Series Review: The Kricket Series by Amy A. Bartol (Spoiler-Free)

Having been on the run from Social Services for several years now, Kricket Hollowell is no stranger to being pursued… but this latest group of people searching for her don’t seem to be the usual sort, interested in returning her to the “loving” care of her foster family. Instead, they claim to come from another world called Ethar, and  – stranger still – they claim that Kricket comes from Ethar, too. Now Kricket must learn how to survive in an unfamiliar and hostile world, with an ancient prophecy hanging over her head that will decide the fate of her newly-discovered homeland.

The Kricket series is comprised of three books – Under Different Stars, Sea of Stars and Darken the Stars – which were self-published by Bartol from 2013 to 2015. At the time of writing, the series as a whole has an average rating of 4.2 stars (out of 5) on Goodreads, with the lowest individual rating being 4.07 (for Darken the Stars), and each book having been rated by at least 5000 people. I’m telling you this, by the way, because I find it completely baffling. This series is terrible, and the hours I spent reading it are hours that I want back! 😡

To be fair, it didn’t start out too horribly, and I actually thought that the first book seemed quite promising. I took a considerable break between reading Sea of Stars and Darken the Stars, so I remember my impressions of the first two books much more clearly than the books themselves, but I did enjoy reading Under Different Stars: Its premise was interesting, Kricket was a little irritating but not so much as to put me off the series altogether, the writing was pretty solid, and I was finding the developing romance between Kricket and one of her abductor-protectors kind of sweet. It read more like a romance than a sci-fi adventure, but I’d been expecting that; it was why I’d picked the book up in the first place – for a little brainless romance in-between bouts of reading the emotionally-draining The Painted Man (by Peter V. Brett).

Sea of Stars only offered more of the same, and it was at this point that I began to get bored. I still liked it, but the problems I’d had with the first book only seemed to be worsening, and the monotonous plod of the plot was becoming quite tedious… I finished the book reasonably quickly, but decided to take a break before moving onto book three, in hopes that I’d be feeling less critical of the series if I came back to it after reading something completely different. Or several things, it turned out, as my “short break” ended up lasting over a year… 😓 (Thinking back, the reluctance I felt to pick up Darken the Stars should probably have clued me into the fact that I wasn’t going to enjoy it.)

Darken the Stars, if you hadn’t already guessed, is the truly awful entry in the series (and is what’s pushed my overall rating down from the 2-stars it would have been if I was only averaging out my ratings for each individual book): There’s a sudden, inexplicable change of love interest; love interest #1 seems to be barely an afterthought to Kricket except on the rare occasions that he’s actually present, despite their supposed “great love” in the first books; he also seems to have undergone a personality transplant, possibly in hopes that it will make love interest #2 (one of the most vile characters I’ve ever come across) seem more palatable (spoiler: it doesn’t); another afterthought is the plot, which makes a brief appearance in the last three (maybe four) chapters, wherein Kricket rapidly comes up with a plan, executes it perfectly, and then deals with all the consequences before the book ends – something that we’re supposed to believe an entire civilisation has been struggling to do for years before Kricket was even born…

Some specific issues I had (in order of severity, from least to most):

Slang: The world of Ethar is rife with made-up slang words, which wouldn’t be a problem in itself (it’s not difficult to understand) if not for Kricket’s constant use of it. I can buy her calling people knob-knockers when they annoy her, in order to show off this shiny new insult she’s learned, but the speed at which she internalises the new language is incredibly distracting. There’s a scene in book three where she’s looking at some Etharian children (who are, as far as I can tell, completely human in appearance) and internally estimates their ages as “about twelve or thirteen floans”, even though she’s been using the word “year” for her whole life, and it has almost the exact same meaning.

Kricket: Kricket is not a relatable character in the slightest. She is, in fact, the quintessential Mary-Sue; beautiful, good at everything, with super-special magical powers, and the whole of Ethar seemingly treating her as if she’s the centre of the universe. In the second book in particular, Bartol really tries to push the idea that Kricket’s great flaw is that she can’t swim, and maybe if she was supposed to be becoming a sailor (or something else water-related) then this would be a character-building trait, but swimming really has very little importance in the Kricket series…

Romanticisation of domestic abuse: The series’ worst offence, and also one that is book-three-specific, as this is when love interest #2 (who will henceforth be known as Mr. Disgusting for the benefit of the hypothetical person who reads this review and thinks, “Oh, that sounds like a series I’d like!”) comes onto the scene in a romantic sense. Kricket is his captive for the entire book, and whenever she tries to escape, or to defy him, he hurts her. He tells her what to wear, what to do, how to behave; there’s a scene where he holds her head underwater until she almost drowns; there’s a scene where he talks about how much he’d like to rape her… and we’re supposed to believe that this is making Kricket fall in love with him?

And this would all be fine (in a purely narrative sense, of course) if Bartol was trying to tell a story about a woman’s struggle with domestic abuse, but Kricket treats it all like it’s completely normal – or worse, some kind of weird flirty ritual. Even during the early parts of the book when she still claims to be fighting against him, there’s this strange disconnect between how Bartol tells us she’s behaving (i.e. trying to escape/survive), and how she’s actually behaving (i.e. not seeming all that bothered by having to do whatever Mr. Disgusting says)… Remember when I got so enraged by the way Ruth was behaving around her awful boyfriend in Fiesta? This is like that, only about a hundred times worse, and drawn out over a whole book.

Ugh. 😑

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January Wrap-Up

I got off to a pretty good start this year: 6 novels, 3 short stories, and 1 picture book. And my average rating was pretty high, too – most of the books I read this month I gave 4 stars; only the short stories fell a little short… Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up this momentum over the next few months! 😀

Coralie Bickford-Smith//The Fox & the StarThe Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith. An incredibly beautiful book about a lonely fox whose only friend is a distant star – which one day disappears, setting the fox off on a journey to find it again. This may be essentially a picture book, but I’d recommend it for anyone, regardless of age. The story is very touching, and when I first opened this book, the art literally took my breath away.5 stars

Morgan Rhodes//Falling KingdomsFalling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes. A high fantasy series that follows several different protagonists: Cleo, the second princess of Auranos, a spoilt but well-meaning teenager who’s hoping to escape from an arranged marriage to a boy she hates; Janos, the son of a poor Paelsian wine merchant, who is filled with rage at the injustices his people have suffered; and Magnus, the prince of Limeros, who mainly just wants to keep his sister safe. This one was a fun read, though I found it a little difficult to get into at first – it takes a while for anything to really happen plot-wise, and Morgan Rhodes’ writing style is not bad, but her phrasing is somewhat unconventional in places, which I found slightly jarring. The characters are rather hit-or-miss, but I feel like they’re the kind to grow on you as you read more. I didn’t really like any of them (except Theon) much at the beginning, but as the story went on, I found myself feeling more and more for Magnus, and even Jonas seemed to show some promise towards the end of the book. Cleo I got attached to a little earlier in the story, but at times I also found her frustratingly naive… I was, however, completely hooked by the time I reached the end of the book, and I’m looking forward to reading more.3 starsThe Threads of Time by C.J. Cherryh (from The Time Traveller’s Almanac). A short story about a man whose job is to fix the paradoxes that people have created by illegally travelling back in time. An interesting story, and less confusing than some of the others in this collection – but only slightly. ❓2 starsTriceratops Summer by Michael Swanwick (from The Time Traveller’s Almanac). Another short story, this time about a man who sees a herd of (presumably cloned) triceratops that have escaped from a lab, and – finding out from one of the scientists on the project that they’re planning on resetting time to fix their mistake – tries to find something exciting or meaningful to do before his timeline fades out of existence. This one was also pretty interesting, conceptually, but unfortunately (as is often the case with short stories) I didn’t feel any connection to the characters. :/2 starsMorgan Rhodes//Rebel SpringRebel Spring by Morgan Rhodes. The sequel to Falling Kingdoms, which I’m not going to be saying too much about, because there are a lot of things I could potentially spoil from the first book… However, the POV characters have changed a little in this book: Lucia has a much more prominent role, as do Alexius and Nic, and I was surprised when Rhodes also added King Gaius and Queen Althea to the short list of people whose perspectives we see. There’s also a brand new character called Lysandra who seems to be becoming very important to the story – I don’t always like her (she’s very pushy), but it is quite gratifying when she constantly calls Jonas out on his terrible plans (and they’re sometimes really, really terrible). As far as character development for the returning characters goes, Jonas and Cleo both seem to be maturing a lot, in the best possible way (though – as I touched on before – they both still make awful, unhelpful, obviously-doomed-to-failure decisions); Lucia’s back-and-forth between kindness and viciousness is kind of fascinating; and Magnus is quickly becoming my favourite character in the series. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a Magnus/Cleo romance, too, though I’m  not sure how popular that opinion is with this series’ fans… ^^’4 starsMelvin Burgess//Nicholas DaneNicholas Dane by Melvin Burgess. The story of a teenage boy who – after his mother overdoses on heroin – is sent to a boys’ home, where he is horrifically abused, and how this abuse impacts his life, even after leaving. This was my Library Scavenger Hunt pick for the month, so I’ve written a mini-review of it – you can read it here.4 starsThe Most Important Thing in the World by Steve Bein (from The Time Traveller’s Almanac). A story about a taxi driver who finds a suitcase left in the back of his car by a customer – and containing a suit which borrows time from the future to be used in the present instead. The science of this story is (as always) a little over my head, but I found that the characters – Ernie the taxi driver; his wife Janice; and of course the scientist who created the suit – were all very compelling, and I ended up enjoying the story a lot more than I have many of the others in this collection. 🙂3 starsBecky Chambers//The Long Way to a Small, Angry PlanetThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. A standalone sci-fi novel that follows the a tunnelling crew (who drill holes in “subspace” in order to allow faster travel between planets) on a long journey, the goal of which is to create a path to a new planet. The story itself is quite episodic – there is an overarching plotline, but for the majority of the book it’s pushed aside in order to deal with obstacles in the way of the crew’s journey, and for more personal story-arcs – and the pacing is accordingly quick; each chapter is dated, but if they hadn’t been, I probably wouldn’t have realised that more than a year had passed over the course of the story… This is usually a negative point for me, but in this case I actually didn’t mind too much, as the mini-arcs themselves were all quite interesting, and the story as a whole actually turned out to be more character-driven. And, on that note, the (incredibly diverse) cast of characters were all wonderfully fleshed out. Lovey and Jenks were particular favourites of mine, but I really did love them all (even Corbin, eventually!). A sequel/companion novel is apparently scheduled for release in October this year, and I’m already looking forward to reading it. 😀 I’ve written a full review of this book, which you can read here, if you so desire.4 starsAmy A. Bartol//Under Different StarsUnder Different Stars by Amy A. Bartol. The first book in the Kricket series, which follows a teenage girl called Kricket, who’s hiding from Social Services when she’s abducted by a group of people from another planet (or possibly dimension), and finds out that she’s one of them. The writing in this book was witty and engaging, and I enjoyed the story and characters a lot, despite the fact that Kricket could seemingly do no wrong, and the way she reacted to everything that was happening to her was ridiculously unrealistic (she’s definitely more of an ultimate-wish-fulfillment character than a relatable one). I did find her continuous use of Etharian slang to be kind of irritating at times (and I regularly lost track of what each word actually meant), but that’s a pretty minor issue… I wouldn’t recommend this book for die-hard sci-fi fans, as it barely read like a sci-fi novel at all (it’s very romance-centric), but it was definitely an enjoyable read nonetheless.3 starsPeter V. Brett//The Painted ManThe Painted Man by Peter V. Brett. Three children – Arlen, Leesha and Rojer – grow up in a dangerous fantasy world, where the night is ruled by fearsome demons called corelings. I read this book as part of a readalong with Chloë, which probably added to my enjoyment quite a bit (it’s always nice to have someone to rant/rave at without having to worry about either spoiling them, or getting spoiled myself 😛 ), but even so, it was extraordinarily good. Fast-paced, exciting, and with really strong characterisation and a great plot! There was a romance towards the end of the book that I wasn’t too happy with (it developed way too quickly), and – also towards the end – I found myself a bit disappointed with the direction that Leesha’s storyline seemed to be taking, and with the huge time-skip in Arlen’s storyline, but otherwise, I really, really loved basically everything about it! And the ending was absolutely epic! XD4 stars

[EDIT (3/5/2017): Changed rating of Under Different Stars from 4/5 to 3/5 after finishing the last book in the trilogy & thinking on the series as a whole.]