Book Review: Blackcoat Rebellion #3 – Queen

Title: Queen
Author: Aimee Carter
Year of Publication: 2015
Series: The Blackcoat Rebellion
#: 3
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.97
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 2

I Spoil Everything

queen aimee carter

Plot Description: The Blackcoat Rebellion continues with its characteristic incompetence and worthlessness. Boredom, predictability and frustration ensues.

Previously on “The Blackcoat Rebellion…”

We saw a seventeen year old girl co-opted into two different sets of conspiracy and forced to help maintain as well as overthrow the existing government. Kitty Doe is put through cosmetic surgery to turn her into the doppelganger of Lila Hart, niece to Prime Minister Daxton Hart and member of the ruling Hart family. The real Lila Hart, it would appear, has been murdered by the Prime Minister and his mother to keep her from spreading further treason. Kitty meets the leaders of this treasonous revolution, the “Blackcoats” Celia Hart and Knox Creed – and agrees to continue Lila’s treasonous speeches. She also attempts to assassinate Daxton and fails – in the process discovering that Daxton was long dead, and an imposter named Victor Mercer had taken his place. As a result, Kitty is stripped of her rank and thrown into the vast and brutal prison known as Elsewhere. She then helps the inhabitants of Elsewhere revolt, joining forces with part of the Blackcoat rebels’ army. Oh, and they realize the original Lila Hart was alive and well.

In my reviews of Pawn and Captive, I felt that the childish mentality of whiny teenagers felt completely out of place in a revolution, and Queen is no different. This might actually have been a great premise for a spoof novel – a bunch of brats trying to revolt – but unfortunately, The Blackcoat Rebellion takes itself very seriously.

For instance, this paragraph from Queen

“You know what would be great?” I snapped. “If you could stop treating me like a problem for five minutes. I’m not completely useless, you know. You never would’ve taken over Elsewhere if I hadn’t helped.”
“Debatable,” he said coolly.

…sounds remarkably similar to this paragraph from Captive.

“Maybe if you stopped acting like I’m an untrained dog and started treating me like a person who’s as much a part of this as you are, I’d stop pulling against your invisible leash,” I said. “I have every right to be there, and you know it. If you keep acting like I’m a liability—”

“I wouldn’t if you stopped being a liability.”

“—then I’ll leave,” I finished, ignoring him. “If I can’t work with the Blackcoats, then I don’t have any reason to be here anymore.”

Kitty and Knox are each very good at pointing out that the other is being a terrible brat, but neither can recognize it within themselves. That being said, Knox is actually quite good at strategy – for someone so young. Leaders like Celia and Kitty are the wildcards of the rebellion. They are constantly at the mercy of their own knee jerk reactions, which is a terrible thing when they have the power to command armies. The only difference between the two is that Kitty’s decisions mostly come out positive, whereas Celia’s mostly have negative consequences. For instance, Celia takes a decision that pretty much derails the entire rebellion and results with hundreds of rebels publicly executed. The book decides to make up for this by turning her into a martyr at the end, but the fact remains that it could have been avoided.

Something that does ring true is Kitty’s feeling of being adrift. In the first two books, she claimed that Benjy was her “home,” her sense of belonging. In this book, it’s clear that the Kitty-Benjy relationship is fast crumbling.

“Yeah, but—” I hesitated, not knowing how to put the knot of frustration in my throat into words. “It’s not just that. I don’t know where I belong anymore. I’m a Hart. I’m a former prisoner. I’m a Blackcoat. But I’m not really any of those things, either. And I’m not who I look like. I’m not anything except that speech. And even that wasn’t good enough for Knox, not really.”

Benjy wasn’t always a sweetheart – he shows irrational jealousy at the very beginning of the book when Kitty is planning to become a sex worker. Even insists she sleep with him first. In Queen, jealous Benjy is back – and this time he may have a point. It seems that everyone but Kitty realizes that she and Knox have feelings for each other. Fortunately, both Kitty and Benjy also start to wonder whether their relationship with each other is based on familiarity rather than strong emotion. Their decision to stay best friends is one of the more mature points in this book.

Another point of maturity is the development of the Knox-Kitty relationship. There is no YA-mandatory ship kiss. Just a promise that things are on track for the two of them by the end of the book. And while a lot of reviews I looked through are distraught at this fact, I think that a book that’s drowning in this level of immaturity needed a few points that weren’t taken play-by-play from the Big Book of Cliche.

That being said, Aimee Carter’s love for faked deaths and pointless plot twists continues to burn unabated. I personally suspect that Knox faking his own death was a plot device to get Kitty to realize that she loved him (and make a big declaration of love which I completely skipped over).

The derailed rebellion and Knox (and everyone in Elsewhere) being fake killed was possibly the weakest part of the whole book. Because the story was nowhere near over, there were tons of pages left, so it was quite obvious that Knox wasn’t dead, that the major part of the rebellion was still going strong. I don’t know what sort of fake-out Carter thought she was going for. Maybe she figured that Kitty, Lila and Greyson’s terrible attempts at assassinating fake Daxton would hold the answers for the reader. Seriously, I lost count of the number of times they tried to kill Victor Mercer (the man who’s impersonating Daxton) in this book. Just another transparent plot device and stalling tactic.

I also wonder why Carter chose to keep calling this man “Daxton” even after it becomes clear to everyone that his name is something else entirely. Perhaps it was an effort to preserve the focal point of all the villainy under a single name. Daxton was certainly a ruthless dictator – he had Lila’s father executed in front of her and Celia after all – but he was also smarter and less blinded by arrogance, and might not have been as sadistic. In fact, certain characters in the book attempt to distinguish between Daxton and Victor by claiming that Daxton didn’t take pleasure in his cruelty. But there’s no need to make a child watch her father’s execution, and there’s certainly no need to go hunting human beings as if they were big game. Daxton was guilty of both. He was also Kitty’s father, and didn’t let her grow up in Elsewhere. (Yay?) It is important to note that he also never appears anywhere in the trilogy – he was dead by time Pawn began. The villains of this trilogy is – and always have been – Victor Mercer and Augusta Hart. In light of that, continuing to refer to Victor as Daxton seems silly.

As with so many other books, the heteronormativity is exhausting. Dumping heterosexual monogamous pairings by the truckload into your book is truly barf-worthy. If Benjy, Kitty and Knox had chosen a more polyamorous relationship, that might have been interesting. If any of them had been a different gender, that would have been great as well. A female version of Knox would have been awesome, I think. Much preferable to having a broody male order armies around and put the heroine down at every chance.

Which brings me to all the infantilization. Everyone, including the author and Kitty herself, treats Kitty like she’s a child. The Bella-syndrome is quite obvious here. You know the drill: plucky heroine dares to keep doing things that everyone tells her is foolish – like putting herself in danger without first receiving permission forms from Knox, Benjy, Sampson, Rivers and possibly Hannah, in triplicate. Plucky heroine gets into a teeny-weeny bit of trouble as a result, and everybody shouts at her. What’s worse is Kitty’s internal monologue, which is filled with guilt and shame for acting out. I want to shake Kitty and remind her that she’s the same age as the other idiots leading this rebellion, that they’re all being dumb, so she needs to stop beating herself up about it. None of the other characters do this. No other character infantilizes themselves. YA writers, please, stop convincing your protagonists that they’re in the wrong because they did something “plucky.” You’re sending a terrible message to teenage girls who identify with your protagonists. I know this because I used to be one of those teenage girls.

The over-protective boyfriend bullshit is an offshoot of this infantilization. The part where it’s so hot when a guy gets angry at you for putting yourself in danger. Because, you know, it would kill him if something happened to you. Newsflash, everybody. The girl doesn’t belong to the guy. She belongs to herself, and her right to put herself in danger is nobody’s business but hers. And as is par for the course for a YA novel, we’ve got this over-protective crap coming in from both Benjy and Knox.

Perhaps the most hilarious part of this novel is its take on socialism. While in Elsewhere, Kitty gets beaten up by two or three of its denizens because they’re resentful of her apparent comfort. After this incident, she starts wondering whether it’s fair that the leaders always get better amenities than the rest. But Benjy is having none of it. He is happy with his privilege, unwilling to go full socialist, and claims that leaders will always have privileges. Unfortunately, Kitty eventually accepts his perspective.

But here’s the thing. You guys are leaders because you were born with certain privileges, nitwits. Kitty – illegitimate daughter of a VII, only person to have escaped Elsewhere, brought into the Hart family because of her facial resemblance to Lila Hart (another VII, and her cousin), met the Blackcoats that way. Knox and Celia, leaders of the Blackcoats, VI and VII respectively. Benjy, a VI and enjoying the privileges of being Kitty’s boyfriend. You don’t get to deny those circumstances and then claim that you’re some sort of special snowflake who deserves privilege due to your leadership abilities.

The Blackcoat Rebellion could actually have been a good story if it weren’t quite so bloated. This is a one book story, or maximum two books. Perhaps YA writers like Carter can take a few pointers from that Jack Reacher author, you know, figure out how to pack the action tightly, keep it interesting.

Book Review: Bloodlines #2 – The Golden Lily

Title: The Golden Lily
Author: Richelle Mead
Year of Publication: 2012
Series: Bloodlines (Series sequel to the Vampire Academy series)
#: 2
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.37
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3.5

Spoilers… and all that.

The golden lily

Plot Description: In the course of her new assignment protecting Jill Mastrano at Palm Springs, Sydney Sage gains new insight into the working of her organization – the Alchemists, about rogue vampire hunters who call themselves grandiose and cultish names, and even goes on a couple dates. Oh, and there’s like, fighting and stuff at the end.

Anyway, the progress of Sydney and Adrian’s relationship in Golden Lily is wonderful to watch. They start looking out for each other, thinking about each other’s mood, doing little things to cheer the other person up. They went from strangers to friends in Bloodlines, and Golden Lily upgraded the S.S. Sydrian to best friendShip.

One of the biggest themes of the Bloodlines series is Sydney’s journey from being a brainwashed bigot to someone more sensible – someone capable of thinking rationally. In Golden Lily, she’s already seeing the Moroi and dhampirs around her as people, caring about their problems in the human sense rather than as logistical issues standing in the way of the mission. But she’s still not completely free of bias – and in this she can’t exactly be blamed because it’s a bias shared by the rest of the supernatural world (with perhaps the exception of the Keepers). Humans and vampires don’t mix, don’t date, don’t marry, don’t interbreed.

      He reached out and pulled me to him, one hand on my waist and the other behind my neck. He tipped my head up and lowered his lips to mine. I closed my eyes and melted as my whole body was consumed in that kiss. I was nothing. I was everything. Chills ran over my skin, and fire burned inside me. His body pressed closer to mine, and I wrapped my arms around his neck. His lips were warmer and softer than anything I could have ever imagined, yet fierce and powerful at the same time. Mine responded hungrily, and I tightened my hold on him. His fingers slid down the back of my neck, tracing its shape, and every place they touched was electric.
      But perhaps the best part of all was that I, Sydney Katherine Sage, guilty of constantly analyzing the world around me, well, I stopped thinking.
      And it was glorious.
      At least, it was until I started thinking again.

The pacing is just right, bearing in mind the fact that this series is six books long, and we’re still only on the second. Sydney’s progress is phenomenal, but not enough. The notion of humans and vampires dating is also explored outside of the Sydrian dynamic – notably with regard to Jill’s relationship with the human boy Micah, or Angeline’s background as coming from a family of Keepers.

A major factor which has no doubt helped along the process of removing Sydney’s bias is her tutelage in the use of human magic under Jaclyn Terwilliger. In the final, climactic scenes of Golden Lily, Sydney uses a number of magical items and spells in the course of a battle, to their ultimate advantage. Once again, the pacing is perfect.

Golden Lily (and by extension the Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series) are a wonderful exercise in perceptions, and how drastically changing perceptions can alter the narrative as we see it. Vampire Academy saw the Moroi world through the eyes of a perceptive dhampir who wasn’t afraid to question norms – and on occasion, through the eyes of a privileged Moroi. Bloodlines sees the Moroi world through the eyes of a human who was brought up to fear and hate the supernatural, and that of a Moroi guy battling Spirit induced mental illness. When one adds in the storylines of Mia Rinaldi, or Dimitri’s family in Baia, or Angeline of the Keepers, the Vampire Academy universe takes on further depth and meaning, becoming a layered entity.

Without a doubt, Golden Lily is still very much Sydney’s story – her quest to discover the truths that her Alchemist bosses are hiding from her, the truths behind the cult of vampire hunters, her continued efforts to protect her little pack of Moroi and dhampir, her study of magic, and yes, her struggle with body image and eating disorders. Adrian’s final chapter intervention might have seemed ham handed if it weren’t for the fact that his lecture came – at least in my opinion – several books late.

    I handed the gelato back. “I can’t. Not with you watching. It’s too weird. Can I eat it later?”
    “Sure,” he said, returning it to the freezer. “If you’ll really eat it. I know how you are.”
    I crossed my arms as he stood opposite me. “Oh?”
    He fixed me with a disconcertingly hard look. “Maybe everyone else thinks your aversion to food is cute—but not me. I’ve watched you watch Jill. Here’s some tough love: you will never, ever have her body. Ever. It’s impossible. She’s Moroi. You’re human. That’s biology. You have a great one, one that most humans would kill for—and you’d look even better if you put on a little weight. Five pounds would be a good start. Hide the ribs. Get a bigger bra size.”
    “Adrian!” I was aghast. “You… are you out of your mind? You have no right to tell me that! None at all.”
    He scoffed. “I have every right, Sage. I’m your friend, and no one else is going to do it. Besides, I’m the king of unhealthy habits. Do you think I don’t know one when I see it? I don’t know where this came from—your family, too many Moroi, or just your own OCD nature—but I’m telling you, you don’t have to do it.”

And yet, it’s also beginning to show us how Bloodlines is as much about Adrian as it is about Sydney. The Vampire Academy series was forever Rose Hathaway’s story – there’s no doubt about that. Everyone else, Dimitri and Lissa included, were supporting characters. But Golden Lily begins to dip into Adrian’s family, his background, his psyche, building the set up for what I would call one of the finest depictions of battling mental illness I’ve ever read.

Next in this series: Bloodlines #3 – The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead

Next Review: Tales of Alvin Maker #2 – Red Prophet by Orson Scott Card

 

Book Review: Bloodlines #1 – Bloodlines, Richelle Mead

Title: Bloodlines
Author: Richelle Mead
Year of Publication: 2011
Series: Bloodlines (Series sequel to the Vampire Academy series)
#: 1
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.22
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

Insert the Usual and Mandatory Spoiler Warning Here

bloodlines.jpg

Plot Description: In this series sequel to Mead’s Vampire Academy series, we revisit the world of dhampirs and Moroi – and the much overlooked human component of this world, the Alchemists. We’re following the continued story of Sydney Sage, a minor but favourite VA character who made her first appearance in Blood Promise, the fourth book of that series.
We’re also following complete fan favourite Adrian Ivashkov, who, broken hearted and looking for meaning in life, is drawn to Sydney as the two of them work on a new assignment together.

I have to admit, when I first heard of the idea of Adrian and Sydney getting together, I was skepticalYou cannot imagine two people MORE different than these twoBut I tried to be open minded, and by the time I got to Book 6, I was Team Sydrian all the way.

The main characters from VA – Rose, Lissa, Dimitri, Christian – barely make an appearance in Bloodlines, which is filled with supporting cast members coming forward to take center-stage. And they each bring their share of secrets and problems to the table, which, as everyone knows, is the recipe for a really good book.

Adrian’s broken-hearted following the end of his relationship with Guardian Rose Hathaway. Sydney, on the other hand, is in a LOT of trouble with the Alchemists – the organization she works for – for her involvement in Rose’s adventures from Last Sacrifice. She’s suspected of having colluded with vampires, and of having developed feelings other than disgust or contempt for them. (Yes, this is a really serious accusation that is levelled amongst Alchemists. They’re all insane.) Although there’s no formal inquiry, Sydney manages to dispel the cloud of suspicion in time to be assigned to the latest Alchemist case in Palm Springs. Her biggest reason for taking on the case was to ensure that her sister Zoe doesn’t get caught up in the Alchemist life, which she will if their domineering father has his way.

The rest of the characters in Palm Springs are Jill Mastrano,  along with her dhampir guardians Eddie Castile and Angeline Dawes. While Jill (Lissa’s half sister) and Eddie were very prominent in VA, Angeline barely got a mention for the first time in a subplot involving the reclusive  keepers in Last Sacrifice.

The important subplots are the ones involving possibly magical tattoos being given to humans, of Sydney’s teacher trying to get her to learn human magic (sort of like Wicca), teen drama among the younger set of dhampirs and Moroi, and Sydney’s relationship with Adrian.

My God, Sage. Your eyes. How have I never noticed them? The colour, when you stand in the light. They’re amazing . . . like molten gold. I could paint those . . . They’re beautiful. You’re beautiful.

– Adrian Ivashkov, Bloodlines

Sydney’s character development kickstarted early on in this universe – right from the moment she was introduced, in fact, although there was no way I would have imagined that she’d come to lead her own series. As an alchemist, she’s been indoctrinated to hate, fear and hold in contempt these ‘unnatural’ and ‘unholy’ creatures – vampires, and dhampirs by association. But since there’s always the greater Strigoi threat to be dealt with, Alchemists have an uneasy alliance with the Moroi. Sydney’s bias and bigotry are evident in her behaviour towards Rose, but by the time we come to the end of the series, it’s evident that she’s beginning to think of them as just a different kind of people – not monsters of the night.

Adrian, on the other hand went from alcoholic party boy to good boyfriend who gave up his debauchery in order to impress his girlfriend. Even if personal change is precipitated in you by another person, it should never stay that way. If the only ever reason why you change is another person, that change is going to fall apart the minute that person leaves, or is taken from you. So it’s kind of a one step forward, two steps back kind of situation that Adrian is dealing with. And to cap it all off, he’s now spirit bonded with Jill.

Yes, the reason Jill is incognito in Palm Springs is because there was an attempt on her life, she died as a result, and Adrian brought her back. The concept of a spirit bond was a lot cooler back when it was two teenage girls who were sharing thoughts. Now it’s a high school freshman (or however old Jill is supposed to be) who has access to the thoughts of a highly unstable grown man. Eek. After Jill is punished for being drunk and then having a hangover the next day, Sydney figures out what’s going on and reams Adrian out.

Jill’s guardian is Eddie Castile, long time best friend and sidekick to Rose Hathaway. Eddie was the only guardian to attempt to protect Jill during the attempt on her life, since all the other guardians were busy protecting the Queen, Lissa. The reason for this is because he’s really in love with her, which is the cue to kick off all of the teen drama and love triangles quadrangles that take place in this book.

I would choose this space in order to rant about the impropriety in Eddie falling for a girl whose initial nickname was literally Jailbait (courtesy Adrian, who else), but hello. This is the series that brought us the great Rose-Dimitri love saga, where they could barely wait for her to hit eighteen before ripping each other’s clothes off. And the age gap in that case is a LOT greater than in the case of Eddie and Jill.

Any age-propriety rants in this universe are just going to fall on deaf ears. So it’s one of my blind spots in this fandoms – one of the things I have issue with but choose to ignore in order to continue enjoying the fandom itself. Other examples include all time fan favourite Damon Salvatore engaging in an abusive relationship with Caroline Forbes in early first season The Vampire Diaries and the subject never being brought up after that storyline wrapped up. Till date, the only sign that something like that ever happened is Caroline’s continued dislike of the guy – despite the fact that one of her best friends is soul mates with him, and her other best friend is his best friend too!

But, this is not a review of The Vampire Diaries. Nor is it a review of the Ezria relationship in Pretty Little Liars, which was pretty outrightly illegal at the start. So, coming back to the final main character of the Bloodlines series – Angeline – let me just say this:

Angeline is the most fun. Ever.

Angeline flushed. “It’s not my fault.”

“Even I know you can’t write an entry on Wikipedia and then use it as a source in your essay.” Sydney had been torn between horror and hysterics when she told me.
“I took ‘primary source’ to a whole new level!”
Honestly, it was a wonder we’d gotten by for so long without Angeline. Life must have been so boring before her.”

– Adrian Ivashkov, Fiery Heart

Angeline has trouble adjusting to civilization because she was raised in a moroi-human-dhampir communeity that felt they were keeping to the old ways by staying in contact with (and reproducing with) humans, unlike current Moroi society. The Keepers refuse to submit to the Moroi monarchy, and therefore must do without the little luxuries of life. I.e. Electricity.

Now, I’m pretty sure Mead drew on many, many stereotypes for her portrayal of the Keepers, but… it’s kind of hard to care about considering it’s not a main plot point. And it makes Angeline REALLY funny because of all things she doesn’t know is considered appropriate or inappropriate in society. (Like random violence and sexual harassment: inappropriate; cheating on class tests: inappropriate).

Angeline provides a fresh voiced perspective on society – all of society, not just the parts with vampires and stuff in it – through her constant questioning of everything. She poses a very important lesson for – (and I cannot stress this enough) – each and every one of us:

Question all the facts you’ve been handed since you were born. I mean, you can’t think out of the box without first seeing the box itself, which is a huge problem when it comes to challenging social norms (like their school’s dress codes) and why and how they came to exist in the first place.

In most cases, when asked to explain the rationale behind oppressive norms and customs, those defending them will have the option to either shut you down – which is what schools do when they hand out detentions; or hide behind stupidity and blind faith. [“Because I said so” type arguments brought out by religious leaders come to mind.]

Two more characters that need to be discussed are Keith Darnell and Jaclyn Terwilliger. The latter is a teacher at the school and the leader of a witch coven who’s trying to recruit Sydney. Imagine the kind of conflict an indoctrinated magic and vampire hater faces when they’re told they have the innate ability to do magic flowing through their veins.

Keith is the subject of a more serious topic – and also the reason why Sydney was so deeply obligated to Rose Hathaway’s gangster father Abe Mazur in VA. Sydney was the only person who knew about her father’s Golden Boy Darnell raping her older sister, and her sister made her promise not to tell anyone. So when Sydney grew up and joined the Alchemists, she did what any sane person would do – took a hit out on Darnell, and used Abe Mazur’s contacts to do it. Keith thinks a random Strigoi attack took out one of his eyes with an arrow. Keith can apparently be very gullible.

The first time I read Bloodlines, I wasn’t entirely impressed with the book. Something about it – the style of writing, the editing maybe? – rubbed me up the wrong way. But my second read this year didn’t pose too many problems in that direction, so perhaps it was the crappy pirated pdf version that was the problem.

It’s a great set up book, establishing Sydney as determined to do the right thing and imbued with a great sense for fairness. It also shows us a side to her that goes beyond indoctrination and machine like obedience, both in her affections for her vampire friends and in her dealings with Mrs. Terwilliger.

Containing much of Mead’s hallmark comedy and teen drama, Bloodlines is a light read that touches on bigger and darker issues to be explored as the series progresses. It’s a must read for Vampire Academy fans, but you don’t really need to know the history of the series in order to pick it up and start reading.

Next in this Series: Bloodlines #2 – The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead

Next Review: Tales of Alvin Maker #1 – Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card

Book Review: The Sisters Grimm #7 – 9

Title: The Everafter War; The Inside Story; The Council of Mirrors
Author: Michael Buckley
Year of Publication: 2009; 2010; 2012
Series: The Sisters Grimm
#: 7, 8 & 9
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.31; 4.28; 4.39
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3; 2; 2

SERIOUS AND MAJOR SPOILERS (Especially for Book 9) INCLUDED.
Don’t even think about reading this book unless you don’t care about spoilers. 

Also, REALLY long review. Sorry, but there was a LOT to rant about.

Plot Description: The final three books in this series are darker, edgier, and the plots get more wilder and implausible than ever. To add to this mess, there’s more sexism and problematic plot points, story lines that drag on forever, and TERRIBLE editing and continuity issues.
To summarize, The Everafter War deals with a Civil War between factions led by Charming and the Queen of Hearts respectively. Oh, and the children’s parents are finally awake – which is not the good thing I was hoping it would be. The Big Bad is finally revealed, and while this reveal is impressive at first, I was progressively less impressed and more annoyed by the Master’s plan, motivations, minions… everything.
The Inside Story is a bizarre and completely meta journey through the original book with which the fates of all the Everafters are entwined. Sabrina and Daphne follow the Master through all the fairytale stories as they try to stop the Master from rewriting their story.
The Council of Mirrors features the final showdown/ battles/ curses et cetera et cetera. It also features what was possibly the most random subplot; inserted as the most random plot twist ever, and about which I’m completely conflicted.

While Sabrina and Daphne are finally beginning to show signs of solid character development, the appearance of their parents on the scene kind of sets the whole family back by about ten steps. To be more specific, it turns out the girls’ dad is a controlling idiot who won’t listen to reason, doesn’t consider his daughters’ opinions worth listening to despite everything they’ve achieved so far, and follows a policy of requiring strict obedience. Including from his wife.

Suddenly, the girls’ mother getting involved with the Faerie in NYC is put into greater perspective. She went to great lengths to keep her activities secret even though she was standing up for something she believed in – all because her husband will throw a temper tantrum and ‘forbid’ her from doing things he doesn’t like.

[Full disclosure: The girls’ father is only unreasonable when it comes to Everafters, and that’s because he watched his father die because of them/ at their hands or something else. This, however, does not excuse a grown man for dragging his family out into the woods in the midst of a war, with NO plan, NO money or supplies, and NO agenda except for ‘you’re all supposed to just listen to me’. ]

One of the characters in the book tries a retcon justification for his behaviour by calling him the ‘protector’ of the family. But dude, no.

I think this nonsense about confusing protection (and the affection that comes with it) with the need to control people needs to stop, and it needs to stop NOW. Too many fathers and other kinds of paternalistic figures have justified the most unacceptable kinds of behaviour by claiming that they were acting in the best interests of their dependents. And this is despite the fact that in a LOT of these cases, their behaviour when evaluated from an objective perspective was found to NOT to be in the best interests of their dependents.

Clearly Mr. Grimm isn’t the only person to ever have engaged in such nonsense behaviour, and he certainly won’t be the last… but let’s not confuse protection with control, and let’s not ignore this issue.

From an objective plot perspective, The Inside Story is convoluted and largely unnecessary. It’s clear by this point that the story is being stretched as thin as it can be without it falling apart.

But I won’t deny that The Inside Story was kind of fun to read. It’s every reader’s fantasy to be able to step into their favourite books and get to enact parts of it out – maybe even change stuff around. To suddenly be the star of your favourite show – that’s what this book is all about.

And that brings us to The Council of Mirrors and an end to this whole… experience (for lack of a nicer word). The final scenes of the story involve Snow White – a character who has always been a part of the story without really taking centre stage at any point of it. Her on-off relationship with Charming is one of the running gags throughout the stories. Snow is someone who actively works to shed herself of the damsel in distress tag – she’s a Ferryport self defence instructor, and she refuses to allow Charming’s self absorption to define her or their relationship.

In the final plot, it is revealed that the story of Snow White has been faked – it wasn’t the version included in the original Grimm stories. In the real version, she’s married off to a sadistic and abusive husband, at whose hands she dies. Unable to watch her daughter’s life play out in this manner over and over again, her mother – the Evil Queen – steps in to modify the story and edit the abusive husband out of it (replacing him with herself as the villain instead). Charming, the sadistic Prince’s younger brother, was written into the story as Snow’s love interest, and that was that.

Or it would have been, if Sabrina and Daphne (and the Master) hadn’t crashed through the Fairytale book in which he had been trapped, and freed him. In a final showdown between this man and Charming, (after Snow has been kidnapped and taken away as the guy’s lawful wife – and property), he’s finally overpowered. It took like, a bunch of people to get the job done. And then Snow delivers the killing stroke – and with that action supposedly reclaims her identity and her life.

Heavy stuff, huh. At first I felt it a little inappropriate – introducing such a horrible sub plot into what’s essentially a book for children. But then I remembered that the original tales by the real brothers Grimm had been graphic, gory and ugly.

This evocation of the spirit of the original tales – be it conscious or unconscious – seems to be a theme in the Sisters Grimm series. I was discussing Sleeping Beauty a few days ago, and we were talking about how in the original story, the Prince rapes her in her sleep, causing her to become pregnant and to deliver twins – whilst still asleep. She only woke up when one of the twins accidentally sucked the cursed flax/ needle out of her finger.

At the time, I couldn’t remember where I’d read something similar. At least, not until I began reviewing books 4 – 6 of this series. The girls’ mother, Veronica, is pregnant at the time when she’s kidnapped by the Master along with her husband and put into an enchanted sleep for two years. She delivers the baby while in her sleep – because yes, THAT’S how childbirth works. (I don’t know why he didn’t just throw a stork in there too, just for kicks.)

I mentioned in my review of Books 1 – 3 that I had issues with the subtextual messages being sent by this series. In addition to the conflation of protection and controlling & my issues with this trivializing of subjects like childbirth and murder (remember the juvenile homicidal maniacs from book 2?), I find the way Snow White’s story was resolved extremely problematic.

For one thing, that entire subplot was completely unnecessary to the plot – the homicidal husband was never a part of the Master’s plan – so clearly it was thrown in there because Buckley thought this a masterful retelling of the story on his part. Now, I’ve mentioned that he has managed to that very thing with the story of Little Red Riding Hood earlier.

But whatever worked for that subplot does NOT work for this one. For one thing, trauma is not easily or instantaneously gotten over. If years of training herself hasn’t helped her yet, putting a knife through a man she didn’t even help overpower is not going to do it. Life’s not that easy, and if you’re going to try and make it “realistic” for the kids by including homicidal husband storylines, then you really ought not to pull a last minute cop out and wrap it up neatly in a very unrealistic bow.

The final three books in the Sisters Grimm bring a series that started out promising to a very disappointing (and badly edited) finish. The story was dragged out unnecessarily, and at times, it felt like the only thing keeping Buckley’s universe together was a thin strand of fiction – which is the only thing every character and subplot in this series have in common after all.

Next Review: Bloodlines #1 – Bloodlines by Richelle Mead

Book Review: The Blackcoat Rebellion #2 – Captive

Title: Captive
Author: Aimee Carter
Year of Publication: 2014
Series: The Blackcoat Rebellion
#: 2
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.77
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 2

Spoilers

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Plot Description: Kitty is supposed to continue pretending to be Lila Hart, but her rebelliousness gives Daxton Hart, the Prime Minister, reason to publicly disown her and send her Elsewhere. In Captive, Kitty navigates survival in Elsewhere and continues her efforts to further the Blackcoat Rebellion.

The word Blackcoat is unnecessarily grandiose and superficial, just like everything in this book. I mentioned in my review of Pawn (Book 1 in this series) that the story could easily have been wrapped up by the end of that book. But Carter sacrifices good writing in favour of world building (and the mandatory YA trilogy) and Captive suffers the brunt of that choice.

In a word, Captive is as superficial and redundant as the name Blackcoat (which is what the rebels choose to call themselves). The book opens on a celebration of Lila Hart’s birthday, and talks about how Kitty is a 7 in a room full of 6s, which makes her more powerful than any of them. But as anyone who has read Pawn knows, Kitty isn’t really a 7. Sure, the back of her neck is marked by a 7, but the ridges of her original tattoo still exist – and they show a 3. She talks about how any of the people in that room (a bunch of Ministers) would have her killed if they knew her real identity. This is false – those Ministers couldn’t care less about her. Like Carter, Kitty focuses on the unimportant details, the fancy trimmings (like what rank she’s currently pretending to be) rather than the important details – like the fact that 7 or not, Lila Hart is a powerless puppet – a teenager who can’t make much of a difference in the world. She whines about none of this is actually part of her life, and how “stealing” moments with her real boyfriend is more important to her than celebrating her fake birthday with a fake fiance. And it is profoundly unclear as to why this celebration is important. What are they keeping appearances up for? What is the real cost of not pretending to be Lila, or of not being on her best behaviour? Who cares if Kitty does a less than stellar job in pretending to be Lila?

Kitty whines to Knox about how they had a deal – that she’d play nice for a couple of hours and then be allowed to leave. Knox lectures her about the importance of keeping up appearances – a lecture that Kitty completely ignores in favour of snagging something to eat off of a nearby table. As a result of this conveniently stupid narrative device, both Kitty and the reader are left in the dark as to the potential importance of this celebration.

When Kitty is rude to a Minister who is ogling her chest, Knox pulls her away and tells the Minister that she’s being rude because she had too much to drink. I resent the implication – that a well behaved girl is supposed to put up with the unwanted advances of lecherous men – and I resent the fact that Kitty’s actions here aren’t in any way supported by Knox or by the author. The author seems to use this example to demonstrate the gamut of Kitty’s bad behaviour, rather than to subtly condone her reaction.

Here’s a pathetic attempt to explain the reasons why the plot is the trainwreck that it is:

That was the only reason I’d agreed to stay when Knox had asked me three weeks ago. It had been after an exhausting night and day, when Augusta Hart, Daxton’s mother and the real iron fist around the country, had tried to not only kill me and Lila, but Benjy, too. Instead, I’d put six bullets in her. Now, with Lila seriously injured, it was up to me to pretend to be her until someone took the Prime Minister out of the picture.

Um. Why? Who is going to take the Prime Minister out of the picture? The Prime Minister has no back up – and he’s not even really the Prime Minister. He’s a fraud like Kitty, a 5 who’s been masked to look like a 7. Why is this so difficult?

Kindly suspend your disbelief, the book seems to be saying to the reader. Nobody cares about logic here.

Daxton arranged a pyrotechnical surprise for the fake Lila on her birthday, but the fireworks send her into a PTSD infused gunshot flashback. Once again, Carter manages to take a serious issue (PTSD) and completely trivialize it. It’s normal for someone who shot her fake grandmother only a few weeks ago to react this way. But with Knox already by her side, Kitty ends up looking weak and foolish when Benjy appears in response to her screaming. As with prostitution in Pawn, the PTSD is used as a narrative device here – to introduce the other part of the love triangle onto the scene in defiance of all logic. Neither Kitty nor Benjy seem to care about the fact that their little display might end with their covers being blown in front of all the ministerial folks.

It’s a cringe worthy moment, and one where neither Kitty nor Benjy are at their best. Rather than being mature, responsible adults who are working to overthrow a regime, they show themselves for what they really are – silly teenagers who are in over their heads and who don’t care about anything other than themselves. I’ve accused Carter of being inconsistent in her writing, but her portrayals of Kitty and Benjy continue to be as consistent as it is bad – this is a page right out of the same book that saw Benjy offering to run away with Kitty so they could be together right after she took the test, and to hell with the consequences.

This is precisely what makes the characters of Carter’s book unsympathetic – their defiance of logic, and their utter selfishness.

Nor did I have any ends to justify my means. Killing Augusta hadn’t done me any favors—it had only removed Daxton’s leash completely, leaving all of us in grave danger. And that, I thought, was the worst part of all. I’d saved Benjy’s life in the short term by pulling that trigger, but in the long term, we were both one whim away from death.

Thanks to her fainting spell, Knox refused to allow Kitty to attend the midnight meeting of the rebels. Then he catches Kitty sneaking away to try and attend the meeting anyway:

“Maybe if you stopped acting like I’m an untrained dog and started treating me like a person who’s as much a part of this as you are, I’d stop pulling against your invisible leash,” I said. “I have every right to be there, and you know it. If you keep acting like I’m a liability—”

“I wouldn’t if you stopped being a liability.”

“—then I’ll leave,” I finished, ignoring him. “If I can’t work with the Blackcoats, then I don’t have any reason to be here anymore.”

Knox has begun to act suspiciously in the meantime, appearing to hold back vital information from the rest of the Blackcoats. This leads Kitty to suspect that Knox is secretly working with Daxton.

They could try to out him, but the media is in Daxton’s pocket. Anyone who went to press with the news would be labeled a traitor and executed before sundown. No one should have to make that sacrifice for nothing.”

The other reason why Kitty and her allies haven’t outed the fake Daxton yet is to protect Greyson – who would obviously be targeted by the rebelling masses the minute Daxton’s real identity was revealed.

Knox’s mouth formed a thin line, and he wrapped his arm around my shoulders. Normally it would have been a sweet gesture, but tonight it felt more like a threat. “Do you want to see the masses go after him once the rebellion begins?”

“You mean it hasn’t already?” I said, but he didn’t answer. I bit my lip. Greyson was one of my only friends, and the last thing I wanted was for him to get caught in the crossfire.

We were meters from the bunker when Knox stopped and faced me, his dark eyes bearing into mine. “Listen to me, Kitty,” he said in a low, hurried voice. “Telling the others about Daxton doesn’t outweigh the risks of Celia finding out—and if the other Blackcoat leaders know, she will find out sooner rather than later. And what happens after that is anyone’s guess. Do you understand me?”

Against Knox’s wishes, Kitty goes snooping for information about the Fake Daxton. With the help of a magical high tech lock-pick that Greyson had fashioned for her, she manages to get hold of two files – one on Daxton, and one on herself. Unfortunately, Kitty’s dyslexia and illiteracy helps serve as a literary device to keep both Kitty and the reader in the dark.
Kitty’s sojourn in Elsewhere is as pointless as the rest of this book, except as a world building exercise. She is introduced to a cutthroat population that simultaneously includes children growing up without having known any other sort of life, and punitive executions which require one condemned person to save themselves by fighting another to death in public cages.
Although she’s offered comfortable lodgings at Daxton’s guesthouse by virtue of her status as a 7, Kitty opts to live with the rest of Elsewhere’s population. The mysterious couple who double as her sector’s wardens turn out to be inextricably linked both to the imposter Daxton’s and to Kitty herself.
She also meets a portion of the Blackcoats while in Elsewhere, and attempts to help them with retrieving military codes securely held somewhere on the premises.
Carter’s fondness for senseless plot twists and faked deaths spills over from Pawn to Captive. So too does the inexplicable need to appeal to a readership of ordinary girls while maintaining the trope that a heroine is always special – a secret princess, if you will. While these plot twists make for interesting storytelling by themselves, they don’t do the books a favour when taken together. An invested reader will welcome further information about Kitty’s parentage, for instance, but won’t fail to see that all the twisted storytelling is achieving is plot confusion.

Next Up – Book Review: Sisters Grimm # 4, 5 & 6 by Michael Buckley

Next in this Series: Blackcoat Rebellion #3 – Queen

Book Review: The Blackcoat Rebellion #1 – Pawn

Title: Pawn
Author: Aimee Carter
Year of Publication: 2013
Series: The Blackcoat Rebellion
#: 1
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.80
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 2

SO MANY SPOILERS

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Plot Description: Kitty Doe lives in a world where everyone takes a test at the age of 17 which evaluates their worth in society. She receives a 3, rather than the average 4 on her test. Just when she thinks she’s doomed to a life of menial work, she’s whisked off to be a doppelganger for the Prime Minister’s dead niece, Lila Hart. As Lila Hart, Kitty is supposed to help stop a rebellion against the current regime – a rebellion Lila had secretly been fostering.

Disclaimer: I didn’t want to read this book, but it was lying around at home and I was starved for options. Since I was going into this book with no expectations whatsoever, I actually ended up pleasantly surprised at times.

It was only after I started reading YA almost exclusively that I came across the phrase “TSTL” (too stupid to live). And that’s precisely what first comes to mind when we see Kitty Doe stealing an orange and hoping she’ll be shot on sight for theft. The idea gets even more ridiculous when you realize that her boyfriend, Benjy is with her, and she’s putting both of them in danger. The writing is vague and disconnected even here, at the beginning, and this really doesn’t bode well for the rest of the book.

After escaping from the Shields and relinquishing their orange, Kitty and Benjy discuss her options. With that particular brand of clear thinking apparently omnipresent in sixteen year olds, Benjy proposes to Kitty, because this means they won’t be separated. Thankfully, she has the sense to turn him down, because she’s afraid being married to a 3 will hurt his ranking chances when he takes the test.

Kitty decides to go speak to Tabs, a local prostitute who has been trying to recruit her. Benjy is dead set against this. And while Benjy seems to be speaking purely from prejudice, I agree with him because I don’t think Kitty really understands what it means to be a prostitute. The way she talks about it gives me the impression that she thinks the worst thing about prostitution is having to sleep with strange men. She doesn’t sound like she understands the physical danger involved, or the lack of choice that will end up haunting her with every step she takes. She certainly didn’t know Tabs was recruiting her because Tabs would get a cut of her pay.

“You’re my girlfriend,” he said roughly. “I don’t want those pigs touching you.”

Okay, Benjy, I know you’re sixteen, but you can’t build your life around a girl. Like, seriously. Also, possessive much?

Before she leaves, Benjy asks her to sleep with him. I don’t really know what to make of that, but it makes me a little uncomfortable. Kitty tells him that it’s better for her prospects if she’s a virgin, and then he tells her he should be her first.

Why? I know it’s hard for your sixteen year old love-crazed brain to comprehend this, Benjy, but plenty of people who are in love are never each other’s firsts. And you don’t really get to decide who should be someone else’s first. You can want Kitty to be your first, sure. Similarly, she’s the only one who gets to decide who she wants to be her first.

Kitty tells him he’s always going to be her first because sleeping with anyone else won’t count, and she breaks up with him for a month – until he knows what his ranking is going to be.

Prostitution is illegal in Kitty’s country, but since it’s the ‘oldest profession’ in the world, and since many of the highest ranking men in the country frequent these clubs, a blind eye is turned. Since she’s young and still a virgin, her virginity is auctioned off – starting with a thousand gold pieces and ending at thirty thousand. That’s more than she would have made as a sewage worker in ten years, and she’s amazed at the idea that anyone would spend that much for one night with her. Kitty’s naivete is once again starkly obvious, since she doesn’t seem to have understood that what was being bid for wasn’t her – not her as a person, but just the fact of her virginity. She’s very much still a child here, because the idea that prostitution can sometimes dehumanize the people working in that field isn’t something she’s completely recognizing.

This is the point at which I set the book down and momentarily wish that this was what this book was really about – the story of a young girl who begins to gradually understand the world through her life as a sex worker – her journey from innocence and naivete to maturity, if you will. It would definitely have made for a better plot than that of the real Pawn. But I guess that’s not what real YA literature is looking for.

I wished this because even though prostitution is not the subject matter of Carter’s book, she introduced it all the same, and then trivialized it. In another review I read, the reviewer described the prostitution sub-plot as a gun that wasn’t loaded, and I think this gun shouldn’t have been brought into the picture and then portrayed as inconsequential. Kitty leaves the club not realizing the exact nature of the bullet she just dodged, and I think a lot of younger readers would have ended up doing the same. Prostitution and virginity auctions are not, after all, some myth conceived of in Carter’s precious fictional dystopia. They exist in the real world, and have a lot of real world dangers and connotations attached to them. Treating the subject as a convenient plot device and reducing it to prejudicial stereotypes is not okay at all.

Okay, that was intense. And it’s only now that the real plot kicks off.

In short, Kitty is made to stand in for the PM’s dead niece, as a cover up for her death. Lila is a bit of a Princess Diana figure – she’d been going around saying things that were technically treasonous, and had acquired a vast following among the common people through her charisma and charm. A lot of time is devoted to describing Kitty’s eleven days of training to replace Lila, and in this time, the rest of the family is introduced. There’s Celia, Lila’s mother. Augusta, Daxton’s mother and the matriarch of the Hart family. There’s Knox Creed, Lila’s fiance. And Greyson, Daxton’s younger son and sole surviving heir.
This is where Pawn becomes a confused piece of writing, and having read the sequel – Captive – I can tell you it doesn’t get better. Pawn has a lot of things going against it. For one thing, it’s a chip off the old Hunger Games block, and derivative as such. For another, it suffers from less than sympathetic protagonists. With the exception of Knox and Greyson, even the auteurs of the rebellion are motivated by selfishness. Celia is out for power and revenge. Kitty’s heroism is impulsive and inconsistent. She’s as confused about her motivations as can be – oscillating wildly between sympathizing with the downtrodden and helping the autocrats in order to save Benjy’s life.
The confused storylines don’t help Pawn’s case. Plot twist is piled on top of plot twist, and one ends up disliking all the characters on principle. Carter seems to care more about shocking the reader and keeping them guessing than on good writing. As a result, by the time it is revealed that the real Lila Hart is still alive, one gives up.
Pawn was greatly evocative of a Meg Cabot book on similar lines – the Airhead trilogy, where a smart girl’s brain is transplanted into a supermodels body. (Spoiler: Airhead also revealed that the original owner of the body was still alive.) These books seem eager to appeal to the everygirl reader while reaffirming the idea that a heroine needs to be conventionally beautiful. It’s a sad attempt at having one’s cake and eating it too, and undermines the lesson that physical beauty isn’t the be-all and the end-all.
The book ends with an action filled showdown between Kitty and the matriarch – Augusta Hart. Where she was previously unable to assassinate Daxton, Kitty now shows herself capable of killing when Benjy’s life is at stake. With Augusta out of the way and Daxton still in a coma, it seems like the perfect moment for the rebellion to take control. This opportunity is, however, wasted in favour of a set up to a sequel that honestly seems unnecessary.

Next: The Blackcoat Rebellion #2 – Captive

Book Review: The Sisters Grimm # 1 – 3

Title: The Fairy Tale Detectives; The Unusual Suspects; The Problem Child
Author: Michael Buckley
Year of Publication: 2005; 2005; 2006
Series: The Sisters Grimm
#: 1, 2 & 3
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.98; 4.21; 4.26
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3; 3; 3

Spoilers!

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Plot Description: A pair of sisters discover they’re descended from the late, great Grimm brothers when they’re sent to live with their grandmother in a town filled with fairy tale creatures. The fairy tale characters can’t leave the town because of an ancient curse, and along with their grandmother, the sisters Grimm go around solving crimes occurring in the little town.

The Fairy Tale Detectives is a book for children in the same way Percy Jackson is a book for children, or Harry Potter. Despite dealing with similar subject matter, it is also the kind of work that is antithetical to the spirit of the late, great, Enid Blyton, queen of saccharine goodness. And never does it go to the lengths that Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events go. (And thank goodness for small mercies).

I may have been impressed by the sisters Grimm if I wasn’t already a die hard Oncer – a fan of the show Once Upon A Time, for the uninitiated. And while they’re hardly the same story, a few themes remain the same, like fairy tale creatures leading normal lives and blending in. It’s always interesting to see how their natures translate into our ordinary occupations and appearances.

The story picks up a year after the disappearance of Henry and Veronica Grimm. The sisters believe (for some reason) that their parents abandoned them, and have since been sent to live in an orphanage kind of right out of a Dickens novel – or Annie. Their social worker, a hard hearted (spinster) sends them off to a slew of foster homes right out of a horror story – like the one where they were chained to the radiator, or that other one where they were forced to play caretakers to a room full of ferrets.

So it’s with a great deal of understandable suspicion and anger that the sisters are on their way to yet another foster home, and this one owned by a grandmother they know for a fact is dead. Sabrina – older and cynical and jaded from trying to protect her sister from the world’s nonsense – is already making up escape plans in her head.

Her suspicions aren’t stemmed even after coming face to face with Granny Grimm – the kindliest old lady a children’s book writer could dream up. Granny Grimm is eccentric as hell – she talks to her house, she cooks food that no one in the world has ever heard of, and she fancies herself a private eye. And not any private eye – the sort of private eye who solves mysteries like ‘The Case of the Farmhouse Squashed Flat by a Giant’s Foot’. Sabrina thinks she’s one lost marble away from the loony bin. Daphne thinks its ALL great fun.

The stories deal with individual mysteries set against the backdrop of a much more sinister long term conspiracy targeting humans. The characters are all realistically drawn, adding quite a bit of dark humour to the storytelling. Sabrina in particular is supposed to be more complex than her sister, as someone harbouring a certain amount of intrinsic bigotry towards the Everafters, and with her natural instincts prompting her towards an addiction to magic (which, if Uncle Jake is anything to go by, runs in the family).

The first book deals with the kidnapping giant, whom I think I have discussed ad nauseam already. While working to figure out who released the giant – and why – the girls run into various residents of Ferryport and begin to figure that the line between good and evil is mucho blurred-o – as Daphne would put it. Characters the fairy tales tell you are good are revealed to be sometimes unpleasant, or downright villainous. Some of the bad guys – like the Big Bad Wolf or the witch from Hansel and Gretel – have either reformed, or were badly misunderstood to begin with. Then there are the Everafters who actively hate the Grimms and are trying to get them killed, and the Everafters who hate them, but opt for gritted teeth and tolerance instead.

The second story, The Unusual Suspects, deals with a couple of murders of human beings at the school Sabrina and Daphne have begun to attend. The Problem Child brings them face to face with previously institutionalized homicidal maniac Red Riding Hood, who, it turns out, has been holding their kidnapped parents and is working for a much greater villain identified only as The Master.

The books engage with gender stereotyping, with the girls calling out various characters on their casual sexism. Puck in particular is a vast treasure trove of idiotic stereotypes:

Puck: “First things first. I want you two to prepare a hearty meal so that I will have plenty of energy to kill the giant.”
Sabrina: “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Puck: “The old lady always makes lunch when a mystery is afoot. I know it’s not the most glamorous work, but I think you two are best suited for domestic tasks.”
Daphne: “What does domestic tasks mean?”
Sabrina: “The way he means it is women’s work.”
Daphne snarled at the boy.

Prince Charming is another guy who, when he’s not spending all of his time trying to protect Snow from things she doesn’t want to be protected from (she’s a self defence teacher, for Christ’s sake), comes up with lines like these:

“Well, haven’t you ever snuck out before? This is the perfect opportunity. Your grandmother is distracted. Take the magic detector and go! If she asks for you, I’ll tell her you’re upstairs fussing with your hair or playing dolls.”
“Is that what you think we do with our free time?” Sabrina said, aghast.

The Sisters Grimm series is nine books long, and the first three cover just enough ground to be considered not boring. If finding the children’s parents had taken any longer, it’s possible that the reader would have begun to lose interest. Typically, a happy ending isn’t at hand yet, even though their parents have been found by the end of Book 3. The children must focus on finding a way to get their parents out of the deep magical sleep they’ve fallen into. They also need to find the baby brother they didn’t ever know existed, and who has also been kidnapped by the mysterious Master.

The Sisters Grimm series doesn’t flinch away from darker topics, but somehow leaves me with the feeling that these topics weren’t dealt with correctly. After all, The Unusual Suspects deal with murders committed by juvenile suspects, but the only scene shown from the aftermath is that those suspects are reunited with their birth parents. No mention is made of their victims, nor of the effects committing murder can have on a child. Perhaps this is not the kind of subliminal message that ought to be sent across in a bunch of children’s books.

And yes, both Percy Jackson and Harry Potter involve children fighting and using violence. They both depict children who fight for good as well as evil. But Percy learns in Tartarus that even the most evil of his enemies was allowed to curse him at their moment of death, and he felt the combined burden of their curses. Harry and Draco Malfoy both see the consequences of their actions, and it changes them. The subconsciously uttered message in those books urges good judgment and that even doing ‘good’ comes with consequences, and yet Michael Buckley’s books show children getting away with murder simply because they’re children.

Next: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Next in this Series: The Sisters Grimm # 4 – 6 by Michael Buckley