I really should have seen it coming. After reading for about 150 pages with the nagging thought of "Jeez, it's like a teenager wrote this"... Surprise! A teenager *did* write it!

Cayla Kluver evidently wrote Legacy when she was 14/15... and it shows. Don't get me wrong, she would have been a wildly talented and creative 14-year-old, but that doesn't mean we need to publish it. The world she creates is inconsistent and patchy, but its scale is large and there are certain plotpoints that aren't bad at all, even if the details and the characters fail.

Alera is the eldest princess of Hytanica, a deeply misogynistic land where the King only has two daughters, so obviously whoever marries Alera will be the next king. The time/setting appears to be kind of pseudo-Rennaissance era, where Christianity is the only religion and the monarchy presides over a relatively small country. Hytanica's other defining feature (besides the belief that women are weak and useless, I mean) is fear of its mysterious neighbor, Cokyri. Hytanica should have been demolished sixteen years prior in a war with Cokyri, but the enemy mysteriously withdrew from their advantage (after kidnapping and then leaving the corpses of nearly fifty Hytanican male babies at the gates the day they left). Only one child's body was never recovered -- so I think we can all guess what's coming with this little tidbit. Everyone seems to know this much about the war, but that's about the extent of Alera's knowledge (beyond wildly "feminine" things like embroidery, dancing, and household management). But that's all politics that Alera has obviously never been interested in before, or else she might know even a single fact about all that. Instead, Alera's biggest problem is that her eighteenth birthday is, traditionally, when the princess is supposed to marry and her only real option (or the only real option her father is gunning for) is Steldor, who resembles Gaston from Disney's Beauty and the Beast. After Alera blunders along for a while, doing things like turning in her best friend/trusted guard for knowing a wee bit too much about Cokyri than he lets on after a Cokyrian prisoner goes missing, we eventually get to the point where another Cokyrian named Narian is captured -- but no! It's actually the missing Hytanican child, son to nobles, who grew up to be Alera's romantic counterpart, though obviously he cannot be trusted and Dad's still pushing for Steldor and what's what you say? A war might begin unless Narian is returned to them because he's the key to a prophesy for bringing about the downfall of Hytanica? Mm-hmm.

Seriously, guys, I think the publishing world has only done Kluver a disservice by publishing this work. Legacy could have been something excellent had she spent a few more years living/revising. As I understand it, Legacy was originally self-published and now Harlequin Teen is picking it up, but apparently, they didn't want to waste money on an editor (or Kluver had enough pull to be able to reject every rational change). It feels like no work was done on this manuscript to help Kluver patch up the inconsistencies or guide her to add some depth to her characters -- even if she couldn't create characters that you don't want to punch in the face. Repeatedly. Alera is boring and rather slow on the uptake -- a painful example of a heroine that we're supposed to like just because we're told to, without any reasons. She's not very smart and she has no hobbies, wit, sparkle, or emotional depth. She makes poor decisions, going along with whatever others propose, and seems to have lived her entire life without an ounce of curiosity -- prior to now (else how can we explain her total lack of knowledge of her own country's history or its conflict with Cokyri?). Steldor comes off as self-absorbed and cruel, but Kluver wants you to think he's more than that, and so she tosses in enough contradictory behavior (which only succeeds in making him look bi-polar). Though I will say that while the ending of the novel moved in obvious directions, for Steldor and Alera, I didn't expect Kluver to let things go so far. Narian's appeal rests in his mystery, which is relatively maintained by his mostly mute state. The only semi-likeable character in the entire book is London, Alera's bodyguard who was once a prisoner of the Cokyrians -- and I think I only liked him because he seemed like a bit of an ass, but a slightly likable ass with honor and a brain (aka the only character in the book that seemed to possess an ounce of intelligence). At first, one wonders if Alera is supposed to fall for him, as he's not *so* very much older and Kluver has difficulty in differentiating the affection one feels for a romantic interest versus a father-figure, but no, we're just supposed to question his motives and then all-too-conveniently bring him back when his expertise is needed. The most annoying figure of all, however, is a young bodyguard whose behavior would easily have earned him a beheading after one or two scenes, and yet he was peristently judged a decent figure to protect the princess. Personally, I would have been delighted if London killed them all in a post-traumatic-stress fit.

I know this might seem harsh, but I'm really disappointed in the general group of adults who didn't do enough to help Kluver develop this manuscript more and instead pushed it out in this state, as there's the potential for semi-decent fantasy/romance YA in all this mess, but it's just not ready. There's a lot of description of clothing that's supposed to pass as interesting detail, so it's not like Kluver didn't try where she could, but this is a highly disappointing novel and I can't even hope that Kluver will get better, as attention like this to work at such a young age could only stunt her growth by suggesting she doesn't need to work harder at her craft. Readers, if all you're looking for is to be impressed by a 14-year-old's writing, then go ahead and check out Legacy (or get a job as a high school English teacher and hunt down the nerds who scribble in their notebooks all day), but if you're looking for good historical YA, treat Legacy like the scene of a terrible accident. Keep moving along, folks, there's nothing to see here.

Please note that I received an advanced egalley of this novel courtesy of NetGalley for the purpose of review.


Dead Reckoning

If it weren't for the fact that "NEVER BEFORE PUBLISHED" is written on the cover of the latest Sookie book... well, you kind of could have fooled me. Dead Reckoning felt like a dead ringer for the last installment, Dead in the Family, with some minor details changed. It's yet another book of prep work for future explosions and laying the foundation for bigger issues, with enough of a battle at the end to keep everything interesting and technically "advance" the plot. We're still mopping up a fairy mess, we're still dealing with Victor, and we're still wondering what the hell Sookie and Eric are doing with their relationship/vampire marriage. Thank goodness it's been a solid year since I've read the last one or I'd be more irritated at the fact that the main positive point of this book seems simply to be that it exists and affords the reader a few hundred more pages of life in Charlaine Harris's vampire-riddled world. As it stands, I'm somewhat resigned to the fact that this series may have run its course, unless Harris really is planning for big things (and there are hints this could be true or at least that she wants us to think it's true), but I'm also aware of something I've stated in previous Sookie books: I'm going to keep reading and I know it, so there's no sense in my denying it or threatening that I'll stop. It's not in my nature and every time I open up a new Sookie book, I still feel like I'm settling in to something comfortable and familiar and I realize that I had, indeed, missed it.

The book opens with a bang... well, to be specific, a fire via Molotov cocktail (it seems Sookie has exchanged her word-a-day calendar of old for crime novels). Tossed through the window of Sam's bar during working hours, the cocktail fire causes minimal destruction and no one is too severely injured (though Sam was burned a bit and of Sookie's hair was singed) and while the police and everyone else might think this is your usual hate crime against the two-natured, Sookie caught a fleeting glimpse of the culprit and thinks their attacker is a shifter, too. Eric quickly arrives on the scene and we're reminded that he and Sookie have that blood bond and that they're married, vampire-style. Sookie's finally going to do something about that in this book (though we continue to remain baffled why Sookie feels this deep need to *do* something about it). Meanwhile, Eric is being unusually cagey, even for Eric, and later on, we'll learn (via Pam) that beyond plots to kill Victor, things are Not Okay in Eric world. Speaking of Victor, he's still trying to kill basically everyone (topping the list are Eric, Pam, and Sookie) and Eric's had enough and is finally ready to take him out. Oh, and also among those trying to kill Sookie? Do you remember Debbie Pelt's even crazier sister? Yeah, her. And Sam's still dating that werewolf. And Bill's still in love with Sookie. And the fairies are still around, despite the fact that their world was almost entirely sealed off, but we'll learn a little more about Sookie's fairy side. All in all, one feels like a whole book is needed just to check in on all the characters in this world, let along advance their individual plotlines by much. Oddly, it makes things feel very realistic -- one has too many friends to keep track of and there's a lot of schedule juggling so one can put in the hours at work, see one's vampire boyfriend, and still throw a baby shower for a "we used to be much closer" friend.

So, fans should enjoy this book if only because it gives us more and that's pleasant enough, but I still feel like we're gearing up for bigger things. At least the end of this book makes me feel like the next will, indeed, deal with quite interesting issues... and, let's face it, at the top of that list for me is Eric, his politics and his twisted relationship with Sookie. It may not be a good idea for them to be together, but I guess one should enjoy him while he lasts. (Speaking of Eric, there's an impressive scene involving a porch swing, the realistic logistics of which it's better to just ignore.) Otherwise, let the countdown for book twelve begin.


Told from the alternating perspectives of two narrators, Legend by Marie Lu is a dystopian YA novel set in Los Angeles that focuses on June and Day, two fifteen-year-olds from wildly different backgrounds whose lives are about to collide. June is the only prodigy to have earned a perfect score on her Trial exam (taken by all ten-year-olds in the Republic to help shape their futures). She comes from a wealthy district and family, though her life hasn't necessary been "easy" -- she's been raised by her wildly capable older brother, Metias, since their parents died while she was still very young. At fifteen, June might be a little bit of a trouble-maker at her top university (having skipped several grades), but only because she's challenging herself in her own ways (scaling buildings, etc.) and she can kind of get away with it (a perfect score will make you everyone's darling). She does, however, believe in the Republic and is eager to graduate to begin her military career. Meanwhile, Day is the most wanted criminal in the Republic -- not the most dangerous, mind, but the most wanted because he constantly eludes capture. From a poor family, Day failed his Trial exam and rather than be taken off to the work camps (or meet whatever fate the failures have), he now lives on the streets with only his friend, thirteen-year-old Tess, for company. The Patriots, the enemy in the Republic's never-ending battle outside its borders, have tried to bring Day to their cause, but he's never been interested. He pulls off his own acts of rebellion against a system that has never been on his side or the sides of his loved ones -- stealing plague meds, breaking in to a bank, destroying the engines of airships. Quite a rap sheet, indeed, particularly when no fatalities seem to be associated with any of these antics. More often than not, though, Day and Tess are simply scraping by, with at least a day a week spent watching over Day's family -- his mother and two brothers -- as the military does its weekly sweeps to test for plague that only seem to crop up in the poor areas.

When Day's little brother Eden seems to have developed a mutated strain of the plague, Day breaks in to a hospital to steal plague meds on a night when Metias is part of the military force present at the hospital. Unable to locate treatment meds, Day settles for suppressants and leaps two stories to escape, only to be cornered by Metias. Day wounds Metias in the shoulder and escapes -- but later that night, June is told that her brother was killed, stabbed in the heart by Day. June is offered a chance to become a full-fledged agent and avenge her brother by tracking down Day. First, she attempts to meet with Day by spreading word that a plague cure dealer is looking for him, and then June goes undercover in the slums, hoping to make contact with someone who can lead her to Day. After a few days of nothing, June jumps in to a skiz fight to rescue a young girl (Tess) and receives a minor wound, but is whisked to safety and taken care of by Tess and Day (though she doesn't know it's Day until she's spent some time with them). Inevitably, the truth comes out, decisions are made, and what was once certainty in June's mind becomes muddled as she finds herself questioning whether Day is really her brother's killer and if the system she's believed in for her whole life is not what it appears to be. Before she can figure anything out, though, there will be tragic casualties and massive repercussions to her actions.

My reasons for disliking this book are three-fold.

1. The font style and color changes. I know I'm reading an ARC, but I'm betting this will carry to the hardcover (and someone please let me know if that's not the case). For June, the more educated of the narrators, we have a serif font and black type. For Day, the wanted criminal and kid living on the streets, we have a sans-serif font in a weird goldenrod color. That's right, color ink. Extra money was spent to make the reader wince. It's so very unnecessary. A good novel doesn't need to switch fonts or colors to indicate we have a new narrator. Distracting design doesn't help the text and, honestly, it's just not aesthetically appealing. At most, I could've tolerated the font (style, not color) switching or the annoying "DAY" or "JUNE" logos at the top of each chapter to designate the narrator, but otherwise we're left to assume one of three things for why this weird font decision was made: (A) Some high-up executive thought this would be an interesting hook for the book ("everyone loves goldenrod!") and no one else wanted to be the person to step up and explain it was a terrible idea. (B) The author/publisher does not think highly of the reader's intelligence (or visual comprehension skills, as that logo on each chapter features letters a good inch tall), and so the reader is beaten over the head with these indicators that a different person is talking now. (C) The publisher doesn't think the book can handle things on its own/doesn't think much of the author's ability to properly differentiate tones of voice and so the extra differences were heaped in as a necessary means of tricking the reader in to thinking the voices were really quite distinctive. In reality, the voices are not as different as one might wish, and both can be slightly inconsistent. I got the feeling that a little too much thought had gone in to things like "this is what a teenage boy would sound like" and the defining variation for June was a flimsy air of prejudice towards the poor that quite easily gets set aside as the book goes on.

2. I'll be honest, this isn't necessarily a criticism of the novel, but rather, it's a personal preference discovered with this novel. I just don't enjoy stories that have to do with the military. It automatically turns me off. I don't think I had totally realized this until reading Legend, so that means I felt it hard-core here. Of course, this was only magnified by the fact that the military here is so obviously evil that it's absurd. Revolutionaries and rebels, bring 'em on, but the organized body requiring utter allegiance and devotions, no questions asked when shooting ten year olds? No thanks, I'll take my chaos rather than hand over guns to folks who never question an order from obviously twisted leaders. Naturally, the evil military trope is a standard feature of many dystopian or post-apocalyptic novels, but usually we see it from the outside, so we're not privy to the intricate machinations from within. Legend does at least have this different angle to its credit, but unfortunately it didn't do it all that well -- it made things seem way over simplified and ridiculous. I appreciate the message that this book seems to send about soldiers who are much too young for these responsibilities and blindly follow orders, but I don't think there was enough follow-through if the author really wanted to make a point. (PS. Only slightly related, but I'll stick this complaint here. If your book discusses the military and you insist on labeling things with a time, location, and temperature like it's an official report, then you should be using military time. This seems beyond obvious.)

3. Inconsistencies abound, leading me to surmise that even though the military set-up and dystopian world are the best things Lu has going for her, she constantly undermines her own creation by failing to keep things believable even within the framework of the world.

To me, this final point comes through loud and clear in the romantic plotline. (And from this point on, folks, I'll be revealing information that happens deeper in the novel than the general summary has indicated, so even though I won't spoil the ending, if you really want to avoid hearing more details about Legend, then stop now.) I can accept the general idea that June might fall for Day -- she hunts him down, believing he's her brother's killer, but ultimately realizes that Day didn't kill Metias and Day can provide the answers about how the Republic is really being run that have been kept from her for her whole life. There are several other books that utilize this plot where the family member can ultimately fall for the absolved suspect. What doesn't jive is Day falling for June after June is responsible for his mother being shot point-blank in front of his house to draw Day out of hiding before Day even has a chance to give himself up when his mother's life is threatened. June didn't hold the gun or issue the order, but she is totally and utterly responsible for her death. The characters dance around this, suggesting that June isn't responsible because she didn't know they'd kill his mother -- but I'm sorry, that doesn't fly. Day had been a somewhat credible character (despite his borderline super-human abilities and handsome features that always shine through his streetlife grime) up to this point, but there's no way he'd continue to think well of June after this. It doesn't matter if she's just a girl that's been lied to by the system... she's the girl who was responsible for his mother's death. If there was ever the slim hope that Day might one day forgive her for this, it isn't going to happen in less than a week and it's almost insulting to his character to suggest he could get over it so easily.

Beyond that massive issue, there are all kinds of questionable things in this novel that cause the reader to pause and pull out of the novel in confusion. The Trial exam that every ten year old takes has those who pass and those who fail -- and the failures are theoretically shipped off to work camps, but in actuality are killed or used for medical testing. (That's right, kids, we took Fido to a farm where he can play in the sunshine!) Evidently the kids, post-Trial, sit around wondering which group they're in, but really, if that many kids are being taken off for labor camps/to be killed, there would be WAY more problems, like general populace uprising (and the people can't be *that* beaten down if they're uprising when Day is captured, so you can't fall back on that one). There's also the surprisingly lax treatment of June in school, the perfect prodigy who gets away with all kinds of unacceptable behavior. In military schools, this would be completely unacceptable. While it's supposed to suggest she thinks outside the box, it doesn't explain why she's never questioned anything the military has told her up until now. And don't get me started on the evil military where the hours are surprisingly good (June always seems to be in her apartment, zoning out and petting her dog) and yet demands that its soldiers kill civilians without a second thought. Thomas (who was mentored by Metias and has the hots for fifteen-year-old June) is a poor bad guy and if he had a scrap of decency or wasn't a robot/psychopath, would have been torn up by the role he'd played in everything. The military, meanwhile, maintains a drastic class system that keeps the poor in utter squalor, but allows for its own impressive technology. Speaking of technology -- Metias keeps paper journals to document things... and then a website to alert his sister to his discoveries? If technology is advanced enough that a hand-scan would be required for her to view the site, you can bet the military would already have figured out a way around it -- it seems the military is the only field that gets any massive technological advances, so they'd be watching their people (and totally would have searched the house and figured out his code long before June). Oh, and the whole former United States of America? Yeah, the hints suggest we'll learn more about this in future books, but obviously things have gone down and the Republic controls at least California -- but we needed a little more to go on here, otherwise we're in limbo as far as our awareness of the world. What area of the US are we talking about when we refer to the Patriots or the Republic? How many years in the future are we that technology has been at a veritable stand-still? (Oh, and unless the rest of the world has been destroyed, it's rather egocentric to think America/Republic vs Patriots conflict is the only thing that's relevant. To be honest, though, if this was supposed to be some kind of compelling history, then we really should have been given a reason to care -- as of now, it just seems like Day and June are rebelling against a government that lies to them, but there's no indication that knowledge would lead to better lives for the Republic's citizens in any tangible way.

I wanted to abandon this novel halfway through, but trudged on so I could feel like I was giving a complete and thorough opinion of the work... and so I could feel justified in telling anyone who reads this review that you should skip this one and read something like Divergent, assuming you've already read Hunger Games. I may have tried to make more of an effort if I cared about June, but she lacks any sparkle that might make her a compelling lead. The next installment will likely focus on the Patriots and uncovering more information about the former US, with a contrived plot that will temporarily drive June and Day apart before their eventual reunion and triumph in the third in this series, though "triumph" might not be Hunger Games level and might just be their continued commitment to "fighting the good fight" to provide all people with the truth. (Note: I assume this will be a trilogy, as everything seems to be part of a trilogy these days.) The most I'll do for those future books is read Goodreads reviews with spoilers to confirm my suspicions, but I definitely won't be taking the time to read them myself. I had such hopes for an interesting new perspective in the large field of dystopian novels out there, but even if the setting is slightly new, there's not enough of an appealing and intriguing story to back it up -- and without that, any book would be doomed.

PS? You never win points with the reader by abandoning your dog and shrugging it off.



Fans of Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series will be quite pleased with the first installment of her new series that takes place in the same world of Moroi, dhampirs, and alchemists: Bloodlines. While the basic story points are a bit simple and predictable as we set up for a new run, Mead's consistently fun characters make for an entertaining read and a promising start to a series that will undoubtedly allow us to enjoy our favorite characters from the past and, in general, delight in the guilty pleasure of reading about teen vampires/those in their strange world.

Our heroine here has a familiar face (as do most of the faces we'll find in the book) -- it's none other than Sydney, the alchemist who played a major role in helping Rose Hathaway in her quests from the last series, albeit against her will as she made good on owed favors to Abe Mazur, the mob-boss-like figure known as zmey, or "the snake" and, incidentally, Rose's father. Alchemists are humans who are devoted to keeping other humans in the dark about the existence of vampires -- and this often means cleaning up after vampires and enforcing a lot of rules (which comes with a great deal of paperwork). Observant folk will notice that alchemists all have a golden tattoo of a lilly on their cheeks -- which gives them a certain amount of power and protection, but also keeps them from revealing too much about their world and activities to those not already in the know. Sydney was in hot water with the alchemists for her part in assisting Rose in Last Sacrifice -- not entirely because Rose was presumed guilty of murder but more because alchemists are not supposed to *like* vampires and Sydney seemed to have become entirely too close to the loathed creatures. So when a young female alchemist is needed for a mission, Syndey is passed over for her inexperienced little sister, Zoe. In her attempt to keep young Zoe out of the world of the alchemists, Sydney offends her by insisting Zoe's much too young and incapable, but it works and she gets the job.

Sydney is sent to Palm Springs help guard Jill, Queen Vasilia's recently-discovered half-sister who was attacked... and not by Strigoi (the evil brand of vamp), but by those who oppose her sister's politics. In order to maintain the throne, Lissa needs at least one living family member, which means Jill's safety is very important. Palm Springs, with the heat and sun, is one of the last places one would expect vampires and so a suitable boarding school has been located to serve as a relatively clear area to stash the young royal. Sydney is to pose as Jill's sister and Jill's dhampir bodyguard, Eddie, is to be their brother, but the family doesn't end there. Adrian, recently broken-hearted by Rose, is also around to post as another brother and, worst of all for Sydney, there's Keith, the alchemist in charge of the Palm Springs. Keith and Sydney despise each other as a result of an incident in their pasts (and not in the sexy "they hate each other now, but when passions rise" kind of way) and the most we can glean is that Keith did something terrible (though not necessarily to Sydney) and now he remains a slimy jerk, but a jerk in charge of her progress reports to their employers and who's playing the role of brother/legal guardian. Brilliant. Rounding out the cast are Clarence, an older vamp in the area that's willing to share his feeder/housekeeper with Jill, and Clarence's son, Lee, who is a shady fellow off the bat and yet Jill seems to have a small crush on him. Clarence's niece was killed a few years prior, presumably by Strigoi, though the circumstances are shady and Clarence blames vampire hunters. Intriguing. I wonder if that information will play in to our tale? (Hint: yes.)

Sydney must keep her eye on Jill while they navigate school, though to be honest, the latter isn't all that bad for Sydney, as she enjoys classes and is wildly intelligent. She even gets the opportunity to serve as a research assistant to a history professor, though that seems to be equal parts note-taking and coffee-fetching. Sydney, who was home-schooled and who loves architecture (even though her strict father thought it a useless subject), manages quite well... but Jill? Not so much. The sun and heat take a real toll on the young vamp and her shyness keeps her from making many friends. It also doesn't help that she attracts the eye of a human fellow that a particularly nasty girl in school wishes were *her* boyfriend and so the mean girl faults Jill and makes her life a living hell. There's also the fact that Jill and Adrian seem weirdly close these days, but not romantically, and Syndey is not pleased when she uncovers what has gone down. Meanwhile, the school seems to have some odd goings-on (beyond the whole vampires secretly attending thing) that has to do with some metallic tattoos that give the wearer strange powers (or at least an awesome high). Sydney's inquisitive nature will not let this lie and, unsurprisingly, things seem to be all wrapped up together.

The big mysteries are fairly easy to suss out early on, but if you're anything like me, you enjoy Richelle Mead for the clear, easy reading and the enjoyable characters. Sydney is an excellent heroine in many ways and she provides an interesting perspective (particularly as a shift away from Rose and the very intense Moroi/dhampir politics). Her dislike of magic will make for interesting future issues as she interacts with the vamps (and others). There's an interesting bit where Sydney is appalled that she receives a size two uniform instead of a zero -- the weight-control issues obviously going back to her disapproving father and the body image drama that must develop from working with model-thin vampires. Thankfully, Adrian is on hand to tell Sydney that she's too skinny as it is, so perhaps we'll move away from those ludicrous size discussions. (It's rather hard to feel too sorry for Sydney when the difference is between size zero and size two.) Even though the story doesn't feature much romance yet, it's obvious that Mead has plans for Sydney to help Adrian get over his broken heart and figure out his own life. Adrian, meanwhile, is still a bit wicked, but is much tamer (for several reasons) than readers might wish, but I suppose concessions must be made if we want to make him a viable romantic lead who's trying to get his life in order. Eddie remains strong and sweet while Jill is a bit petulant, but she's been through a lot, so I'm sure she'll mature quickly. Rose makes a cameo at the beginning of the story and she'll probably continue to pop in and out, but it looks like we might get a good deal more Dimitri in the next book. I'm not particularly enthralled with the Palm Springs setting, but that can obviously change up as things move around -- the real focus will be on Syndey and her relationship with the vampire community, primarily through Adrian and Jill.

Without Rose's mental line to Lissa that kept previous books jumping between the two perspectives, Bloodlines felt like a very focused story -- in a good way. Things were simple here (protecting Jill, placing Adrian in a new setting, a solveable issue at the school), but the scope will undoubtedly widen as we go on and Jill plays a bigger role at Court. I'm betting we can count on the Moroi/dhampir issues to continue and since Sydney is our focus, the alchemist system to come in to question. I'm curious to see where Mead will take us, as it's just not possible that she'll allow things to stay simple forever, and I'm more than content to let her go wherever she likes with this world, as long as she continues to entertain... and not veer Adrian too far away from his devilish nature towards the responsible-and-boring side of things.


Two Moon Princess

Two Moon Princess by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban is a time/space traveling YA fantasy novel, colored with the influence of Spanish culture and Californian history. Princess Andrea, the fourth and youngest daughter of the King and Queen, dreams of being a knight but fears her father will not allow her to continue her training now that she's getting older. As suspected, even after she wins an archery contest, Andrea is told that it is now time for her to set such masculine things aside and study to be a lady with her mother's guidance. What the king says is law, so really the only thing that will get her out of this is a magic portal to another universe.
Funny how that can happen in fantasy novels, right?
After struggling to be what she is not, Andrea discovers her kingdom's long-hidden secret, a portal that opens once a month and allows travelers to pass between worlds. Of course, she doesn't totally know what it is until she stumbles through to present day California, where the slightly strange uncle (who would occasionally visit court for short sojourns) turns out to be from this (the real/reader's) world and he's not terribly pleased to have his otherworld niece suddenly appear. In addition, Andrea's mom is actually from California and chose to stay in the other universe for love of Andrea's father, but her uncle bops back and forth between the two worlds, writing off his long absences from his University of California archaeology professorship as "time in the field." Her uncle insists that Andrea must go back to her country/universe when the portal opens again, but that means she's got a month to explore life in our world. As Andrea acclimatizes to California (it helps that her people have ridiculously awesome memories that allow her to learn English practically overnight) and its ways, she begins to appreciate the freedom this world can offer that would be denied to her back home, no matter her station. Unfortunately, though, even when she's given permission by her parents to stay in California for a while, a mistake lands Andrea and her California crush, John, back in her former home and the ultimate consequences of this action lead to war within her world. Now it's up to Andrea to find a way to stop the war and along the way, she discovers that not everything in her world is worth leaving behind, but she ultimately will have to choose between the two.

First off, I really wanted to like this book. I was looking forward to the incorporation of old Spanish culture and California history. As a former California Catholic school student, the missions were a big part of grade school curriculum (my small-scale foam-board mission, btw, rocked the socks off everyone else's in the school) and I still have a soft spot for this morally questionable part of my culture. At least with the mission component in this book, I wasn't too disappointed -- these bits and the flavor they provided were interesting and I wanted more. Unfortunately, it was everything else that got annoying. Time was all wonky -- in Andrea's world (which has two moons, btw, hence the title) the calendar is longer and so she starts the book as "nearly fourteen," but in our world, this mean she's seventeen. (Let me tell you that it's a BIG difference for a reader when she blithely reads along, picturing a fourteen-year-old and then suddenly she's enrolled in college classes and thinking about kissing boys in a this-isn't-too-soon-at-all kind of way.) It was also frustrating to know the whole "the portal only opens every month" bit meant that lots of time gets skimmed over in the course of the story and it seems just a little too convenient that no one (like her uncle's real-world daughter, perhaps?) gets all that concerned when someone is unreachable for a whole frickin' month. In general, I found that this story tended to drag on in places (for the first half, I came amazingly close to setting the book aside because things were going so slowly and I pretty much never give up on a book). Eventually, it picked up when the direction that we were headed in became a bit clearer, but that took quite a long while. I will give the novel credit for not giving away the details about who will be playing what part (aka the "villians," the love interest, etc.) but sometimes that came at the cost of twisting people from their original presentations to ascribe actions to them that don't seem all that believable or sympathetic.

On the whole, I didn't really like any of the characters. All the men (save one, later on) seem to be real jerks -- especially Andrea's uncle who, given that he's a professor from modern-day California, you might expect to be less of a dick towards women -- and the women are easily dismissed as being one-note or lacking in definition. Ultimately, though, the real fault I had with this novel was Andrea -- it's entirely possible to still enjoy a novel where you dislike the main character (it can even be an interesting experience, really), but it's much harder when you find them annoying and, quite frankly, a bit slow on the uptake. When I thought she was fourteen, her intelligence level might have been forgiven, but at seventeen, she came across as rather dim indeed. It wasn't that she was klutzy or forgetful or endearingly clueless... she was actually a little dumb. She never thought things through and never seemed to understand that actions have repercussions and, as a princess, you'd think she'd be a bit more aware here. She grows a pair towards the end of the novel, but it happens a bit too quickly for any brave actions to be really believable as character development and, instead, it's like a new Andrea is suddenly on the scene. The thing that kept me reading was the plot -- I honestly wasn't sure where things were going for a while and I dislike giving up on things, so I stuck it out. The romance angle (once you it came to fruition) was interesting, even though I liked the hero far more than Andrea, but once it became a possibility, the ultimate end result was clear and there were no further twists.

Alas, while I honestly appreciate the introduction on diversity and different cultures into literature (particularly YA), I just wasn't won over by Two Moon Princess. Given a different heroine, perhaps I could have warmed to it, but Andrea just wasn't up to the task of shouldering this novel. It's quite a shame, really, as this novel had potential and some very interesting details to its credit, but it just wasn't my cup of tea in the end.