Aug. 18, 2020

review dump

I've gotten into the habit of writing my mini-reviews straight on Goodreads and not copying them into my journal, but I should keep a backup in case the site goes down or something.

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King of Scars | Leigh Bardugo | 3.5 stars

This book started slow, but ramped up to a 4-star book at the end, and I'm still high on that ending so...4 stars it is. (edit (7/29): It's been a month and the slow start sticks out more in my memory, so I'm bumping it back down to 3.5. Still a very solid ending though!)

Some quick thoughts:

  • You really need to read the Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows books before this. The Grisha trilogy is about the Ravkan civil war, and this book deals directly with the aftermath of the war for all involved, and it also directly spoils Six of Crows, so yeah.
  • Nina's plotline (dealing with her undercover mission to rescue Grisha in Fjerda) is consistently good and Nina is too.
  • Nikolai and Zoya's plotline (dealing with postwar rebuilding/politics) starts out real slow, but gets dramatically more interesting in the second half.
  • Also I ship them.
  • But I was a little disappointed by Nikolai in this book - he doesn't wear angst well. I get the point was to show he has depth beyond his usual breezy confidence, but eh, I like his breezy confident self best. Thankfully Zoya was INCREDIBLE and carried super hard.
  • The magic system developments didn't entirely make sense. [The dragon is really like "have you considered,,,using different elements" and Zoya's like "stfu" and then suddenly starts using all elements] but I'm willing to roll with it because it makes Zoya look cool and Bardugo really knows how to give the people (me) what they (I) want in that regard.
  • Finally, Isaak's plotline was cool, but I didn't much like Isaak himself; dude is just way too humble and diffident. I know he's been placed in a Very Stressful situation, but it's also a Very Cool situation. Live it up a little!
  • As for the ending: Most people seem to hate it, but I liked it! I wasn't a fan of [redacted] in the original Grisha trilogy, but Bardugo has grown immensely as a writer since then and I'm excited to see where things go from here.

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Lock Every Door | Riley Sager | 3 stars

Fun, very fast-paced (I read it in two sittings), but ultimately forgettable. In particular, I found the endgame reveals somewhat underwhelming.

Lock Every Door is the story of Jules, who is offered a large sum of money to be an apartment sitter in a luxury apartment. From the beginning, the arrangement is shady af—she's being paid in cash under the table, for one thing, and there are a lot of weird restrictions on tenants' behavior—but Jules is homeless and jobless and desperate enough to accept.

Most of the book consists of Jules finding out that shady things are going on (surprise!) and investigating. Jules herself is likable, but generically so: she's plucky and caring, good at investigating and bad at making life decisions, with a predictably tragic family history. I found I didn't especially care what happened to her; I was just along for the ride.

But it was a fun ride. I'd recommend this book as a quick junk food read (catch up on that goodreads goal!). Just don't expect too much in terms of character depth/attachment.

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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes | Suzanne Collins | 1 star

Snow was my favorite character in the Hunger Games trilogy (I like villains and will not apologize), so I was excited for a prequel from his perspective. But I was also worried that it was going to redeem him into some kind of tragic bad-boy figure.

Thankfully, this book didn't go that route, but it did something nearly as bad: it made him boring.

I was hoping to see Snow being ruthless and manipulative. Instead, I got someone shallow, obsessed with status and appearance, and largely ineffectual. His quest also lacked narrative urgency. oh no his family might have to move to a slightly-less-nice apartment whatever shall he dooooo

The other aspects of the book aren't much better. There's a huge supporting cast, but it's largely devoid of personality. Lucy Gray, the tribute that Snow is mentoring, is the only moderately interesting character. But the romance was terrible (another instance of "there's a male lead and a female lead so they must fall in love regardless of circumstances or chemistry"). And the storytelling is just so heavyhanded. Snow wakes up in the morning, and we have to hear he's poor 60 times before he leaves the house. WE GET IT. HE'S POOR.

Whether you like Snow or you hate him, there's not much worth reading here.

===

The Light Brigade | Kameron Hurley | 4.5 stars

There’s a tremendous moment of dissonance, like leaving your body, when you discover that one of the core defining moments of your life is mostly a lie.

“Dietz! Let’s roll.” Andria’s voice, over a two-way channel. At least she wasn’t calling me slow in front of the whole platoon.

I huffed after her and the rest of the company, off to make a show of protecting the interests of a CEO who had no qualms about murdering people like me with impunity.

This was a mindfuck (based on this + The Stars are Legion, I'm beginning to think that's just Kameron Hurley's brand). It's weird and brutal and uncompromising and ultimately hopeful and I kinda loved it?

Also, despite being published in 2019, it's a very 2020 book. A pandemic with flu-like symptoms! The military being called in to make protesters disappear! Hurley was very prescient imo :thinking:

Recommended to anyone who likes [time travel/loop] stories (this is a mild spoiler because it takes the main character a while to catch on; but it's the main premise/hook of the story so...). Only caveat is that it's a very plot-driven book, and the revolving cast of side characters never gets much development - which makes perfect sense given the nature of the story, but might not be your thing.

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The Walled City | Ryan Graudin | 3.5 stars

There are three rules of survival in the Walled City: Run fast. Trust no one. Always carry your knife.

A gritty, brutal historical YA novel. High 3.5, mulling over whether to round up to a 4.

The setting was my favorite part: It takes place in the 1980s in a fictionalized version of Kowloon Walled City, a lawless Hong Kong slum. It was a dense warren of poverty and knife fights and drugs, ruled by organized crime syndicates.

(On a lighter note though, this book made me hungry. I want char siew bao)

There are three main characters: Jin, a street kid trying to find and rescue her sister; Mei Yee, a prostitute held captive in a brothel; and Dai, the obligatory boy-with-a-dark-past and seeeecrets. tbh I'm making fun of Dai but I like him. I found all three protags to be effortlessly likable and easy to root for, though admittedly there's not a lot of character depth/growth - what you see is mostly what you get.

It was also a fast read; I gulped down most of this book in an afternoon. Easy recommendation if you want something dystopian-adjacent (but without any fantastic elements) in an Asian setting.

Written by Achaius

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