This Week, I Read… (2019 #49)

155 - Abaddon's Gate.jpg

#155 – Abaddon’s Gate, by James S.A. Corey

  • Read: 11/20/19 – 11/24/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (102/100)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

Welcome to the Expanse, where the science is hard, gravity is always a concern, and inertia is the biggest bitch in the universe who kills more people than guns ever could.

I loved it, though being a show-watcher first, this was the first book in the series to throw me a serious curve ball, when I was like, “Wait, who’s Bull? I don’t recognize this guy.” It didn’t take me too long to figure out that he was replaced on television with Drummer, who I know from reading a comparative timeline doesn’t actually show up for a while yet. And I like Drummer on the show just fine, but I like Bull too. He’s a pragmatist in all ways except his own personal safety, and I admired that.

I was also thrown by knowing right up front who Melba really was. Her first chapter is incredibly upfront about her dual identity and her purpose, and having her as a clear antagonist from the get-go was a different story experience, one that the show (to some degree) traded for much more screen time with Captain Ashford. (Which, don’t get me wrong, was a good call, because if you get an accomplished and veteran actor like David Straithearn to play your other bad guy, keep the camera on him, please.)

What continues to impress me about the Expanse is its excellent pacing and scope of escalation. First the protomolecule is a mystery, then it’s a threat because it was weaponized via human hands, now its true purpose turns out to be opening up a gate that needs to be investigated.

Then in this installment we get the plot bomb dropped that whatever civilization made the protomolecule was wiped out by something stronger. That may seem an obvious next step, but we spent two books establishing just how powerful, wacky, and alien the protomolecule was, and thus how powerful, wacky, and alien its creators are. Only now it’s how they must have been, once, because it looks like they’re gone.

I had the same sinking feeling in my gut then that I did after reading Lord of the Rings and finding out, after the fact, that Shelob wasn’t even close to the biggest and scariest spider monster in universe. As if that weren’t bad enough, Sauron wasn’t even the strongest Big Bad, a fact I learned only moments later. It was mind blowing, and I’m not exaggerating. I bought myself a copy of The Silmarillion not too long after to find out more, only to be horribly bored by the dry and factual approach to building a mythos. But that’s another review.

So this epiphany could have read like a poor bait-and-switch, but it doesn’t. And to further appreciate the pacing, it did not escape my notice that Holden’s awe-inspiring, come-to-God-and-the-Universe moment came at exactly halfway through the book. Midpoint climax, baby! That’s some good stuff.

Maaaaybe the big battle at the end for control of the Behemoth dragged on longer than truly necessary, but if that’s my only quibble, it’s a small one. It still brought everyone’s story lines together in a convincing and satisfying way.

156 - Proof by Seduction

#156 – Proof by Seduction, by Courtney Milan

  • Read: 11/24/19 – 11/25/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (103/100)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

Okay, but not nearly as good as I was hoping. Because of finding both this and its sequel and used book sales, but in the wrong order, I actually read the second book two years ago and quite enjoyed it, but going back to fill in the first half of Ned’s story wasn’t as worthwhile as I had hoped it would be.

And that’s only half of the “meh, it was okay” equation. Jenny and Gareth’s romance was more stereotypical than I’ve come to expect from Milan’s work, with a brooding alpha male and a secretive heroine falling in lust with each other while also seeming to hate each other’s guts. Technically it’s enemies-to-lovers, but it also kind of doesn’t feel that way, somehow? Maybe because the lust is instant, and in those types of stories I expect the enemies part to stand up for longer before they give in to the lust.

My point is, the pacing felt off. And the bit at the end when Gareth is confronted with how horrible a childhood Jenny had and that explains/excuses a lot of her behaviors…meh, I just didn’t care for it.

As for the major subplot of the novel, Ned and his mistakes, I loved Ned in his own story in the next book but he is an absolute buffoon here. I get it, he’s young and no one has expected much of him. But despite this not being “his” story overall, I saw very little of the protagonist in him that I know we get later, and if I *had* read the books in order, I honestly might not have liked the second one as much because I would have had trouble believing they were the same man. Even if, to some degree, that’s the point–Ned grows up–but still, they’re almost unrecognizable as the same character.

So reading them backwards is not recommended, but reading them correctly maybe not either? Just try one of Milan’s other series instead, honestly.

157 - Hate to Want You

#157 – Hate to Want You, by Alisha Rai

  • Read: 11/26/19 – 11/27/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (104/100)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

A romance that is fantastic in almost every respect. Diversity, respect for mental illness, realistic flaws in both main characters, honest but confused attempts to move past their past.

The major problem I had was that their past was SUCH a big part of the story. Setting up inter-family history and dynamics this complicated, to set the stage for and justify such an unhealthy lovers-to-exes-to-yearly-hookups relationship, required a lot more page space than I think the back story actually deserved. Every time things might have been looking up for our lovebirds, their families intruded somehow and mucked things up.

Not that they didn’t do plenty of mucking up themselves, they’re both hot messes, but those internal conflicts felt much more real and developed, while the family/external conflicts often felt unnatural and forced.

The handling of Livvy’s depression, though, I really liked. Though her episodes manifest differently from mine, I still related to a lot of how she felt, and even if the experience isn’t the same it’s still amazing to me to see depression in a romance treated with gravity instead of a mere flavor to someone’s personality.

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