Book Review: Rift, by Andrea Cremer + Giveaway!

July 18, 2012 at 8:24 pm (Book Reviews, Giveaway) (, , , , , )

Ember Morrow has just one chance to escape the life of docile marriage and motherhood that awaits girls in 1404 Scotland: her father owes a life debt to Conatus, a branch of Church knights who fight the lesser known evils of the world. If they accept her, her vows will protect her from her father’s plans and expectations, will free her to follow the life of action she’s always dreamed of. What she doesn’t know is that the evils faced by Conatus are worse than she could have imagined, and her trial of entrance is hardly the most difficult trial she’ll face. A terrible force is rising, and soon she’ll be cast in the middle of it.

In the interests of full disclosure, I won this ARC through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway, and tell you what, the arrival of this book was the ONLY good thing about a truly horrible day. I stayed up way too late reading this book, and I’m pretty sure that will be a very common statement after the book’s release.

I’m a character junkie, I make no bones about that, and Ember Morrow is a very likeable heroine. She’s intensely vulnerable, fierce, determined, a little awkward, and very aware of the fact that whatever choice she makes for herself, there is always someone who can override it. All the drive in the world can’t change the very basic fact of her existence: there’s always someone who can successfully tell her no. She’s unaccustomed being seen for herself, for who she is, and equally unfamiliar with being judged for her own merit. With the exceptions of Barrow and Sorcha, and a few other smaller characters, everyone seems to want something else of her. She’s not insensitive to that, but what really impressed me is that she isn’t dismissive of it either. Though her sister is in an arranged marriage, she genuinely wishes her every happiness, even acknowledges at times that a life of security like that might be pleasant, or at least not terrible. She understands the society in which she lives and doesn’t rail against it- she just doesn’t want that for herself.

That understanding is part of what makes her so appealing. Just as it can be hard to sympathize with someone who doesn’t fight for anything, it can be hard to feel much for someone who fights everything. Ember is a beautiful balance of living in her world as it is and wanting to have something better for herself. She comes to her training honestly and with a great joy that reaffirms her decisions even when she has cause to doubt or question them. Though the physical ease of some of her training sometimes strains credulity, it’s never completely over the top. She’s just this utterly fantastic character who was wonderful to read with.

I could definitely stand to know more about Barrow Hess, and I hope we’ll get that in the second. We come to know him as Ember does, so the mystery is understandable, but the enigma could stand to be penetrated a bit. He’s sexy and skilled, and we know his qualities, but nothing of his history, nothing truly personal. We get the sense that there’s a great deal of depth to his character, but we don’t get to learn any of it yet. He’s still alluring- and let’s face it, pretty hot-but he’s such an intriguing character that I was a little disappointed not to see more of him.

And can I just say how much I love Sorcha? She is absofrickinlutely awesome. And um…wait, no, can’t say that. Spoiler. But, oh my God, Sorcha. Seriously.

Most of the other characters are touched on more lightly. We get a sense of them, enough to leave a sketch of impression on the memory, but we don’t really know them. Even Eira, who shares the shoulder of the narration, never really comes off as less than cold. Cian, her sister, is more rounded, a blend of caution, duty, and excitement, but Eira’s dissatisfaction colors her so thoroughly that it’s difficult to have any true suspense about her decisions. Subsequent (or rather prior) knowledge aside, you always know she’s going to do something reckless and terrible. She fights against everything (which, in some respects, makes a nice parallel to Ember’s sense of balance) but she’s tempered by intolerance. She’s in a position of power but while she certainly has the skills to merit the position, she lacks the more difficult aspects of leadership. It’s hard to feel sympathy for her setbacks because she very clearly brings them upon herself.

Well, that and her setbacks are usually good news for everyone not on the reckless side of things.

I loved the care and detail given to the weapons and gear, in both the variety and quality of the pieces. It helps keep things interesting- because everyone having the same weapons gets a little boring- and also helps tie specific details into the personalities. When we see a type of weapon, we know who it belongs to, so we know at a glance who’s in the scene even before a name is given. It also gives a solid nod to the fact that the order, or at least its purpose, is universal. Unlike their non-Conatus counterparts, the Guards have a good reason to have weapons that would otherwise be exotic and frankly out of place in the fifteenth century highlands. And, of course, I love that we get to see the weapons in use. There was one part so unexpectedly gross and gory and wonderful, I wanted to hug Andrea Cremer and say thank you. That scene was exquisite, both in its appalling sense of setting and the way it uses that setting and the subsequent events to tug on the heartstrings. Just a wonderfully crafted scene.

I wished we could have seen a little more of the rest of Conatus. It makes sense that most of what we see is the Guard, but the trial is so rich with promise in the other aspects of the keep that I thought that would carry over into the rest of the book. Each arm of Conatus contributes something valuable, all are equally necessary, and I wanted to see them just a little in their natural habitats. Even if it was just at meals or something of that nature. Conatus as a group, as an institution of sorts, is an amazing, richly wrought creation, but we only get to play in the shadows of its greatness.

This is definitely a study of character rather than plot. That’s partly a product of the leisure of us knowing from the original trilogy that a Very Bad Thing happens and people try to stop it- we already know that. Why we’re here is to find out how and why it happened, and when the end event is known, it’s a less stressful journey to the reveal. Despite a few sharp incidents- oh, Dorusduain- most of the book feels like it’s just getting to a point where it can set up the next one. It’s not that the pacing’s off, because it isn’t- it moves along very well, carefully interspersing heavier scenes with ligher ones, action scenes with conversation scenes. It’s not something you can really put your finger on, but when it comes to the end, you’re exactly where you expected to be, and it feels like it didn’t take any time at all to get there. That’s not a complaint- this is a book you devour in as close to one sitting as possible, so the ultimate timeline can feel a bit deceptive.

Given the original trilogy, this isn’t surprising, but I absolutely loved the attention given to gender roles, expectations, and limitations. Specifically, how even when women seem to break from their pre-defined roles, they’re still constrained by having to act within them for the sensibilities of external society, and for their own protection. It’s a careful compromise between building strong characters and being honest to the setting and time period, and it was fantastic. It can be something as simple as a dress and a hairstyle that offers safety for women stepping deeper into a man’s world. I love the exquisite dance be see between politics and faith, the two extremes of the Church represented in directly opposing- though not directly confrontational- figures. The history geek in me was nearly swooning.

This book isn’t out until 7 August, but guess what? I’m giving away my ARC! Open to US residents only (sorry), and all you have to do is answer a question.

The members of Conatus are split into three branches: Knowledge, Craft, and War. Each branch has its own secrets, its own purpose, but each branch is necessary to the survival and well-being of the other two. With Knowledge comes the legacy of accumulated wisdom and histories, with Craft the ability to create and enhance, while War can be used both to defend and vanquish.

Want to win this advance copy?

Comment below and tell me which branch you would choose- and why. Entries will be accepted through 25 July.

And mark you calendars, because the second book, Rise will be out in stores 8 January 2013!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Dads and Types + Giveaway!

January 29, 2012 at 1:09 pm (General, Giveaway) (, , , , , , , )

Last week we talked about Moms and Types in YA and MG books; now it’s Daddy’s turn. I will give a warning with this one, though: there are some spoilers. Some of these fathers are far too tied into the story to be able to talk about without giving away some crucial parts of the books. I’ll add a little warning for the ones that seem spoiler, both before and after, so you can avoid ones you don’t want to learn yet. (and don’t forget, down at the bottom there are instructions for how to win an ARC of Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne!)

On with the show!

Daddy Calls the Shots
Also known as Daddy-as-Puppeteer. This is the type of father who so thoroughly controls his children’s lives that the kids have no say in things, may not even realize there’s any other way to live (or may rebel like crazy). Everything is planned out, everything has to go through the father, and there is no greater crime than in suggesting to this man that his children might be rational creatures capable of making their own decisions. I know there are other examples of this, but the one that towers over everything in my mind is Vaughn, from Lauren DeStefano’s Wither. This thoroughly creepy man controls everything in his house, pulls all the strings, and Linden has been raised to be so grateful for this care that he doesn’t even realize it. Vaughn is a man who feels no compunctions about doing horrible things, who fully espouses the motto “The ends justify the means”. Linden has never been taught how to be the man that could stand up to this, so Vaughn continues his reign unabated. Linden might as well be a marionette. Less successfully than Vaughn, there are dads like Mr. Sage, in Richelle Mead’s Bloodlines. Bastard much? His daughters are useful as extensions of his will, not reasonable creatures in their own right, but unlike Linden, Sydney is able to stand up to her father in small ways. Her opinions aren’t useful to him, her desires, her plans, as long as she’s an obedient daughter who will make him look good and serve his ambitions.

Not Now, Dear, The King is Busy
Not always an actual king, this is anyone in a position of authority who is persistently too occupied with affairs of state (city, business, etc) to be an active part of their children’s lives. They’re there, more or less, but there’s a distinct wall and a very strained sense of connection. Sometimes it’s unintentional- he really wants to be there but there’s just so much to do, so much dependent on him. And sometimes there are mitigating circumstances. Mayor Beckett, from Brodi Ashton’s Everneath falls into the first part of that. He wants to be there for Nikki but he isn’t entirely sure how, and being mayor and running for re-election doesn’t give him much time to figure out how to help. The Warden, from Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron, is less accidental; this is a man with secrets, and part of is is trying to protect his daughter from those secrets, but most of his life is wrapped up with the prison, not with Claudia. Then there are the fathers who are using duty as an excuse. After his wife’s death, the king in Heather Dixon’s Entwined uses duty as an escape, a way to run from his grief. To his daughters’ detriment? Yes, but grief can make us selfish and the duties are real. Then there’s the king in Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns.He doesn’t have much time for his ungainly younger daughter and never has, but she’s useful as a political arrangement. He loves his daughter, something we see in small, quickly departed moments, but being king is far more his life than being a father.

I Have a Child…Somehow…
These are fathers who are somewhat baffled by the existence of their children. They know- theoretically- how this came about but they really have no clue what to do with these inexplicable children. It’s not that love isn’t there, it’s just that it’s layered into all the things they don’t understand. Like Mr. D’Angelo from Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ Every Other Day. In some respects her shares some traits with the fathers listed above, that concept of always being too busy, but his distance evolves more from a basic incompatibility with his daughter. They might as well be speaking different languages on the rare occasions they interact. Lisa Mantchev’s Scrimshander holds a place on this list as well, too wild and wind-souled to understand the strange creature in front of him. Probably my favorite example, though, is Poseidon, from Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. The gods (sometimes) recognize their children, but they always seem somewhat perplexed by them, too. So they may or may not point them in the direction of the camp, may or may not grant them something special to help them out on quests, but then they just kind of…leave them there.

I Don’t Understand You, But I Love You Anyway
We talk about the generation gap sometimes, that people of different age sets are basically incapable of understand each other. We simply expect that our parents don’t really understand us. Sometimes, that’s even true. For example. Gen’s father in Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief series. He and his son? Very little common ground. Gen is his mother’s son through and through. But we never doubt that Gen and his father share a strong bond that survives frustrastions and different interests. It’s there in the wry conversations, the apparently grudging respect, and the true concern that marks their interactions. Then there’s King Georg in Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball. He loves his daughters, truly and deeply, but their geis puts a wall between them that he can’t penetrate. He doesn’t understand their silence, their exhaustion, doesn’t understand why they won’t trust him, but he loves them just the same and will continue to support them in the struggle he can’t begin to comprehend. Then there’s Alan’s father in Jaclyn Dolamore’s Between the Sea and Sky. He and his son stare at each other from across a wide gap of misunderstandings and secrets, but when it comes right down to it, he supports his son. Maybe it isn’t easy, maybe it’s even painful with the memories that surface, but the foundation is there and the actions reinforce it.

Fallen Idol
This is a painful type for the children involved, the worshipped father of their childhood rendered merely human in the grand scheme of things. It’s not necessarily that the father is bad- frequently he isn’t- but that he’s not the paragon of perfection that the children thought they were. First on the list? James Potter, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. James initially stands on par with Lily in the martyred perfection, but through the course of the series James gradually breaks down from that ideal to become a real person with flaws and troublesome attributes. It’s painful for Harry to realize his dad was a bit of a prat, especially as it also casts his uncle figures in a not-so-positive light. In Jennifer E. Smith’s The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, we come into the story after the idol has already fallen; Hadley’s father fell in love with another woman, tore apart their family, and- as far as Hadley can see- just expects her to be on board with all this. Hadley can’t balance his selfishness against her mother’s pain. What we actually get to see through the second half of the book is the slow patchwork process of possibly mending the relationship. It’ll never be what it was- the idol is a product of innocence- but it’s lovely to see what happens after the fall. SPOILER FOR LIA HABEL’S DEARLY, DEPARTED: IF YOU DON’T WANT A SPOILER, SCROLL DOWN TO THE NEXT SECTIONIn Dearly, Departed Nora has mourned her father for a year. She remembers standing beside his casket at the funeral, vividly remembers having to move in with her spendthrift, social-climbing, bitter aunt, and all the emotional pain that comes from his death. Then she finds out he’s still alive (sort of) and continuing to work. Bit of a pedestal smasher, that. Then she finds out even more, finds out about his work, about the consequences it had on their family long before his death. Is he a bad man because of it? Not particularly. Is he a bad father because of it? Still not particularly. But he’s not the father Nora remembers, and they’ll have to forge onto unknown, unsteady ground to find a new relationship in light of those revelations.

/spoiler

Daddy’s Trying to Kill Me
Also known as bad. These men are never going to (honestly) hold a World’s Best Dad mug or shirt. These are the dads that put their children into years and years of intense psychotherapy. Or the hospital. Or, in a few unfortunate situations, the morgue. For some of these dads, there may even be a twisted sense of love or duty, a genuine affection that simply doesn’t stand up to the fact that their children are in the way of what they want to do. First dad that sprang to mind? Valentine, from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. “Father” in this case stretches somewhat, given the circumstances, but there’s no denying that he loves Jace, in his dark and twisty and generally soulless kind of way. He actually does care about him. It won’t stop him from killing the boy, of course, because really there’s that whole destroy the Downworld thing he’s got going on, but he does love him. SPOILERS FOR ANDERA CREMER’S NIGHTSHADE SERIES, ESPECIALLY BLOODROSE: TO SKIP SPOILERS, SCROLL DOWN TO NEXT SECTIONRenier Laroche has a few Daddy-issues on both sides of the spectrum, both the better side of that gets explored a little further down. Emile Laroche is a world-class bastard, a savage and a brute who terrorizes anyone weaker than he is. In the final book in the trilogy, it becomes much more direct when Emile and Ren actually face off. It’s a series a choices and hard experiences that brought Ren to the point of being able to do that, to stand against his father to protect others, but eighteen years of father-son ties isn’t going to keep Emile from trying to win that fight, even when it comes to death.

/spoiler

More Than Average Flaws
Dads screw up. That’s a fact of life. Dads screw up, moms screw up, kids screw up, everybody screws up sometimes. Some dads just screw up to a greater degree than others. Faye’s father, in fact several of the fathers, in Sara Wilson Etienne’s Harbinger simply turn their back on their children. They give up, they let tham get carted off (or ever drop them off unawares) to the sadistic Holbrook Academy to let them be savaged by so-called caretakers. By so-doing, they actively contribute to the harm being done to their children. SPOILERS FOR JOHN GREEN’S THE FAULT IN OUR STARS AND VERONICA ROTH’S DIVERGENT: IF YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE THE SPOILERS, PLEASE SCROLL DOWN TO THE NEXT SECTION In The Fault in Our Stars, there are several times when we’re led to ponder the identity of a parent who has lost his or her only child. Are they still a parent? Can they still say they’re so and so’s parent? The answer varies by parent, really, but we do get to see a parent who has entirely crumbled in the wake of his child’s death. All identity has been lost, the very core of what he was has been stripped away, and only a vaccuum continues to suck in all the mean-spiritedness a body can hold, a poison he shares liberally. His child is dead, but he’s the husk that died in a living body. Then there’s Marcus, from Divergent, a man who presents one face to the world and another entirely to his son. It isn’t just the emotional abuse, there’s also physical abuse, the kind that batters the soul long after the visible scars have healed. A second example of those specific traits can be found in the memory of Peregrine’s father, from Veronica Rossi’s Under the Never Sky

/spoiler

Mischief Makers Together
This is a fun group, one tied rather closely to the next group. These are the fathers that are- often but not always- friends as much as fathers to their children. Their positive influences may be debatable but the lessons they teach are important nonetheless. This kind of relationship exists where there’s a lot of common ground, where the basic personalities of those involved are similar. For example, George from Tamora Pierce’s Trickster pair. He’s supportive, mischievous, frankly devious, all things he’s taught Aly, but there’s a line between father and friend and he isn’t afraid to both draw it and stand by it. The skills they share between them used to be a game to learn, a fun father-daughter exercise, and that shows in the true enjoyment Aly has for utlizing those skills. Very similar in nature and result, though somewhat less firm on the line of distinction, is Bobby Bishop, from Ally Carter’s Heist Society series. A thief from a family of thieves, he continued the tradition with his daughter. While other fathers and daughters still at the kitchen table and talk report cards and extracurriculars, Bobby and Kat scope out a museum and talk manuevers. It’s not the most orthodox of relationships but it is a real one, built off of love and affection and concern for the other’s well-being, something we see clearly in their interactions in Paris.

Legacy Bound
The Mischief Makers are the lighter side of this same coin; where Aly and Kat continue their fathers’ businesses out of a sense of enjoyment and passion and skill (and in Kat’s case, a fair amount of family expectation/bullying), there are others tied to their father’s legacies by a bit more. For Cas, from Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood, he’s out for revenge, pursuing his father’s work for a chance to get at the ghost who killed his father. He’s good at his father’s work, no doubt, but he’s in for his father’s memory. Sean Kendrick, from Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races also follows this pattern. Not for vengeance, but to continue the work, to honor the memory.

The World and My Life
This is the type of father who will do anything for their children, even when it’s hard and the child doesn’t always understand the purpose of it. These are the fathers who sacrifice, who care more for the fate and well-being of their children than anything else. Like Arthur Weasley, from Rowling’s Harry Potter series. This is a man with seven children who has scrimped and saved and cut corners to give them the things they need, who exhausts himself trying to win a better world for them. This is a man who loves them beyond reason, even when they’re turned their backs on him, and will always be waiting to welcome them home again. Another example is Monroe, from Andrea Cremer’s Nightshade series. He will do everything he can to keep his daughter safe, as well as reclaim the child that was lost and try to ease the brutality that child has grown up in.

As before, there are definitely other examples that fit these types, as well as other types. So share one with me below! Tell me how a father from YA or MG fiction fits into one of these types, or give me an example of a type I didn’t mention. That enters you for a chance to win an ARC of Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne. Want another entry? Head back to the types of moms (shortlink at head of post) and comment there to answer the same question about mothers, and you’ll be entered twice. Giveaway will run through Saturday, 4 February!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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