Legend by Marie Lu

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This book… feels sexy. It does. It’s got a roughened cover and just feels nice. Yeah, I know book cover fetish, but seriously, if you find it somewhere (the Speak edition from 2013): feel it.

And it doesn’t just have a sexy outside, the inside has its own magic you might want to discover. Here’s what’ what:

The North American states (that’s the Republic and the Colonies) are at war. Before this background, June Iparis wants to avenge her brother’s death. Only suspect is Day, a much sought-after criminal, who’s never killed before. But before June even knows that she’s found him, she spent some time with him undercover and (of course) falls for him. Turns out, he did not kill her brother, but others did. And they have more than that one secret to protect.

There’s much more to this story, naturally. This is a different North America from what we know, but it’s not Suzanne Collins united version, either. The Republic is a sinister place where the lines between rich and poor are quite severe. Much like in The Hunger Games and Divergent, there is a Trial children have to go through – this one is to rid the gene pool of its bad apples.

Day is such an apple. Even though he had a perfect score in The Trial, he was told he failed and was given over to experimentations (while the public thinks, children who failed The Trial were send to labor camps). But he survived and he wants revenge on a corrupt system. June is a prodigy of the system. She also had a perfect score, but because she was born to rich parents, she started training for the military, following in her brother Metias’ footsteps. But her family has a secret of their own, and as she finds out about it, her loyalties are tested until they break away.

I already compared this to The Hunger Games and Divergent, and it’s not far fetched. And yet, Legend is also different. Lu decided to break the book into two distinct voices, June and Day’s. Both are equally important, both are the main characters, and also I-narrators. I think she solved the problem I had with Divergent (or rather its sequel Insurgent) cleverly – giving Day his own voice, keeps this book from being about Day in June’s voice, while June is free to explore her own story.

Yes, there’s quite a bit of romance between the two characters, and I must confess, those pages bored me a little. But the story is so well written, so well thought through, that they were the only moments I did not entirely enjoy. It also made apparently clear to me how much I yearn for a story like Legend, or The Hunger Games with a queer protagonist (or two queer protagonists).

Legend is a really good book and it’s part of a series, followed by Prodigy and Champion, which I will probably read soon and will probably tell you about. I honestly hope Legend will get made into movies, and I also hope that these movies will not white-wash Day who is half-Mongolian. In fact, Legend lends itself perfectly as a series that could bring more Characters of Color to a ‘whitened’ genre.

The Tea Machine by Gill McKnight

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First, how do you like the cover? Because I simply love it. I think it’s my favorite from all of the Ylva Publishing books yet.

And I’m so glad that the inside meets the promise of the outside, because The Tea Machine is an incredible read.

Here’s what’s in it:

Millicent Aberly is upset with her brilliant brother because he’s used her favorite parasol for his newest invention: a time machine. In the attempt to get at least a piece of the parasol back, she engages the machine and is catapulted to a strange place in a strange timeline, where a strange warrior woman dies because of her.

Trying to save this woman’s life over and over again, Millicent, her brother Hubert, and his fianceé Sophia are trying to walk the stony path of histories with as much dignity as it allows, changing the world and their own fates – maybe forever.

Well, there’s also a giant squid, Amazons, and steampunk galore in this story, but where to put it in a short blurb? This story is a breathless adventure with so many delicious parts that you can’t put them all together by retelling.

I’ve never read a steampunk novel, though I am intrigued by this subculture. And if all novels that include this phenomenon are as wild and wonderful as this one, well, then I’m a fan. McKnight understands the intricacies that come with time travel and never loses track of her story. I’m truly fascinated and enthused about her imagination.

There is some romance, but the story is more important. McKnight creates entertaining and charming characters and not all of them are human. But all of them are overwhelmed by the magnitude of Hubert’s invention and at a loss how everything will turn out in the end. McKnight takes the time to explain what happens. Her time travel story is well thought through and it’s possible to follow it and not get swallowed by plot holes, because there are none.

This is an entertaining, fascinating read. The only regret I have is that it was over too quickly, but as I’m told that there will be a sequel, The Parabellum, I’m looking forward to it.

Even if you’re not a fan of science fiction stories, even if you think steampunk is ridiculous, give this story a try. It’s really funny and smart and entertaining. Go, read!

Divergent by Veronica Roth

divergent-divergentThis is the first part of the Divergent-series – parts two, Insurgent, and three, Allegiant, are already in my possession, waiting on the sidelines to be read in order.

I must admit there is already something intriguing about the titles of this series. Part of this is that I had to look them up to understand their meaning (as non-native English speaker). I’ve never come across these exact words just variations of them and I think they have been well chosen. The same is true for the covers of the books (and, yes, there goes my slight fetish with book covers again), vibrant colors, the hint at an urban setting and the promise of an adventure. And then there’s a tag-line: One Choice Can Transform You. I must pay kudos where kudos are due, and the marketing department for this project did a great job. But a great marketing strategy does not a book sell alone, there’s also always what’s inside.

Let’s have a quick look:

Beatrice Prior lives in post-war Chicago. Her society is build into factions, one for each virtue that might prevent another war, and at 16 Beatrice is about to chose her own faction. The results of the test that should help her decide are, however, inconclusive. Beatrice is divergent, and being divergent is considered a very dangerous thing in her world.

As she chooses a faction, the Dauntless, her world is transformed by the violence she experiences. But a part of her remains with her old faction, the Abnegation, and it is that faction that comes under the scrutiny of the rest of the society as propaganda is spread against them. Tris (which is the new name Beatrice chooses for herself on entering a different faction) has to find a way to fit in to survive or fight a system that does not accept her divergence – and the time to choose one or the other is running out fast.

At first glance, it is an intriguing concept for a dystopian novel (and I don’t think that we should categorize into Young Adult novel here, as J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins have clearly shown that there is no expiration date on recapturing our youths by reading those) but I would argue that it does not hold up to anything but a superfluous first glance. The novel has the same short-comings as the movie, as it does not dwell on much of a backstory. We never learn what has caused the war that destroyed American society, we’re not even to learn how far this distruction goes. Chicago is all we are to learn about this new world (at least in this part of the series and I doubt that the other parts will go beyond this [but please don’t put spoilers in the comments should I be wrong, I will get there in time]) and we are simply told to accept the society build in this city. This might not be such a big problem (as we’ve already accepted Panem in Collins’ The Hunger Games without ever getting told what happens outside of it) if the concept of this society wasn’t so obviously flawed.

Maybe it’s me, it is possible that it is me and my cultural believe that diversity is a crucial part of the human condition, but building a society that is strictly parted into factions that are entirely focused on one virtue seems ridiculous to me. Why be just intelligent when you can be intelligent and brave and kind and honest and selfless? For those are the virtues of the factions. I find this concept highly illogical which makes this dystopia rather unbelievable to me. And yet, it does not completely take away it’s relevance. Because Tris finds out that she’s different in a world that does not want her to be different, and that is, at least, something I can relate to.

And I guess here is where the life lessons of the Young Adult novel set in and young people are to learn that what makes them different is actually a good thing. But it does so under the premise of Christian values which are barely disguised in this novel as factions. More to the point, Tris is a symbol of Christian virtues as she possesses not all but more than the average person and teen in this story – as translated into our world. So the difference that is supported here is one of virtuous behavior – not of the more controversial aspects of teenage life in our society like sexuality, gender, mental health, body image, etc.. I’m not saying that the message is completely lost on our society, we should always be nicer to each other, but I think Roth could have expanded on her definition of diversity here and without much of an effort.

To be fair, she’s not the only writer of a successful Young Adult series who failed to acknowledge minorities – the problems of mnorities in acknowledging that they’re not exclusive to minorities. Whiteness, heterosexuality (in a heteronormative society), cisgendered, and able-bodied are the attributes attached to the heroes of these stories, infallibly so. This is where diversity ends and I think that’s rather sad – as representation of the Young Adult novel and popular literature in general.

With all this said, I don’t think Divergent is a bad novel (fooled you there). I wouldn’t attempt to read parts two and three if I did. But it’s lacking and it’s not remarkable as these stories go. Yes, on first glance we can draw lines from the factions to Hogwarts houses, we can compare Tris’ struggle to Katniss Everdeen’s against the injustices of her society but Divergent falls short to these other serieses. It’s entertaining and possibly educational to a certain degree but it is not the great achievement in story-telling that the Harry Potter-series is, or the very unique attempt at creating a female character of Katniss Everdeen’s caliber. It’s good, it’s readable but it won’t change your life to the extent that other Young Adult novels did or will.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

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I feel like Octavia Butler is not appreciated or read enough. I love her work. I loved Fledgling, I loved Lilith’s Brood, I loved Kindred – and now I loved Parable of the Sower. And this is so surprising because I’m really not into religious fiction, or fiction about religion of any kind. Religion is just not something I can securely wrap my head around.

Usually. But then there’s Octavia Butler and she writes about Lauren Oya Olamina, a young woman living in a futuristic suburb of Los Angeles, surrounded by a wall to keep poor people, addicts, and drug dealers out. While her father is a baptist minister, her own faith is one she is writing down herself. She feels like this religion, or faith, is presenting itself to her, that she is a medium to write it down and bring others to this fate.

Lauren has to leave her neighborhood behind when it is brutally destroyed by drug addicts and scavengers. With two of her former neighbors she takes to the road north where a better life can supposedly be found. The journey gives her the possibility to spread word of her new faith and find followers, find a new family.

Butler combines a compelling story about faith with the hardship and terrors a small group of people faces in a dystopian future. It’s a story about family but has distinct markings of a good horror story. Butler knows how to weave all these together. She’s a master story-teller with an inexhaustive imagination. If you haven’t read anything by her yet, you should feel like you missed out because Butler is one of the best – in science-fiction, in story-telling, in writing about heroines of color.