Coven Chat: Empire of Storms

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Happy Halloween, witches! Today we’re having our discussion of Sarah J. Maas’ Empire of Storms. Remember that in a Coven Chat we spoil and spoil and spoil. Don’t read on if you aren’t caught up on the series.

Allison: First off, let me say that I found Empire of Storms just as addictive and completely engrossing as all of the books in this series. I’m actually really excited to read it again. I felt like a lot of the action in previous books is starting to come together in EoS in a deeper way.

Alyssa: This series is really addictive and I reread it every year when a new book comes out. I can’t help myself! I love that each additional book is much more expansive in its worldbuilding and cast of characters, and that QoS and EoS reintroduced us to some of the characters from The Assassin’s Blade.

Nicola: Yes, agreed. I noticed a shift in QoS when characters from the novellas like Lysandra and Arobynn started appearing, and even more so in this book with Ansel’s return and the appearance of the Silent Assassins. It really feels like all those story threads from the first few books in the series are being drawn together towards the ending, and I love it.

Speaking of endings, can we talk about the end of this book for a second? I was really not expecting any of it, and I stayed up late because I just HAD to finish it – then I couldn’t sleep because I was fretting about Aelin. Seriously, that ending was one of the most shocking I’ve read in a long time.

Allison: I really didn’t expect the ending at all, but it was clear that Aelin did! I don’t know what I was expecting. I mean, I think we knew that some kind of showdown was coming between Maeve and Aelin, but I thought that perhaps Maeve would offer a bargain of some kind for assistance in the war.

I think that Maas started putting some serious distance between us and Aelin in this book to support the ending and the next book, which I assume will rely heavily on the characters she built up in this storyline, like Lysandra, Aedion and the witches. I loved the deeper characterization of Manon and the Thirteen in this book. I’m actually hoping that we get some novellas about the witches, or possibly a spinoff series.

Alyssa: Yes, I’d love a spinoff series or novellas about the witches! Manon and the Thirteen are some of my favorite characters, and they really help sustain this series. While I’m fond of the characters in Aelin’s inner circle that dominate the first few books, I really like that HoF, QoS and EoS introduce us to new characters who exist outside of Aelin’s sphere of influence.

Nicola: I wasn’t sure about Manon in HoF, but as the series has progressed she’s really grown on me, and I really like the relationship between her and the Thirteen. The fact that they’re more loyal to each other than the Ironteeth as a group speaks volumes about their relationship, and I find it fascinating that Asterin and the others show such loyalty to Manon, when the Ironteeth witches are, supposedly, cold-hearted and cruel. They’re much more human than they would like to think.

Allison: I think it will be interesting to see how the reveal that the Ironteeth clan-leaders have been manipulating their offspring to be so ruthless in coming books. It’s clear that the Thirteen are just as “emotional” as Manon, so we can’t necessarily dismiss her feelings as purely being due to her heritage.

Alyssa: I love Manon’s identity as half Ironteeth, half Crochan, and that she experiences so much character growth in HoF, QoS and EoS. I love that she’s complex and conflicted; that she upholds as well as questions her beliefs and personality traits, since she stays cold-hearted and ruthless but she also begins to value hope and love above all else…her humanity more than her upbringing as a monster. Manon will likely have a very significant role in the final book, now that she’s discovered she’s the Crochan Queen, and I can’t wait to see that storyline play out. She may be my favorite character now.  

Allison: Speaking of favorite characters: Lysandra!!! I love her so, so much. There’s this scene where she’s in her snow leopard form and she’s resting her head in Aelin’s lap and I was just so damn happy. I love that she is so fierce and so loyal and that she and Aelin have all these secret machinations.

Nicola: Yes! I love Lysandra. She’s fast becoming my favourite character. She’s just so determined and protective and just damn perfect. And I love how Aelin starts to really trust her in this book. Aelin’s always had issues with things like sharing power, trusting women and general jealousy, and now she’s at the point where she trusts Lysandra to pretend to be her for the rest of her life. It’s a HUGE bit of character development for Aelin, and it shows how different Lysandra is from the vain, shallow courtesan Aelin once believed her to be.

Alyssa: I love Lysandra and her romance with Aedion too! It’s almost like she’s become the heroine of this series (along with Manon, perhaps). And I don’t get irritated with her in the same way that I sometimes get irritated with Aelin. I’m curious to see what happens when she plays Aelin!

Allison: Aedion, please forgive Lysandra right away! Lysandra, please forgive Aedion back for being a leetle too obsessed with his cousin… I’m also curious to see how Lysandra “plays” Aelin.

I’m thrilled to see Lysandra’s character get more time and energy, but I admit was frustrated by what’s happening with Rowan’s character in this book. I was a huge fan of Rowan in HoF, but he hasn’t developed much beyond stoic-Fae-male and that’s a little bothersome for me. He’s SO objectified! I mean, I want to defend Rowan here and say all the things that I’d say if a female character was getting this kind of treatment.

Alyssa: Yes. Even though I think Rowan might be the best “mate” for Aelin, he is a less interesting character in QoS and EoS than he was in HoF. He loses some of his depth when he falls in love with Aelin, and he is objectified!  I feel like Rowan’s intense (obsessive? possessive?) love for Aelin is his whole identity now. Honestly, I’ve sort of lost interest in Aelin’s love story in this series and I’m more invested in the secondary characters’ relationships: Lysandra/Aedion, Manon/Dorian, etc. I actually find their relationships more romantic than Aelin and Rowan’s–even if they are “mates.”

Allison: I’m conflicted about the “mating” conceit that SJM has developed for both her series. It sometimes creates an excuse for toxic masculinity that doesn’t always get checked. Some of it feels cheap alongside the amazing depth that she’s created for her female characters.

Nicola: I’ve been re-reading the series since reading EoS, and while reading the novellas something struck me: What does Aelin being Rowan’s mate mean for Celaena/Sam?

Allison: Ohhhh, I hadn’t even thought of that.

Nicola: I feel like the notion that she’s fated to be with Rowan cheapens her first love, as though the future she and Sam imagined could never have materialised. And what about Rowan’s supposed mate? I really hope that this is explored in the last book. Weirdly, I also feel like Rhys gets way more character development, even though we don’t see his POV in the ACOTAR books.

Allison: I completely agree with you about Rhys. I just re-read ACOTAR and ACOMAF and he sort of “corrects” some of that toxic masculinity, but there’s that same attitude of “Fae males are just like that” that I’m not reacting to well.

Alyssa: I agree. What’s supposed to be a romantic conceit is getting annoying and problematic for the reasons you both mention. Also, “mating” seems more unnecessary and confusing in this series than in ACOTAR.

Allison: Completely. In ACOTAR it takes center stage because ACOTAR is up front a more emotional book, Feyre’s relationships are very important.

Alyssa: I suppose an argument in favor of the “mating” conceit is that it’s important considering they are Fae and immortal. But I find the toxic masculinity problematic, too. It does seem like these books argue that all of that behavior is not just normal, but something we should desire. I wonder if that’s a problem with the Fae/vampire trope in general?

Allison: Yeah, I feel that way too. I think in ACOTAR there is a lot of condemnation for the extreme that it goes to. Even in the first book, you can see the seeds for Tamlin being so possessive and Rhys’ commitment to Feyre’s freedom (and fighting his nature) is the antidote. I think the mating concept feels out of place and kind of confusing in this series though.

Alyssa: It’s a bit tacked on that we find out near the end of EoS that Aelin has been keeping secret her realization that Rowan is her mate. But she kept a lot of secrets from Rowan and everyone else in EoS. Honestly, I found that secret and some of the other reveals slightly irksome and perhaps too convenient.

Nicola: Aelin keeping secrets was something that didn’t sit right with me, not because it’s not in-character (it is), but because she used to be the reader’s main POV character, and now she’s keeping secrets from us. I’m not against the whole ‘trick-the-reader’ thing (I love it in Six of Crows), but I don’t think it works when the character used to be the main POV character and now there are a lot of things kept secret from the audience.

Alyssa: Yes, that’s a really great point. I think that’s why Aelin’s keeping secrets didn’t quite work for me as well.

Allison: And it wasn’t just a couple of things, but an entire plotline that we don’t get to see and that isn’t really even hinted at. I like it when we get to know that something is going on, but just not what exactly. I felt like there was a big shift in tone in this book in a lot of ways.

I’m just going to say it: the sex didn’t work for me in this book. I’m all about there being sex in YA books, I guess I’m just not sure how I feel about it being erotica. There’s something about an adult writer, writing this kind of stuff for teenagers that makes me really uncomfortable. Perhaps I’m a bit prudish.

Alyssa: Yes, while Maas’s depictions of sex have always been more mature than most authors of YA, it becomes even more adult in this book. It’s strange because before I reread HoF and QoS, I thought that Aelin and Rowan had already had sex; but they don’t have sex until the middle of EoS! So in some ways, the fact that Aelin and Rowan wait is typical YA. But, the erotica in EoS and Maas’s books in general (even when the characters are not in fact having sex) makes the YA categorization problematic. I’m also a bit uncomfortable with Maas’s books being for teens (14 and up).

Allison: I wasn’t disturbed by this at all in ACOTAR. It’s clear from the beginning that the content is much more mature in that way, but I feel really uneasy about the way it’s developing in this book.

Nicola: It’s made me uncomfortable, too, especially when I consider just how uncomfortable I would have been to read that stuff as a teenager. I was a pretty prudish teen, so my experience is by no means typical for teenagers, but reading sex scenes like that would have really upset me a book so far into a much-loved series simply because at the age I started reading books like ToG I wasn’t emotionally ready for books like EoS.

And IMO it’s not just sex, but violence as well. It’s always been a very violent series, of course, considering the main character is an assassin and the story opens in a death camp, but in earlier books it was less graphic and more implied. For instance, there’s a scene in TOG when one of the competitors has been disemboweled. It’s a horror-filled scene (especially when Celaena points out that the man’s tendons had been severed so he had to lie there watching the creature sharpen its claws before he died), but it’s nowhere near the description of one man screaming as the creatures in EoS disembowel him.

Allison: I have to say that for me, this book is absolutely not YA, which is troublesome, given that it’s the fifth book in this series. I feel like this was not a great time for such a dramatic shift in content. I’m an adult reader, so my perspective is different, but I don’t love thinking about how teen readers might perceive this shift.

Nicola: Yes, I agree. I think a lot of teen readers would just take it in their stride, but for others this book will be the turning point where the series is no longer something they feel comfortable reading, which I guess isn’t really fair to them when it’s so late in the series.

Alyssa: I’m not sure if this is true or merely speculation, but I’ve seen claims online that the series has transitioned from YA to New Adult with Empire of Storms.  But, whether EoS is still officially YA or not, I wonder if teens are less shocked by this shift than we might think since they have likely already read ACOTAR and might want and expect Rowan and Aelin to have a more erotic relationship. And those fans that ship Chaol might have cared more about the shift with HoF to Rowan as Aelin’s love interest. It’s almost like ACOTAR attempts to bridge the shift between the first and second half of the series.

Allison: This has me thinking about the way that the Harry Potter books got more and more intense as the characters grew out of middle grade age and into YA. Perhaps something similar is happening here? Aelin is aging out of a YA audience (she’s 19 now), so the books are too?

J.K. Rowling caught a lot of flak for that while the Harry Potter series was still being written, for the darkness and violence. I remember that while the last few books were coming out that people were angry that as the characters aged so did the maturity, and Rowling’s response was that she believed her readers were aging as well and could handle it. I think that on one hand, that’s true in a real time perspective, but on the other hand, when the books are complete, who is the audience for a series that undergoes that kind of dramatic transformation?

Nicola: I was thinking about Harry Potter, too. I was 9 when I started reading the series, and 17 when the final book came out, so I very much grew up with the series and likely would have stopped reading altogether if the later books were at the same maturity level as the earlier ones.

What I also find interesting is that Maas originally wrote ToG as an adult fantasy novel, and it was her agent (or publisher?) who suggested she market it as YA. So it’s possible she had always intended to incorporate more mature elements later on in the series.

Allison: That’s interesting. I think it will be interesting to see where the series heads next. I know we’re all looking forward to the next book… AND THAT CHAOL NOVELLA! Thanks so much for joining us. Our next Coven Chat will be about Crooked Kingdom in November.

 


Coven Chat: The Remnant Chronicles

25944798Today’s Coven Chat is about Mary E. Pearson’s The Remnant Chronicles. Remember, spoilers lie ahead in a Coven Chat, so if you haven’t read these books yet, don’t go on!

Allison: I’m so excited to talk about the way The Remnant Chronicles wrapped up with you both. We’ve had so many conversations about these books over the last year. I was on vacation when I started The Beauty of Darkness and I had a tough time putting it down.

In terms of the adventure, I was a little so-so on things in this book, especially towards the end. There were parts I was really into, and others kind of dragged for me. The strong character development is what kept me reading. By no means do I feel that the pace lagged or at any time that I became disinterested in the book.

Nicola: I said this about The Raven Cycle a couple of weeks ago, but it applies to The Remnant Chronicles, too. In all three books in the series, I sometimes feel like almost nothing is happening in terms of the overarching plot, and yet I’m still completely engrossed in the story for the characters and their world. I think that displays real skill as a writer, as there are few who can pull this kind of thing off without me getting antsy for more action.

Alyssa: Yes, that’s a great comparison! Like with The Raven Cycle, I was more interested in the characters and their relationships than in the overarching plot. I love the world-building and multiculturalism in this series, too, and how the characters’ identities and relationships evolve because of their adventures in Morrighan, Dalbreck, Cam Lanteux, and Venda.

My only gripe with the world-building is that I wish I understood the mythology better. I’m still a little confused about how the excerpts from sacred texts, such as The Last Testaments of Gaudrel, relate to the series’ main plot. I’d like to read Morrighan because maybe it would explain that backstory for me, but I still wish the excerpts made more sense to me.

Allison: I also wish I’d understood a bit more about the world-building. I haven’t read Morrighan either, so I wish it had been integrated into the text. However, it reminded me a little of a series I read when I was a child, The Darkangel Trilogy, where there’s a “past” that isn’t remembered by those in the present day of the text, but it informs the way the world-building works. We get to know some things about the ancient people, but not all and that fact is integral to the plot of the story. It works for me.

My only real complaint with The Beauty of Darkness was that the multiple POV got weird for me. I don’t know. It’s not that I couldn’t “tell the difference” between the voices, but that at a certain point I was a little overwhelmed by them. I didn’t have this problem so much in the other books, so I was a little surprised. This might be me as a reader though.

Nicola: I was going to say exactly the same thing! I think it worked really well in the first book, because we’re not meant to be able to tell which of the two boys is the prince and which is the assassin (for the record, I was convinced Kaden was the prince), and their POV chapters tended to be short and to-the-point. I think what bothered me about the multiple POV in this book was that I did get a little confused as to whose head we were in at any given time, and sometimes the narrative seemed to jump back in time so we could read the same thing from someone else’s POV, which was rather jarring.

Alyssa: The multiple POV didn’t bother me for the most part–except during the battle scene at the end, when numerous multiple POV were in a chapter. Each POV was very short and that was a bit jarring.

Allison: Overall, I think the multiple POVs benefitted the series. It was cool to see how both Lia and Rafe change as they take more responsibility for themselves and that the ending isn’t some “pat” thing where one of them gives up their kingdom for the other. I do think it’s a little hard to see how they’re going to make things work, but I like the idea that they’ve both done things that were unimaginably hard and that they’re willing to work hard to be together, rather than being miserable apart. That’s a relationship I’d read about again!

Nicola: I actually really loved that it’s not exactly clear how they’re going to make things work. I think it’d be hard to come up with a solution that’s not too neat or cutesy, so by leaving it open like that we can see that they’ve done the important character development work of reaching the point where they are both committed to their kingdoms AND to each other, but without trying to tie it into a neat little bow.

Alyssa: Yes, I loved how Lia and Rafe’s relationship evolved throughout the series. While I was always hoping that they’d overcome all of their obstacles to be together–and I’m happy they did in the last two pages!–I also had reservations and conflicting feelings about their romance. I’m glad they spent time apart–and were not weakened or devastated by their separation–and that they didn’t give up their kingdoms and their other responsibilities to be together.

I also appreciate that Lia and Rafe were not always perfect for each other, and they still might not be. The ending is hopeful and romantic but feels realistic, too, and I don’t think it would have been tragic if they hadn’t gotten together in the end. I was 99% sure Rafe would show up–even when I only had three pages left!–but I was more excited about Pauline and Kaden’s romance by then.

Allison: Pauline and Kaden! This was a good match from my perspective. I love how it came together. It really made sense for me. It was slow and steady and I appreciated the way that Kaden’s vision came to pass. That was fantastic and just the way I always imagine prophetic stuff going: you see something, but it doesn’t happen at all the way you thought it would.

Nicola: Yes! I was really rooting for them as a couple.

I also loved the development of Lia’s relationship with her parents. From the start of the series, it’s clear she has a very close relationship with her brothers, but she has a much colder relationship with her parents, and I really liked seeing more background into why they made the choices they did with her upbringing, especially her mother. A lot of teenagers attribute nefarious motivations to their parents’ deeds, so although Lia’s stakes are higher it was a nice little reflection of rather typical teenage thought processes for Lia to assume the worst of her mother when in fact her mother is only trying to protect her.

Allison: I was also really interested to see more of Lia’s parents in this book. In the first book they’re positioned as very unfeeling and it was interesting to see how the political plot line interfered with Lia’s personal relationship with her parents. I wasn’t expecting a lot of the “reveals” in terms of both her mother and father in this book.

Alyssa: Yes, Lia’s reconciliation with her parents really strengthened the series’ ending. Not just because of the necessity of her homecoming after a long absence, but because we get an even better sense of how much she’s matured since The Kiss of Deception. In many ways Lia’s still the runaway princess we fell in love with, who defied her duties and chose her own destiny, but she’s also less selfish, more responsible, and more empathetic.

Allison: I love who Lia became over the course of the series. I love that she started as someone with substance and grew into someone with adult concerns and feelings. In fact, I like that all the characters grew so much. This is the benefit of the multiple POV. We get to see the inner-workings of each character and I think that Pearson does this well.

Nicola: Yeah, it feels like the characters started the series as teenagers and ended it as adults, and while the multiple POV thing didn’t quite ‘work’ for me I did appreciate being able to see into the characters’ minds and to understand their motivations.

Allison: Thanks everyone for joining our discussion of The Remnant Chronicles. Our next Coven Chat will be about Sarah J. Maas’ Empire of Storms, and the Throne of Glass series.


Coven Chat: The Raven Cycle

 

17675462It’s time for our Coven Chat about Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle. If you haven’t read the series yet, please remember that spoilers lie ahead, beware!

Allison: Overall, the best thing about this series is the writing. Really, I don’t always care about writing style that much. I’m in it for the stories. If a story is well crafted and the prose doesn’t get in the way, I’m usually happy. But these books are gorgeously written and especially for The Raven King, it’s all that matters. Whether or not I like the Glendower storyline matters very little in the face of the writing and I love that.

Alyssa: Yes, Stiefvater’s writing is fantastic. Her rich and interesting characters make up for some weaknesses in the storyline.

Nicola: One of the things I’ve always loved about this series is the way that sometimes I catch myself reading 100 pages and being utterly unable to put into words what happened in the story, but being so completely engrossed I can’t wait to go back. There’s something about the characters and the worldbuilding that’s so completely encompassing, so that even when the plot moves at a leisurely pace it never feels like the story is stagnant.

Allison: Stiefvater writes amazing characters. I love how well I felt I knew the main cast in these books. There’s so much depth to each of the boys, as well as Blue (though I do feel she’s the least developed of the four). Even though I read the first three books over a year ago, my memories of character are incredibly vivid.

Nicola: Yes, the characters are so vivid. Partly because of that, though, I was disappointed that we didn’t see more of Blue in The Raven King.

Allison: I agree! There was a lot going on in terms of characters, both old and new, which I think is always the issue with the last book in a series. It struck me right away that she faded out a little in this one.

Nicola: Although characters like Adam and Gansey arguably have backgrounds more similar to the audience’s, Blue always felt to me like the novel’s ‘gateway’ character, the one through whose eyes we’re introduced to the wo17347389 rld and the story, perhaps because she comes to the group of Raven Boys as an outsider, as someone who is unfamiliar with the quest for Glendower, and in spite of her rather unconventional family she still feels like a ‘normal’ teenage girl, far more normal than a group of boys, two of whom have died and another of whom can pull things out of dreams, who chase after an ancient king. As such, she felt like the protagonist, and I rather missed her presence in this book, which focussed much more on Gansey, Ronan and Adam (even though I love those three as well). I also missed Noah in this book, although his gradual corruption was foreshadowed earlier in the series. He is, after all, dead. I did appreciate, however, that he still got to play a role in not only the culmination of the story, but also in the moment that set it all in motion.

Allison: Yes, it’s interesting that this series is primarily about male characters, even though Blue is set up as the protagonist. I’ve come to expect that the series I like best will probably have primarily female characters, so aspect of things has consistently surprised me. I really enjoyed getting to know each of the boys individually. Ronan is definitely my favorite, overall. I was, however, disappointed that Blue doesn’t have a female friend her own age that is an active part of the story. This series plays into a “I’m not like other girls, so I’m friends with boys” stereotype that makes me a little uncomfortable at times.

Nicola: This is a good point. I think it’s ameliorated somewhat by the fact that Blue’s life is filled with interesting, supportive women, as well as that the series makes it clear she didn’t have ANY friends before she met her Raven boys, but it does still fall into the “not like other girls” stereotype.

Alyssa: I agree. If we didn’t have the women of 300 Fox Way, then I would have found Blue’s friendship with only boys–the Raven Boys–more problematic because she does fall into the “not like other girls” stereotype. But it seems that Blue may be aware that she falls into this stereotype and perhaps is slightly critical of her own biases. Is Stiefvater critiquing such stereotypes while also celebrating Blue’s friendship with all males? I’m not sure.

Allison: Even though Blue doesn’t have female friends, there are lots of great women in these books. I appreciate that they range from good, to ambiguous, to outright evil. And I love that they are psychics. It’s a magical system that isn’t used a lot in fantasy, which tends to hone in on more exciting forms of magic, but I find divination really interesting. I also like that they’re all performing their craft in different ways. From classic tarot cards to pay-by-the-minute psychic readings, I like that the women Blue lives with have true abilities, but have to make a living in some nearly mundane ways.

Nicola: Yes! One of my favourite things about urban fantasy is the way it intermingles the magical and the mundane. The women of 300 Fox Way have magical talents, and Stiefvater could have gone the other way and had them hold down mundane careers and keep the psychic stuff to themselves, but instead they bring their magical talents into the mundane world and make a living with them. For some of them that comes with all the trappings that mundane customers expect when they go to a tarot reading, whether or not it’s necessary for the divination to actually work, whereas others are much more modern. And I really liked the contrast between Neeve and the rest of the psychics, in that it’s clear the others do draw a line in terms of how public they’re willing to go.

Alyssa: Yes, I love how Stiefvater mixes the magical and the mundane into all of her characters. I also love that the women of 300 of Fox Way are psychics, and that the other characters have diverse magical abilities. Ronan’s dreaming ability is my favorite.

17378508Allison: Ronan is my favorite character, primarily because he is so well developed. We get to know him and his motivations the best, as well as his family’s struggle overall, and I appreciate that.

Alyssa: Ronan’s probably my favorite character, too, for the reasons you mentioned and because of his magical ability. Adam is also one of my favorite characters because, like Ronan, he struggles with powerful magical abilities (Cabeswater) and with serious family issues. Their romance is my favorite because of what they have in common and how they support one another.

Allison: Oh yeah, the Ronan+Adam (Rodam? Adron? Whatever…) romance was definitely the one I had the most invested in. Gansey and Blue seemed like endgame no matter what to me, but Ronan and Adam were unpredictable.

Alyssa: I like that it worked in this series that Adam and Blue had a bit of a romance in the first book, and that Ronan and Adam didn’t get together until the end of the series. I’m curious. Did you see it coming? I think Stiefvater did a good job of hinting that it could happen, but she didn’t make a big deal out of it.  

Allison: I did see it coming from Ronan’s end, but I wasn’t sure about Adam, which I liked a lot. It wasn’t a question of “is Adam gay?” but “Is Adam ready to be involved with anyone, let alone Ronan?”  I really appreciate how both Adam and Ronan evolve as individual characters in this book and, of course, how they eventually grow together. I enjoyed their love story the most.

Nicola: Me too! I love how their developing relationship involves both of them growing as individuals.

Allison: I said this in my rec, but I really enjoyed the way that Stiefvater grows the characters into adulthood throughout the series, and I think that culminates a lot in this book. The extreme circumstances that they go through makes them into adults in a really cool way.

Nicola: There was one paragraph when Blue’s fetching her bike after school and feels totally out of touch with her classmates, like she and her friends are all a thousand years old:

She felt one thousand years old. She also felt like maybe she was a condescending brat […] She wanted her friends, who were also one-thousand-year-old condescending brats. She wanted to live in a world where she was surrounded by one-thousand-year-old condescending brats.

17378527It made me laugh because it’s such a perfect representation of not only Blue and her friends, but so many teenagers in YA in general.

Allison: I completely agree. Something we’ve all said at one point or another is that this series is a really interesting mix of extremely ordinary teenage behavior mixed in with extraordinary circumstances, which is why Gansey’s search for Glendower as the primary motivation for all of the action in the series leaves me a little cold. The Cabeswater storyline (even though it related to the Glendower theme) made more sense to me in terms of the characters themselves. There’s a part of me that wishes that had been the center of the series, and in some ways it is, which makes the Glendower search seem a bit peripheral at times.

Alyssa: Yes,I was more interested in Gansey’s search for Glendower earlier on in the series, and I think the storyline falls flat compared to Cabeswater and the characters’ magical abilities. I was slightly disappointed by how Stiefvater wrapped up the Glendower storyline in the end. But I loved all of the secondary characters involved in the storyline–Mr. Gray, Laumonier, Piper, Greenmantle, Henry, Malory, Gwenllian, Artemus–even if the search for the dead king didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

Allison: Even though the Glendower storyline didn’t quite work for me, I kind of liked the fact that there were aspects of The Raven King that were totally predictable (and if you read Maggie Stiefvater’s blog she promised that they would be over and over). But things happen in ways that you don’t expect, which I also like a lot. I even liked that Gansey dies (like you knew he was going to) and he comes back (which you knew he would). Sometimes I hate that kind of predictability, but in this case it worked for me.

Alyssa: Yes, I think Stiefvater is really good at balancing the unpredictable and predictable. In some ways this is such an unusual series, but we also know from the first few pages of The Raven Boys that Blue will fall in love with Gansey, and he will die. And his coming back to life at the end of the series brings the right amount of hope without being corny.

Allison: I totally agree. I feel like things wrapped up nicely.

Thanks so much for joining us today! Let us know what you thought about the series in the comments. 

 


What’s Ahead: Coven Chat

Most of what I’ll be reading over the next few months is for our Coven Chat discussion posts, so I figured now’s a good time to announce what we’ll be talking about as a group in August through October.

The Raven Cycle, by Maggie Stiefvater:  I’ve been reading (and re-reading) this series for five years now, so Gansey, Ronan, Adam, Noah, Blue, and the women of 300 Fox Way are some of my most beloved characters. I’ve just started The Raven King (#4), after revisiting The Raven Boys (#1), The Dream Thieves (#2) and Blue Lily, Lily Blue (#3), and I can’t wait to find out how this series ends.

The Remnant Chronicles, by Mary E Pearson: Read The Kiss of Deception (#1) and The Heart of Betrayal (#2) if you haven’t already because The Beauty of Darkness (#3) is out now.

 

 

A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes #2), by Sabaa Tahir: An Ember in the Ashes (#1) was one of our favorite 2015 releases and we’re so excited for its sequel.

We’re only a month away from perhaps our most-anticipated release: Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5), by Sarah J Maas. You must know by now that Sarah’s books (Throne of Glass (#1), Crown of Midnight (#2), Assassin’s Blade (#.5), Heir of Fire (#3), Queen of Shadows (#4), and Empire of Storms (#5), as well as A Court of Thorns and Roses (#1) and A Court of Mist and Fury (#2)), are our favorites to discuss! We’ve chatted about them here and here and here.

Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #1), by Leigh Bardugo: Last year we had a blast discussing Six of Crows and we’re really looking forward to finding out what happens next.

Snow Like Ashes series, by Sara Raasch: Another fabulous fantasy series is coming to an end with the release of Frost Like Night (#3) next month.

The Young Elites series, by Marie Lu: Adelina is my favorite villainous protagonist (see my post) and I can’t wait to find out how her story ends in The Midnight Star (#3).

 

Have you read these series? Which books are you looking forward to the most? 

 


Coven Chat: Wrapping Up the World of Shadowhunters

256683We have had an amazing couple of weeks sharing our love for Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter universe with you. Today we’re wrapping up with a discussion of the ‘verse as a whole, including the television series and film.  

A note: Spoilers abound in this particular Coven Chat, so if you haven’t read or seen anything in the Shadowhunters saga, and you don’t want things spoiled, don’t read on!

Nicola: Naturally, we’re starting our discussion with the core of the Shadowhunter universe: the books. So far there are two completed series, The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices, and the first book in a third, The Dark Artifices. One of the things I really like about the Shadowhunter books is the way the series share common themes with each other. There are some popular YA themes – the loss or incompetence of parental figures (Tessa’s aunt, Clary’s mother, Julian’s uncle), first love, etc. – but the books also commonly explore themes like forbidden love and the importance of family (by blood and by choice). Not only does this mean the books are linked on a deeper level than shared characters and world, but it also means that there’s room for nuanced exploration of these different topics.

Allison: I am really impressed by Clare’s willingness to “go there” in terms of forbidden love. In November of last year, Scott Bergstrom started that big kerfluffle by implying that his book is unique in that he was willing to put his characters in “morally ambiguous” situations when “other YA” doesn’t typically do that. All I could think was “But does your character fall in love with someone, only to find out that they are their long lost sibling and then DECIDE TO GO AHEAD WITH THE ROMANCE ANYWAY????” Obviously, Bergstrom is a bit of dunce when it comes to knowing the market, but it’s something that folks who are dismissive of YA in general often use to dismiss it. The idea that YA, especially YA fantasy and sci-fi, is generally cut and dry in terms of morality is nuts. Cassandra Clare has been setting the bar for morally ambiguous since City of Bones.

Nicola: THIS. Even though I could never really get behind how Clary and Jace’s relationship developed (just because I think he’s an ass and it was basically instalove), I thought it fit so perfectly with the wider themes of The Mortal Instruments, because it’s all about the importance of family, but specifically about the importance of the people who act like family, not people who are family merely as an accident of birth. As far as the Lightwoods are concerned, Jace is their son, a25494343nd Luke is far more father to Clary than Valentine.

The Clave places a lot of emphasis on how Clary and Jace ought not to be trusted because of their father (never mind that Clary never even met the man), but as you say below one of the continuing themes in the Shadowhunter universe is the contrast between the actions of individual Shadowhunters and the Clave’s policies. While the Clave thinks being Valentine’s children makes Clary and Jace suspicious, Luke, Jocelyn, R obert and Maryse just see the young adults they brought up. In this context, it is Isabelle who is Jace’s sister, and Simon the closest thing to a brother Clary has, so it’s fitting to explore what happens when the two kinds of relationships – blood relatives who are strangers and non-blood relations who become friends and more – collide.

Alyssa: I really like what both of you are saying. I also love that Clare portrays forbidden love and the importance of family as complex and morally ambiguous concepts. While I sometimes get annoyed with the love triangle in The Infernal Devices and with Clary and Jace’s romance (for the same reasons Nicola mentioned), I appreciate that these series aren’t afraid to challenge our moral compass or assumptions. The Infernal Devices seems to accept the possibility of being in love with more than one person, and The Mortal Instruments suggests that Clary and Jace would likely still be in love even if they were in fact brother and sister. Perhaps, Clare’s books demonstrate that feelings of mutual love are never wrong?

Allison: My inclination is to say that Clare’s main point in all this is that these issues exist outside of right and wrong. It’s powerful to even acknowledge that such complexity exists. Along these same lines, I am always fascinated by how Clare positions her heroes. I’ve said this before, but Clare does a great job of making us feel attached to individual Shadowhunters, but question the hell out of the Clave’s moral compass. This is really cool to me because it parallels so much of how the real world is structured. In particular, I find the parallels between Western military and police forces and the Clave to be particularly salient and timely. The Clave asks Shadowhunters to put aside common decency and morality to enforce bigoted laws pretty frequently, all in the name of safety. Some Shadowhunters take advantage, others rail against the system. It’s to Clare’s credit that she includes characters that are someplace in the middle.

Nicola: Yes! I love this aspect, too. One of the things I think Clare does well here is that it’s almost understandable why many Shadowhunters look dowClockwork Princessn upon mundanes, because from their perspective they fight and die to protect mundanes, who don’t even know it’s happening. It’s clear from the narrative, particularly Clary’s storyline, that this attitude is not acceptable, but at the same time there isn’t utter condemnation for the people who have lost so much in a fight they never chose while the rest of the world is completely ignorant of it. I think for many Shadowhunters there’s a bit of envy for mundanes, along the lines of Jessamine’s, but they can’t be mundanes without losing their families and culture, so they channel their anger at the injustice towards the people they wish they could be. It’s petty and wrong, but not entirely unsympathetic.

Alyssa: I also like that Clare’s books are compassionate towards characters who are struggling with what’s right and wrong, good and evil, and who sometimes (or often) make immoral or morally compromised decisions. She pushes her readers to try to understand why creatures–humans, nephilim, angels, demons–behave cruelly, but she does not excuse their cruelty. Clare compares the moral ambiguity of humans, Shadowhunters and Downworlders with pure notions of good and evil, especially when you consider religious beliefs and the demon realms.

Take Sebastian, for example. Although he’s such a blatantly evil character because of his demon blood, I also couldn’t help wondering how much Clary’s mother is to blame for Sebastian’s evil nature…beyond his biological makeup and paternal influence. How much of Sebastian’s cruelty and violence result from his feelings of abandonment and loneliness? His parents rejected him (even Valentine for Jace), and Sebastian seems to genuinely want his sister to love and value him (as twisted as his efforts are to win her love). If their mother had loved and cared about Sebastian’s well-being and loved him unconditionally, even though he has demon rather than angel blood, would that have made a difference in his behavior? If his mother and sister had cared about him, would he have been less cruel? I’m not sure, but Clare raises those questions about whether good and evil are black and white concepts, or whether everything is morally ambiguous and everyone has the potential to be good or bad, depending on whether they are loved or hated. Shadowhunters as a whole are both benevolent and callous, superheroes and monsters.

Nicola: That’s a very good point, Alyssa. Even the Clave and Shadowhunter culture as a whole cannot be regarded as a one-dimensional bigoted force. Much of Shadowhunter culture is shaped by their role as protectors and demon-slayers, but at the same time concepts like parabatai and runes for marriage celebrate human love and relationships.

Allison: Yes, this idea that the Clave is both law (and as we know “the law is hard, but it is the law”) and people that enforce the law is so complex. So prevalent is the idea that laws and societal rules must grow and change with the times and with bodies of people and the truth that this is a hard process. I love how messy Clare lets it all be and that she shows how individuals work to turn the tides of these discussions, but that the tides are forces of nature and that change is slow.

It’s for all these reasons that I have trouble deciding which series I love best. There are aspects of The Mortal Instruments that I like better than the other seimagesries, but until Lady Midnight, I loved The Infernal Devices as a series more. Now I think The Dark Artifices will probably be my favorite series because so far it features my favorite characters and it’s the conglomeration of all the different complexities that Clare has been developing for years in other series.

Alyssa: I haven’t finished The Infernal Devices or read Lady Midnight yet, so I can’t say which is my favorite series. But I’m really looking forward to reading The Last Hours and The Dark Artifices and having an even better understanding of how all of these series relate.

Nicola: I think The Infernal Devices is still my favourite, but I did love a lot of the characters in Lady Midnight, so after the rest of The Dark Artifices comes out it’ll probably be a toss up between the two.

So we all love all the books, but what about the movie and TV series based off of them? The impression I always get of the film is that the filmmakers couldn’t decide if they were making a movie for existing fans or making a movie for Shadowhunter newbies, and they ended up with something confusing to non-fans (my fiancé had to keep asking me what was happening!) that changed some significant features of the book, upsetting existing fans – for instance, I couldn’t really get behind the portrayal of Valentine because he didn’t fit the well-manicured, charismatic character from the book.

This is something I think tShadowhunters-TV-show-poster-1448056730he TV series manages to balance better, in part because of the different formats; the first few episodes of the series felt plagued by the same problem as the movie, but then it diverged enough that, as a book fan I can enjoy it as a loose adaptation, but if I were unfamiliar with the books I’d be able to follow the story because it doesn’t presuppose an understanding of the Shadowhunter universe.

Allison: I totally agree with what you’re saying about the TV series handling this a bit better.  The thing the movie had going for it from my perspective was great actors and beautiful costumes and sets. It felt like the Shadowhunter world to me. Not quite the one I imagined in my head, but the aesthetic made sense, though I agree 100% that Valentine was not Valentine in the film. Trying to make him young and sexy just didn’t work.

Nicola: Yes, me too! That’s actually one of my main gripes about the TV series; I don’t like the high-tech aspects of the New York Institute because there shouldn’t even be computers in a Shadowhunter Institute.

Allison: YESSSS. No computers in any of the Institutes! I understand why they’re doing it, but it’s one of the things that’s so integral to Shadowhunter culture and it informs so much about how they are separate from the world.

Alyssa: I haven’t seen the City of Bones movie, but I’m really glad the series didn’t continue as a film franchise and was adapted as a TV series instead. While the first few episodes suffered a bit from weak character and plot development, I thought the second half of the TV series improved immensely. The beginning episodes felt a bit rushed, the acting and storylines somewhat awkward, forced and cheesy; but then the actors became more comfortable and natural in their roles.

I also really like that the characters in the TV series are a bit different than how they are in the books; they are not just a few years older, but Jace and Isabelle, for example, are less pompous and more relatable in the TV show. I also like that the storylines diverge from the books. Season One incorporates and changes plotlines from City of Ashes and City of Glass. I think it would be problematic if season one followed City of Bones, season two followed City of Ashes, and so on.

Nicola: I really struggled to get into the series at first for the same reasons you mention. In more recent episodes, however, the series has diverged enough from the book that even though the characters still don’t feel quite like their book versions, they feel like rounded, interesting characters all the same. I get the impression that the producers wanted to do a loose adaptation along the lines of The Vampire Diaries or Pretty Little Liars, and felt the need to get major plot points out of the way as soon as possible, which didn’t leave room for much character development. Now that it’s forging its own path I’m enjoying it a lot more – with the plus that I don’t see everything coming!

Allison: I totally agree. I worried that the series would flop for about half of the first season.My biggest issue with the show in the beginning was the cheese factor. It lost a lot of its dark edge with the over-stylized “Shadowhunter” costumes and the bad makeup for the runes. I’m really hoping that FreeForm is willing to dump some money into the show to clean up the aesthetic a bit more.

Nicola: The Lydia Branwell storyline is intriguing for the way it explores how traditional social mores and family obligations would encourage a young man like Alec to suppress his sexuality and marry Lydia. It is so like the Clave to be so involved in Shadowhunters’ lives that they cannot even be open about their sexuality; there is simply no room in the Clave’s worldview for Shadowhunters who don’t marry other Shadowhunters and make little Shadowhunter babies.

Allison: Yes, I think that storyline’s appearance did a lot for the development of the show in terms of both plotlines and character development. We get to understand more how narrow the Clave is at the time of The Mortal Instruments, and see how our characters react to the restrictive nature of the Clave’s morality.

The fact that Jace leaves with Valentine in the last episode of the season leaves so much open for more character development in Season Two. We’ll see Clary deal with all the complex stuff we’ve talked about from the books in terms of her feelings for Jace, as well as watching him confront the father who raised him and the idea that he might not be a “good guy” anymore. I’m hoping this will give the characters the same breathing room for complexity that the books allow.

It’s been so wonderful to talk with you ladies over the last weeks about Clare’s world of Shadowhunters. As for our readers, let us know your thoughts in the comments!