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review 2018-05-23 15:12
Les Fiancés de l'Hiver
Les Fiancés de l'Hiver - Christelle Dabos

Le livre se lit plutôt bien, en dépit de certaines maladresses stylistiques, et j'ai bien aimé la géographie du monde développé ici (monde au sujet duquel il reste sans nul doute beaucoup à découvrir dans les volumes suivants). De plus, les pouvoirs des différentes familles — lecture d'objets, transmission de pensée, illusions, mémoire... — se prêtent bien à pas mal d'intrigues et de développements.

Par contre, j'enlève de bases des étoiles ici car je ne supporte plus cette ficelle scénaristique maladroite qui consiste à faire de la rétention d'information sans raison valable. Ophélie se retrouve balancée dans un monde d'intrigues de cour où elle risque d'être au mieux déshonorée, si pas juste assassinée dans une alcôve, et sa nouvelle belle-famille l'y prépare donc en faisant... rien? Et lui reproche en plus de commettre des erreurs par ignorance. Ah si, elle reçoit des lecons de maintien et de diction. Super. Des leçons de diplomatie et de survie en milieu courtisan hostile auraient été plus utiles, ne serait-ce que pour la prévenir que "au fait, une de nos familles peut partager ses pensées, donc ce que tu dis à l'un d'eux, tous les autres le savent aussi". M'enfin moi je dis ça, je dis rien.

Résultat: l'intrigue se traîne, car en plus d'être enfermée la moitié du temps, Ophélie doit jouer le rôle d'une muette l'autre moitié (pratique pour poser des questions, tiens). Déjà pas bien bavarde à la base, pour le coup elle n'a vraiment plus grand chose d'intéressant, et subit les événements plutôt que de vraiment les déclencher pendant la majeure partie de l'histoire. Ses pouvoirs ne sont de plus pas vraiment bien exploités, à part quelques passages de miroirs.

Alors certes, cela permet de mettre en scène des actions et pas un énorme info-dump. MAIS. Mais. Il n'y a AUCUNE raison valable au silence de Thorn et de Bérénilde, silence qui met Ophélie encore plus en danger puisqu'elle reste ignorante des vraies menaces, et ne peut donc pas s'y préparer. (Ajoutons à cela le fait qu'Ophélie ne fait aucun effort pour essayer de connaître les gens et notamment son futur mqri, ce qui n'aide pas.) Ce roman n'est de loin pas le seul à avoir recours a cet artifice, cependant il serait grand temps que la fiction de facon générale s'en éloigne. En d'autres termes: c'est bien d'éviter d'avoir trop de scenes d'exposition, ce serait mieux que le moyen employé pour cela repose sur quelque chose de logique, au lieu de révéler un trou scénaristique.

L'autre gros problème pour moi a été la société, ou plutot les sociétes décrites:
- Anima: une matriarchie qui traite en fait ses femmes comme de la crotte. Aucun intérêt. En vrac: mariages arrangés, sois belle et tais-toi (ou bien tais-toi juste, en fait...), femmes "fortes" et "dominant leur mari" comme la mère d'Ophelie mais qui ne sont en fait que des caricatures dont le seul pouvoir se résumé a être épouses et mères... Si c'est pour véhiculer les mêmes clichés moisis qu'une société patriarcale, restons dans une société patriarcale, dans ce cas, ce sera un petit peu moins écoeurant.
- Le Pôle: toutes des salopes-courtisanes-intriguantes-séductrices. Sauf Ophélie, bien sûr, puisqu'elle est le seul personnage féminin qui ne s'intéresse pas au sexe, à l'amour, à la mode, et aux autres artifices "purement féminins". Déjà vu, déjà trop vu, on pourrait avoir autre chose que la trilogie vierge-mère-pute? Merci.

Ceci dit, au moins il n'y a pas de romance/triangle amoureux (pour le moment), ce qui est déjà plus que je n'ose en demander à un roman jeunesse ces dernières années.

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review 2018-04-26 19:59
Planetfall - Emma Newman

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

Science fiction that is more of the social kind than hard, as in, while it was easy to imagine how the colony ran, the story focuses on the main character and her relationships with other people, rather than on a lot of technology. In a way, I liked this aspect, but on the other hand, with Ren being pretty much a recluse, her interactions weren’t always so developed; in the end, I’m not exactly sure what to think of it.

The storuy revolves around Ren, and in a certain measure Mack and Sung-Soo. More than 20 years ago, Ren and Mack embarked on an expedition throughout the stars to find another planet, guided by Lee Suh-Mi, who determined that planet’s location after waking up from a coma. After landfall, they found a strange structure they quickly nicknamed God’s city, into which Suh-Mi walked in, never to come out. Since that time, every year sees a ritual, almost religious ceremony take place, which will last until the day Suh comes out again. Only it quickly becomes apparent that this is all based on lies crafted by Mack and upheld by Ren, for fear that without it, the community’s union and focus will collapse, and the colony will be destroyed.

I spent most of my reading torn when it came to Ren as a character and narrator. It’s obvious that while she’s competent in her job, she’s also broken in quite a few ways (her reclusiveness, the reason why she never lets anyone into her home, the mental disorder she’s been developing due to all the stress and lies piling up), and this made her touching; you can tell from the early chapters on that she’d endured trauma and has been coping and suffering all by herself, ashamed of her choices, then refusing to look at them, then not even realising anymore that she had a problem (one that is all the more important that all the things she hoards are materials that can’t get recycled to fuel the colony). Yet at the same time, it was difficult to relate to her and to really care about her, probably she keeps people at a distance. Also, due to the latter, the other characters never really came into focus: Nick remains ‘the guy who’s in because he had money’, Carmen is ‘that annoying religion-obsessed woman’, and so on.

The foundations of the colony, too, were of a kind that made me cringe. Let’s be honest, I’m not a religious person, and basing such a whole expedition on ‘finding God’ (with the potential consequence that, if the religious aspect is destroyed, everything else is, too) seemed, I don’t know, flimsy. Deeply, I believe that what a society needs is ethics, and not religion: the latter can too quickly devolve. Which makes Mack’s lies and fears sort of understandable, if not justified, considering all everything goes to the dogs when the lies are revealed (because they will be, that’s half the plot, after all). In the end, I found myself not caring whether the colony collapsed or not.

Still, I enjoyed the world-building: the author didn’t need to explain a lot for me to picture this world, with its self-sufficient, half-living houses, built at the foot of that bizarre organic city that will kill whoever gets too deep inside. And while I kind of guessed quickly what the big secret was (it got dragged for a little too long as well), trying to imagine what happened to the people in the other pods was also enjoyable. The writing style itself was pleasant, and I never struggled with it. Besides, it looks like there’s much diversity in that colony, but it’s never presented in a heavy-handed way (‘oh, look, people of colour!’). Ren as I perceive her is likely black or close to, the founder/pathfinder is Korean, several other are probably of Indian or Pakistani origin, it’s not ye olde average colony full of white men only, and it’s also not emphasised: these people all come from different backgrounds and areas of the world, and it’s normal, and it’s normal that it’s normal because why would you ever expect anything else? In other words, the book doesn’t feel the need to justify anything about it, which is great.

The ending is somewhat controversial. I think I liked it, in general; it feels like giving up, and it leaves quite a few things unexplained when it comes to God’s city, but it was strangely fitting (with Ren having to first strip herself of everything that was dragging her down, in order to understand what they had refused or been unable to see in the beginning). However, I also think that some parts of the plot were not sufficiently explained, or dealt with too quickly, especially the part about Sung-Soo; had this been better strung into the narrative, its impact would have been different.

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review 2018-04-15 12:05
Paris Adrift
Paris Adrift - E.J. Swift

[I received a copy of this book through Netgalley.]

I love myself a time travel story, and both the premise as well as the cover here caught my eye. Unfortunately, even though ultimately it was a quick an easy read (as opposed to a book I trudged through), I wasn’t sold on the story or the characters.

I think this is due to the prologue letting me expect a more ‘targetted’ time travel story: a group of time travellers (called ‘incumbents’) holed up in a bunker in Prague, the world dying around them due to a nuclear apocalypse. This war having been triggered by a speech made at the Sacre-Coeur in Paris, the group decides to send one of them back in time in order to prevent that man’s lineage from ever starting. But there’s a catch here: these incumbents can only travel using ‘anomalies’ to which they’re attuned, and since they can’t use someone else’s Anomaly, in this case they need to send someone with an Anomaly in Paris. Which turns out to be Léon, an incumbent with too many travels under his belt, who may or may not be able to perform -all- the time jumps needed to alter the past. Léon does jump, but his aim tis to find a budding traveller in 2017 Paris, and guide them to discover their Anomaly, then to perform the required jumps while they’re still ‘fresh’, so to speak. Along with Léon comes the chronometrist, a former traveller who lost her body (and probably her sanity, too), and whose task is to guide the new incumbent.

…And that’s where it started to turn wrong, because for most of the book, the plot felt only remotely touched, with our new incumbent, Hallie, being guided in such a circumvented way that from beginning to end, I’m not sure she really got what she was doing. And I’m not sure why that was, considering one of Léon’s directives (stated in the prologue, no spoiler here) was to guide her once her ‘mission’ was accomplished, but that… didn’t happen? It was weird. It mostly consisted of Hallie stumbling through her Anomaly, ending up in a different period, bumbling around trying not to get in trouble, with the chronometrist taunting her now and then. It tied up in the end, yet I never got rid of the feeling that plot-wise, the book was plodding rather than making progress.

Character-wise, too, I believe that time spent on stumbling around was meant for character development, but in the end, I didn’t get that much of a feel for Hallie and the people around her, and they end up rather boring to me.

Now, to be fair, I really liked the way the novel approached solutions to ‘prevent a person from being born’. In a lot of time travel stories, the usual approach is to kill them (the Sarah Connor effect), which obviously raises its lot of ethical questions. Here, Hallie found (well, was pushed to) other ways, and that was refreshing to see.

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review 2018-03-30 20:07
The Zanna Function
The Zanna Function - Daniel Wheatley

[I received a copy of this book through Netgalley.]

This middle grade/YA novel deals with Zanna, a girl who loves puzzles, science, and whose curiosity is never satisfied. When she learns she’s been accepted to St. Pommeroy’s School for Gifted Children, of course she jumps for joy, but from the first chapter on, things aren’t like what she expected at all: the school is a nightmare, her schoolmates are horrible, her teachers seem incompetent… or is that only a facet of reality, and truth is in fact much more complex? Don’t trust what you see at first! At St. Pommeroy’s, Zanna discovers that mathematics, physics and chemistry are doors towards understanding the very functions defining the universe, and with this understanding, people like her can learn to manipulate the fabric of the universe itself.

Magic through Science is a concept I love, and I had much fun reading about here (but then, I find simplifying surds relaxing, so…). The school itself follows patterns that aren’t new in many MG novels: Zanna meets the people who’ll become her schoolmates, there are friendships and enmities, but overall I found the school’s atmosphere was a positive one, encouraging cooperation and understanding each other, with the story not veering into the usual Mean Queen Bee and Gang vs. Nice Girl. Although, to be fair, I didn’t always find Zanna herself very nice, especially with the way she immediately started to judge one of the other pupils, when in fact she was best placed to understand his actions, and why he behaved like that. Good thing that this kind of attitude usually paves the way for character growth (both characters), all the more with one of the teachers latching on this and poking at said pupils to force them to look at their true selves instead of pretending to already know who they are and never looking further.

Other characters were enjoyable, too, although I wish they had been more developed and that we had seen more of them. I especially liked the relationship between Zanna and her quirky grandfather, and how Scientists are somewhat hidden from ‘the normal world’, but with presidents, officials etc. still knowing they exist: this way, they’re exceptional, but there’s no need for complete secrecy, keeping both worlds separated, having Zanna forever unable to share her new life with her ‘mundane’ family, and so on.

Overall I found the writing pleasant, and the book a quick, fun read, with the story always moving. The ‘scientific explanations’ peppered here and there may be difficult to follow for a younger audience, however the author usually made his explanations short enough, and with some very basic knowledge in chemistry and physics, they remain understandable. (Do middle grade kids still leanr that? I had physics lessons when I was 11-12, and we started chemistry at 12-13.) Anyway, I believe one can enjoy the plot and characters here even if having to gloss over the more ‘sciencey’ bits, since they effects they have are akin to ‘magic’, so the results can be observed nonetheless, so to speak. For instance, manipulating and changing the proprieties of nitrogen to make balloons fly: the result’s still flying in the end. (Bit of a pet peeve, though, for the use of the word ‘metallurgical’ throughout the book, because as far as I know, this world is related to the the extraction, refining etc. of metals, and has nothing to do with ‘illusions so complex that they’re not only visual, and actually feel real’. Every time the word popped up, it distracted me.)

Another peeve was the villain’s tendency to not reveal anything: ‘I’m doing this for your own good, because if I don’t, terrible things will happen to All The People You Love… but I’m never going to tell you what exactly will happen, trust me even though I’m the villain.’ I mean, I don’t know who would ever believe this would make a teenager keep quiet and passively accept all that’s happening to her. I’m much older than Zanna, and I still wouldn’t take that at face value either. Those reasons are never disclosed even at the end, so I do hope that there’s going to be a second instalment at some point: between that and Zanna’s second year at school, there’s definitely holes to close, and material to exploit.

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review 2018-01-20 20:45
Undercover Princess
Undercover Princess (Rosewood Chronicles) - Connie Glynn

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

There were good ideas in there, and I was fairly thrilled at first at the setting and prospects (a boarding school in England, hidden royals that looked like they’d be badass, etc.), but I must say that in the end, even though I read the novel in a rather short time and it didn’t fall from my hands, it was all sort of bland.

The writing itself was clunky, and while it did have good parts (the descriptions of the school, for instance, made the latter easy to picture), it was more telling, not showing most of the time. I’m usually not too regarding on that, I tend to judge first on plot and characters, and then only on style, but here I found it disruptive. For instance, the relationship between Ellie and Lottie has a few moments that border on the ‘what the hell’ quality: I could sense they were supposed to hint at possible romantic involvement (or at an evolution in that direction later), but the way they were described, it felt completely awkward (and not ‘teenage-girls-discovering-love’ cute/awkward).

The characters were mostly, well, bland. I feel it was partly tied to another problem I’ll mention later, namely that things occur too fast, so we had quite a few characters introduced, but not developed. Some of their actions didn’t make sense either, starting with Princess Eleanor Wolfson whose name undercover gets to be... Ellie Wolf? I’m surprised she wasn’t found out from day one, to be honest. Or the head of the house who catches the girls sneaking out at night and punishes them by offering them a cup of tea (there was no particular reason for her to be lenient towards them at the time, and if that was meant to hint at a further plot point, then we never reached that point in the novel).

(On that subject, I did however like the Ellie/Lottie friendship in general. It started in a rocky way, that at first made me wonder how come they went from antipathy to friendship in five minutes; however, considering the first-impression antipathy was mostly based on misunderstanding and a bit of a housework matter, it’s not like it made for great enmity reasons either, so friendship stemming from the misunderstanding didn’t seem so silly in hindsight. For some reason, too, the girls kind of made me think of ‘Utena’—probably because of the setting, and because Ellie is boyish and sometimes described as a prince rather than a princess.)

The story, in my opinion, suffers from both a case of ‘nothing happens’ and ‘too many things happen’. It played with several different plot directions: boarding school life; undercover princess trying to keep her secret while another girl tries to divert all attention on her as the official princess; prince (and potential romantic interest) showing up; mysterious boy (and potential romantic interest in a totally different way) showing up; the girls who may or may not be romantically involved in the future; trying to find out who’s leaving threatening messages; Binah’s little enigma, and the way it ties into the school’s history, and will that ever play a part or not; Anastacia and the others, and who among them leaked the rumour; going to Maradova; the summer ball; the villains and their motivations. *If* more time had been spent on these subplots, with more character development, I believe the whole result would’ve been more exciting. Yet at the same time all this gets crammed into the novel, there’s no real sense of urgency either, except in the last few chapters. That was a weird dichotomy to contend with.

Conclusion: 1.5 stars. I’m honestly not sure if I’ll be interested in reading the second book. I did like the vibes between Lottie and Ellie, though.

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