Rosamund Hodge Defies the Sophomore Slump

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 21.00.55

So I’m at a dinner party, or the pub, or on a date, taking part in my least favourite activity: small talk. The person I’m talking to hears me say that I’m an avid reader, and the next thing out of their mouth is, “Oh! What’s your favourite book?”

This is how I know that this person does not read avidly. Anyone who does knows what a brutal, terrible question this is. F-favourite? You mean today? Or this week? Wait, you mean ever? That’s not how books work!

My answer varies depending on how much I like that person and how much I’ll have to interact with them in the future. The fastest way for them to magically see a friend on the other side of the room is to wax lyrical about DFW’s “Infinite Jest,”* a 1,079 page postmodernist treaty on ennui, ment – aha, see? It works every time.

If I actually want to have a conversation, I’ll recommend a favourite author instead. But even there, I’m fickle. Or I was, until recently. I’d bounce between Neil Gaimain (sometimes too icky), Robin McKinley (love? yes. favourite? mm…), and whomever I adored that week. But wow. Wow with hyphens between each letter w-o-w. I still don’t have a favourite book, but Rosamund Hodge just blew everyone out of the water for favourite author.

I am a demographic of one, blindly devoted to gritty fairy tale reboots with feminist leanings and character growth and happy endings that are sometimes more bitter than sweet. These books were written for exactly me.

And when I say “reboot” I don’t mean “thin retelling with different names.” I mean beautifully fleshed-out worlds full of magic and politics. You might be familiar with their stories, but if you took away Beauty and the Beast (“Cruel Beauty”) or Cinderella (“Gilded Ashes”) or Red Riding Hood (“Crimson Bound”) you’d still have well crafted stories about the lives of compelling and complex young women.

I want to have something bad to say about these books. (Maybe it’s that I want more queer content? But then, I always do.) I’d have to go back and read with the intent to find flaws, though, which is just silly. I’ve seen the worst this genre has to offer and Rosamund Hodge has brought water to a desert of brooding male leads and plucky ingenues. I’m just going to sit in my oasis and splash about – and I encourage you all to join me.

Cruel Beauty (AUDIBLE.COM) – Four sparkly wands out of five (I have to dock one because of the potential for Audiobook Bias; a good reader can make even a terrible story compelling.)

Gilded Ashes – Four sparkly wands out of five (I wanted this to be more fleshed out, especially the endings!)

Crimson Bound – Five sparkly wands out of five.


* Use with caution: If you’re at an English Department wine and cheese mixer, you might actually catch someone’s interest.

Advertisements

Can’t Win for Losing: Seraphina and Shadow Scale

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 18.59.31I’m going to level with you.

You can tell because I’m sitting on a backwards-facing chair while I write this, like we’re pals on a 90s sitcom. See, the truth is, you don’t know me. This is only my third blog post, after all. How could you? (Unless you’re my husband* – in which case, Ash, you’ve heard and are bored of this rant. You can skip ahead to the footnote where I tell everyone how cool you are.)

My point is: You don’t know that I am tired as hell of YA authors birthing triplets. Most trilogies – within the recent trend – are unnecessarily drawn out, poorly paced, and simply not suited to the form. Given that fact, I was pretty surprised when I found out that the follow-up to Rachel Hartman’s “Seraphina” was being marketed as a companion novel rather than the second of three books – especially since Hartman wrote a series that could’ve used the extra word count.

=SPOILERS START HERE=

The titular character of “Seraphina” is a sixteen-year-old court musician trying very hard to keep her head down. It’d be easier if the court wasn’t in chaos: someone has murdered a crown prince of the realm, and it was probably a dragon. You can roll your eyes here if you want; I did. But Hartman has a knack for understanding that non-human beings have distinctly non-human priorities, and her dragons don’t disappoint. Neither, for that matter, does her world-building.

I usually make fun of books that make up too many words, yet “Seraphina” and its companion, “Shadow Scale” have the necessary heft to balance Hartman’s linguistic creativity.

“Seraphina” didn’t surprise me with its plot twists, but I didn’t mind. The discovery that Seraphina herself is a half-dragon, that there are others, etc., was well within what might be expected. Supporting characters were nicely developed and romance, while present, didn’t play more than a minor role. Nonetheless, I was excited to find “Shadow Scale” on my list of March releases, in part because of this good first (novel) impression.

The presence of gay and trans characters (it’s like they’re real, normal people!) was a major plus**, along with the diversity of race, ability, and age within the cast***. The plot moved in both expected and gut-punching directions. I was well invested in what Hartman had set up: so much so that my little sister was left baffled when she met me for lunch and found me tearing up over my Kindle. Basically, “Shadow Scale” lived up to my expectations – in all ways but one.

Rather than showing her readers how things ended – Seraphina’s romantic decisions, the fate of her fellow half-dragons, etc. – Hartman wraps up “Shadow Scale” with a final chapter that vaguely added up to “and they all lived happily ever after.” In particular, the fate of Orma, Seraphina’s uncle, is left dangling in an epilogue that was as brief as it was dissatisfying.

Worse, it felt like there was (gasp) a trilogy’s worth of material in these books, which means I have to eat my words. Two books was not enough, not here. But a clunky ending can’t totally mar what was an otherwise fun, charming read. “Seraphina” and “Shadow Scale” are well worth any weaknesses in execution Hartman experienced.

Four sparkly wands out of five.


* Full Disclosure: We’re not actually married. Ashley is my husband because I’m her wife; she buys the beer, I buy the Doritos, and we watch Supernatural while we paint our nails. It’s the perfect friendship.

** When lgbt characters show up as more than sideshow attractions (Look at the freaks! See how they live!) I automatically love a book about 1,000% more. I don’t penalize books for being non-inclusive, but when inclusivity is done right I want to sing from the rooftops.

*** If this was a book report, I’d talk about how “different =/= weird and horrible” is a theme in these books, and how happy it makes my heart. Suffice to say I want to go back in time and give these to my teenage self with a Lisa Frank Post-It: “SEE? YOU WILL BE FINE.” More of this, please.