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I rarely give out five-star reviews, and my criteria for a five-star review is fairly straightforward: I give five stars to books that I don't want to end.
I read lots of books every year that I enjoy, but because my TBR list is so long, I very rarely dread a book ending -- I know there will always be plenty more where that came from!
But this book engaged me so much that I felt dismay rather than accomplishment as I watched the end draw nearer and nearer. In the beginning, it was the voice and the introduction of a horrifying situation that captivated me. Then it was whether they would manage to pull off an escape. And then it was seeing the "normal" world through Jack's eyes, which turned it into a strange and fascinating place.
I've heard people criticize this book for infusing Jack with too much maturity, but his voice felt believably childlike to me throughout -- perhaps it helped that I listened to a full-cast audio version (WONDERFUL) that actually used a child's voice, so it was a lot harder for me to layer an adult inflection on top of Jack's words. The characters were all so richly drawn and multi-dimensional -- even Old Nick, as despicable as he was. I loved both that Jack's narration kept this story from feeling too bleak and also that as an adult you could read between the lines. The movie is excellent as well.
I can see now why people who read Donoguhe's other books after reading this one come away disappointed -- this is certainly a tough act to follow.
Around the Year Reading Challenge Item #26: A Book Everyone is Talking About
I usually don't explicitly review audiobook performances even though I listen to tons of audiobooks -- if something stands out, I'll mention it, but I focus my reviews on the things I would have noticed regardless of the medium.
I'm making an exception this time because this audiobook is *so damn good.* This is one of the rare cases where I'm honestly not sure I would have liked the book as much as I did if I read it the old-fashioned way.
The book is set up as a collection of "files" -- interviews, transcripts, diary entries, etc. -- surrounding research on a giant, ancient robot whose pieces are scattered throughout the world. I usually like this "self-aware" storytelling style, wherein the characters are aware that they are writing, being recorded, etc., as they tell their story. What this means in the audio version, however, is that each character is played by a different reader. And the readers, with their accents, quirks of inflection, rate of speaking, etc., all feel like real people, making this somewhat fantastical book ALSO feel as if maybe it *could* really happen. It's a totally immersive experience -- the kind that leaves you walking around in your normal life with your brain still living somewhere back in "book world." It's been a long time since I read a book that seeped so deeply into my subconscious, and that I wanted to sink into as much as I did this one. Perhaps I would have had the same experience if I had read it -- the book could not have done as well as it did if it were only audiobook listeners who liked it -- but I still think audio is definitely the way to go on this one.
So, why only four stars with all that gushing? One nitpicky thing is that this book does what a lot of "documentary," "epistolary," or "diary" books do -- there are places where it strains credibility that the characters would actually go into such detail when talking/writing about certain things, and you know the only reason the author did it is because he wants to reader to have that information, and his chosen medium has constrained the way that it can be delivered. There was only one place in here that I really noticed this, but it was big enough to jar me out of the story for a little bit.
Also, this isn't the type of sci-fi that I generally go for. I'm not a big fan of "giant robot" stories, and this one has a lot of military overtones, which is something else that is a turn-off for me in science fiction. And I kept feeling like there should be a bigger reveal at some point, like we were perhaps building up to something that never actually happened (although the epilogue was pretty cool.) So, I think it was not the story itself that captivated me, but rather its execution. This isn't the best story out there, but its execution is brilliant. And its audio adaptation is even brilliant-er.
The very first thing that I thought of after reading this book is they should really change the synopsis on Goodreads.
It's not that the synopsis is irrelevant. The book is very much so about a half vampire girl training to guard her royal vampire best friend against the evil undead vampires called Strigoi.
I don't even know how to pronounce that but that's besides the point.
That is in fact the underlying story. But the book feels like an episode of Degrassi.
The story is less about the Strigoi and Moroi conflict and more so about popular vs unpopular kids, teen sex, teen drinking, dating older men, etc. The Strigoi and Mori conflict seemed more like story line B instead of storyline A.
Yes, every once in a while we're hit with a dismembered fox or bunny rabbit to remind us of the over arching story, but problems with school gossip, and Mia seem to over shadow those moments.
However, what I do like is the author's ability to gradually explain the world. There are not very many, if any, information dumps. We're not having anything explained to us. If anything is explained, its at the right moment and it comes out very naturally. Like Rose is telling you the story and explaining parts you might not get. Which is essentially what all first person POV books should do. The story was fun for what it was. I mean teen drama is always interesting to me, and this is the first book I've ever read that deals with cutting, so I thought that was good in a bringing awareness to it way.
It kept me interested. If it wasn't for life stuff I would have read it a lot quicker. The way the book starts is very memorable and it sucked me in. Those are the moments I love. The first chapter had me like Neo.
Once I got passed the teen angst and hormones, I enjoyed the story for the most part.
Speaking of POV, I thought it was very cleaver how the author found a way to get into Lisa's head (literally). Instead of doing the whole Lisa is one chapter and Rose is another chapter thing, she came up with a very good and believable way for Rose to get into Lisa's head. Kudos for that.
All of the characters were pretty well developed and unique. The dialogue was really good. I've read so many trash stories where the author had no clue how to write a teenage voice, but this author did.
My only problem is Dimitri. I like him but I think his character is way too stiff. I mean he's seven years older than Rose, okay. But even then, he's only 24 or 25. In a sense, he's still very much in his developing years himself. But he acts like he's in his mid 30s instead of his mid 20s. I think he needs to loosen up. I get his personality is supposed to be a guy who's very serious about his work, but still, I think he's a little too serious for his age.
There's a pretty good balance of Lisa and Rose. I never felt like the story was more about one than the other. I never confused them with each other either. Their personalities didn't allow for that. Mia was an excellent adversary. I kept waiting for the author to redeem her in some way but she never did, which I'm happy about. Like i said in a previous impressions from a previous book, let the bad guy be the bad guy. *cough cough* Peter.
If you haven't read the book I suggest you skip this part because I talk about the end. Major Spoilers! You've been warned!
It's unfortunate that the end was the complete opposite of the beginning. It felt so forced. The whole book is about drama among the students and then all of a sudden we have this conflict with Victor, that was never nourished enough for me to even care. I felt like Victor went through some personality change. He was a character that barely ever showed up and when he did, he was just the feeble, about to die uncle. I mean at least make him a little unlikable so that when we get the surprise that he's a bad guy, it's actually believable.
At this point it just doesn't make any sense since he is one of the more underdeveloped characters. The same goes for Natalie, we know her a bit more because she's more developed, but there was still no inkling of a girl that would do whatever it takes to save her father. But author didn't even make that a point. This is a young girl who is about to lose her father and she wants to save him. Any rash teenager would do that and if that was how it was presented, I would have been okay with that. Instead her behavior is just chalked up to wanting attention from daddy.
I understand that it was supposed to be a kind of twist, but even twists are supposed to be set up a lot earlier in the book. You have to plant some seed of doubt or suspicion. It doesn't have to be obvious but it has to be there, and the book is missing that.
Overall, I liked it. Not in love, but I'm interested enough to continue the series.
When I first read Divergent I thought,"YES! Something that's completely original! Something I've never read before!"
I loved the characters, I loved the world, I loved the idea of the factions even though I knew that was just asking for trouble. But thats the point of every novel right? To ask for trouble for it's characters? Speaking of characters, I loved the fact that the side characters like Peter, Christina, and Caleb, were people. Not fillers. That is until Insurgent and Allegiant.
Imagine my dismay as I watched this series begin to crumble. As I watched Roth struggle to keep the originality of her story. Insurgent I felt was just an unnecessary filler book that completely dismantled everything I thought about the characters, but Allegiant takes that even a step further.
Okay, enough about the previous books. I have reviews on Goodreads if you wanna know how I felt about that. Lets get into Allegiant.
The only reason why I gave this a 3 out of 5 is because I actually do like the story.
I mean sure the plot didn't make sense at times. Especially with the whole, genetically damaged genes eventually making genetically pure genes if you procreate enough. If that were the case well then maybe my great great great grandchildren will have the cure for sickle cell disease swimming around in their veins. Anyway, so Veronica wasn't paying attention in Bio, I can relate. But research is always good for plots that have anything to do with Science. But regardless, I give her brownie points for at least trying to be different.
Most people felt like Tobias in Allegiant is to Tris in Insurgent. But I honestly don't think it was that bad. I completely understand Four's reaction to certain things, like being genetically damaged. That would make anyone feel insecure, especially if they have had that feeling for a while anyway. Bottom line is, no matter how tough Tobias appears, he's still a guy who was abused by his father as a kid and constantly felt or was told that he was worthless. Yes, he is insecure, and that makes him honest in my eyes. BUT, the whole not thinking things through situation is new to me. He was the one that always went off on Tris when she went on her little I'll sacrifice myself for everyone rampages
More on that later.
But for him to just say okay to the chick he barely knows, while brushing off his girlfriend's warnings as jealousy, was so not Tobias in my opinion. You know what else was so not Tobias, that epilogue zip line scene. He sounded like Caleb, practically sniveling about how he didn't want to do it. I remember being like WTF, this doesn't sound like Tobias. Two years later or no, Tobias, who first of all overcame all of his fear landscapes, would not still be terrified of zip lining. And even if he was, he wouldn't show it. He would grit his teeth and get on the damn thing. I was so disgusted by him saying "Please. I don't want to do this." Did you somehow lose your balls during the two years that passed? Even the way he was talking to his mother and everyone else, it didn't even sound like his voice. I wasn't sure who it was and I think Roth might have noticed that too, hence all the clues she was dropping until she finally just blatantly had Tobias say "well I am your son Evelyn."
Sidenote: Roth does a lot of that. Telling instead of showing. Instead of us just seeing something happen between two characters, somebody explains why they did what they did or how they're feeling. That is a storytelling no no.
Tris on the other hand, was way better than she was in Insurgent. Her confidence was back and she didn't turn into butter every time a gun was put in her hand. She had attitude, she was defiant, and she reminded me of why I liked her in Divergent. Even with her going in Caleb's place, I knew that was something Tris would do. But her death was not necessary. More on that later.
The sad part was watching characters that I really liked becoming flat fillers. Christina is only around when Tris needs someone other than Tobias to talk to. Same goes for Cara and Tobias. Caleb does nothing but mope around feeling miserable for what he's done. Uriah is the occasional "comedic relief" that is until he's... you know... blown up for no apparent reason other than it was about time for somebody else to die. Peter, who I liked for being proud of how much of an asshole he was, turns out to actually hate being an asshole. He wants to forget who he is and start over. Last time I checked, the memory serum takes away your memories, not your personality. Which is made even more apparent when it's stated later that the more "sharper" aspects of his personality came back. I'm not even sure what the point of that was. Maybe if it had been made clear that Peter had some sort of inner struggle all along about the type of person he was, this would have worked. Instead it just comes off as random and pointless. I guess she realized that nothing had really happened with Peter lately, so she made something up.
So the genetically pure and the genetically damaged story has some kinks to be worked out, that is what it is. My problem is, why introduce a whole new conflict when the previous conflict has yet to be resolved. If we were going to go outside to the world beyond the gate and get some new crap shoved in our face, then the whole faction vs factionless dilemma should have ended in the second book. Or rather, it shouldn't have started in the 3rd book. Or it should have started and shutdown quickly. Anything to not have the plot so convoluted. Maybe she could have saved the whole GP and GD thing for a prequel series or something, I don't know. It's just too much going on in one book. It's to the point where we barely even know what's going on with the factions. They've been reduced to here and there snippets on the control room screens. I think I would have actually been okay with the 3rd book still focusing on the factions and factionless, and then ending with a group of people leaving the compound. Then we can have a few more books exploring the GP and GD conflict. Funny because in Insurgent, I was saying it should have been a two book series, but since she dropped this stuff on us, I'm thinking 2 more books could cover this new plot nicely. It's almost like halfway through writing the series she came up with another idea and felt like she just had to squeeze it in somehow. That was one of her biggest mistakes with this book.
The other was Evelyn throwing away years worth of work and determination just because Tobias asked her to. Its even more ridiculous to me because right before the scene Peter reminds Tobias that Evelyn almost got him killed by sending a group of people with guns after them when they were leaving the city, knowing that her son was among the people leaving. We also know that Evelyn doesn't take too kindly to betrayal. But low and behold Tobias says choose me or the city and it doesn't even take a second for her to choose him. You know I actually thought it was a trick. I'm reading and in my mind I'm like OMG, she's so faking it, something is going to happen, that was too easy! But no, nothing happened. She really was surrendering. And Marcus, Mr. Big Bad Wolf, was shut down by Johanna before he could even really begin to start a ruckus. And he actually gave up. Just like that. You mean that this conflict could have ended a long time ago if Evelyn had just surrendered? Then explain to me what the point of all this was? If all it took was for Tobias to say, "Hey mom, choose me," then why didn't they have that conversation when he was working side by side with her. Evelyn faked her own death for goodness sakes! You would think that having a family again is not exactly high on her priorities list. I literally pictured them fighting and Tobias force feeding her the memory serum. But it's almost like Roth is afraid of having completely evil characters. It seems like she tries to give all her bad guys some sort of redeeming quality, but it's really not necessary. Let a bad guy be a bad guy. That's their job. But since Roth apparently wants everybody to just forgive each other, we end up with a very anticlimactic end to that conflict.
Now for that finale. That moment my friend told me is going to make my jaw drop. Honestly, it didn't. As soon as my friend told me I might not like the ending, I knew what was coming. I figured it would either be Tris or Tobias. And you know what, I would have been fine with it. It's realistic enough. I'm not the one to always want a happy ending anyway. But the way this ending happened was so forced, it's insulting. I can't help but feel like she, her publisher, somebody wanted this "shock factor". Cause lets face it, Tris's death was so unnecessary. It took away the chance for Caleb, the only person who actually did need redeeming, to prove that he wasn't a bad guy after all, just misled. I was completely okay with him sacrificing himself because it just made sense. But I just knew that Tris would steal the moment. But I didn't expect her to die because of it. I was expecting the whole she has more of a chance to survive the death serum thing. But David waiting with a gun? We don't even know what tipped him off. He just had a feeling because she had been running around with GD people all week? Thats complete bullshit. First of all, who else is she going to run around with? Those people are her friends and she's not going to cut them off just because you say they're damaged. Oh, and let's not forget that she saw him early in the day at a meeting! Don't you think if he suspected anything he would have brought it up then? But no, instead we get a random security lockdown that ruins the whole plan. If we had some clue or inkling that David was on to them, this might have worked. But instead she forces a situation that would allow Tris to die. And then we're supposed to be heartbroken for Tobias. First of all, it took pages for them to get back to the Bureau to learn what happened, by then I was just over it. The mini chapters of Tobias in his feelings didn't even move me because I was just pissed the whole time that Tris died is such a dumb way. I mean she had a whole conversation with David and was taking steps BACK. She could have dived behind some cover, grabbed her gun, shot David from around the corner and Initiate the memory serum and that would have been that. Hell maybe she could have took some shots too, but survivable ones.
I think in Roth's quest to be different, she threw logic out the window. But I'm sorry, to successfully kill off a main character, you better have a damn good reason to. That's why it's very rare, not only in books but in films. Roth could have gone so many ways with that ending. But she chose the wrong path for the sake of controversy, and that is the biggest disappointment about this series.
You know what, that 3 out of 5 is more for the series as a whole. I would give this book more of a 2 out of 5.