Friday, April 8, 2016

UNMADE


Review of UNMADE by SARAH REES BRENNAN
(third in THE LYNBURN LEGACY series, based on review copy)

In all honesty, this book wasn’t everything I wanted it to be. Instead it’s a bittersweet conclusion to a series I fell in love with upon reading the first book several years ago.

This is the showdown book. The evil sorcerers have all the power and the outlook is bleak for Kami and her friends. Their foremost nemesis Rob demands human sacrifices to fuel and increase his and his followers’ power. Some of the frightened townsfolk think sacrificing some is a good comprise for saving others, but Kami knows Rob’s torment has no end. People might die trying to defeat him, but if they don’t try he’ll keep killing people anyway. I repeat: outlook is bleak.

This series went downhill for me. I adored the first book so much I practically drooled over it. I found the second one good but a far cry from the first. And this third book mostly frustrated me, though I did find a few glimmers of what I so loved originally.

First let me call out what I perceive to be the book’s weaknesses. As I mentioned in my review of UNSPOKEN, all the character dialogue sounds the same. I didn’t mind so much, because “the same” for book one meant “equally witty and hilarious.” However, here I found the majority of every character’s dialogue not only maddeningly interchangeable but highly unbelievable. I simply don’t know people who talk like these characters. Sometimes it occurred to me that much of the dialogue is more along how people think than how they speak: dramatic, long-winded, and, as funny a criticism as this sounds, too articulate. The dialogue is missing a kind of rhythm we find in real life conversation that comes from things like “uh”s, stammering, fragments, poorly or awkwardly phrased sentences, etc. I guess another way to put it is that the dialogue feels like something that has been written, and then re-written and edited to perfection. The problem is that the result doesn’t feel like something someone might say off the top of their head.

Kami starts to feel too much like a Mary Sue to me. Everyone’s in love with her or plotting her demise. The author and other characters keep telling me how utterly unique and special she is, but I’m not seeing it. (I think she’s impressive girl, but her accomplishments shouldn’t diminish those of plenty of other impressive girls.) And I’m not a fan of the soul mate complex dynamic reflected in Kami and Jared’s stormy relationship.

Most significantly, though, I didn’t feel this book. With the first one, I wanted what the characters wanted so badly it hurt to see them fall short. With this one I often felt more apathetic: “Succeed or fail. Live or die. What difference does it make to me? You’re not real.” That’s the key right there. Making characters feel real, like your friends, like a part of yourself. The characters feel too hyperbolized, as their unique qualities become their single defining quality. Quirky Kami. Moody Jared. Sleepy Rusty and Angela. In this way the characters start feeling too one-dimensional. One of my favorite characters dies and I hardly cared. (Not too much of a spoiler, in my opinion, since this is a character-heavy story and I loved a lot of them.)

Now on to what I liked. As I stated earlier, despite all my criticisms, a few moments in this book reminded me of what I loved so much in the first: a good-humored insight into human motivation. While I say I didn’t feel a beloved character’s death, I did feel the aftershocks. Like Kami’s realization that her love isn’t special. She’s a passionate person who wanted to believe that the fierceness of her love shields those she cares about from harm, makes them exceptions to the horrors hitting other families. Though expressed in pretty much one or two simple sentences in the book, I could discuss this theme at length. Love as protection is a common trend in fantasy, but it’s emotional protection, not physical. Loving someone doesn’t inherently make them safe.

I also adored how the author handles the climax and denouement for the series. While I complain that the characters feel too flat in this installment, their actions near the end are hardly arbitrary. They wouldn’t be able to do the things they do without being the people they are. Kami and Jared’s lifelong experience of sharing a consciousness comes into play as well as Kami’s journalistic talents. My favorite part of the whole book is an article she writes that feels so bursting with passion and determination that it should have it’s own pulse. If all of Kami’s articles are as good as that one, I could read a book full of them.

While I didn’t idolize the second and third books in this series as much as the first, there’s strengths throughout as well as plenty worthy of considerable thought and discussion.

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