Book Review: Penryn and the End of Days #3 – End of Days

Title: End of Days
Author: Susan Ee
Year of Publication: 2015
Series: Penryn and the End of Days
#: 3
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.15
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

End of Days

They say all good things come to an end. I just spend two reviews praising this series and I’m afraid that that too, is about to come to an end.

The impression I get of End of Days is rather confused. For a series that started out so strongly, such confusion is antithetical. And yet here it is. So what went wrong?

We started out with a foundation of strong and reliable ingredients – the extremely kick ass female protagonist, a very good looking angel with a Saviour Complex of some sort, a family that is interesting and unique in its own right, great supporting characters, monsters, mutants, questions that engage with the basis for our humanity and the grey area that is relative goodness.

And then all of that seems to suddenly have rapidly descended into a chaotic mess of vague scenes, and the only impression you’re left with is that of one very abused pair of wings being chopped off and reattached – over and over and over again.

In the big things, End of Days is as strong as the rest of the series, but it’s the little things that let it down. The nonsense with the wings, for instance. An incomplete picture of Uriel’s real plans and schemes. #JusticeforBeliel.

This being a supernatural fantasy novel, I can’t really say I’m bothered by the imagery of the Pit, the Pit Lords, the hellions or what have you. I’m glad there are no time travel paradoxes – that’s a hard thing to pull off, so kudos, Susan Ee. But is it really going to be as simple as Michael coming in to take over as Messenger, when they just spent two novels tearing each other apart because there’s just no way Michael’s turning up? Are the Watchers really going to be allowed to stay on Earth and mess around with the Daughters of Man after just having been condemned to an eternity in the Pit for that very offence?

Then there are the feminist critiques. I like that Ee engaged with the sexist terminology early on in the series – “The Daughters of Man are forbidden to us!” snaps Raffe. “What about the Daughters of Women?” asks Penryn teasingly. I get that one runs the risk of interfering with organic storytelling if one were to try and subvert that term in the interests of feminism, but that’s only reference anywhere in the series that challenges a term that is used in an increasingly derogatory and condescending fashion. The patriarchal tones applied to it seem to multiply by ten every time it’s used, until I had to resist the urge to punch an Angel through my laptop every time he said “Daughter of Man” and sounded like he was saying “WHORE!”

Even when Ryn broadcasts a declaration of war out to the angels, she identifies herself as Angel Slayer and Daughter of Man. That broke my heart a little.

By End of Days, Ryn has single handedly causes enough havoc to cause the angels to re-evaluate and consider her a major threat. And yet, every time her non-relationship with Raffe is brought up, she is stripped of all agency whatsoever – sexual and otherwise. It’s taken for granted that whatever is to happen between the two of them is whatever Raffe decides will happen between them. And this, it seems, is where the Inexperience Requirement kicks in, because she basically shrugs and assumes the same kind of thing.

On the other hand, the relationship of slut shaming with sexual violence and clothes is dealt with well. Raffe demands to know why Ryn thinks it’s okay to wear short shorts and a loose T shirt when there are ‘lawless men’ hanging around, at which point she points out that she’s likely to face sexual violence regardless, and her clothes are completely irrelevant to that fact.

One reviewer talked about how the ending was too neat – which I guess you could say it was. She complained that Ryn and Raffe got it too easy – the Relationship Angst Quota has not been filled. This is, in essence, true. But you’re not going to catch me complaining about it. I’ve read far too many novels wherein the Relationship Angst levels are off the charts – and it gets mind numbingly boring after a while. They’re the same emotions – hope, loss, heartbreak, and great joy when things finally work out. We’ve been there, we’ve done that. A straightforward ending to a love story is precisely my cup of tea right now. After all, why shouldn’t we get easy relationships from time to time?

Paige and Mrs. Young are real heroes in this book, but they rarely ever take centre stage. They flit in and out of the sides of the story, ensuring the success of the revolution and the war, but Ryn has barely any time to spare for them.
I had a moment where my Hunger Games PTSD was triggered by the sight of a body falling out of the sky after Paige and the leader of the Locusts engaged in an aerial battle for Alpha status. But like with the relationship, we get only happy endings in this book, and that’s fine by me. In fact, it’s awesome.

Despite its weaknesses, End of Days manages to hold the story together long enough for us to enjoy the happy ending, and for that I’m infinitely grateful.

Next: Vampire Academy #4 – Blood Promise

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Book Review: Penryn and the End of Days #2 – World After

Title: World After
Author: Susan Ee
Year of Publication: 2013
Series: Penryn and the End of Days
#: 2
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.27
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 4

World After_250by375
World After

*Spoilers for Books One and Two*

Angelfall left off with Penryn paralyzed and presumed dead. Raffe brings her motionless body back to her family, and World After starts off on a great note with Penryn freaking the hell out of everyone on their way back to the Resistance Camp by appearing to suddenly come back to life. Spoiler: There was a lot of screaming.

[Penryn is too exhausting to type, and I’ve misspelt it every time so far. I think I’ll just call her Ryn.]

World After sees Raffe trying to get his stolen wings back (long story) and murderously stalking the fallen angel who stole them from him, and it sees Ryn off on a journey to try and find her sister, Paige (again). I mean, well, they did find her the first time, but the angels had kind of turned her into a monster, and now everyone treats her like a freak, so she ran away. The Resistance begin to realize the true extent of angelic powers and creatures of hell make an appearance.

Their respective paths end with them crashing yet another angel party – this one ends horrifically – and Ryn uses Raffe’s old sword (whom she christened ‘Pooky Bear’ in a hilariously accidental sort of way) to kill an angel. This earns her the title ‘Slayer of Angels’ and an automatic death penalty. We also hear all about the upcoming angel election being put forward by Uriel – the only archangel politician ever. The election is for the post of Messenger of God, and there’s a casual vacancy because the archangel politician had the old one killed. Poor Gabriel. He always gets the short end of the stick, doesn’t he? 😦 #SupernaturalReference #SeeWhatIDidThere

Just when it looks like things aren’t going too well for our angel slayer and her boy, her bad-ass mutant cannibalistic sister and her paranoid schizophrenic mom come to the rescue, along with about a thousand Locusts. As it turns out, whatever gave Paige the ability to rip into humans with her bare teeth also gave her power over Locusts. Damn, girl.

Neither the action nor the gore lets up in this sequel, which is a good thing. Ryn is forced to face the difficult facts of life (and no, they don’t involve figuring out whether or not to fall in love with an angel). She realizes what an utter tool she’d been about her sister, what with not even being able to meet her eyes and all that. It’s a beautiful moment in the book when the sisters finally come face to face again:

“It’s all right, baby girl,” I whisper into her hair as I hug her. “I’m here. I came for you.”
Her face crumples and her eyes shine. “You came for me.”
I stroke her hair. It’s as silky as ever.

The humour in the books continue to shine, as evinced in a conversation Ryn and Raffe have regarding Raffe’s sword, a semi sentient object that bonded with Ryn in an effort to stay close to Raffe and, I guess because it sort of liked Ryn as well?

“Have you named her yet?” he asks. “She likes powerful names so maybe you could appease her by giving her a good one.”
I bite my lip as I remember telling Dee-Dum what I named my sword. “Um, I could rename her anything she likes.” I give him a cheesy smile.
He looks like he’s bracing himself for the worst. “She gets named once by each carrier. If you’ve named her, she’s stuck with it for as long as she’s with you.”
Damn.
He glares at me as if he already hates it. “What is it?”
I consider lying but what’s the point? I clear my throat. “Pooky Bear.”
He’s silent for so long I’m beginning to think he didn’t hear me when he finally says, “Pooky. Bear.”
“It was just a little joke. I didn’t know.”
“I’ve mentioned that names have power, right? Do you realize that when she fights battles, she’s going to have to announce herself to the opposing sword? She’ll be forced to say something ridiculous like, ‘I am Pooky Bear, from an ancient line of archangel swords.’ Or, ‘Bow down to me, Pooky Bear, who has only two other equals in all the worlds.’ ” He shakes his head. “How is she going to get any respect?”

First world sword problems, am I right?

The series deals with that particular ugliness of human nature that turns up precisely when everything is at its worst – fanaticism, superstition, intolerance, a narrowing of the world view. And misogyny – gender equality was, it turns out, only for the World Before. Now that they’re back to caveman like times, they’re back to caveman like habits. It’s honestly quite disgusting, and we’re never allowed to forget that the spectre of sexual violence hangs over everything.

It also looks at paranoid schizophrenia through Ryn and Paige’s mother. It’s clear that ever since their father abandoned the family, Ryn has had the responsibility of taking care of her family. It’s equally clear that theirs has been an abusive childhood – verbal abuse, hitting and even the ominous sounding ‘slashing’ (do you want to know? I’m thinking no.) It’s also amply implied that the reason for Paige’s inability to walk is in some way their mother’s fault – although no one knows what happened because Paige and her mother were alone at the time.

Not having a lot of experience with paranoid schizophrenia means I’m not really well placed to judge the amount of research on the subject that went into the book. However, it does sound harshly plausible and realistic. A number of heartbreaking moments in World After dealt with Ryn’s relationship with her mother – such as when the two of them are locked into a police car after the rest of the members of the Resistance turn on them. Her mother begins to panic, and Ryn starts thinking about how there needs to be more space in between them. She begins to bang on the windows and yell at passers-by, asking them to please lock her in different car.

At another point, when her mother displays some semblance of sanity, their travelling companion – a former nurse – warns Ryn not to get her hopes up too high… that “just because someone’s out to get you doesn’t mean you’re not paranoid”. Ryn thinks to herself that she hadn’t been getting her hopes up – not really – but that it was still unfair to have the possibility taken from her. Then she gets out of the car and vents her feelings by kicking the headlights in.

World After ends on a peaceful, calm-before-the-storm kind of note and makes you wonder how readers managed to wait a whole year just to finish the story. The plot is interesting and manages to carry the series on its back despite the increasing number of holes and weak points in the story. It’s not as great as Angelfall, and the quality decline is a trend that carries on to the final book in the trilogy.

Reviewed Next: Penryn and the End of Days # 3 – End of Days

Book Review: Penryn and the End of Days #1 – Angelfall

Title: Angelfall
Author: Susan Ee
Year of Publication: 2011
Series: Penryn and the End of Days
#: 1
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.21
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 4

Angelfall
Angelfall

I was going to review the Sisters Grimm series, but I’m having a major case of writer’s block with those reviews. While I figure that series out, I’m moving onto the End of Days series, which, unlike the Sisters Grimm, is right up my alley.

Oh yes, we’re talking young protagonists, supernatural elements, post-apocalyptic situations, seriously forbidden love… and of course, the best thing in the world – heroines who are bad-ass as hell.

Universe: Set in the San Francisco Bay Area soon after the arrival of the angel hordes, the story focuses on the terrified humans whose survival instincts are kicking in hard – and it’s ugly. I’m talking eat-or-be-eaten kinds of scenarios – sometimes literally. The humans not only have to contend with the angels who’re apparently bent on exterminating them as a race, but also with each other. Gang wars have erupted all over the place. Anything and anybody is fair game. And then there are those pesky rumours of shadowy killing machines – midgets? demons? just crazy humans? – who seem big on cannibalism. The apocalypse, it seems, is here, and no one seems particularly prepared for it.

Plot: We follow the seventeen year old protagonist with the unpronounceable name – Penryn Young – as she struggles to keep her paranoid schizophrenic mother and her paraplegic seven year old sister safe all of the dangerous variables they face. Their escape attempt is interrupted when they run into an angel brawl, and Penryn sees one of the angels have his wings chopped off. I know. Ghastly, right? Brace yourselves then – there’s plenty more chopping and cutting and cannibalism (did I mention the cannibalism) in this series. She intervenes and saves the angel’s life, but her sister is kidnapped in the process.
Penryn then forms an uneasy alliance with the heavenly creature – none other than the Archangel Raphael – in the hopes that he’ll lead her to her sister.

Characters: On their way to angel HQ, Penryn and Raffe (as he likes to be called) run into a semi militarized version of a human resistance which is preparing to try and eject the murdering intruders. Obadiah West, the commander of the resistance camp, is a real hero complete with old school honour and an unwavering belief in his cause. He’d have been the highlight of the book if he wasn’t so badly overshadowed by the heroic natures of our protagonists. On the other hand, the real scene stealing in this book is done by Tweedledee and Tweedledum – a pair of identical twins who double as Resistance Spymasters, bookies and over-all comic relief. Despite the fact that both of them are natural clowns, Dee and Dum are also wild card reassurances for the reader – they’re extraordinarily reliable, and – unlike most of Penryn’s plans – I haven’t come across a scheme cooked up by these two that hasn’t come off perfectly.

Language and Literature: After having recently put myself through a page of Grey (E.L. James) and having skimmed a couple of similar books, it’s honestly a relief to find a writer whose English is on point. That’s not to say there aren’t a few dubious choices that have been made regarding grammar and sentence structure – but they’re very rare, and hard to spot. Kudos Ms. Ee. I know the bar isn’t particularly high at the moment, but you’re a much needed spot of fresh air in a YA desert-scape.

Penryn is a very Katniss or Tris Prior-like survivor. Her ultimate goal is saving and protecting her mother and sister, but when she can save more people, she ensures that she saves as many as possible. She sort of accepts her heroic status – more or less – much quicker than most other protagonists, which is a relief. To be honest, both for the author, and for dedicated readers of this genre, this variety of plotline is a been-there-done-that-let’s-not-waste-any-more-time-rehashing-the-past-please kind of thing. We all know she’s a hero and that she’s supposed to do heroic things. Lets get with the program and kill monsters.

She’s also unlike Katniss or Tris (no offence to these esteemed ladies) in that she’s not a non-sexual or virginal heroine – something which has drawn criticism from feminist critiques, and rightly so. Penryn is obviously attracted to Raffe, and he to her, and the trains of thought that leave from Angel Crush station often wind around things like her appearance or her experience with dating, relationships and making out. And yet the romantic angle of the books is never a tsunamic wave of emotion that takes over everything else and obliterates the rest of the story under its weight. It’s more of a constant, rhythmic presence – a relationship that makes progress without anyone having to have long and painful conversations or fights about it. Like with any crush, she thinks about him all the time, but those thoughts come as daydreams to pass the time while she’s travelling from one dangerous location to the next, or while preparing for the next fight. Penryn never lets her crush go to her head – her priorities are always clear: her family, humanity, and then Raffe, if possible. (Bella Swan, I’m looking at you. Again.)
That she’s inexperienced is something of a disappointment – it’s almost as though you need to be inexperienced in order to be swept away by such an Obviously Higher Being. Why, though? Is it because a more experienced girl wouldn’t stand for half the over-protective nonsense these guys come up with?

Speaking of over-protectiveness, Raffe is continually dismayed when his attempts at self sacrifice in order to let her get away are rendered pointless by the fact that she comes right back to save his ass. They dance a never ending circle of passing the debt of life back and forth, and are – much to my delight – equally matched. What Penryn lacks in height, strength, wings and weaponry, she more than makes up for with her ingenuity, resourcefulness and knowledge of self defence. Much like Rose Hathaway, Goddess of my heart, Penryn has been trained in the ancient art of fighting. And not only does she manage to hold her own against opponents bigger and stronger (and mostly of the male and angelic varieties), but she also spells out these self defence lessons in her thoughts, making it a perfect spot for the target audience – young girls, mostly – to pick up a few invaluable tips.

Angelfall and its sequels make for extremely easy reads – I finished the entire series in a span of around six hours. The plots of each book are well developed and move from one important scene to the next. There is no rambling, no time wasted unnecessarily in picking up new life skills, meeting new people or planning. (Oh, Eragon, you utmost disappointment, you). Each successive book picks up from exactly where its predecessor left off, which was awesome for me, because I was in the middle of a marathon reading session – but that’s neither here nor there.

While Penryn and the End of Days will probably never achieve the cult status Vampire Academy has in my life, it’s certainly built out of the same mould, and therefore a definite must-read for anyone who’s into the YA and YA Fantasy genres.

Next: Penryn and the End of Days #2 – World After