Book Review: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Title: The Summer King

Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson

Rating: 2 stars

Review:

For the Queen to reign, the King must die…

In the city of Palmares Três, Brazil, the ritual of the Summer King has come again. One man will be chosen to wear the crown, one man who will win the hearts of all the people and choose the next Queen by spilling his own blood by her feet. It is a brutal tradition, but an ancient one that makes the city what it is.

June Costa has watch several Summer Kings before. Like the rest of the city she has cheered when they were crowned and cried at their deaths. It’s part of her culture, one she has never questioned. Until she meets Enki. Captivating and charming, he is chosen by many to be the next Summer King. Both June and her best friend Gil quickly fall for Enki – June sees in him the soul of an artist, one to match her own. Soon, June finds herself asking why the Sumer King must die as together they create a masterpiece that the whole of Palmares Três will never forget.

The Summer Prince had a lot of potential: it’s a post-apocolyptic, dystopic sci-fi novel featuring a Brazilian society run by women, focusing on the life of a struggling artist who falls for a boy who volunteered to sacrifice himself in a gruesome traditional ceremony that happens every few years to choose the city’s new Queen. Sounds impressive, right? Sadly, this book is pretty bad. Like many YA post-apocolyptic and/or dystopic novels not enough time is spent on the world building, and what there is focuses far too much on the what rather that the why. We are told exactly what happens to the Summer King – from the first death that started the tradition, to the choosing and voting which June participates in, to the final ceremony – but we are never told why a Summer King is needed. Seriously, of all the ways to choose a new monarch, why human sacrifice? And surely the acting of having a man always choose the Queen undermines the fact that the ruling council is deliberately made only of women? What’s worse is that the Summer King isn’t chosen based on their intellect or political knowhow. It’s literally a popularity contest, with talent shows and dressing up to wow the judges and gain votes from the public. It’d be like having the winner of the X-Factor choose the next Queen of England. (Though if this were real, I’d be far more inclined to vote for Jedward just to see them die at the end of it all.) I can’t comment on whether the depiction of Brazil was accurate or a exoticism, as I have sadly never been and don’t know that much about their culture.

I also greatly disliked the main character June. To put it bluntly, she’s a spoilt brat. She spends all her time partying and running around vandalising property in the name of ‘art’, but her life is so hard. Her so-wonderful, so-inspiring father who she still glorifies killed himself even though his family knew what he was planning and begged him not to and his daughter was only a teenager, then her mother had the cheek to try and find happiness again by re-marrying a woman who has done nothing but try to help June accomplish something with her life other than a hangover and a painted patch of wall where some crap graffiti used to be. (Hmm, that wasn’t as harsh in my mind. Oh well.) As for all the other characters they are pretty boring to be honest. In fact, that’s how I would summarise my whole experience with this book: boring. If you read the official blurb it mentions something about June and Enki ‘adding fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech’, but that’s not really a plot line as it’s barely featured. Seriously, worse rebellion ever.

One thing I did enjoy was Alaya Dawn Johnson’s depiction of teenagers and sex. Personally, I think this is a sex positive book. Firstly, homosexuality is seen as completely normal: there are several same sex relationships that are so natural that the narration doesn’t even point out that they are same sex. It’s just stated as facts – ‘this is my mother and her new wife, this is my best friend and his boyfriend’. Secondly, there is no slut shaming in this book, and sex is never something that a character is made to feel bad for having. Now I know that some reviewers complained that June described her virginity as a ‘problem’ she had ‘taken care of’ with her best friend, but I have no problem with this. Teenagers have sex for as many different reasons as adults, and some want to lose their virginities as fast as possible. It’s not something I’d personally encourage, but if they want to do it, and they are safe about it, then who I am (or anyone else) to judge?

Anyway, to put it simply, I was bored and unimpressed with The Summer Prince. Pity.

2 stars.

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ARC Review: The Bone Flower Throne by T. L. Morganfield

18336300Title: The Bone Throne Flower

Author: T. L. Morganfield

Series: The Bone Flower Throne Trilogy #1

Rating: 2 stars

Review:

Princess Quetzalpetlatl knows that being part of the royal family of Culhuacan and honouring their god The Feathered Serpent requires sacrifice. At only seven years old she is made to marry her cousin Black Otter, who will become the next King as Quetzalpetlatl’s mother can no longer have children. It could be worse – Black Otter is a good friend, and soon she will live with the priests to learn how better to serve The Feathered Serpent, who she already loves fiercely. But her calm and content childhood is destroyed when her uncle Ihuitimal, Black Otter’s father, reveals that he is a worshiper of a the blood thirsty god known as The Smoking Mirror, sacrificing Quetzalpetlatl’s father and claiming his throne. Though Quetzalpetlatl and her mother escape to their neighbouring allies, the Queen dies in childbirth, leaving Quetzalpetlatl and her little brother, who is believed to be the son of The Feathered Serpent, orphaned.

Raised by their mother’s friend and High Priestess, Nimilitzli, Quetzalpetlatl learns she can communicate with The Feathered Serpent and that not only must her brother Topiltzin must reclaim his throne in the god’s name, but together they must put an end to the practice of human sacrifice. Dedicating her life to the god’s will, Quetzalpetlatl struggles with political turmoil, corruption within the priesthood, and her own growing feelings for Topiltzin. Will her love and desire outweigh her vows of sacrifice?

What first attracted me to The Bone Flower Throne was the fact that it was a fantasy set in tenth century Mexico, mixing politics, gods, and a woman’s quest to avenge her family. It sounded like a great book, especially as I’ve never read an Aztec based fantasy before. In a world where fantasy based on Greek mythology are a dime a dozen, this sounded like a refreshing change. Sadly, I was ultimately disappointed and bored by this book. It suffers heavily from the ‘great idea, poor execution’ problem. The little bit we are shown of Aztec life and customs are quiet interesting, especially the forms of worship, such as the priestess’ piercing their tongues with thorns to offer up their blood. However, the fantasy elements of this novel are limited to the few brief times Quetzalpetlatl contacts her god. The rest of the book is focused on the politics and Quetzalpetlatl’s life. The Bone Flower Throne is meant to be a trilogy, which I was aware of from the beginning, so I was surprised that it covers a lot of her life, starting from her childhood at the age of seven (in a fairly unconvincing first person narration) continuing into her late twenties. Despite spanning so many years not much happens in terms of plot, and the time skips (from between two and ten years) are a little off putting. I gather that these skips are meant to show that not much action took place in those years, but there wasn’t particularly much action in the rest of the book. It also didn’t feel authentically Aztec, with characters using fairly modern language like telling each other to ‘shut up’.

For a woman devout on her god, set on becoming a High Priestess, Quetzalpetlatl spends a little too much time worrying about how she can’t have sex and has to live with her desire. She also seems too willing to throw away her virginity, that she vowed to keep as a sacrifice to her god, much too quickly. This issue seems to come up again and again because all the men in this story are unable to keep their hands off her. This attraction seems unjustified, as Quetzalpetlatl is nothing special, and even boring at times. The romantic interest with her brother is also a bit disturbing, though isn’t odd in the context of this novel, where family members are often wed to each other to preserve the royal blood line. At one point Quetzalpetlatl makes a comment about a women not being able to be anything more than a mother or a priestess and how she needs to change that, but nothing ever comes of it. The worst part of the book though? It was pretty boring, with little action and repetitions about Quetzalpetlatl’s lust and her inability to do anything about it (though not through lack of trying).

Sadly this is another book with ideas that could have been great, but just didn’t live up to it’s potential.

2 stars.

Book Review: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

7619057Title: Warm Bodies

Author: Isaac Marion

Series: Warm Bodies #1

Rating: 2 stars

Review:

(Contains spoilers.)

What exactly happens to a person’s mind when they’re bitten by a zombie? R knows he has lost a huge part of himself to the virus, including his name, but that doesn’t mean he stops thinking – or dreaming. He spends his days wandering the airport he and his fellow zombies have overrun, losing himself in routine of walking in circles, as he tries to remember. He even has a friend he can talk to (albeit very slowly).

Despite this R is still a zombie: a monster that craves human blood. Until he meets Julie, a human girl, and find he has to save her life or reasons even he doesn’t know. Can R still be human in some way? Is it possible he’s falling in love?

Warm Bodies starts off beautifully. Through R’s first person narrative, we are shown the inner workings of a man who has become a monster, still clinging onto the last few pieces of his humanity. He wonders who he is, as “R” is all he can remember from his name, and tries to forge relationships with other zombies. He understandably becomes obsessed with human creations, like music, to try and feel connected to humanity again. This novel also uses the interesting idea that the reason zombies eat human brains is because they can relive a person’s memories through this. This leads to a hilarious scene between R and his friend M, sharing a brain like two teenagers sharing a joint.

If the book had continued in this fashion it would have been five stars. Then along come the love interest, Julie. This girl has survived a zombie apocalypse, watched the world fall apart around her, seen her boyfriend eaten in front of her, yet spends the whole book whining her life is so hard and that Daddy doesn’t love her enough, because he’s trying to save everyone else and fix the world. It’s near impossible to believe that she’s so special that she is supposed to be the one who cures all the zombies by spreading love.  Also, how could you fall in love with the zombie who literally ripped apart your boyfriend right in front of your eyes?

The book would have worked so much better if it had been the story of R’s redemption by facing all the monstrous things he’d done to survive, but he is never punished for his actions and all the people he has killed, not even by himself. In fact, Julie forgives him for eating Perry, her boyfriend, almost instantly because they were having relationship problems. By eating Perry’s brain, R is (somehow) able to communicate with the dead man through his memories – these scenes are very weird and disjointed. The whole book was written in a a poetic style that felt forced, like the author was trying too hard.

Warm Bodies could have been such an amazing novel, but it quickly lost its harsh, realistic edge then continued to go downhill as it tried too hard for a “happily-ever-after” ending, which ruined it completely.

2 stars.

Book Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

17855844Title: The Shining Girls

Author: Lauren Beukes

Rating: 2 stars

Cover Comments: Fairly standard, though I do like the graphics on the word “shining”.

Review:
Discovering a key that allows him into a house that travels through time could be the escape from a bleak life during the Great Depression that Harper Curtis needs. But Harper finds himself drawn to darker, more twisted desires. As he journeys between the 1920s and the 1990s, Harper searches for his shining girls; brilliant girls who practically burn with potential. He hunts these girls out, gives them a gift and a promise they will meet again.

It’ll be the last meeting they ever have.

Harper crosses through the years, taking these shining girls spark away from them, one after another, until one girl somehow manages to survive. Kirby will never be the same again after the gruesome attack that nearly killed her. Scarred both physically and mentally, she is determined to hunt down her unknown assailant and bring him to justice. After hunting through news articles and chasing down possible leads, Kirby begins to suspect that these murders seem to be spanning over seventy years. But how can that be possible? And can she stop him before he kills again?

This novel sounds like a fascinating mix of sci-fi and thriller, full of tension, death, and the twisted psychological workings of a serial killer. Sadly though, The Shining Girls fails to live up to this great premise. Ultimately, the house that allows Harper to time travel is little more than a gimmick that is never fully explained. It just is. In fact, “it just is” seems to be the explanation for most of the novel. Why is Harper a killer? He just is. Why does he choose these “shining” girls? He just does. How does the House work? It just does. I could go on. Once the time travel theme is used, all that is left is a standard thriller, with nothing particularly amazing to make the novel worth much interest. This includes very poor “investigative” skills on part of the mine character Kirby, who seems to get lucky with her search more than anything else which proves to be very annoying.

There are several major questions left unanswered about the serial killer. Harper is not a character: he is a plot device. He has no history, no depth, and nothing interesting other than his narrated action, which only serve to tell the story. This novel could have been a fascinating study of motives and the inner workings of a serial killer. Instead we simply get a blow by blow account of his actions, which reads as dryly during a murder scene as it does during his daily routine. We are told what he does, but not why he does it. There is no real explanation as to how or why Harper chooses his victims. What exactly is it that makes them shine? This leads to another problem: the unquestioned sexism that rises from the stereotypical portray of a male serial killer who only ever attacks women (who are frequently referred to as “girls” in a very patronising tone). Issues have been raised by other reviews about the gendered violence against women (The Book Smugglers have a great review which looks at this), which is used in a graphic and often sexualised way. As well as this, there is also the issue of the serial killer being a man. Though there have been many male serial killers who target women, the problem The Shining Girls has is that it is treated as the norm, never challenged and only ever mentioned once in the text: “Always a ‘him’, these perpetrators of terrible violence upon women. As if women were incapable of evil.” This idea is is then dropped completely from the novel. Even a brief description at what drove Harper to murder would have helped these issues, but sadly there wasn’t one to be found.

With these problems, and others (unnecessary gore and sex, the use of the murder victims as devices to show how disturbed Harper is, and a slightly creepy romantic angle between Kirby and a journalist who acts more like a father figure) I’m afraid this book simply didn’t shine for me. For more of these issues in greater detail see Wendy Darling’s brilliant review.

2 stars