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review 2018-06-06 12:18
"Crossed - Soul Eaters #3" by Eliza Crewe - excellent end to this original trilogy.
Crossed - Eliza Crewe

In "Crossed", Eliza Crewe pulls off something unusual, an end to a trilogy that is satisfying, surprising and not focused on blowing stuff up.

You know how trilogies go: you've built up the power of the big bad and the scenario where you have to save the world and then you have a final battle and, with varying degrees of sacrifice, blow the big bad away.

That doesn't happen here. But then this trilogy has always been at least as much about how we choose between good and evil in a way that is true to our nature. Consequently, none of the sides in this triangular struggle between demons, crusaders, and Meda and her friends have been either entirely good or entirely evil. Winning had to be about more than one side surviving. It had to be about Meda and her friends finding out what the right thing was and finding the courage and the ingenuity to do it.

I liked the twists not just in the plot but in the circumstances of the main characters. The twists are there to do more than surprise and entertain, although they do both. They are there to build empathy for incompatible points of view. We get to see what Jo is like when she lets herself of the leash, we understand that jovial Chi has a deeper understanding of events than he normally lets show making his bravery an act of faith rather than optimism. We see some of that nightmare that Armand survived. Everything that we learn makes right and wrong less easy to define but makes the bonds of friendship stronger.

One of the challenges of this book is that it's set in Hell. This is tough in adult books but in YA books you can't default to graphic sadism and you have to avoid a Disney devil feel.  The Hell that Meda and her companions make their way through feels soul-destroying: full of despair and suffering and the pain of pretended pleasure used to humiliate and wound. Most of the really bad things happen off screen but that makes them bite harder. Jo spent four days alone in Hell at the mercy of demons. Not knowing EXACTLY what happened is more chilling than a sensitivity-numbing blow-by-blow account.

Meda's character continues to be the main thing that makes the trilogy special. We see the world through her eyes but in a way that lets us see inside her, perhaps better than she sees herself. She wraps her comments in wit and sometimes temper but her comments go beyond insight to empathy, showing us what she loves and why. For example, at one point Meda describe giving Chi some news about Jo when he just wants to go to her. She says:

"I might as well try to make a lab puppy sit still in a room full of bouncing tennis balls. He doesn't even hear me."

This captures Chi perfectly but the choice of image also shows us who Meda really is.

Physically, Meda is one of the most powerful and potentially destructive creatures on the planet. In a more Jack Bauer, we-have24-hours-to-save-the-world-using-any-means-necessary worldview, Meda would have become more and more violent, wreaking more and more destruction, regardless of the cost to herself and her friends, in order to triumph over evil. Eliza Crewe offers an alternative worldview where Meda triumphs because she refuses to be nothing more than a weapon, because she will not give up on her friends and because, even in the midst of deadly combat, she is capable of feeling sympathy for the devil.

"Cracked", "Crushed" and "Crossed" have given me a lot of pleasure. Whatever Eliza Crewe writes next, I'll be reading it.

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review 2018-05-27 09:07
"Crushed - Soul Eaters #2" by Eliza Crewe
Crushed - Eliza Crewe

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the second book of a trilogy is always the weakest... but not this time. "Crushed" takes all the things that were good about "Cracked", amplifies them and then adds a depth of thought that grabbed hold of my brain while the rest of the story twisted my emotions.

 

The plot, full of twists and surprises and peppered with violence, unfurls at a pace designed to maximise the tension without rushing thoughtlessly from one fight to another. Describing the plot would spoil the enjoyment of the book, so I'll confine myself to saying that Meda is at risk from both sides in the newly-started all-out-war between Demons and Crusaders, with only her friends standing between her and destruction. All she has to do now is figure out who her friends are.

 

Although the plot is strong, I see it mostly as a vehicle for working through the big themes of this book: the futility of trying to be someone you're not, the different definitions of being good, the fundamental evil of the removal of choice, the appeal of stolen fun, the price of control, the nature of friendship and, right at the centre of all this, what it means to be a monster. 

 

The book starts fairly gently, lulling me into thinking that I'm in some kind of Hogwarts for Crusaders High School drama where poor misunderstood Meda is defended by her friends and treated unfairly by adults and abused by the mean kids.

 

To be fair, that's more or less how Meda sees things at the beginning, She get's frustrated by Jo's constant appeals to her, half-demon that she is, to be good. She wants to be good, in theory anyway but tells herself that she can't manage it to Jo's satisfaction because:

"... Jo’s and my definitions of “good” are about as similar as an Eskimo’s and a Jamaican’s definitions of “cold.”

The idea of having to define for yourself the good that you are capable of rather than accepting the good that others expect from you drives much of the plot of this story.

Of course, Meda also fails to be good because she doesn't want to be. She lets herself be distracted by the charming Armand, the half-demon she met in "Cracked". He offers her fun. Forbidden fun.  As Meda says: 

"Fun is so much better when it' stolen"

The fun stops when the Crusaders do things to Meda against her will. I found this part as fascinating as it was unpleasant. Meda can't stop what's happening but she still resists. Resistance isn't just an instinctive reaction, it's a decision. Meda says:

But I want there to be no doubt in their minds that I do not consent. I do not agree. I have no choice, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to make it easy on them.

This is a powerful way of confronting that the removal of consent is always a violation but it also shows the two sides of Meda's character: her outrage at a wrong being done (especially by the good guys and especially to her) and her absolute determination to make her enemies pay.

 

About a third of the way into the book, just at the point where I was tiring of reading about High School pranks and rivalries, things got serious. Then I realised they had always been serious but Meda has been unable to see what was really going on.

 

For a while, we get to explore Meda's demon side. I was impressed by this because it doesn't show Meda as a good guy handicapped by her demon heritage, like some angst-ridden sparkly I-didn't-choose-to-be-this-way vampire. Meda IS as much demon as she is Crusader. She's also as little demon as she is Crusader. 

 

When Jo re-enters the story, the rest of the book, apart from the fights and the things that move the story arc along, is about the nature of friendship and what it means to be a monster.

Meda's relationship with Jo is the thing that keeps her linked to the non-demon side of herself. Jo is her best friend. Jo is the only person Meda would willingly risk herself for. Meda understands this but is unable to articulate it to Jo. At one point, Meda demonstrates the nature and depth of their friendship by saying:

"But seriously, what do you say to your best friend when you stand at the gates of the Gates of Hell? Nothing. If it’s your best friend, she already knows."

Armand calls to Meda's demon nature. They fit each other. He lets her be herself. Yet she always holds something back from him because she understands what he is.

At one point, Armand describes himself and by inference, Meda herself by saying:

“I’m a monster, Meda. I’ve never claimed to be good; I’ve never claimed to be anything other than what I am. I’m selfish and evil and greedy, I want many, many things, most of which I shouldn’t have.”

By the end of the book, after tears and blood have flown freely, lives have been lost and intrigues have played out, Meda has grown up a great deal. When she reflects on her relationship with Armand, she doesn't go for easy answers, She says:

"Our friendship was real, as real as is possible between two monsters."

She then adds:

"You can love a monster, it can even love you back, but that doesn’t change its nature."

I don't want to give the impression that this book is an ethics essay. It's a fast-paced, emotionally taxing, urban-fantasy thriller, but what lifts it from the cliché of the eternal struggle between the forces of good and evil, is an honest and thoughtful exploration of what good and evil are and how all of us feel the call of both. We are all potentially monstrous and we all have to decide what kind of good we're able and willing to be.

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review 2018-05-22 16:10
"Cracked - Soul Eater #1" by Eliza Crewe
Cracked - Eliza Crewe

"Cracked" has Cool carved into its forearm with a Stanley Knife.

 

The opening draws Meda, our evil-but-wittily-self-aware more-than-human teenage heroine, in a series of fast, confident, blood-red claw strokes that create an image as clear and succinct as a Kanji.

 

We start at night, with a crazed, helpless girl, waiting in her cell in a run-down lunatic asylum as an evil guard prepares to pay her a visit.

 

Except the girl isn't helpless and she's a completely different kind of crazed, so soon there is blood everywhere and none of it is hers.

 

Yet just as I was settling down to a Dexter-meets-teen-girl-soul-eater story, filled with gore and witty banter, new players arrive and the story cracks open into a whole universe of possibilities.

 

Turns out that all that cool, quietly desperate, slightly self-deprecating, slightly self -congratulatory wrapping contains more complex characters, a mostly-original urban-fantasy universe and a plot that could go anywhere.

 

We meet suit-wearing evil demons and Harley-riding good-in-their-own-eyes Crusaders, while Meda tries to hide in plain sight in a Crusader highschool which seems more like a SAS training camp.

 

The action comes in wave after wave, with each wave getting taller and crashing more loudly. In between, Meda finds out what's really in her past and struggles to work out how "good" she's capable of being. As we watched her go from, me-first-survival, even if I have to throw one of you to the bears, to I-will-not-let-you-kill-my-friends bravery, I was impressed that what I saw was a rebalancing of a believable person rather than some epiphanal rebirth.

 

I liked Meda because she's capable of being truly evil and chooses, mostly, not to be.

The humour kept me smiling but never detracted from the tension for example when Meda has to flee through a sewer and her nose teaches her how foul they really are, she says: 

"The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lied to me. Sewers aren't a cool place to hang and definately not for eating pizza."

Clichés are skillfully repurposed or called out ironically and then milked with flair.

I got so hooked on this that I read the whole book in a day and didn't regret a single missed or delayed chore.

 

This is a Young Adult book that doesn't patronise its readers, no matter what age they are.

 

"Cracked" cries out to be an audiobook, Amy MacFadden would nail it, but I can only find ebook copies so I'm faking Amy in my head - that sounded better before I typed it.

 

"Cracked" is the first book of a trilogy. I'm in need of escape, so I'm going to consume them back to back the ways upset girls on TV eat whole cartons of ice cream.

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text 2018-05-21 11:04
Reading progress update: I've read 27%. I'm hooked.
Cracked - Eliza Crewe

"Cracked" has Cool carved into its forearm with a Stanley Knife.

 

The opening draws Meda, our evil-but-wittily-self-aware more-than-human teenage heroine, in a series of fast, confident, blood-red claw strokes that create an image as clear and succinct as a Kanji.

 

We start at night, with a crazed, helpless girl, waiting in her cell in a run-down lunatic asylum as an evil guard prepares to pay her a visit.

 

Except the girl isn't helpless and she's a completely different kind of crazed, so soon there is blood everywhere and none of it is hers.

 

Yet just as I was settling down to a Dexter-meets-teen-girl-soul-eater story, filled with gore and witty banter, new players arrive and the story cracks open into a whole universe of possibilities.

 

Turns out that all that cool, quietly desperate, slightly self-deprecating, slightly self -congratulatory wrapping contains more complex characters, a mostly-original urban-fantasy universe and a plot that could go anywhere.

 

I'm hooked.

 

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text 2018-04-30 16:10
April Re-cap
Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook - Christina Henry,Samuel Roukin
Asking for it - Louise T. O'Neill
Crushed - Eliza Crewe
Sorta Like a Rock Star - Matthew Quick
Unraveled (Perfected) - Kate Jarvik Birch
Retribution Rails - Erin Bowman
Obsidio - Jay Kristoff,Amie Kaufman
End of Days - Susan Ee
Jar of Hearts - Jennifer Hillier
Pines - Blake Crouch

 

 

I usually can finish about nine to ten books a month, but this month I've read/listened to fourteen. It's amazing how many books I can get through when I'm not working.  I'm currently on medical leave due to the foot surgery that I had on March 20th.  I should be off until the middle of June...so hopefully, I'll have at least a couple more good reading months.

 

 

 

(Audiobook) Lost Boy: The True Story of Captian Hook by Christina Henry

Finish Date:  04/02

4.3STARS - GRADE=A-

 

(Audiobook) Asking For It by Louise O'Neill

Finish Date:  04/04

4.3STARS - GRADE=A

 

(Kindle eBook) Crushed by Eliza Crewe

Finish Date:  04/04

4.5STARS - GRADE=A-

 

(Audiobook) Sorta Like A Rock Star by Matthew Quick

Finish Date:  04/07

3.7STARS - GRADE=B

 

(Netgalley eARC) Unraveled by Kate Jarvik Birch

Finish Date:  04/08

3.8STARS - GRADE=B

 

(Audiobook) Retribution Rails by Erin Bowman

Finish Date:  04/11

4STARS - GRADE=B+

 

(Hardcover/Kindle eBook) Obsidio by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Finish Date:  04/14

5+STARS - GRADE=A++

 

(Re-read Audiobook) End Of Days by Susan Ee

Finish Date:  04/17

4.8STARS - GRADE=A

 

(Netgalley eARC) Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Finish Date:  04/17

2STARS - GRADE=D

 

(Audiobook) Pines by Blake Crouch

Finish Date:  04/20

4.3STARS - GRADE=A-

 

(Audiobook) The Lost Girls by Heather Young

Finish Date:  04/24

3.2STARS - GRADE=C+

 

(Audiobook) Running Barefoot by Amy Harmon

Finish Date:  04/26

4.3STARS - GRADE=A-

 

(Audiobook) The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison

Finish Date:  04/28

☆3.7☆STARS - GRADE=B

 

(eBook) Odd & Tru by Cat Winters

Finish Date:  04/29

☆3.8☆STARS - GRADE=B

 

 

14 Books Total, 9 of those are Audiobooks, 2 eBooks, and 2 Netgalley eARC's & 1 combo hardcover/eBook.

For a total of 4,907 Pages (including Audio).

 

 

 

 

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