The Final Six by Alexandra Monir

We’ve finally destroyed the Earth, and the international space agencies have declared that our only hope is escape to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. An international draft has been declared to decide who will man the first mission to Europa, who will terraform the planet so it is habitable, and who will start the first colony on a foreign surface.

Leo is Roman. Most of Italy is underwater now, including his family. He’s made his living by scavenging, selling, and diving for valuables. Before the floods Leo was a championship swimmer, which makes him a prime candidate for the underwater specialist on this mission. Naomi is an Arab-American and a scientist at heart. For her whole life, all she’s wanted is to find a cure for her brother Sam. But it’s her expertise at communications that brings her into the draft.

This book was definitely a worthy premise, but it could’ve been handled better. There was a lot going on in a world that very much tried to act as if it were one of those “20 minutes in the future,” kind of novels. We were tackling issues of colonialism, climate change, bioethics, corruption, and advanced technology. With all of that packed in, it’s understandable why a lot of it fell flat.

We know almost from the beginning that there is likely intelligent life on Europa. Naomi thinks that the leaders of the mission also know that, that they plan on wiping out that life to make room for the humans. The view of this issue is made to seem much simpler than it actually is. Naomi wants to call the mission off in terms of safety of for the Final Six, others want it called off for the sake of anti-imperialism, and still others try to cover it up because it’s the only hope left for the human race. In reality, this is a

Leo & Naomi develop a connection. They come from vastly different backgrounds and have very different reasons for being at the training center, and I’m genuinely unsure why they go together. But Leo follows Naomi’s lead during much of the book, and Naomi falls for the goofy Roman boy. I’m interested to find out what Beckett’s deal is. He’s the nephew of the President, he’s a dick, and I’m unsure what his motivations for his behaviors are. Over all, a very strange character.

I guess, that’s how I’m feeling overall: unsure. There are a lot of questions left unanswered, and the pace of the novel is manufactured to go as quickly as possible without answering any of them. I’m sure it was meant to make things more interesting, but it was just frustrating. It left me underwhelmed, though I’m looking forward to see where the sequel goes.

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A Lily in the Light by Kristin Fields

Little Lily went missing from her home. Madeleine was yelling at her and Esme wouldn’t tell her a story about a fish, and the next thing they know, Lily is gone. In the aftermath, their mother becomes a shell of the person she once was and their father tries to keep the family from falling apart. Esme seeks solace in her ballet classes, eventually moving in with her teacher. She uses ballet to run as far away from her family problems as she can, all the way from Queens to San Francisco.

I received A Lily in the Light as part of the Amazon First Reads Program. I am continually impressed with the quality of books they share in this program. They offer a wide variety of books to choose from and they’re typically well-written and well-designed books.

A Lily in the Light surprised me in a lot of ways. It was the story of how Esme handled the disappearance of her sister. It was an incredibly human representation of how people cope with grief and loss, and how traumatic events in youth can continue to affect people as adults. Esme’s past with her sister is the dark secret she hides from her fellow dancers, but it’s also the reason she has trouble connecting with them. She’s protecting herself from feeling the same sense of abandonment she felt when Lily disappeared.

I identified with Esme because of our love for ballet. I won’t be getting into the San Francisco Ballet any time soon, but there’s something to be said for working out your frustrations in ballet class. The familiarity of being at the barre, the mental challenges presented in each combination, and the physical work are all useful tools and distractions in dealing with stress and grief. There’s a large emphasis on the expression of the artist, and Esme has a large well of unworked-through emotion to draw from.

She avoids confronting those feelings for as long as she can, too. Nobody wants to be reminded of the trauma of their past, so when Adam asks her to dance one of the most triggering roles she’s ever known, she’s thrown off.  Waltz Girl from Serenade is hard for her because it was the first ballet she saw after Lily disappeared. It’s a physically demanding piece, but Serenade in itself is not a particularly sad ballet, so I think much of her reluctance stems from her unresolved past.

Adam and Esme share the experience of childhood trauma. They never shared much about their trauma with each other, but that shared experience brought them together when they were younger. It strengthened their connection as pas de deux partners and made their dancing better. They continually pushed each other to improve their dancing, but they never asked more of the other than they could give. It’s a shame that they grew apart when Adam moved to New York, but I’m glad that they found each other again and that they’ve grown enough to be together at the end of it all.

I really enjoyed this book: it was an incredibly human display of grief and trauma. Esme grew with that scar on her memory and her heart. It forever changed how she interacted with the world and changed how her family interacted with each other. Even the littlest of our families have the power to change our lives.

The Midnight Star by Marie Lu

 

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Raffaele, in his extensive wisdom, has learned a few things since we first met him. He learned about the alignment of each Elite. He’s learned that an Elite exists with no marking. He’s learned that his betrayal pushed Adelina to the point of no return. And he’s learned why the Elites have their powers and that they’re killing them. The powers of the Elites belong to the gods. They are immortal in nature, and the bodies of the Elites – really the world – was not made to contain those powers. He’s learned that if they do not return their powers, they will die, and they’ll take everyone with them.

 

I care so much less about Adelina taking over the world hunting for her sister than I did when she was out for revenge. She’s so much colder now than she is angry. It feels like a defense mechanism: people can’t hurt her if she doesn’t let them close enough. Her emotional unavailability also makes it difficult to feel as connected to Adelina as I have in the past.

The amount of loss we experience is less unsettling than I thought. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely some gut-punches, but there is a lot of death in this story, and a lot of it passes without a second mention. I can’t tell if I’m apathetic to it because Adelina is apathetic, but this frigidity makes everything feel separate.

I love the role that Teren plays in this novel. It’s not a redemption, but rather a recognition that he has a role to play. He was right about the gods the whole time, and he finds strength in that. His enemies called him crazy, but he was right.

I’m unsure how I feel about the ending. Adelina is right, if Violetta and her were to trade places, Violetta would bargain her life in a heartbeat. And I guess it’s Adelina’s redemption. It’s her attempt at atonement for the misery she’s caused. But it doesn’t feel fair. In the acknowledgments, Lu discusses how Adelina is a projection of herself. Adelina is all of us any time we’re overwhelmed by feelings of anger and bitterness. I need to believe that there’s a better redemption arc for her and for everyone else.

This series was so different from anything that I’ve ever read. The deep darkness in Adelina is part of what made this story so compelling. It’s strange to hear from someone who is so strongly a villain, and even stranger to be able to identify with her. I’ll miss this series and likely revisit it often. 

 

The Rose Society by Marie Lu

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Adelina Amouteru’s fellow Elites have cast her out. Her powers killed their friend and their prince, and now she is looking for revenge: against the Daggers for their betrayal, against the Inquisition Axis for their role in tormenting and murdering malfettos, and against every unmarked civilian for their privilege. She establishes her own society of Elites – the Rose Society – made of up of Elites who are like her – abandoned and cast out- and together they plot a coup. Adelina wants to be the Queen of Kenettra, and it seems like nothing can stop her. 

Adelina’s past continues to haunt her in The Rose Society. Her attachment and guilt for killing Enzo is obvious. Her ambition and her anger fuel her journey in this book. It’s so compelling to read. Watching Adelina get everything she’s ever wanted is empowering. But while she doesn’t make considerable personal sacrifice (that she can tell) it’s a little terrifying to watch what that power does to her. The reader can almost watch her humanity fade away as she gets more powerful and as she accumulates allies.

Again, it feels weird that I align so strongly with Adelina. At her core, she is dark, angry and vengeful. I’d like to think that I’m not, but she manages to speak to every part of me that’s ever felt bitter or abandoned. I can’t fault her for wanting to hurt the people who’ve caused her pain.

We hear about the Rose Society as a group far less than we hear about the Daggers, which is strange considering they’re meant to be the focus of this novel. We watch her assemble her small group of Elites and mercenaries, but the Daggers were such a “one-for-all” persona, and the Roses are much more of an “all-for-one”. They would lay down their lives for Adelina, but I doubt their loyalty to each other.

I’m struck by how few Elites there are in the world. Many people were damaged by the blood fever, but so few developed powers. It’s different from The Red Queen series, for example, where there was an army of Newbloods. I expected something similar in this novel, even compared to TYE. But what the Elites lack in numbers, they make up for in destructive power, I suppose. Especially Adelina and Enzo.

I still love this book, but I think the shock factor from the first novel has worn off. Lu is still a great author, and I still like her writing style, but what was most compelling this time around was the change in Adelina as she shifted from frightened girl to queen. Now that she has the throne she’s always dreamt of, I’m excited to see what comes next.

 

 

The Young Elites by Marie Lu

 

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Years ago, the blood fever ravaged Kenettra. Adults who suffered from the fever died, while the young survived. Those afflicted were marked by the disease forever, and dubbed malfettos. The malfettos of Kenettra are mistrusted and held in contempt, but rumors travel that the blood fever left these youths with more than a mark. The Young Elites are malfettos who developed unique powers, and a few of these Elites have gathered to form the Dagger Society. This society is spearheaded by Prince Enzo, an Elite and a malfetto of the royal family, and their goal is reclaiming his throne from the unrightful king of Kenettra and justice for all malfettos.

 

At least, verbally, that’s the goal of the Daggers. They’re pretty Machiavellian; the ends justify the means and all that. I like the Italian touches. It makes everything feel familiar, even though the world we’re dealing with is new and strange.

Adelina is a dark character. From the beginning, we learn that about her. Raffaele, one of the Daggers, does research with each Elite he meets to discover their “alignments” and she aligns strongly with fear, fury and ambition. That’s a terrifying combination. Personally, I love that Adelina is so dark. She’s strong and she’s angry. She’s also scary, and she appeals to the darker, more vengeful side of the reader. If I’d been through half the trauma that she’d been through, I’d be in a similar mindset.

I like Enzo a lot too. He’s also dark and brooding, but I continue to be surprised by his good streak. He isn’t gentle, but he also isn’t cruel. His Elite power is to control fire, which suits him well. He is all heat and passion. I wish YA royalty had fewer fire princes, but it’s symbolic of the force and command they need to rule their country.
Speaking of surprise, I continue to be surprised by Raffaele. He never presents himself as the gentlest Dagger, but I’d imagine his day job produces some kind of humanistic empathy. At every turn, he proves me wrong. He’s cold, calculating. Where Enzo is the vision that propels the Daggers forward, Raffaele is the strategist who keeps them on the path.

I just finished the Legend trilogy by Marie Lu, and I was expecting something more like that. But this is… not that. It’s much darker, for one. You can tell Lu enjoyed writing an anti-hero. Both the worlds are well-built, but they’re so different. Legend featured the advanced Republic, but Kenettra is basically medieval. One of the blurbs for Rebel (which is the recently announced fourth novel in Legend series) calls Lu’s writing style “cinematic”. I don’t know that I can think of a better word for it than that. She paints such a vivid picture, it’s almost like the reader is living through the chaos.

The Young Elites was truly a wild ride.There was almost nothing I didn’t like about this book. It’s original and fiery and vengeful. It can be a heavy read, but well worth it. I can’t wait to continue with the series.

Champion by Marie Lu

 

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Champion is the thrilling conclusion of the Legend trilogy. When we first see June again, she’s working with the Elector as his Princess-Elect in Denver, learning to be his right-hand-woman. Day is back in LA, middling through his clot? Aneurysm? Brain damage? I’m not really sure, so we’ll stick to chronic headaches that will probably kill him. While the Elector has brokered peace with the Colonies, the threat of a new, mutated virus brings with it new attacks from them. And this time, they’ve got help from Africa (which is now a major military power).

 

Do you know how you can tell if you need a good soul-crushing book? Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t one and that’s okay. But when you read something sad (like about a boy whose slowly dying of a brain lesion) and you’re not sad (at all) because you know everything will workout in the end. I was more sad about June’s first birthday without Ollie in the epilogue. And I think that says more about the headspace I’m in than anything else, so that’s cool.

I still am really appreciative of the character building in this series. There was never a moment where I was like, “WHY are you doing this?” Everything made sense and no one went off the rails. I think June’s story is much more compelling than Day’s throughout the whole thing, but I’ve always enjoyed the political side of dystopian, and she got to see much more of that than Day ever did.

That ending was really something. All the loose-ends were tied without seeming like it was cheated. Our main character didn’t die because we weren’t sure how to tie up everyone’s relationship with her, and we didn’t magically and unreasonably get over the fact that major sources of both characters pain was the other. It felt plausible and real. In the acknowledgements, Lu says that she’s not sure when June and Day are headed, but that she’s sure they’re going to be okay. After the trip that we’ve had so far with them, I’m really glad. They deserve to be okay.

I genuinely don’t have a bad thing to say about this book. It was well-written, it’s a fun read, and I like the characters. My favorite part about Day and June together is how he interacts with her. It feels very southern-hospitality-ish. I’m sad about how little time they spend together throughout the series. I most enjoyed

Hero at the Fall by Alwyn Hamilton

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If you’re interested, check out our previous reviews for Rebel of the Sands and Traitor to the Throne.

 

Amani and Jin are together again, and it feels like its them against the world. With Ahmed and the bulk of the rebellion imprisoned by the Sultan, Amani is in charge. Her jobs include: figuring out how to stop the Abdals, stopping the Sultan from killing innocent girls as revenge for kidnapping his daughter, rescue the others, and keeping everyone alive long enough to get those things done. In the words of my favorite internet child, that’s just 4 things.

So yes, Amani and Jin are back together again. After a whole book apart, there’s this weird tension between them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s entirely understandable and there are definitely some things that they need to unbox, but it was still weird for me to get through. If Amani and Jin could just talk to each other, everything might be easier, but neither of them have even been very good at talking about anything.

It’s also worth talking about the insane altruism of these two. Amani’s right, she’s not the same girl from Dustwalk. Now she’s Amani al’Bahadur, powerful demdji of the desert, and her duty is to Miraji and the rebellion. And Jin showed remarkable character too. I think what’s more remarkable is that he’s not in this for the millions of people of the desert country. He’s got a list that’s exactly 3 people long who matter to him: Amhed, Delila and Amani. And he’d still give up one of them for the others. While the excessive sense of selflessness is frustrating because of the barrier it creates between Amani and Jin, it’s also admirable, and it’s why things worked out the way they did in the long run.

And that’s part of why the djinn find the humans so fascinating: they live such short, insignificant lives compared to the djinn, but everything matters so much to the humans. When you’ve got a fire that burns for such a short time, it can’t help but burn bright. They’re willing to sacrifice anything for something that really matters to them, and that’s kinda beautiful.

More than anything else, I love how Hamilton writes stories. She emphasizes how reality never truly lives up to the legend, and she really uses that in the chapters that are written as stories. It creates this wonderful sense of magic and contributes to the world she’s worked to build.

Not to mention, her writing style is beautiful. Do you ever read books aloud? Just to marvel at how the words sound? Sometimes I do that with this series, because it sounds so pretty and builds so much suspense. Hamilton is a true wordsmith, and the stories she tells are mesmerizing.

Amani’s story is one of my favorites of all time. I encourage everyone I know to pick up a copy and own both digital and hard copies. Alwyn Hamilton crafted some amazing characters and this book was the conclusion they deserved. I am so sincerely looking forward to reading all of her future works.