initially believed.

So what else really worked in this second story? Theresa as a turncoat – I was glad that Thomas was finally turned off her because she was awful. Kind of self-righteous which was weird because SHE HAS NO IDEA WHO SHE IS. The lightning storm of doom – super cool concept that really helped play up the devastation caused by the sun flares. Minho as the ‘leader’ – I really love this guy, he’s the right amount of crazy to play off Newt and Thomas.  And the introduction of Brenda and Jorge, who if we’re being honest with ourselves dear readers, we knew were planted by WICKED, but Brenda seemed like such a better choice than Theresa it didn’t really matter.

You know what I found had me scratching my head? The metal ball that ate your face (what the hell?) And the weird robot things and what I like to refer to as the ‘Robot Battle of Book 2’. I can’t even be bothered to discuss that weirdness. I don’t know how necessary that really was apart from I guess killing off extra bodies.

The Death Cure

The final book in Dashner’s trilogy, The Death Cure encompasses the full on rebellion led by Thomas, Minho and Newt against WICKED. After discovering that most of the Gladers (excluding a few placebo’s, including poor Newt) are in fact immune to the Flare, the Gladers are given the choice to have their memories reinstated. Deciding they know longer cared to know about their pasts Minho, Newt and Thomas refuse only to learn they in fact don’t really have a choice in the situation. Eventually, with the help of Brenda and Jorge they manage to escape WICKED headquarters and head to Denver with the hope of finding the other Gladers and taking down WICKED once and for all.

Often in a trilogy I find myself super disappointed with the last book (ex. Twilight – “Hey guys, don’t worry I’ll save you with my giant thought bubble!”) But I really enjoyed The Death Cure, to begin with who doesn’t love rebellion? Especially when said rebellion is led by a group of brainiac ruffians against their government? I was glad that the traitorous Gally reemerged. I was glad Theresa was once more separated from the main group.

I thought it was strange that they’d all refuse to have their memories reinstated, though I understood the argument behind it. I felt frustrated however because I wanted more answers.

I liked that the Gladers were kind of reintroduced into ‘civilized society’ and that despite having escaped WICKED continued to exert control over them. And I loved that in the end Thomas – who was in a way the catalyst for the whole series of events – had to go back and face the Rat Man.

The decline and death of Newt was rough and both heartbreaking and comforting – knowing in the end he was put out of his misery, but sincerely wishing he hadn’t been one of the few actually infected (why not Theresa?  I know, I know it’s irrational and unhealthy to hate a character in a book so much. But I do!)

The big thing for me was the ending because I was kind of disappointed that with all the bureaucracy and all the power we’re consistently told WICKED possesses the survivors get their bit of paradise to create a new, more evolved race. I wanted an Orwellian ending. I wanted 1984, I wanted to be thoroughly shocked and disgusted when in the end Thomas just let them have his brain, or negotiated himself into a lobotomy or instead sacrificed a friend (*cough Minho cough*) for the final stage. Is that wrong? Is it wrong that I wanted the hero to lose? Because I kind of totally did. I wanted the dystopia of this world to remain because after all Thomas was part of the reason the others ended up in the maze and why they were forced through the Scorch Trials.

Thomas was the brains behind the operation. Thomas is ultimately responsible for the deaths of Chuck and Newt and Theresa and however many others. Despite the fact that I really liked Thomas (except for that strange quality of being easily led by whatever lady was around him) he kind of didn’t deserve a chance at living in Utopia. Or maybe I’m just a really morbid person.

A quick note on Chancellor Paige – am I the only one who found her kind of, superfluous? Also her showing up at the end after really only being a face on a poster and a voice in a memo was kind of a glaring case of the deus ex machina – she was a giant cop out. Which is fine. I still think the series was awesome. But I can’t help but feel that because Dashner decided Thomas would get his happy ending he had to give him such a big out. He basically had to let the God of this Flare infested world save the day which I definitely didn’t see coming, so good on the whole surprise thing, but yeah kind of a cop out.

Regardless The Maze Runner series is definitely worth a read; it has great characterization, a strong story (with an awesome back story, even if it’s only told in pieces) and enough energy and suspense to entertain. In a book world that is currently overflowing in dystopian teenage sagas the Maze Runner trilogy is definitely a standout and one I highly recommend.