Well that was shit. Not like, angry-makingly, blood-boilingly shit – that would have been entertaining. Just… crap. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
I don’t, as a general rule, read YA fiction. There are a couple of things I read as a teen that I might go back to as nostalgia-reading, like The Black Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan, but by and large, I don’t read new YA fiction. And there’s a reason for that. I almost universally can’t stand it. SFF as a whole can fall into more trope-holes than a reasonable woman might want, if you’re not careful what you read, but YA absolutely puts it to shame in that regard. It has the same about four narratives, the same lack of nuance, the same ridiculous clichés, the same terrible patterns over and over again. You open the book and within five pages, you’ve clocked which one this is and you can predict with reasonable accuracy most of the major arcs the book is going to follow. So I just don’t read it. I’m not a young adult anymore, it’s not for me, I’ll read grown up books and be glad of them. I generally like my fiction less… simplistic, except when I’m in a specific mood.
But what does that have to do with this, a totally grown up book for adult people? Well, I am unconvinced about that fact. Maybe it’s just a really shit adult book – who knows – but it read so hard like YA I am struggling to think it’s anything but. It even has a quotation from Laini Taylor on the cover. Surely that’s a Clue! But even more than that, from the first page onwards, it cried YA so hard I googled it more than once to double check.
Do we have a young woman with mysterious abilities? Who suddenly is whisked away from everything she knows? By a dark and broody man? Only to discover that she’s secretly important? And also that Broody McBroodface is sexy? And finds her sexy? But is somehow unavailable? Bonus points if that’s because of honour or duty! And then ends up in a love triangle? With a dorky nice guy? Who’s also a prince?
You get the idea.
There is only one, 1, original thing about this book, and that’s the choice of setting. And tbh it’s not even that original, just typologically unusual. I’ve read djinn-focussed stories before, they’re just not as common as a lot of other fantasy settings. If you subbed out the djinn for fairies – and you totally could, it wouldn’t affect the story one single, solitary bit if they were warring fae courts instead of djinni – it would be a pretty pat rendition of every YA nonsense I’ve ever been given for Christmas by a well-meaning relative who knows I like reading. So hey, it has one good point at least, right?
Shame she did it badly, huh? The story isn’t rooted in the setting particularly well or consistently (hence being able to sub it out for fairies), and oftentimes her lack of willingness to actually focus on doing world-building leaves more holes and questions than it actually answers, especially in the, to quote a wise* man here, “hot mess” that is the ending. Just suddenly, all that lore she came up with? NAH. Make some shit up. Whatever. Deus ex machina? Sure why not. More questions? Cliff-hanger ending? What a great idea!
And don’t get me started on the characters (ok too late it’s my blog, I come pre-started and you can’t shut me up). They’re just… flat. There’s Broody ibn-Broodpants, whose defining characteristic I suspect you can guess. He has a Dark Past, but he must Protect the Protagonist because of Duty. It is very sad and moving as I’m sure you can tell and not at all annoying and over-egged, nope, not a bit. And at no point do we really get to see why she’s attracted to him? The book skims over that bit as “oh and btw they travelled together for a month and suddenly she thinks he’s sexy rather than a kidnapper lol”. Which… huh? The only thing we get told that might explain it is that he is magically hot (for entirely dubious reasons that get “explained” later and I dislike). They don’t… really get on? Or have chemistry? But they’re the protagonist and the male lead so I guess it’s time for interminable sexual tension. And the protagonist… well she’s like every female YA protagonist spirited away to another world. Yes, she is indeed useless at court politics, and frankly it seems like she’s being deliberately obtuse. Her personality traits appear to be Snark, Thieving, Protagonist and Men Fancy Me Now. That’s… it? And then the other male lead is young and idealistic and has been training for one job his whole life… but is crap at that job. Really crap. Despite everyone thinking he’s great. He seems to understand literally nothing, and be dropped into a lot of responsibility for reasons that make no sense… despite being made by someone who’s meant to be good at this whole pragmatically kinging lark.
NONE OF IT MAKES SENSE. I don’t want to be pulling apart plot holes or something but it just… doesn’t. I’d like to critique the book on a more abstract level but I can’t because it’s so distractingly badly put together that I need to focus on how she’s actually just a bad writer who can’t make her story work. She’s missing all the key bits that would slot everything into place, and has just skipped them in favour of the angsty parts.
Anyway. It’s a chonky book, which makes the above even more unforgiveable – you have over 500 pages, use some of them to develop your characters even slightly – but it is at least a pacey read. I got it churned out in two days, and thank fuck for that because it wasn’t worth wasting much more of my life on. The prose is not so awful as to get in the way of you reading it, and it’s not like she really wants to do long passages of description (that would get in the way of the angsting), so it’s easy to keep on reading because it’s basically all stuff happening. Exposition is transitory and perfunctory at best.
I wouldn’t have read this on my own recognisance. I know what I like in my books, and it was pretty damn clear going in that this wasn’t going to be it. But what I’m mad at isn’t that – reading outside my comfort zone is a healthy thing and I enjoy it, more or less, over all, if not in the moment – it’s that it’s not even a good example of a thing I dislike. It’s not just YA-like nonsense, it’s just badly constructed and badly written, when there are a billion like what it was ripping off, so couldn’t it have just ripped it off… better? The mistakes and the ways to do it well are all readily available to copy. She clearly doesn’t mind doing a bland YA-trope pastiche… so pick a good one. Not this.
I gave it 2 stars because it didn’t try hard enough to be truly awful.
And now I’ve got to read Space Opera to finish off the Hugos and yes, I am mad at it, it looks shite. I make terrible decisions with my life. But once I’ve done that, I have some options. Some of them may be non-fiction, for extra safety. Surely Magic in Ancient Greece and Rome won’t let me down…
*He’s not wise. But he agrees with me, which is functionally equivalent for the moment.