Series Review: Night World by L.J. Smith (Spoiler-Free)

    

    

Alongside the world we know exists the Night World, inhabited by vampires and werewolves and witches, and all other manner of supernatural creature, and ruled over by the incredibly strict Night World Council. And one of the Night World’s most fiercely enforced rules is that of isolation; no human can ever know of its existence, under the pain of death – a rule which causes huge problems when some Night World citizens begin to discover that they have human soulmates…

The Night World series is comprised of nine fairly short books, each following a different pair of unlikely soulmates, and vary in quality from great fun, to good fun, to somewhat mediocre. All nine are primarily romance-driven, but most of them also include some kind of stakes for the characters beyond the danger that is posed to them by their feelings for one another – those being the best of the lot.

Some of my favourite stories are:

  • Daughters of Darkness (#2), in which the three Redfern sisters (a powerful vampire family) come to live with their estranged aunt, only to find her murdered – which raises the question, who could possibly be able to kill her, in a town where no-one should even know that vampires exist? Meanwhile, their less-than-friendly brother Ash has been dispatched to bring them home, whether they like it or not, and their human neighbour Mary-Lynnette, is becoming increasingly suspicious of their night-time activities.
  • Soulmate (#6), in which Hannah Snow begins finding notes in her own handwriting, warning her of her own death, betrayed by a vampire who claims to love her. He has killed her countless times before, and in every life he is fated to find her again… But in this life, will she be able to break the cycle?
  • and Black Dawn (#8), in which Maggie leaves home in search of her missing brother, only for her search to lead her to one of the Night World’s most closely-guarded secrets: a hidden kingdom ruled by vampires, where the only humans are slaves. There she meets Prince Delos, and learns that she is his soulmate, but even that won’t guarantee her survival, or her brother’s.

Smith’s heroines tend to be spirited, pro-active (though always distinct) and likeable, and although her use of the soulmates trope means that much of the romance is a little on the insta-love side of things, the relationships do continue to deepen after being given the “one true love” label. And I particularly appreciated, given the bad-boy love interests that Smith seems so keen on, that the love of a soulmate wasn’t presented as something that would fix personality flaws, or wipe away the more problematic aspects of the characters’ pasts.

There is an overarching storyline that makes itself known in the last few books, but each one also stands very well on its own… which is probably for the best, as the series remains unfinished. The tenth book, Strange Fate, has yet to be published, and since fans of the series have been waiting for it for more than twenty years already, and there’s still no sign of any progress having been made on it, I don’t really expect it to ever be released (despite it still being listed on Smith’s website as “to come”).

Otherwise, the main thing that connects these stories together (apart from the backdrop) are a few character cameos from earlier books, which are nice if you spot them, but not essential to understanding or enjoying each book’s individual plot. Like many contemporary series, the Night World books can be read in pretty much any order (I personally started with #9, Witchlight), though naturally the later books expect at least a very basic understanding of the world…

Overall, this is a really fun romance series, with some really great highs and only a few lows. There was only one book which I found myself actively disliking (#4, Dark Angel, which had a truly frustrating main character), and even that one improved a lot as it went on. The series as a whole is let down by the unfinished state of its overarching plot, but each of the currently-published books has enough substance to stand on its own.

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Series Review: The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (Spoiler-Free)

Caught in the middle of a conflict between two corporate giants, the residents of the illegal mining colony of Kerenza IV find themselves forced to flee through deep space, pursued by people who will kill to keep their crimes a secret. Potentially more dangerous, however, is the quickly-spreading virus aboard the colonists’ already-damaged ship – and the ship’s A.I., which will do anything within its power to save them.

The Illuminae Files is comprised of three books: IlluminaeGemina and Obsidio. The summary above only describes the first book, but the plot of the later two goes on to describe the continuing struggle between the the aforementioned corporate giants (the Wallace Ulyanov Consortium – or WUC – and BeiTech Industries), and the roles of two more pairs of protagonists in it. Each book’s plot is relatively separate, but they are blended together perfectly to create an overarching storyline that is incredibly powerful, and feels truly epic in scale.

The most immediately noticeable thing about these books is their formatting: The entire series is told in the form of data-logs, emails, IM chats, and beautiful word art, along with descriptions of security footage, which are the most conventional parts of the series to read, but from an obvious outsider perspective. Hanna, one of the main characters in Gemina, has a talent for drawing, so in the last two books we also see a lot of extracts from her sketchbooks. (These illustrations are – in the non-fictional world – by Marie Lu, who did a fantastic job.) This was one of a couple of reasons why I didn’t start Illuminae with high hopes; these all seemed to me to be barriers that I would have to overcome in order to really get to know the characters, and as someone who is primarily drawn to character-driven stories, that preconception was a massive turn-off.

Thankfully, however, it was also a massive misconception. True, we didn’t see directly into their heads all that often, but the challenge of portraying fully-fleshed-out characters mainly through conversation and body language was one that the authors rose to, to great effect. I laughed, I cried, I raged and I yearned as I read these books. Additionally, I found that this formatting lent itself really well towards fast paced action, and did a particularly great job of portraying the confusion and chaos of warfare. There’s a couple of pages near the end of Obsidio that are entirely made up of jumbled-up radio transmissions of people trying to figure out what’s happening in a battle, and it doesn’t tell a story in any traditional sense, but it does make its point very vividly; that everything is happening all at once, and everyone involved is confused and frightened, despite their determination. Granted, if the whole book had been like those to pages, it would’ve been unreadable, but Kaufman and Kristoff managed to strike a very nice balance between styles, so that each one had its own powerful impact.

Of the three pairs of protagonists, I found myself more attached to Kady and Ezra than either Hanna and Nik or Asha and Rhys, but because – as the lead characters in the first book – I spent much more time with them over the course of the series than with the others, rather than because they were any better written. Correspondingly, I was much less invested in Asha and Rhys, who were only introduced in Obsidio, where they were already sharing screen-time with the other four – but they were all excellent, compelling characters. As was AIDEN, their A.I. kind-of-ally, whose presence was felt in almost every twist and turn of the plot (and who I loved).

Each pair also had their own romantic sub-plot, which both sweet and very believable, and (unusually for YA, at least in my experience) all of these were either built on pre-existing relationships, or at least pre-existing feelings. This could have made us as readers feel disconnected from the romances, but I found that the characters’ feelings still grew and changed enough that that wasn’t the case, and I also appreciated the fact that less time spent building the relationships from scratch meant that more time could be spent on developing the main story.

This whole series was incredibly emotionally draining, in the best possible way, and Illuminae and Obsidio were particularly intense (there were a few places in both of them that brought me close to tears). Gemina was probably the weakest of the three, as it felt a little less connected to the series’ overarching storyline (its plot was kind of a “meanwhile, these other peripherally-connected things were going on nearby”), but that’s really not saying much, as the other two were so incredible; all three books were definite five-star reads for me, and Illuminae was my favourite of them.

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. 😑

Series Review: The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta (Spoiler-Free)

FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK / FROI OF THE EXILES / QUINTANA OF CHARYN5 stars

Melina Marchetta//Finnikin of the RockSUMMARY

In the land of Skuldenore, the country of Lumatere has been cut off from all outside interference by a magical barrier, the consequence of a dark curse. Inside the barrier, the land is occupied by a vicious usurper, who has slaughtered the king and queen and their young children. Outside, thousands of its people are suffering in exile, and Finnikin of the Rock – son of the Captain of the Lumateran Guard, and apprentice to the King’s First Man – finds himself searching for a way to take them all home.

The Lumatere Chronicles is composed of three books: Finnikin of the Rock (#1), Froi of the Exiles (#2), and Quintana of Charyn (#3). The first of these was originally published in 2008; the last in 2012. 

Melina Marchetta//Froi of the ExilesSTORY [5/5]

This story is about finding hope where none seems to exist, and about homesickness, and the best parts of humanity and the worst, and about how everyone has a story to tell, and all of those stories are equally valid. It’s a beautiful story, and a complicated one, and one that I’m not likely to forget any time soon (if ever).

Structurally speaking, Finnikin of the Rock could stand alone, but the inclusion of Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn makes the series much richer, and more well-rounded. If you’re thinking of picking up the first book, I’d definitely recommend having the other two ready to jump into straight afterwards.

Melina Marchetta//Quintana of CharynCHARACTERS [5/5]

There are a lot of characters in these books, but for the sake of succinctness, I’m mainly going to talk about the three title characters here. First up is Finnikin, who is the main character in the first book, and an important supporting character in the other two. He’s an aspiring scholar of sorts – a historian and a linguist, among other things – which sets him apart from many other high fantasy protagonists, and one of his main occupations is working on the Book of Lumatere, a task he created for himself in order to preserve the stories of the Lumaterans living in exile. He’s very compassionate, and also very stubborn, and that last quality meant that he was often frustrating to read about – but on the other hand, his parts in Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn were some of the bits that I looked forward to the most.

Froi took rather longer to warm up to. He first appears in Finnikin of the Rock as a savage, vicious child, who is brought along on Finnikin’s journey because Evanjalin feels some sort of connection to him, but he doesn’t come across as trustworthy at all. Even when we begin to read from his perspective in Froi of the Exiles, he’s still not really able to trust himself. Froi’s character growth is incredible, though, and he ended up being my favourite character in the whole series.

Quintana, similarly, was a bit of a mystery to begin with, which made it difficult to get a real grasp of her character. She yo-yoed between extreme politeness, haughtiness, and wildness, and although this is something that was (ingeniously) explained as the series went on, it made her difficult to like in Froi of the Exiles. Again, though, she became much more understandable and sympathetic as the story went on, and more was revealed about her very unique situation.

Even if I didn’t like all of them, all of the time, all three characters were incredibly well-written and well-developed – and this was something that was also extended to the supporting characters in each book, who had distinct personalities, and sympathetic motivations, and felt very much like real people.

ROMANCE [4/5]

There are three (or possibly four) main romances in this series, all of which build and develop naturally, and which play an important part in the plot. That of Finnikin and Evanjalin, which develops over the course of all three books; Beatriss and Trevanion – Finnikin’s father and step-mother – who are trying to find their way back to each other after being separated for the years that the curse was active; Lucian and Phaedra, the Charynite girl he was forced to marry and spends much of the series resenting; and one final romance for Froi, whose counterpart I won’t mention, as – though not entirely unexpected – it’s potentially a little spoilery.

In fact, all of the romances in this series were rather predictable, but they were so well written that they never felt clichéd at all. Of the four, I was most invested in Lucian and Phaedra’s relationship, as it had the most dramatic tension, but it was also nice that they weren’t all full of drama, all the time.

WORLD-BUILDING [5/5]

With The Lumatere Chronicles, Marchetta was able to create a rich, engrossing world, complete with a fully-formed history and mythology, and, more importantly, she was able to introduce us to it in a way that felt natural, without resorting to massive info-dumps; the way people are able to get to know a new country after moving abroad – slowly, bit-by-bit.

Skuldenore itself was wonderful, with all the different countries having distinct cultures and outlooks on the world. The countries that were described in the most detail were, of course, Lumatere and Charyn, but significant effort has clearly also gone into creating places like Sarnak, Osteria, Sorel and Yutlind, as is evidenced by the fact that I remember them well, even though the characters spent very little time in any of them.

WRITING [4/5]

All three books were written in an unusual but excellent, fluid style that only got better as it went on. The pacing was very slow, however, and while I found that I didn’t mind that too much in the last two books (as they were building on a story and characters that I was already invested in), the early parts of Finnikin of the Rock were very difficult to get into. It was definitely a worthwhile struggle, but a struggle nonetheless.

OVERALL IMPRESSION [5/5]

A rich, entertaining story, with a memorable setting and wonderful characters. The writing is quite slow-paced, so it may be difficult to get into at the beginning, but it is absolutely worth the effort.

RECOMMENDED FOR…

It’s difficult to find a good match for The Lumatere Chronicles books, as they’re so unlike anything I’ve ever read before. However, those who like their fantasies long, complex and epic (e.g. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien), with a dark but still heroic narrative (e.g. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss) should appreciate all the nuances of this series.

Series Review: The Chronicles of Ixia: Study Trilogy by Maria V. Snyder (Spoiler-Free)

 POISON STUDY / MAGIC STUDY / FIRE STUDY4 stars

Maria V. Snyder//Poison StudySUMMARY

Having been locked up in the Commander’s (the leader of the Ixian military dictatorship) dungeon for murder for the last year, Yelena is awaiting her execution, when she’s approached with an intriguing opportunity: The chance to become the Commander’s food taster instead. Of course, she accepts. But what follows is more than just an exercise of tasting and identifying poisons – because Ixia’s capital is packed full of secrets and plots, and there may even be a war brewing with Sitia.

The Chronicles of Ixia is made up of three trilogies, of which the Study trilogy is the first. It comprises three novels and two additional novellas: Poison Study (#1), Assassin Study (#1.5), Magic Study (#2), Fire Study (#3) and Power Study (#3.5).

Maria V. Snyder//Magic StudySTORY [3/5]

The story is something of a mixed bag: Poison Study is incredible, and follows Yelena as she learns to navigate the Commander’s court and all the political manoeuvring that’s going on within it, while at the same time coming to terms with her crime, and the events that drove her to commit it. It’s fast-paced (but not too fast-paced) and fascinating, and makes for an incredibly engrossing read.

On the other hand, Magic Study brings several new story threads into play, and while they’re all quite interesting individually, the quick pacing of the story means that they’re frequently tangled up, and I often found it quite difficult to follow everything that was going on. This problem was fixed towards the end of Fire Study, but it still impacted my enjoyment of the series as a whole quite a bit.

Maria V. Snyder//Fire StudyCHARACTERS [4/5]

Yelena has all the hallmarks of my favourite kind of protagonist: She’s sympathetic and relatable; suspicious of kindness or good fortune; yet still loyal, and driven by a desire to do what she believes is right, regardless of the cost. This last trait is also a major flaw in her character, though, because she’s also very convinced that her way is the only right way of doing things (even though they’re clearly not), which often lands her in huge trouble… and which could, at times, be rather irritating.

Of the secondary characters, the most important is Valek, the Commander’s chief of security (a.k.a. personal assassin) and Yelena’s teacher. He’s definitely one of the more interesting characters in the series, as he maintains an air of mystery for much of it – it’s always difficult to tell what’s going on in his head – and because (as seen through Yelena’s eyes) he often seems infallible, it’s always a bit of a shock when he shows a more human side.

Maria V. Snyder//Assassin Study

Other characters include: Ari and Janco, two guards that Yelena befriends, and who have a really great dynamic both with her and with each other – the novella Power Study is told from their perspective, and makes for a fun aside to the main story. In the first book there’s also Rand, the Commander’s cook, who befriends Yelena early on in the story for reasons of his own; and later on we’re also introduced to Irys, a mysterious Sitian magician who has snuck into Ixia.

In Magic Study, there’s a whole slew of new characters introduced, but only a few of them really stood out: Leif, who started off really annoying, but grew on me as the story went on; and Cahil, who was the opposite – he initially seemed as if he was going to be really interesting, but as the series went on, his characterisation became shallower and shallower, until he had about the depth of a puddle. Lastly, there was Moon Man, a Sandseed magician (called a Story Weaver) who took it upon himself to teach Yelena, but mostly tried to do this in the form of cryptic remarks that he refused to explain. I never quite managed to figure out Moon Man’s character, but I did find myself liking him, and the relationship that he shared with Yelena.

Maria V. Snyder//Power StudyROMANCE [4/5]

Given that this is a YA series, I was expecting a romance of some kind (maybe even a love triangle!) and I therefore spent much of my time while reading Poison Study waiting for Stereotypical Love Interest to show his face. So I was pleasantly surprised when he didn’t – or, at least, not in the way that I had expected.

There is a romance, of course (or I wouldn’t have bothered including a romance section in this review), but it’s built-up very slowly, and the love interest in question (who I won’t name for spoilery reasons) was masterfully chosen. I’ve (again) knocked one star off this section because of Magic Study, where Yelena and Love Interest’s relationship seemed to stagnate rather (there was very little development at all), but that issue (as with many of my problems with that book) was thankfully fixed in Fire Study.

WORLD-BUILDING [4/5]

Ixia fascinates me – it’s one of the most interesting literary settings I’ve ever come across. It’s essentially a military dictatorship, and it was seized by force from the now-extinct royal family many years before Poison Study starts (but still well within living memory). Citizens are required to wear uniforms at all times that reveal their occupation and place of origin; they need to get permission from the General of whichever Military District they live in if they want to move, or get married; and various other liberties are restricted. Bearing that in mind, it would seem almost natural for the story to have major dystopian themes – and yet, Ixian society actually works. A certain amount of corruption exists within the ranks of the Commander’s Generals, but because the Commander himself is not corrupt, he is able to keep it in check, and the Ixian people don’t appear to feel oppressed at all.

Sitia – the neighbouring country where the majority of Magic Study and Fire Study takes place – provides an interesting contrast to Ixia. Because Ixia is all that Yelena knows, she sees Sitia as an alien place, and all its customs are foreign to her – even though its society is much closer to something you’d expect to find in the real world. Sitia is vast, however, and Yelena spends much of her time there travelling, so the different areas (and they are all very different) are never really fleshed out in the way that Ixia was in Poison Study. Because of this, I felt that I could only give four stars for world-building, rather than the five that I would give to Poison Study individually.

WRITING [3/5]

The writing is mostly solid, but nothing special. As I’ve already said, I had significant issues with the pacing in the second and third books, which brought the ranking down a star, and Snyder also occasionally slipped into a bizarre style that seemed to be summarising the story rather than actually telling it – though thankfully this wasn’t something that happened very often.

OVERALL IMPRESSION [4/5]

A fantastic debut novel with a sadly weak follow-up, though the story does pick up in the second half of Fire Study, and ends on a definite high note. Poison Study on its own is a five-star read, or close to it, but the two sequels (and Magic Study in particular) drag the overall rating down a little. As regards the two novellas… they’re fun but not essential, and I wouldn’t recommend bothering with them unless you’re particularly invested in the characters of either Valek (Assassin Study), or Ari and Janco (Power Study).

RECOMMENDED FOR…

Fans of Tamora Pierce’s work, particularly the Beka Cooper trilogy, and readers who liked Vin in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy will probably also like Yelena. Poison Study will also appeal to fans of dystopian literature for its setting, though its sequels may not.

Series Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi (Spoiler-Free)

SHATTER ME / UNRAVEL ME / IGNITE ME3 stars

Tahereh Mafi//Shatter MeSUMMARY

The Shatter Me trilogy tells the story of a teenage girl called Juliette, who is able to kill people just by touching them – and because of this (and her inability to control her powers), she’s spent most of her life locked up in a mental hospital, being treated like a monster. Needless to say, she’s a little unstable.

It’s set in a dystopian future, controlled by what seems to be an elected-government-turned-military-dictatorship called the Reestablishment, and its leader Anderson, and eventually Juliette joins up with a group of rebels with super-powers like her own, whose goal is to take down the Reestablishment and create a better world.

There are three main books in the series, as well as two novellas: Shatter Me (#1), Destroy Me (#1.5), Unravel Me (#2), Fracture Me (#2.5) and Ignite Me (#3).

Tahereh Mafi//Unravel MeSTORY [2/5]

The story had a very interesting concept, but I found that it never really went anywhere, and the plot certainly seemed much less important to the author than the characters and relationships, which I think was a mistake. The first book is almost entirely concerned with Juliette’s impressions of life outside the asylum she’s been imprisoned in, and even Omega Point (the rebel group) don’t seem to have any real plan for taking on the Reestablishment, even though they frequently state that that’s their goal.

This may be due to the narrative’s limited perspective (the story is told in first person, from Juliette’s point of view), but I feel that a lot more could have been explained about Omega Point, their plans, and even the Reestablishment itself, which seemed for the most part to be a distant evil, entirely forgettable except when civilians were being rounded up to be shot.

Tahereh Mafi//Ignite MeCHARACTERS [4/5]

Due to her history, Juliette is understandably withdrawn and slightly socially awkward for much of the series, but she really comes into her own towards the end of Unravel Me. More empowered, and a lot less angsty, she makes a really likeable protagonist.

Bachelor #1 is Adam, a likeable, but not particularly interesting soldier, who remembers Juliette from before she was locked away, and infiltrates the mental hospital in order to see her again. His primary characteristic, at least to begin with, seems to be his kindness, and he’s also very dedicated to his family – namely, his little brother James.

Tahereh Mafi//Destroy MeJuliette’s second love interest is Warner, who I personally found to be the most fascinating character in the series. He’s the leader of Sector 45, and the son of the Supreme Commander of the Reestablishment, and in Shatter Me, he’s the primary villain, but there’s a lot more to him than he lets on. Destroy Me, the first of the series’ two novellas, is told from Warner’s perspective, and is probably my favourite book in the series.

Last but by no means least is Kenji, who’s initially introduced as another of Warner’s soldiers, but is actually a spy for Omega Point. Kenji is often the comic relief character, but he is wonderfully aware of the fact, which makes him stand out from other comedic characters. He’s also Juliette’s best friend, and their relationship is one of the lighter, more fun aspects of the series.

There are several supporting characters, too (particularly at Omega Point), but apart from Adam’s brother James, none of them really make an impression.

Tahereh Mafi//Fracture MeROMANCE [4/5]

As you’ve probably been able to gather from my character descriptions above, there’s a very prominent love triangle in this series, and, to be honest, a lot of the time that I was reading, it seemed like Juliette’s love life was the most important part of the story – almost like a romance novel that just happened to have a dystopian backdrop. 😉

Like most love triangles, it can get pretty angsty and dramatic at times, but I found that I didn’t mind it too much: Juliette’s relationships with both Adam and Warner both had really interesting dynamics, and let us see very different sides of Juliette’s personality. Her relationship with Adam was very sweet, and she spent a lot of her time with him trying to learn to control her abilities so that she wouldn’t hurt him, or anyone else. In contrast, her relationship with Warner was more passionate, and when they were together she made a great deal of progress towards self-acceptance.

It was really great, however, that until we got close to the end of the book, it was never entirely clear which of them Juliette would choose – I’ve always found it irritating when there’s a love triangle, but the outcome is obvious from the start.

WORLD-BUILDING [1/5]

The world-building in this series was almost non-existent. We see the mental hospital, and enough of Sector 45 to realise the disparities between the living conditions of the ordinary citizens and the members of the Reestablishment, and little else. There is supposedly also some kind of global crisis going on, but the only thing we are ever really told about it is that it exists, and is causing a shortage of basically everything (and that birds can no longer fly).

WRITING [4/5]

The writing is one of the most impressive things about this series, and is something that I always find mentioned in other reviews that I’ve come across.

They’re written in a very distinct, stream-of-consciousness style, which changes as the series goes on, to reflect Juliette’s state of mind, and her growing sense of self-awareness and self-worth. In Shatter Me, for instance, much of the narration is crossed out, where Juliette is trying to reconcile the what she actually thinks with what she’s been taught to think, and it makes for a very interesting read.

Tahereh Mafi is also very good at writing quick but poignant narrative moments, and there are literally hundreds of really great quotes that can be found in all three books. Epic Reads even made a video out of a small collection of them not too long ago, which you can watch here, if you so desire.

OVERALL IMPRESSION [3/5]

An almost-generic, over-hyped dystopian series that is saved from its lacklustre storyline and abysmal world-building by a wonderfully quirky writing style, and some incredibly compelling characters and relationships (not to mention the beautiful book covers).

RECOMMENDED FOR…

Fans of the feelings-first approach of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, as well as those who enjoyed the love triangles in books like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy or Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series (though both these series have significantly better storylines).