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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

Sequel reviews! "Beautiful Darkness" by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl and "The Dead Tossed Waves" by Carrie Ryan.

“Beautiful Darkness

Authors: Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl.

Publisher: Penguin Razorbill.

Pages: 503.

Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): Ethan Wate used to think of Gatlin, the small Southern town he had always called home, as a place where nothing ever changed. Then he met mysterious newcomer Lena Duchannes, who revealed a secret world that had been hidden in plain sight all along. A Gatlin that harbored ancient secrets beneath its moss-covered oaks and cracked sidewalks. A Gatlin where a curse has marked Lena's family of powerful Supernaturals for generations. A Gatlin where impossible, magical, life-altering events happen. Sometimes life-ending.

Together they can face anything Gatlin throws at them, but after suffering a tragic loss, Lena starts to pull away, keeping secrets that test their relationship. And now
that Ethan's eyes have been opened to the darker side of Gatlin, there's no going back. Haunted by strange visions only he can see, Ethan is pulled deeper
into his town's tangled history and finds himself caught up in the dangerous network of underground passageways endlessly crisscrossing the South, where nothing is as it seems.

“The Dead Tossed Waves”

Author: Carrie Ryan.

Publisher: Delacorte Books.

Pages (in ARC): 402.

Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): Gabry lives a quiet life. As safe a life as is possible in a town trapped between a forest and the ocean, in a world teeming with the dead, who constantly hunger for those still living. She’s content on her side of the Barrier, happy to let her friends dream of the Dark City up the coast while she watches from the top of her lighthouse. But there are threats the Barrier cannot hold back. Threats like the secrets Gabry’s mother thought she left behind when she escaped from the Sisterhood and the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Like the cult of religious
zealots who worship the dead. Like the stranger from the forest who seems to know Gabry. And suddenly, everything is changing. One reckless moment, and half of Gabry’s generation is dead, the other half imprisoned. Now Gabry only knows one thing: she must face the forest of her mother’s past in order to save herself and the one she loves.

Cover impressions: Here at the Sparkle Project we’ve got sequel-itis! The festive period has blessed me with more reading time and my old job blessed me with books to read! I found an old advanced reader copy of the sequel to ‘The Forest of Hands and Teeth’, the one book in the original Sparkle Project I actually gave a positive review, in my old staff room and luckily even Xmas booksellers get to take them home. I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Beautiful Creatures’ when I first read it, finding it to be a well crafted, interesting story with a unique mythos and an atmosphere steeped in the Southern Gothic traditions, one of my favourite things in literature. I’m always weary about committing to a series but since I enjoyed the first book so much I knew I had to give this one a go. As for ‘The Dead Tossed Waves’ it was something I was wary about picking up at first – I liked it but still had problems with it – but the possibility of answers for the plot holes that bugged me was too good to resist.

Starting with ‘Beautiful Darkness’ I am sorry to say it was a disappointment. The first book had moments of pacing difficulties but here they seemed to spiral out of control. There was no real beginning, middle or end to the story; it all just dragged out and felt like it was pushed together out of scraps of story and scenes. This book is over 500 pages long and you feel each of those 500+ pages, especially since the plot seems to have wandered off somewhere. Everything wandered from one scene to another with no real order or point. A strict editor could easily have taken a hundred or so pages from this story. It wouldn’t have been perfect but it would have flowed much easier.

I really liked ‘Beautiful Creatures’ for a number of reasons as I mentioned above, but none of these things were present in this sequel – the mythos remains interesting and well crafted but it’s so clumsily put into the story with giant chunks of show-don’t-tell that it adds yet more speed-bumps to a story that desperately needs an energy boost. Ethan’s narration remains likeable enough but there are more points in this story where he doesn’t feel authentically male than in the previous story. Love stories may not be my favourite element in paranormal YA these days but it’s still important to make me care about the romantic leads and I just didn’t care about Lena in this story. Forget the fact that she’s barely in half of it; when she is there her actions didn’t do much to make me sympathise with her. In the previous book I understood her emotions and while I empathise to an extent here, her moments of ignorance, cruelty and just plain old stupidity drove me nuts. Stupidity should not drive the plot. This also left me wondering why the hell Ethan was so obsessively in love with Lena, especially since there were so many more interesting things about Ethan I wanted to know about, such as the return of his dad into his life after the events of the previous story. There were some small moments between Ethan and his dad where I really wanted to read more instead of that dreaded yet inevitable trope of the YA genre – the love triangle. Or rather a love square if I must be precise.

Let’s talk about love triangles since it’s a relevant topic to both of these books. I cannot for the life of me understand why they are so popular in young adult fiction. A great romance is a hard thing to write well, romance detractors be damned, and a love triangle even harder. I’ve never seen it done well yet in YA, or at least not up to my stupidly high standards of literary romance. The basic idea of making love a competition feels disingenuous to me. When ‘Twilight’ first became popular the publishers started to push the ‘Team Edward’ and ‘Team Jacob’ fan competition as part of the publicity campaign (which I’ve always found odd since there isn’t a more obvious conclusion to a love triangle than the one in Twilight. Be honest, Jacob never had a chance.) I see the team element being pushed a lot with other books, for example ‘The Hunger Games’ (because the idea of a strong, independent female character ending up without an unnecessary romantic lead is unthinkable I guess) and ‘Wings’ (oh dear god, that book was terrible.) The emphasis on romance over plot and character aside, the love triangle competition element bugs me because in a love triangle someone is always going to be disappointed. I often find it harder to make a connection with characters when I’m supposed to be actively rooting for one over another. A lot of the time it’s also lazy writing, like I found with ‘Beautiful Darkness.’

Awkwardly segueing back to the review, with the added possible love interests in the story, I just didn’t care if Ethan or Lena ended up with someone different, although I admit to liking Ethan’s possible future English girlfriend Olivia more than I liked Lena. The moping and wondering just added more padding to a story that really doesn’t need it. But what disappointed me most about ‘Beautiful Darkness’ was something missing from the first book – the atmosphere. Garcia and Stohl did a great job in capturing the claustrophobic feeling of being stuck in a small town where everybody knew everything and gossip could ruin your life. It was like a lighter Southern Gothic but every bit just as effective and it was completely missing in this book. There was no tension, no atmosphere, no foreboding sense of something suspicious in the foreground and the book seriously suffers for it. That’s why this book was such a disappointment. I expected so much more and it just fell flat and didn’t deliver.

On the other hand, ‘The Dead Tossed Waves’ seriously surprised me. While I still had similar problems that I had with the first book, Ryan’s wonderful prose kept me gripped throughout. She has a serious gift for creating fear out of the small moments and that which we find to be so normal, like the ocean (water zombies FTW!) The feeling of claustrophobia, even in the wide open spaces that Gabry lives in, is constant, and Ryan does a fantastic job of crafting a secret filled, constraining society in a situation where one would think such a thing isn’t even possible. We also get answers to questions posed in the first book which is always a good thing. The mythos of the zombies, known here as the Mudo, is fleshed out further, no pun intended, and we get a wider view of how the world has been affected by the epidemic. There are some very interesting twists in this tale that I won’t spoil for you.

But the love triangle problem looms in the distance and I just can’t ignore it. I was seriously bugged by Mary’s love-sick moping in ‘The Forest of Hands and Teeth’ because it seemed like a ridiculous priority to have when one’s life is at stake and it just dragged the plot down and sadly the exact thing happens here. While I like the protagonist in this book more than I did with Mary, it still feels highly unnecessary and uninteresting. Like her mother, Gabry suffers from some real moments of head-desk inducing stupidity. The adult Mary also gets a couple moments to display her unchanging personality from the first book. I’m disappointed that Ryan decided to repeat this plot element from the first book since it was evidently the weakest part of the story and weighed down the rest of it so much. I’d love to see her try this story without the love element in it. She manages to pose some very intriguing philosophical questions – what does it truly mean to be alive? When you are undead are you still you? – in an interesting way that keeps the plot moving, as well as some genuinely eerie moments, mixing together themes of religion, power and responsibility, and they’re all so much more interesting than the teenage romance, although I give credit to Gabry for being so much less selfish than her mother, even if she does spend a lot of time comparing herself to her. I’d love to see a story set in this world around the time of the Return. It would probably be as depressing as hell but Ryan could definitely pull it off.

I end this bout of sequel-itis with one disappointment and one surprise. ‘Beautiful Darkness’ was such a letdown and I’m so disappointed that it didn’t live up to its predecessor. While the prose is still serviceable, the majority of the characters likeable and the mythos unique and interesting, the lack of plot, terrible pacing and lack of anything actually happening vastly outweigh the positives. If I’m completely honest, a lot of the time it felt like Garcia and Stohl were making it up as they went along, and with news that the series will go onto book 4 with more possibly on the horizon, I can’t see that as a good thing. The novel ends on a sort of (lazy contrived) cliff-hanger for book 3 which feels like the story is being dragged out like it’s part of the Saw franchise, and beyond it being uninteresting and thrown together solely for sequel bait, the story can only suffer as a result. I don’t think I’ll be reading the rest of the ‘Beautiful Creatures’ series, I just don’t care enough. On the other hand I will definitely be picking up the final book in Ryan’s trilogy, ‘The Dark and Hollow Places.’ Soap opera moments and unnecessary love triangle aside, I love Ryan’s prose and the world she has created. ‘The Dead Tossed Waves’ builds upon its predecessor and even beats it on several levels and I was highly satisfied with it. Ryan’s a great storyteller and I hope she sticks with the stuff she’s great at and makes the final book in her trilogy everything it deserves to be.

Beautiful Darkness: 2/5.

The Dead Tossed Waves: 3.5/5.

(apologies for the terrible HTML here; I am a technological nightmare.)

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fromthisgirl said...

Did you read The Hunger Games by the way? I think this is the first time I'm aware of you mentioning them. While I was annoyed at the whole Team Peeta and Team Gale thing, it is still the only love triangle I've ever enjoyed. Primarily because the two love interests were actually, well, interesting. Most of the time I'd rather the protagonist not go with either guy because they both tend to suck. And actually, with Katniss I often wondered if she was going to end up refusing both of them entirely, since her personality didn't really make me feel like she couldn't live her life alone without a guy. I wish more YA was like that, then the romance wouldn't feel so forced.

I'm reconsidering The Dead-Tossed Waves now. The first book really didn't do much for me, but if you say this one is somewhat better then I'll check it out.

Sean Wills said...

Together they can face anything Gatlin throws at them, but after suffering a tragic loss, Lena starts to pull away, keeping secrets that test their relationship

Urgh, why do all second entries in YA paranormal trilogies have to be about this? That's the problem with setting up an epic OMGForever romance in the first book - your choices for the second are either let the romance stay static (boring) or introduce some sort of contrived obstacle (stupid).

Anonymous said...

I picked up Beautiful Creatures based on your rec and loved it, and I had similar feelings to Darkness. Lena just seemed way too OOC for me and I was just bored. (I did like Link lot more in this.)

Have not picked up Dead Tossed Waves, I'm a bit unsure about it.

Anonymous said...

Awesome reviews! I agree about love triangles, YA or not. Some of my favorite fantasy series have been dragged down by love triangles; I dislike them because someone always gets hurt and they rely on the heroine being wishy-washy and indecisive, traits I don't really find admirable. Plus it seems the girl always gets together with the first guy she meets, so there isn't much suspense and it's more "can we get this overwith and move on with the story" for me.

Canada said...

Beautiful Darkness is a roller coaster ride of a book that won't disappoint fans of the first novel. Like many second novels before it, this book is kind of a holding place for the next big action that I am sure is imminent in the next installment. In this story, we learn more about Ethan and Lena's relationship. We already know how it has come to exist, but now we learn how it will grow and change as their abilities develop.

I was very pleased to see that we got to learn more about the history of both sides of Gatlin as the two cannot be separated. Liv was such a lovely character to assist in this facet. She really gave Caster Gatlin a more youthful take than Marian. I felt like Caster Gatlin was more accessible when it was being discovered secretly than having a knowledgeable librarian escort you. John Breed and Riley were also very helpful in moving the story along. They add a dark balance to Liv and Link's light.

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