Friday, May 2, 2014

Book Review: Untold

Hmm, for the first book in this series I was able to get an ARC and I was able to get an ARC for this one as well, abet I wasn't able to actually get a hold of it until well after the book was released (moving makes directing/picking up mail rather challenging it turns out). And of course my backlog of books to review doesn't make this review anymore timely but, since I haven't yet had to use tumblr savior for the third book in the series (which I had to do for this book about four months before it came out) I think that means I'm not too late to talk about it yet!

Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan

Once Kami Glass was the girl with an imaginary friend in her head. He turned out to not be imaginary at all and then she got him out of her mind. Along the way the two of them learned that their connection was far from the only supernatural thing in the world, that Kami's hometown, Sorry-in-the-Vale, had been a refuge for sorcerers for centuries whose hold had been broken only recently. But the magic has come back and the sorcerers want power again over the townspeople and Kami and her less-than-plucky band of friends are determined to kick them out once and for all.

As I believe I noted in my Unspoken and The Demon's Surrender reviews, I think that not only is Brennan's style growing on me but that her prose is getting steadily stronger with each book since in some ways I enjoyed this book more than Unspoken which I already enjoyed more than her earlier books. In some ways anyway, this is a middle book in a trilogy and, like so many others, does drag a little bit since the book cannot have neither the neat beginning nor ending that will strengthen the other two books. In fact, in many ways this is a very arch-typical middle book, smaller things that went wrong in the first book are mended but something even worse happens at the climax of this story to make the overall problem even larger (and therefore justify having the story told in three books instead of two very fat books). What stood out to me however was that I started wondering and doubting if this series would follow the YA tradition of having a happy ending or at least one with more positives than negatives. I never appreciated gothic stories when I had to read them in my classes but here I can really see how the different elements that genre brings can really twist "normal" storytelling conventions and that additional suspense is actually rather exciting. 

As for the others ways I enjoyed the book, back before Unspoken came out Brennan did a series of posts on her livejournal talking about all of the various series and characters who inspired her to write a teen sleuth in a magical, gothic setting and, now that I've had a chance to see one of her major inspirations, Veronica Mars, I felt like I enjoyed part of the novel a bit more. It's actually really fun to think of Kami as Veronica's British, part Asian counterpart who is also snarking her way through terribly dangerous situations (more dangerous in fact since she has even less back-up and magic is in fact real here). I also appreciate snarky teen dialogue anyway since even if it's not completely accurate to how teenagers speak it's certainly how a lot of them WANT to speak. Toss in a bit of swearing (which I know authors often have to fight editorial to keep in, accuracy to real life be damned) and the characters kept me enjoying a book that was more than a bit slow on the plot side that I would have otherwise have been very bored with.

One sort of odd thing about this series which I think is worth mentioning is how calculated it feels at times. To explain it, I've been around fan forums and discussion on the internet for years and years now and could tell exactly what ideas and events generate what kind of reactions in the fans. Clearly Brennan has as well since the way a lot of the story plays out feels like it was planned exactly to wring the the most "FEELS" out of her readers. The numerous "we used to be a friends and now can't quite be again" relationships, the way how some of the characters do not take learning the secrets about Sorry-in-the-Vale well at all and how that alters their relationships, really it's the relationships in general. The story isn't exactly "loose" on the plot but the plot doesn't have a set "X must be accomplished before Y" date, much like her Demon's trilogy, and so that often shifts the urgency away from when the characters are going to do something to how and why they will do it. This kind of manipulation certainly isn't a bad thing, especially considering how just about every piece of fiction and non-fiction tries to at least influence it's readers, but it is a bit odd to see a story that plays so obviously to it's fans and it often made me feel like I was reading a fan work. The Demon's trilogy also felt like this a bit at times but it was nowhere near as pervasive and I'm just not so sure about how I feel about this.

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