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.

Kindle Daily Deal: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

Do you like steampunk, Japanese fantasy, and griffins, with kicka-ss heroes and dystopic politics? Then you should buy today’s Kindle Daily Deal (Amazon UK) is the amazing Stormdancer – £1.39 today only! The first book in The Lotus War series, the sequel, Kinslayer, was released a coupel of weeks ago, so if you’ve had your eye on this series what better time to grab it than now? Violence, airships, and talking mythical creatures? What more could you want?

10852343Description:

Griffins are supposed to be extinct. So when Yukiko and her warrior father Masaru are sent to capture one for the Shogun, they fear that their lives are over. Everyone knows what happens to those who fail him, no matter how hopeless the task.

But the mission proves far less impossible, and far more deadly, than anyone expects – and soon Yukiko finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in her country’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled griffin for company. But trapped together in the forest, Yukiko and Buruu soon discover a friendship that neither of them expected.

Meanwhile, the country around them verges on the brink of collapse. A toxic fuel is slowly choking the land; the omnipotent, machine-powered Lotus Guild is publicly burning those they deem Impure; and the Shogun cares about nothing but his own dominion. Yukiko has always been uneasy in the shadow of power, when she learns the awful truth of what the Shogun has done, both to her country and to her own family she’s determined to do something about it.

Returning to the city, Yukiko and Buruu plan to make the Shogun pay for his crimes – but what can one girl and a flightless griffin do against the might of an empire?

September Classic Challenge: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

“Classic” – a book which people praise and don’t read. – Mark Twain

Welcome to a new monthly feature, where I challenge myself to read a ‘classic’ novel. This is because I, like so many others, haven’t actually read many of the amazing novels that are hailed by many as masterpieces or a defining work of a certain genre.

For September, I am reviewing Lord of the Flies, a novel about the line between man and animal. When a group of boys crash land on a deserted island they are torn between becoming a civilised society and a bunch of savages. It questions how far mankind’s nature is from that of animals.

526Title: Lord of the Flies

Author: William Golding

Publication Date: 1954

Rating: 2.5 stars

Review:

Stranded on a desert island, with no adults, a group of young boys must learn how to survive and function as a society. Ralph, a natural leader, gets nominated as chief and pushes all their efforts into keeping a signal fire lit. Not everyone thinks this is important; Jack believes that hunting is the key to survival, and he will do anything necessary to take power from Ralph. But there is something out there, hiding in the forest. The boys know it only as ‘the beast’ and laugh at the idea of a monster, but in the dark of the night they only know something is coming.

As a comment on the functions and breakdown of society, and how mankind is not much more than an animal if we allow ourselves to give in to our base urges, Lord of the Flies is an interesting yet extremely heavy handed book. It’s interesting that William Golding uses children to make his point, as it shows the gap between being a child and being an adult, but could also be seen as a comment on how children are more like animals – during our childhood we learn how to become more civilised, eventually becoming fully functioning members of society when we become adults. The fact that the stranded group were all young boys also makes a point. I believe this would have been a very different book if it had been only girls on the island – more discussion/arguing and less bloodshed, for a start. However, had it been a mix of both genders, I believe it would have been similar, only the competition between the boys would have been a lot more upfront and the attention from a girl would have indicated rank.

It is agreed that there is a lot of symbolism in this book, with the main characters representing Democracy, Dictatorship, Science, and Religion. Personally, I didn’t find this all to be very clear. Whilst I could see Ralph and Jack as Democracy and Dictatorship – with Ralph as the leader wanting to discuss issues, and Jack’s tactics of propaganda and scapegoating – the roles of Piggy and especially Simon weren’t as clear. To me, Piggy was just the voice of reason and I wasn’t sure what Simon was meant to represent. The scene with Simon and the pigs head seemed random and disconnected from the rest of the story.

As for reading and enjoying Lord of the Flies, for what is a very interesting plot the book itself is dull. I enjoy stories, and found this book to be too much about ‘The Message’.

2.5 stars

Book Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

13636400Title: The Bone Season

Author: Samantha Shannon

Series: The Bone Series #1

Rating: 3.5 stars

Review:

It’s 2059 and London is being run by a security force known as the Scion, whose mission is to hunt out all clairvoyants hiding in the city. Paige Mahoney, a nineteen year old Irish woman, works in the criminal underworld as a dreamwalker. As one of the rarest clairvoyants, Paige is constantly on the look out, as there would be only one sentence if she was captured: death. At least that’s what she always thought, until it actually happens.

Suddenly, Paige finds herself being shipped off to Oxford, a city that has been sealed off for nearly two-hundred years and renamed Sheol I. The city is ruled by a race of unearthly, humanoid creatures called the Rephaim, who view themselves as physically and intellectually superior to mankind. They use voyants as soldiers and servants, and are ruled by a woman called Nashira Sargas. Paige is soon claimed by the blood-consort to Nashira, Arcturus Mesarthim, known as the Warden, who will train her, care for her, and own her completely. Despite being his slave, Paige can’t help but wonder whose side Warden is actually on, but she knows no matter what she is not safe here. Now, Paige must find a way to survive and escape, before her training in fighting monsters who eat human flesh or the attention from Nashira kills her.

The Bone Season is a entertaining book, with a lot of world building and interesting characters. The world created by Samantha Shannon is very detailed, stuffed full of information, almost to the point of becoming slightly overwhelming at the beginning. It starts out with a very heavy info dumping style – the world is described almost completely in the first chapter, and not revisited at all in the rest of the book. This can lead to some confusion, so it is recommended that the begin of this book is read fairly carefully so as to not miss anything. Luckily, once Paige is captured and the action picks up, the info dumping lessens (though doesn’t disappear completely) and you get mostly caught up in the story. I say ‘mostly’, because I felt the book started to lag slightly in the last third. Whilst the story is still moving, there was just something that felt a little bit repetitive and slower that the rest of the book.

All the characters were enjoyable, and though the romance between Paige and Warden was obvious from the beginning, they were both interesting. The slow burn of the romance was the unexpected part, and I think this is part of what caused the lull in the pace, waiting for the romance to fully unfold. However having said that, this is a nice change from most book that focus heavily on romance, and seeing as this is a seven book series it gives the relationship time to develop properly. Warden was one of the most interesting characters as his motives are hidden throughout most of the book and it’s clear why Paige doesn’t trust him for a long while.

Overall, The Bone Season is entertaining and detailed book, that, despite a couple of problems, has captured my interest. I am looking forward to book two.

3.5 stars.

August Classic Challenge: 1984 by George Orwell

“Classic” – a book which people praise and don’t read. – Mark Twain

Welcome to a new monthly feature, where I challenge myself to read a ‘classic’ novel. This is because I, like so many others, haven’t actually read many of the amazing novels that are hailed by many as masterpieces or a defining work of a certain genre.

Dystopic novels have become very popular over the last few years, especially in Young Adult. I have thoroughly enjoyed books like The Hunger Games and Stormdancer, but have also read some not so great ones (Wither and Delirium, to name some). I’ve noticed that most of the time with the dystopic novels I haven’t enjoyed most of the problems stem from issues with the world building, that the society has too many holes to be believable. 1984 has always been known to feature the original dystopian society, and I decided it’s high time to give it a go.

6606279Title: 1984

Author: George Orwell

Publication Date: 1948

Rating:

Intellectual Rating: 4 stars

Emotional Rating: 2 stars

Review:

(Contains spoilers, if you wish to read this unspoilt, look away now!)

The year is 1984, and thirty-nine year old Winston Smith has just committed a thought crime. Hiding from the ever watching and listening telescreen in his home, Winston begins to write in a dairy describing the thoughts that could get him killed by the government: his hatred of Big Brother, the knowledge that news stories and facts are being altered, and that poverty exists despite everything the Party would have people believe. Soon Winston begins looking for the rebellion he desperately hopes is out there, and begins an affair with young woman called Julia, would hates the Party as much as himself and uses sex as an act of defiance. Hiding from the Thought Police, Winston and Julia both know that their days are numbered, before they are discovered and removed from all existence – no-one can hide from the Party forever…

The original dystopia novel, 1984 is a great example of a dictatorship who has taken control so fully they don’t even need to be subtle about their actions against their people. Winston is in the fairly unique position of working for the Party in the Ministry of Truth, thus being able to see how they alter news given to the public, but is not high up enough to be exempt from the hash realities of the country, like rations and living under constant surveillance.  1984 questions the nature of reality through Winston’s struggles to deal with the knowledge of the facts he changes, whilst also pretending that he never saw them and swallow everything the Party says as truth. What exactly is reality? Does your reality differ from other peoples’, especially if they believe in a different past than you? The Party’s motto “he who controls the present controls the past, he who controls the past controls the future” is true, as they use their power to manipulate the public getting them to believe whatever they say, and through this ensure the public’s loyalty to the government. Struggling with questions like this and knowing you can’t think them without being hunted down by your own government, it’s easy to understand why Winston throws himself into his relationship with Julia, even knowing that it would almost certainly get him killed. The character of Julia is also an example of a common stereotype, especially in young people  – the rebel who doesn’t know exactly what they are rebelling against as they can’t be bothered to fully educate themselves. They just know that the government is evil, and believes that everything they say is “bloody rot“.

This novel is excellent in providing a terrifying example of what the world could become. With increases in CCTV cameras and surveillance through technology like GPS in smartphones, it’s easy to see why 1984 is often referenced by people when talking about how much we are being watched by the powers that be. This in itself earns the novel four stars in my eyes. However, upon finishing the novel my first thought was “well, that was depressing!”. After all that Winston goes through, discovering a man he thought was his friend was actually working for the Party, he and Julia being arrested by the Thought Police, Julia betraying him, and being tortured until he “loved Big Brother”, the only options left to Winston were to either become indoctrinated or die. Though indoctrination is the only way for George Orwell to keep his character alive, and to show the absolute power of the government, in the end this message was almost too depressing to read, and left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Since this is such a difference in feelings between these two aspects in the novel, I’m cheating with my ratings here. As a comment on the power the government can have over its people and would life could be life if we’re not careful, this novel is excellent. As a novel about characters rebelling and trying to find peace, it is just plain depressing.

Intellectual Rating: 4 stars

Emotional Rating: 2 stars