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Review: ‘Eight Rivers of Shadow’ by Leo Hunt

Eight Rivers of Shadow book coverEight Rivers of Shadow, while an improvement on Leo Hunt’s first book in the series Thirteen Days of Midnight, still proved itself to be an overwhelmingly shallow novel with little characterisation or originality.  Most of the novel felt like a rehash of Thirteen Days  mixed with some Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Orpheus and the Underworld with our protagonist, Luke Manchett, growing as a character on a scale of ‘very little’ to ‘none at all’.

After the events of Thirteen Days, Leo Hunt was in the perfect position to develop Luke Manchett’s character in a way that would help him discover his power in a world where magic and Necromancy exist.  Instead, Luke bumbles his way through his new found powers relying on everyone around him who appears to be more capable than him on almost every single level.  The idea of Necromancy is such a great premise and one that’s been pretty under-utilised in genre fiction that this could have made the book about a thousand times more interesting!  Luke has these powers, but what do they mean, how do they develop, how can he harness them for good, evil, anything?  These questions weren’t asked in the first book, and while Eight Rivers does raise some interesting moral questions, they are outside of the bounds of Luke’s newfound skills.

My main issue with Eight Rivers of Shadow is that we are given characters that we already know from the first book in the series, and yet they are simply not developed any further.  The lives of Hunt’s characters remain largely static and most of the plot’s development seems to rely wholly on Luke being completely inept and slightly stupid.  This issue is exemplified once more in one of the biggest criticisms I had about Thirteen Days and that is the complete lack of adult supervision in these novels.  Parents are either just rubbish at parenting or completely absent during the whole series creating a world where it essentially feels there are no adults around.  While this can be an interesting plot device as we’ve seen in books like Michael Grant’s Gone series, it is painfully clear that Leo Hunt has not put this in to his narrative intentionally.  Instead he’s tried so hard to create a realistic teenaged boy who his readers can relate to, but instead created a limbo world that neither adults nor young adults will feel any kinship.

From a pacing perspective the bland and lifeless characters make it pretty difficult to invest in the plot in any kind of meaningful way.  This book should have been an easy read, but I felt myself so poorly invested in its narrative that three weeks later and I’d barely grazed 75%.  It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy myself when I was reading it in at least a superficial way, I just didn’t feel motivated to make the time to pick it up.

Ultimately I think Eight Rivers of Shadow didn’t differentiate itself in plot and scope enough from the first book in the series.  It felt pretty same, only without developing anything.  As far as YA literature goes there are numerous better books out there.  This one wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good enough for me to want to recommend it to anybody.  Reading it was an entirely ambivalent experience, as is its memory.

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Review: “Flawed” by Cecilia Ahern

Flawed - Cecilia AhernOne day Cecilia Ahern got bored writing the same romance novels over and over. She read ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy and then read the ‘Divergent’ trilogy and thought “I can do that.” And then proceeded to do that, exactly.

But here’s the surprising bit; Flawed is really good! It is miles ahead of the Divergent series, and while not as good as the first hunger games book, took what Katniss should have been and made Celestine that. Celestine makes her own choices, and is weak but strong in the face of that weakness. She’s intelligent and unwilling to be manipulated, but aware of the danger and weakness of her situation.

I would have liked some more development of the satellite characters, but Flawed had some genuinely moving and tragic moments. I read the whole book on a flight, and despite not being terribly original, I found it impossible to put down.

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Review: ‘The Dead House’ by Dawn Kurtagich

The Dead House, by Dawn KurtagichEverything about The Dead House should have been good. The ‘found footage’ approach is always something different, the premise was fantastic and the atmosphere for most of the book was really spooky and immersive.

But when I got to the end, all I could think was ‘what was the point’? I felt like Dawn Kurtagich bit off a little bit more than she could chew and was trying to write too many different novels all at once. The two (?) main characters were well developed, but with so many satellite characters introduced so early on it was far too difficult to really get a sense of them as characters, especially since the male characters were poorly characterised.

The plot itself was quite formulaic, which in and of itself was not a terrible thing as it did feel like Kurtagich was going somewhere with it, but all of the disparate plot elements simply didn’t come together to form a cohesive whole. The mystery with the parents went nowhere, the two girls and their ‘situation’ didn’t get enough attention, mysterious fires, asylums, disappearances, and don’t even get me started on the rubbish that was the fictional Scottish voodoo cult which could have been left out completely and the strange characterisation of the diary as personified. It was just mystery piled on top of mystery, without any form of resolution and some poorly developed character arc’s.

There is definitely a good book in here. I would go so far as to say there is definitely a great book in here. But in its current form it is completely unrealised. It’s too complicated and ultimately collapses under its own weight.

 

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Review: ‘Thirteen Days of Midnight’ by Leo Hunt

Thirteen Days of Midnight - Leo HuntThirteen Days of Midnight should have been right up my alley. It should have excited me. It should have spooked me. It should have done a lot of things. But it didn’t. Not any of them.

Thirteen Days of Midnight is a novel rife with possibility. It has a brilliant draw that makes it sound like an amazing blend of Caspar the Friendly Ghost and The Woman in Black. Pacts with the devil, necromancy, hauntings and inheritance. What ‘s not to like? The real issue with this book is that it just didn’t go anywhere, or do anything. I can see what Leo Hunt was trying to achieve, but he just didn’t quite get there. Everything happens too quickly meaning that the plot lacked depth. And the motivations for anyone doing anything were virtually non-existent.

Hunt’s characters lack personality and motivation. They also don’t react to things in a healthy or normal fashion. While I realise that Luke Manchett, the protagonist, is estranged from his father it would still be natural for him to feel some upset at his death. I know many people estranged from their families who still grieve when one of them dies. It is normal and natural, it is normal to regret and be saddened for a relationship that will never again have the chance to be. But Luke goes to school, laughs with his friends, doesn’t tell him mother that her husband is dead, goes to see a lawyer alone about his fathers’ estate (this alone was completely ridiculous…). The characters’ behaviours were simply implausible. Not to mention that the whole novel felt like a manifesto on bad parenting.

The plot itself seems like it should be exciting but simply wasn’t. Luke inherits money that we never see. He has friends who we barely meet. There is a love triangle that never happens. Some ghosts that never haunt. Luke is never afraid of the ghosts. There is no period of coming to terms with anything. A female character is introduced as the outsider and within a scene she and Luke are best buddies. The Book of Eight, a necromantic tome is helpful in a three day dream sequence we don’t get to read about. Luke becomes a necromancer and never does any actual necromancy except some casual animal cruelty. All back story is given in monologue rather than organically through the text and none of the characters have any personality.  And this doesn’t even begin to take in to account the unexplored moral implications of soul slavery and the obvious physical manifestations of violent death and physical abuse that show themselves on the ghostly bodies of Luke’s host. All these elements could have been something, but instead were a collection of scenes that did nothing and somehow led to a resolution with an implausible non-choice. I just wanted each of these elements to be so much more…in fact to be anything!

Thirteen Days of Midnight has the beginnings of a great book. I would have said that this is the first draft of an exciting novel. It’s such a shame it made it to publication in the state that it’s currently in, because I do not doubt that it will not fail to disappoint. What a let down.

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Review: ‘Allegiant’ by Veronica Roth

Allegiant_DemiJacket_WetProofTest.inddWere these books a trilogy? Because I feel like I’ve just read three different books. Allegiant was a terrible ending to a terrible series. It’s like Veronica Roth realised that her initial plot made no sense so she changed everything up and threw in a lot of action, fireworks, romance and unnecessary plot points just to make sure you didn’t notice! “What’s in your hand, back at me. I have it, it’s an oyster with two tickets to that thing you love. Look again, the tickets are now diamonds!”

Roth’s first mistake was attempting to switch first person view between Tris and Tobias. First of all, by changing the format it made the ending relatively obvious, and even more unfortunately she completely lacks the capacity to write a convincing male voice. Both Tris and Tobias had the same voice through their first person narrative, and that voice was distinctly female, and even more distinctly Tris. I had to go back to the beginning of the chapters a few times to remind myself who’s viewpoint I was meant to have. The voices were too similar.

The characterisation of Allegiant is poorly executed. Every character that isn’t Tris or Tobias is two dimensional and incidental. They serve no purpose, have no personalities, and basically exist to die to create false emotion so Tris has something new to cry about. Even Tobias and Tris have had their third personality iteration, so as I got to the end of the novel which should have left me a pathetic blubbery mess, I had pretty much run out of fucks to give, because I no longer felt that I knew any of the characters.

The thing that bothered me most was the completely warped morality. We’re meant to admire Tris for her bravery and selflessness, but she makes the exact same decisions as the ‘evil’ people in this novel, it’s just somehow they’re not considered evil because Tris is the one making them. We as readers are asked to accept without question that all Tris’ decisions are the right ones, despite evidence to the contrary. Even Tobias is shown to be worthless when he disagrees with Tris, and spends a lot of time whining about that very fact.

Roth set had the potential set up for this series to have a really poignant ending. With the faction system destroyed she could have used the positive elements of the factions to work together to build a future, but instead Roth chose to use the pointless death route. The ending did not say anything, or even mean anything. There is mention of the fact that the rural US is now largely uninhabited, meaning that the potential was there for what remained of the factions to create their own future outside of the government’s control, and outside of the experiment. But we didn’t get that. We got an abrupt and pointless resolution which just annoyed me. I should have cried. I didn’t. I felt nothing because everything went no where. Also, I don’t know why this annoyed me so much but, what on earth is the REST of the world during this time? It seems that this genetic experimentation was a US government only initiative, and we know that air travel still exists so why not seek refuge in another country? But the rest of the world is not mentioned once in this train-wreck of a novel.

What I basically got from this series is that when nearing the end of writing InsurgentVeronica Roth saw the film Serenity and possibly the series Firefly as well. She took the video broadcast from Serenity to end Insurgent and then made Allegiant about teen appropriate Reavers.

There you go, I saved you hours of your life. Watch Firefly instead.

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