Sunday, October 26, 2014

"The Infinite Sea" by Rick Yancey

Though I rarely read YA anymore, I'd enjoyed Yancey's The 5th Wave, a violent alien-invasion dystopian. Like all genre YA these days, The 5th Wave was only the first in a series, so I felt obliged to try The Infinite Sea.

When we finish The 5th Wave, Cassie has rescued her younger brother Sam, who was being trained by the alien invaders (disguised in human bodies) to kill other humans. She was able to execute the rescue only with the help of dreamy Evan Walker, one of the aforementioned alien-invader-in-human-body types who, of course, fell in love with Cassie. When The Infinite Sea begins, Cassie is holed up in a dilapidated motel with Sam and his fellow soldiers: Ben (aka Zombie, aka Cassie's high school crush), Ringer, Dumbo, Teacup, and Poundcake. Cassie's waiting for Evan, and since they're all recent escapees, everyone's pretty tense.

My problems with The Infinite Sea began pretty early. To start, there's not much going on. After a daring escape, they're sitting around, waiting and arguing. And Cassie, who narrates the first section, is just a boring narrator this time around. She's still a bit conflicted about Evan, but all this ground was covered in the last book. Evan's narration (which is thankfully short) is equally annoying. His Edward Cullen attachment to Cassie comes off creepy, not romantic.

The story gets better when Ringer picks up the narration, and fortunately her section is the longest of the novel. There's new characterization to be had here, and she has a little more to do.

Nevertheless, Ringer's narration doesn't make up for a lot of the novel's issues. For one, the outlandish injuries just keep piling on and on. Nearly all the characters are mortally wounded--in multiple places--at some point, yet they all heroically trudge and fight on. One minor character's mortally wounded stand is so absurd that it comes off as comical rather than brave. The hyper-violence even started to bother me; it's gratuitous and occurs toward children as young as six.

Yancey also tries to address some of the criticisms of the first novel, namely the question of why the aliens would bother with a complicated multi-step extermination scheme of humankind when there's easy ways to wipe the whole population out at once. Over and over the characters wonder about this issue (it's as if Yancey's saying, "SEE--I meant for it to make no sense! It was all part of the plot plan!"), but an answer's never given (saved for the third book, I'm sure). The twist "reveal" that does occur at the end of the novel is pretty unexciting.

I was bored through the first half, and though the second half improved, I'm not sure I'm too eager to finish the series.

Friday, October 10, 2014

"The Magician's Land" by Lev Grossman

My husband and I are at odds about Grossman's The Magicians trilogy. I love the subversive fantasy because it's an unexpected take on a genre I love. My husband hates it because it's dark and refuses to create heroes, villains, and traditional victories. Well, he might just complain it's bone-crushingly depressing, and that's true too--at least for the first two books.

So maybe my husband would find he actually likes The Magician's Land, whereas, for me, the final book in the trilogy is the least interesting. The story feels more traditional, and the satire of the worlds of Harry Potter and Narnia, which made the first two books so fresh, feels more stale this time. And there's finally that happy ending, though I won't complain about that--the characters deserve that much.

The Magician's Land focuses on a much older Quentin. Gone is the whiny college student of the first novel. This Quentin is in his 30s and exiled from his beloved Fillory. He grew and became a better man in the last book, but his sacrifices haven't made his life better. Instead, he's getting involved in a shady magical heist. And this is where I first began to lose interest. The heist set-up is out of Ocean's Eleven (okay, a less cool Ocean's Eleven), but it just didn't grab my interest. Maybe that's because because there is no real stake in it for Quentin. He wants the money payout, but his reasons seem nebulous.

And that nebulous-ness continues throughout the book. Quentin's father dies, and the death affects him significantly, but he never really had a relationship with his father to begin with. And then--out of nowhere to me--he becomes devoted to finding Alice, his girlfriend from the first book who died and became a niffin (a kind of rage demon). Redeeming Alice eventually becomes his singular purpose, but I felt like reference to Alice had been almost wholly missing from book two. [Tangent: Maybe I'm wrong here. My memories of the plots of the first two books are very hazy. I tried to find complete summaries online, but I could only find teaser synopses. You definitely need a good understanding of the established characters to follow The Magician's Land appropriately.]

The book also follows Janet and Josh, who are currently ruling Fillory, and their quest to save Fillory--which is dying, of course--feels more like the previous two books.

Though I've complained about much of The Magician's Land, I can understand that a change from the other two books is necessary in order to reflect the change in Quentin. Much of the book focuses on his maturity, and while he (and the book) still acknowledge that the world sucks, there's no longer a sense of hopelessness. Even still, there was a lack of "realness" to the book and an over-abundance of exposition that makes it the weakest Grossman's three novels.