This Week, I Read… (2019 #19)

58 - Prince of Thorns

#58 – Prince of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence

  • Read: 5/2/19 – 5/3/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (40/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

I had to make myself finish this book, just to be sure I could criticize it properly. And unlike my usual write-it-blind method, where I don’t read other reviews first, I did some digging, so I could react to them and really let what I did and did not like about this book crystallize in my mind.

Jorg is a reprehensible person, I have no argument with that. Everyone using the “worse than Joffrey” image isn’t wrong (except I think if Joffrey had been around longer, we would have seen him sink far lower, but that’s a comment on ASoIaF, not this book.) Jorg can’t go five pages without raping a girl (tastefully [ahem] off-page,) knifing a “brother” because the dude pissed him off, pushing someone off a cliff, using a weapon of mass destruction, and so on. If he’s not actively committing a crime or a sin, he’s strongly considering his next one.

Was this off-putting? Oh, absolutely, at first. And there’s my problem. Even if it’s not the author’s intention to condone any of this behavior in writing about an obvious psychopath doing these things, by putting the narrative in first person, we’re living inside Jorg’s head and seeing his reasoning and eventually, maybe, sympathizing with him. By the end of the book, I wasn’t cheering for Jorg exactly, but I did get swept up in the action and read the second half of the book in one long sitting, whereas at the beginning I had to take frequent breaks to deal with my disgust.

I won’t criticize anyone, ever, for indulging in escapist fantasies, and yes, that includes reading/daydreaming about committing atrocities. I’ve thought about killing someone before, especially back in my angry teenage years. It’s an outlet for anger that doesn’t harm anyone, as long as you understand that’s all it is. But I didn’t do it, and Jorg does. And the book makes it seem cool and edgy, and oh look, what a terrible life this kid’s had and here’s how awesome it feels to get revenge.

That, I have a serious problem with.

Moving on from the fundamental issue with “murder, yay!” messaging, there’s still a lot I don’t like.

The frequent pre-chapter character notes about Jorg’s “brothers” were a lazy way to (attempt to) give them depth, usually right before they were killed. One in particular towards the end of the book mentions a name I honestly don’t think had ever been included before, a brother the reader hadn’t been introduced to. (I may be wrong about this, because there are many brothers and they die off like flies. If Young Sim actually was mentioned earlier, he wasn’t significant enough for me to remember.) I can rationalize in my mind that making Jorg’s band of brothers interchangeable and disposable fits his psychopathy, and it does, but it doesn’t make for interesting reading. I wanted the secondary characters to have more personality. Even Makin–I mean, the dude was the head of the royal guard, and he becomes a brigand in order to stay by Jorg’s side. Why is that not given more page time? That’s a great hook! Write a book from his POV while he watches his charge devolve into a monster–how does he deal with that? What would break his loyalty?

Next up: when is this? At first, I thought it was separate-world fantasy. Then classic authors start getting thrown around–Plutarch jumped out and grabbed my neck and smashed my face in the idea that, no, actually, this is our world. Okay, alternate history then? Except eventually we get clues that this is actually a far-future world, post-apocalyptic, and the “castles” the kings occupy are skyscrapers or other modern-world structures. As far as that goes, I’m on board, except that there are very few answers given, the descriptions of those structures are so vague I can’t picture most of them (I had no idea what kind of facility the Great Stair was a part of, though some of its bits were clearly reinforced concrete fitted with a high-security steel door,) and there’s so little done with this concept that I’m afraid it’s just supposed to be cool flavor instead of real world-building.

The revelation near the end, and the ending: oh, so someone messed with Jorg’s mind, setting him up to be able to be like, all that crap I did may or may not have really been me, I was being guided, now I’m not necessarily so horrible going forward. I call bullshit on that. BULL. SHIT. If the protagonist is a psychopath, own it, don’t erase it so he can be less awful in the next book.

And finally: this is 110% male fantasy. The women are beloved but dead (Jorg’s mother,) evil (the crone, Jorg’s step-mother,) objects of desire (Katherine,) or victims (everyone else who is raped, killed, or both.) So whether or not you might be okay with the other problematic content of the book, there’s no way around its inherent sexism.

I can’t recommend this to anyone, because even as a piece of escapist fantasy where it’s okay to want to kill people, it’s just not any good.

59 - The Opposite of Wild

#59 – The Opposite of Wild, by Kylie Gilmore

  • Read: 5/4/19 – 5/5/19
  • Challenge: Challenge: Mount TBR (41/100); The Reading Frenzy’s “Try a Chapter” Mini Challenge
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

This only gets a second star because of Maggie. I know the “grab life by the balls” old lady character is a stereotype, but she is by far the best thing about this book.

Our heroine here I couldn’t stand pretty much from page one. She’s obsessed by her own childhood mistakes (The Humiliation was embarrassing, sure, but does it still deserve capitalization more than ten years later? Grow up, maybe?) The second anything goes wrong in anyone’s life around her, she tries to steamroll over them with solutions, especially her pregnant older sister. I mean, help your sis and the baby, sure, but planning the rest of your life in five minutes around being the kid’s second (and implied, better) mom? This woman is not at all reasonable. Especially later in the book when she acts like her life is ruined because her sister decided not to go along with that plan. Co-parenting in a non-standard family situation is a difficult and thorny topic, and it’s not handled with any realism or delicacy here.

Then there’s our hero. He’s actually not that bad, compared to her. I didn’t like that he uses the recently divorced women of his acquaintance through his job as a source of easy sex, because I think that’s sleazy, but it does fall under consenting adults, and all that. And I don’t think his “falling in love” arc with the heroine is convincing at all–they’re basically falling in lust. And she treats him badly, and he puts up with it for a long time before he does anything about it.

So he’s an idiot and kind of spineless, but he’s still far more mature than she is. Also, his B-plot about reconciling with his alcoholic dad felt completely pointless and tacked on.

I also don’t like the tone of fat-phobia in this. Half of The Humiliation centers on how heavy the heroine was as a teen. Her internal monologues as an adult mostly show that she’s convinced she needs to be thin to be happy, and the hero’s observations of her as an adult the first time they reconnect directly correlate her hotness to her weight, or lack thereof. It’s minor, and there are far worse problems with the plot than this, but it’s worth noting that in Clover Park you apparently can’t be overweight and happy at the same time.

60 - Split Second.JPG

#60 – Split Second, by Kasie West

  • Read: 5/4/19 – 5/6/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (19/48)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

My expectations were reasonably high for this, and it didn’t disappoint, but it wasn’t better than Pivot Point, either. One of my complaints about the first book was that I didn’t get as much of the Para world as I wanted, and this certainly solved that issue, as Para intrigue is most of the book.

What I’m less thrilled about is splitting the book between Addie and Laila, rather than Addie and other!Addie. I know the latter wouldn’t be possible now, and I like Laila, but her romance with Connor lacked the spark that I got from Addie and Trevor.

Who I’m quite pleased with now that the story’s finished, don’t get me wrong. Trevor continues to be the A+ stand-up guy he was before, and I only like him better now that he’d pitched into the deep end of Para weirdness and swims through it like a champ.

I’m glad I got the ending, but it wasn’t as strong as the opening.

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