The Heir

I think we are all a little tired of authors and filmmakers who take one good idea and stretch it out across too many books or films, am I right?  I mean look at The Hobbit!  One good book was stretched into three poor movies due to greed.  In order to stretch this single story across three, new plot-lines and characters were added that weren’t even in the original Tolkien story.  Frankly it made me both sad and angry.  Even books that aren’t made into movies seem to be following this trend of going on too long.  In TV shows the expression for that is ‘jumping the shark’ based on the show Happy Days which kept running long after Richie and Fonzie were growing old and most plot-lines had been explored, so they came up with the ridiculous episode where Fonzie jumps over a shark while water skiing, hence ‘jumping the shark.’  Ugh.

So how does this relate to my current book review for The Heir by Kiera Cass?   Well, when I saw that the author had written a continuation of her Selection series which already was three books long, I felt that this was another example of trying to capitalize on the popularity of the first three books by created another related series in order to maximize profit and fame.  Well I was pleasantly surprised that this first book of the new series was better than I expected.  I should have known better as I had also doubted the first series, thinking from the description that it would be like the book version of The Bachelor.

The Heir takes place twenty years after the events of the first series.  American Singer married Prince Maxon and the central character of this book is their daughter Eadlyn.  Eadlyn is actually a twin, but because she was born a few minutes ahead of her brother, she will be the next ruler of Illia even though she often wishes otherwise.  It is understandable that such a responsibility would weigh heavily on anyone, but to add to the pressure, she will also be the first female ruler.  Perhaps that’s why she is very guarded and fiercely independent.

However, her parents decision in the first series to remove the Castes, a system whereby people’s ability to work in certain jobs, live in certain neighborhoods and who one could date or marry hasn’t turned out exactly as expected.   it was this Caste system that to me made the first series dystopian fiction, this one is less so, but since I already reviewed the first series, I am including this on the blog too.  There are pockets of uprisings throughout the nation, so the Queen and King decide that in order to provide a distraction to give people something positive to focus on, they will have a Selection, such as the competition that brought them together in the first place.

It is strange in The Heir that Eadlyn knows almost nothing about her parents’ Selection as it had such repercussions for the country.  Even if her parents never shared the story, as those of us who read the first series know, the whole things was written about in newspapers and magazines, documented by photographers and filmed for TV weekly during the competition, so how could she be so unaware of the details?  This is a Princess who studies her country’s history and protocols and she never came across any of these details?     A note to anyone yet to read this book, I would suggest rereading or skimming the first books before starting this series as other characters from the original series are in this one, but so much time had passed since I read it, I couldn’t remember which of the women had been good or bad in the original Selection to match them up with their lives in this new series.  Even America herself who was such a vivid character in the first series is never even referred to by that name, she is simply the Queen or Mom to Eadlyn, which is a bit of a shame that she is relegated to taking such a back seat to her daughter in this one.

I do find it strange in both series that this competition that appears in both series, The Selection, seems to old-fashioned, yet the story takes place post modern times since they have all the same technology…yet some of the activities during the Selection are balls, taking tea, strolling the gardens, horseback riding, etc. which seem like something out of the 1800’s, yet the Princess wears some modern clothing, likes pop music, etc. so it’s a bit jarring sometimes.

What was unexpected to me was how Kiera Cass conveys in a very real way what it must be like to be royalty who must struggle between being in the public eye and guiding their people, and trying to have private thoughts and feelings while during their duty.  Maybe that’s why so many of us even in modern times as so fascinated by royals such as Kate and William, while seemingly a modern couple they are also an anachronism.  Also, how in this electronic age do they maintain a private life?  And what is it like to be born into royalty knowing that your birth dictates a very narrow path for your life?    Eadlyn’s struggle with all of this feels pretty real and that’s what took this book out of The Bachelorette  territory and into something more interesting.

 

 

 

 

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The Glass Arrow

As a woman, the scariest dystopian books are about a future world where women have lost about 300 years of progress and are treated as chattel to be bought and sold.  Such is the case in The Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons.

Aya has grown up isolated in the mountains with her mother, cousin and another woman and her children.  They are all in hiding outside the big city where all girls who are ‘pure’ and possibly fertile are put in a special dormitory in the city to await their turn at auction and Aya’s mother doesn’t want that to happen to her daughter.  It’s not just the idea that her daughter might become some man’s possession, but Aya’s mother knows first-hand that a girl not found to be ‘pure’ will have an X carved into her face with a knife and be given to the brothels.  Even girls who do attend and are bid on at the auction, have to face a ‘private meeting’ with their prospective buyer who sometimes take advantage of the girls, a rich pimp could bid on a girl at auction and make her his working girl.  Even if a ‘respectful businessman’ buys a girl, if he tires of her eventually, he could send her back to the dorm to be auctioned off again while he finds a new wife.

No, scraping a living out of the mountains is a better life in Aya’s mom’s mind and Aya agrees.  Brought up free and strong, she knows she is so much more than anyone’s piece of property.  However, the fresh air and food she consumes outside of polluted city make her a prime target as it means she is fertile enough to bear children, especially the male ones wanted by the city.  Just like what still happens in many countries today, girl babies are sometimes killed as they lack value.  They live when the female count is low.

Things weren’t always like this, Aya’s mom has told her stories of a time when all women walked proud and free until the Red Wars when men turned on women similar to the Salem Witch Trials and killed most women and enslaved the remainder.  These tales told deep in the mountains have always been scary for Aya to hear, but they are not near as scary as the day Trackers invade her family’s mountain home.   Freedom is never more precious than to those who have lived it and now may lose it.

The Vault

The Vault by Emily McKay is not a series I wanted to end. I mean, until I started reading apocalyptic and dystopian fiction I had no interest in vampires. This book also have an autistic character as one of the main characters, and I have some conflicted conditions about that disorder after the measles epidemic this summer due to parents who did not want to vaccinate their kids because they mistakenly believe that vaccinations cause it when it does not, all it does it put other children at risk.

So why did I like this series and particularly last book so much when it already had many strikes against it? The characters were well-written and they just felt real. I think too many teen characters come across as immature or too love-struck and that wasn’t the case with Lily and Carter, nor was there the overused plot device of a love triangle. No, the biggest love was actually between Lily and her autistic sister and twin Mel.   Even with difficulties in communicating, the two have an amazing bond, and in this final book Mel became much more vivid as a character and strong person in her own right, not someone who everyone else has to be taking care of and I liked that.

Yes, this is definitely not Twilight for those who start drooling at the mention of vampires. No, in this book vampires are largely cruel and their twisted kin the ‘Ticks’ are truly frightening, as unlike their vampire brethren, their minds are gone and they are driven not by logic or emotions but instinct and need. A Tick is exactly what Lily will turn into if her boyfriend Carter and her sister Mel can’t find the antidote because you see Ticks are not supernatural creatures, they were created by a vampire who was actually trying to develop a cure for cancer and was helped by a human crew. You see, in this book it isn’t necessarily all vampires against humans, it’s vampires against vampires and humans against humans. After all, Lily and Mels father is one of those humans, the guards at the camps where teens are kept as a blood source for Ticks set teens against teens. Sabrina, a former human and Abductura goes after Sebastian, a vampire. There is plenty of tension in this book for people who enjoy both emotional and physical tension.

The story unfolds in alternating chapter by the main characters. That’s another thing I liked about this book, in most stories there is really one main character and a cast of supporting characters, or at most two main characters. I would argue that The Vault has not only four strong main characters, but some pretty strong supporting characters too that if this were a TV show would easily get their own spinoff series as each one brings a unique perspective to the overarching story.

 

California

In the case of California by Edan Lepucki the world goes out with a whimper not a bang.  Maybe in a way that’s the more likely scenario rather than a single catastrophe.  After all, isn’t that what we are seeing right now in our news?  We have a variety of problems, several are climate related, but those are tied with social unrest too, it’s all one giant Venn diagram of interconnected issues,which is what I think has paralyzed both individuals and politicians in making any progress to fix our problems.

The novel California only lightly touches on some of the events that lead to the situation that Cal and Frida find themselves in… a severe blizzard in the Midwest, the inequality of the 1%, lack of fuel and energy.  Frida’s world was normal until about the time she entered high school when the cracks in our society began to show.  Yet her younger brother Micah was able to attend college, well it was one of those experimental colleges, a bit like Evergreen College in Washington, a cross between intellectualism and back to the land hippie education, but for men only.  However, it was free and the concept of skills like agriculture and animal husbandry made it an attractive place for Cal, Micah’s roommate too.  The most complex relationship in the books to me is the one between the two roommates, not the relationship between Cal and Micah’s sister Frida which eventually becomes a marriage.   Micah is this Svengali-like figure at Plank, the school, though Cal has a silent strength of his own that will be needed w in the future.  Micah goes from pulling pranks to being radicalized by the mysterious Toni.  After the boys graduate they all return to LA where Micah and Frida are from, but Micah goes to live in the Encampment as he has joined The Group.  His roommate Cal has chosen another path, he is in love with Frida and they move into an apartment together, Cal tries to eke out a living growing vegetables while Frida works in a bakery until the supplies dwindle and the place closes.  Eventually Micah is involved in a shocking event.

All of the above is told in flashbacks as the story actually begins with Cal and Frida arriving on The Land.  After all, in LA normal life is starting to crumble and it’s not exactly safe in many places.  Cal thinks it would be best if they leave the city, though it’s never actually made clear where “The Land” actually is.  The pair find a shed to live in and are living a Walden Pond existence.  While it’s a primitive way of living, it’s peaceful and makes me question their later choice to leave what seems to me like a safe haven, one that even has good neighbors.  There is a family nearby who teach them additional life of the land skills.  Neighbors who warn them not to leave The Land for an area called The Forms.  Maybe they would have complied if Cal hadn’t found the bodies of Bo and Sandy and their children who appear to have poisoned themselves in a mass suicide a la Jonestown in Guyana.

I guess this is why I couldn’t stand the character of Frida in the book.  Cal has done everything to take care of her and keep her safe and she just comes off as clueless, willful and capricious.  It’s Frida who insists they hike out to the Forms to meet the people living there, a decision that unravels the past, present and future.     If you have ever wondered about people who choose to live off the grid, or choose to join a cult, or choose to live in a gated walled off community, well you will probably find this book interesting as it has elements similar to all three.  However, after a fair amount of building tension the ending left me empty, unless it wasn’t meant to be an ending, but just the first book in a sequel or series.  Normally, I would get online and look but I am still chewing on a bitter aftertaste of feeling a bit let down by the last few chapters.

All We Have Is Now

Emerson, Vince and Carl

What do you think is the more interesting story, a story that takes place post-apocalyptic event or before? Personally, I think a book that takes place prior to the event is a more interesting story, as there is the suspense and tension of knowing that something life-changing, well actually world changing, is about to happen and there isn’t anything you personally can do about it. After all, don’t we have change management seminars and the like because people are resistant to change? Once an apocalyptic event happens, it happens, and you are busy dealing with survival in the aftermath. That doesn’t provide much time for self-reflection.  As hard as that is to survive a disaster, I think it’s harder psychologically to deal with knowing the big change is coming, but wondering if you and the people will survive and what should you say to those people knowing what is coming. You can’t focus on everyday matters not knowing whether you will be brave or calm in the thick of it, so how much will you question yourself as a person? So how do you fill that waiting time, with what activities? Drugs, looting, sex, parties, family time, what? What would it be like to regret the chances you didn’t take in life knowing that now you won’t have those choices anymore, that there are no do-overs.

This is why I kind of liked the book All We Have is Now by Lisa Schroeder. Emerson and Vince are two homeless kids living rough who didn’t think things could get much worse. Then they learn along with the rest of the world that an asteroid is going to hit Earth in a couple of weeks. They observe the different reactions of people around them. Some people loot, some party, some find oblivion in drugs, and some people commit suicide. That’s what the pair decide to do. After all, they do everything together and have a very strong bond based on helping each other survive on the streets.   The part of why they are living on the streets is what bugged me a little. There are hints that Vince experienced some things dark enough to explain why he became homeless, whereas Emerson’s reasons for being a runaway sound very petty and immature, there was nothing in her life that was so bad that going hungry and cold on the streets makes sense.

Anyway, the pair’s plan takes a major U-Turn when they find that the bridge they were planning to jump from has already been called dibs by Carl. Carl talks to the pair telling them that he has spent his last days trying to grant people their wishes and he will do one more for them before he goes. Vince’s wish leads the two into some encounters that impact strangers and family alike. It’s kind of a play on the ‘pay it forward’ phenomena, and while some of the encounters come off as a bit too contrived or coincidental, I appreciated that this was a different take on the pre-apocalypse type of story. It would be nice to think that instead of violence in the last days for mankind, our humanity will be displayed by the individual acts of kindness of which we are all capable.