If you’ve read or heard or even watched anything even remotely centered around Alice in Wonderland, then you’ll understand “Queen of Hearts” which is a Wonderland retelling, but focused on the future Queen of Hearts, and without an Alice. The twist the author gives her version of Wonderland is truly stunning, it sounds like a beautiful and terrifying land all at once. I also really enjoyed the twist she gave to familiar elements of Wonderland: The Cards aren’t actual cards, but different ranks and classifications for soldiers. Cheshire is a conniving, manipulative advisor to the King instead of a cat, the Mad Hatter is the main character’s (Dinah) troubled brother who does love making some pretty lovely hats, and while there is no white rabbit, we all know Dinah’s tutor is the little rabbit always afraid of being late. Unfortunately, that about sums up the things I really liked about this novel.
“Laura and the Shadow King” sounds far more ominous than the story actually is: “Shadow” is the name of an elite force of military operatives, and “King” is the nickname of the man in charge of shadow—J.J. Berger. In J. J’s world, a rampant disease has swept through civilization, turning people into a type of zombie, where they devolve into cannibalistic animals, and one bite will infect and turn a person into one of them. Governments have collapsed and the only people in charge are groups of militia, military units, and gangs. It’s a fairly familiar storyline, but the one thing that makes it unique is Laura and her mother, and their role in this new world. Unfortunately, I found the writing style to be the biggest determent in my enjoyment of the novel.
“Nevernight” seems to be a long study into “this is why we can’t have nice things.” First, there’s Mia, who loses her entire family due to her father’s failed rebellion at the age of 10. She vows revenge, and the only way to get that is to go to a school for assassins (obviously). So, at the ripe old age of 16, she gains admission to a school full of would-be killers, all children with the most horrific and tragic backstories imaginable, because that makes this book edgy and dark and definitely not for young adults despite the main characters ages—and yes, I knew this was no YA fantasy from the get go. I like dark fantasy, I’m usually ok with grimdark stuff, too, but there needs to be a reason other than shock for certain things to be the way they are, and honestly, I think the author just delights in his “edge lord” status a bit too obviously in this first book. Did I like this book? Yes, I did, quite a bit in fact. But mainly toward the end though.
When the synopsis of “The Hungry Ones” says that the city is alive, that is 100% not hyperbole. Gomel has crafted a semi-cyberpunk dystopian where the city itself is a sentient being where the poor, the outcasts, all live on the lowest levels, and the elite high above the labyrinth in glittering towers of flesh and bone. Where the humans of the city have ‘arms that are sentient whip-like weapons embedded in their palms, and the living brain of the city births’ its own odd looking residents. Some of whom are inanimate objects brought to life, like yarn balls or traffic cones. It sounds vaguely funny, but this book is anything but—in a good way. “The Hungry Ones” is a literary fiction, fantasy horror ride that follows a woman who can’t remember who she is, but has a devastating power that can both stop the zombie-like Hungry Ones plaguing the city, and potentially save the city from a looming war with the country. This book was full of disturbing imagery, unexpected twists, and also beautifully written.
At its core, “The Cretin Gene” is a satirical look at how technology, junk food, and our current culture’s protest and counter protest mentality is making us, not just stupid, but violently stupid at that. It follows an aging cartoonist who is thrust into the limelight when someone looking to disrupt the world order commandeers one of his benign vegetable characters and assassinates someone. The assassination is a front for the true villain to inject society with the actual cretin gene, which has been supplied to the populace via their phones and their food. They essentially go crazy, and can be defeated when you read literature to them, or show them real books. See? Satire. Kind of. Satire is very hard to pull off in the best of circumstances, and maybe this ended up just not being for me, but the satire never really got to be the commentary it was supposed to be, and instead stalled out on caricature characters that got very difficult to read.
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