Reviewing the Red Queen Series

Red Queen series.png

It’s a world torn by difference, where some people are superior to the others. A daring girl from an oppressed community, different from the rest, sets out to change the world or die in the process. While on her quest, she has a chance encounter with secret community of rebels who works towards a similar goal, share the same enemies. She is torn between two suitors/lovers who seem equally good, are equally breath-taking and love her equally. Except over the course of series she’ll find one is not good enough and make her choice, after having spent enough time with both. Perhaps, you’ll pick a side too. The villains almost die to get their hands on this girl, who despite being not-so-powerful is the face of the rebellion. She  threatens to reveal who they really are, is captured, tortured, brought back again and the cycle goes on, till the greater cause of the secret community is revealed. Then everyone again makes choices and fights more battles. Before you even picked up the book, you knew it would have a bittersweet ending. All the way you hope that the protagonist survives. And your favourite characters as well.

Sounds Familiar? No, it is not the Hunger Games. Not Divergent either or the Lunar Chronicles.

I’m here reviewing the Red Queen Series, which is probably like every other dystopian young adult fantasy-fiction book out there. I know the blog title was a giveaway, so I am pretending you did not notice it.

The major problem with this genre is (at least, the books I have read), is despite the amount of new elements introduced to keep the reader thrilled, the elements seem stale, or stolen from some other fiction hit. The combination of the elements is definitely magical, and at the outset that would be the very reason you’d have considered reading one of them. However, once you set out to explore them in detail, the glamour wanes as quickly as the fragrance of a cheap perfume, unless it is bolstered by a meticulous world development or layered, relatable characters or marvellous plot that doesn’t get boring due to the narrator’s monotones or an impeccable writing style. The bestsellers perform well on one or two of the parameters, and are satisfactory at the most of the others. The lower priority parameters are mostly underperformed on.

These fictional worlds mostly are shallow or constricted, definitely not the ones you’d wish to lose yourself in, time and again. Mostly found written in the first person, they always border on over description and over detailing. Initially I thought this was the curse that came with the narrative, but reading the Bell Jar and Great Gatsby made me think otherwise. While it is enjoyable to be inside someone else’s head in a book, too much of cribbing or reminding or obviousness repels, so much so that you want to get out of their head, right then.

And yet they are hugely popular. They have a very good reason to be so.

The thrill, oh, the thrill! The plot is so action-packed that you are on the edge all the time. The moment it starts getting dull, well, a plot-twist drops and boom! You are again frantically turning pages to know what happened next, probably even peeping ahead to check if the characters survived. The unjust society and the villains make you hate them, the system and fuel your rage further. No matter how much you were annoyed or frustrated by the protagonist, you always find yourself rooting for her, wishing her and her loved ones well. You find the characters to be grey, imperfect and you love them all the same. Amidst all the emotional turmoil, both good and bad that the book has taken you through, you find that you can so easily relate to them.

Nearly all of them have that male lead (or couple of them) with charms that make you swoon, who makes you want to dip further down. Maybe the ship that you support or that starboy himself is another major reason why you follow till the end. The characters turned villains are very intriguing, especially with their tragic back stories that made them so twisted.

It wasn’t very difficult to figure out that all of them make good movie material, books that have already gathered a more-than-decent fan base. Evidence shows that the rights to their movies sold out very quickly.

Screenwriter Victoria Aveyard had sold the rights to the movie even before the book was released.  And rightly so. In spite of the many maladies it suffers due to it being another one from the dystopian YA genre, it is vivid, enthralling and captivating. The scenes are well constructed, and the characters are conflicted. Maybe even broken or twisted. The actions and situations look like they are out of a movie, and now we know why. Everything here is a shade of grey. Before long, you are already empathizing with the characters, their choices.. You relate. Perhaps even find a bit of yourself in them. And once you are done with this book, you find yourself thinking of the many what ifs, your mind wanders without control to the people in the pages.

In short, it is a reader’s delight.

Friends, Readers, Citizens of the Internet. May I have a moment to fangirl over Red Queen?

Of course I haven’t come to bury the series, but to praise it—even with its many flaws!

Call it the soft corner for X-Men like powers, or the undercutting politics of Game of Thrones, or the aura of the dystopian world, I loved the reading experience. Yes, you may judge me.

I picked the book because I couldn’t keep my eyes (or hands) off the cover. Literally. Goodreads ratings seemed to be decent enough for me to give it a try; being from a genre I liked helped as well. The first book was mediocre. I was amazed in the beginning, hooked on to the story and the elements, but as the pages kept turning, the interest faded—and for a while I didn’t even want to read the sequel, which was to  release in a couple of months. So I almost forgot about it, and went on to buy the book a whole year later. And then I even procrastinated reading that.

This would go down in my diary of disastrous blunders. The second book in the series turned out to be my favourite. It was also the trigger for me to buy the third immediately. These two books were devoured on ravenously, and consumed in a week’s time. Which was great progress, especially when I had to hunt for time to read. Most of the time was borrowed from my sleep.

I see an effort in world building, but yet it falls short. The writing was sloppy and sometimes tired me. With so many books of the genre already popular, this didn’t come exactly out as novel. What kept me going were the characters—good and evil, whose layers and choices always came to me as a pleasant surprise.  The pace helped a great deal, and so did the imagery that made everything seem as if it were happening in front of my eyes. These small factors were done artfully well, making it easy to become oblivious to the numerous blemishes.

Somehow, I never liked Maven, since the very beginning. It was Cal who led the show for me, and thankfully the author followed it through. Mare was a frustrating and repetitive narrator, but I liked her anyway. She was imperfect but that made her real life-like, and a little difficult to predict. Over the books, all the main-cast characters mature, and deepen substantially, along with the relationships that they share. Addition of more POVs made it even more exciting, though I really hope that Miss Aveyard picks some male narrators as well. The challenges posed by the looming uncertainties completely eliminated the ability to foretell. And the plot uncovers one layer at a time, revealing a greater mesh of history and hidden activities each time. The whole experience was mesmerizing, and it left me in a bad hangover after I had finished reading.

Would I recommend it? Without a doubt. This might be something that sits proudly on your bookshelf, especially if you are a follower of dystopian or YA fiction. Personally, Glass Sword (RQ#2) was my favourite and King’s Cage (RQ#3) maintained the momentum well.

I just can’t wait for the last installment to be out soon!

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Why did it have to be “Heartless”?

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(This is a spoiler-free review)

Oh! How I love the fairy tales!

And how much I adore Marissa Meyer to have retold every single one of them in such a beautiful way.

In fact, she has completely eliminated the only complaint I have had from the fairy tales—the female protagonist which were bound by the olden patriarchal society rules, in all her books are strong, independent and determined to have their way!

I came across her writing back during my under-graduation, when I read “Cinder” [Part 1 of Lunar Chronicles] based on Goodreads description and reviews. At that time I was still a novice reader, and I was first trying to get through the popular fantasy/sci-fiction novels (the ones that most of the readers would have on their reading list). But really, bless the day! I had been so enchanted by the book that she became one of those few writers whom I read as soon as her book was out, right from the beginning.

To give you an introduction, the Lunar Chronicles is a series of books, each inspired from a fairy tale but twisted and retold in a science fiction setting, through the eyes of a female protagonist. She has created a completely new world linked part by part through the books, sprinkled with elements from the famous tales but tied to a breath taking plot that would have you go through a roller-coaster ride. The characters are well sketched and the writing (which slowly improves over the series) follows the “show-not-tell” pattern, and both of these would ensure that the reader is well involved in the story. The best part is, although most of the fairy tales that inspired the books* had the love story as the central theme, these books have the love angle as a side theme, with each of our fairy tale heroine tied to a mission for a greater good.

Heartless, however, is more like a prelude to Alice in Wonderland than a retelling, set well before the time when Alice falls down the rabbit hole. The book explores the history of “Queen of Hearts” before she turns into-as the title suggests-the heartless, despicable queen of wonderland as we have known. That being said, Marissa Meyer did not simply borrow from the actual Lewis Carroll novel (or rather novels, because it has some elements from Through the Looking Glass as well), but has added her own figment of imagination to the already dreamy world along with some very deep characters-the ones you could identify merely from their dialogues.

Now, Alice in Wonderland, for all its peculiarity and wonderfulness has been an all-time favourite, which demands frequent re-reading and discovery of a new element with every read. With such standards set, Heartless had a lot of expectations to match. And to say that the book did justice to the classic would actually be justified. It mirrored the absurd nature of Wonderland-the norms, the nonsensical seeming happenings and the assortment of creatures that inhabit the kingdom of “Hearts”. But most importantly it gave the “Queen of Hearts” a very, very compelling transformation. The journey of how such a kind-hearted, simple queen would turn into someone so hateful really keeps everyone hooked—especially because the readers can see for themselves how different she is (or had been).

The writing just draws you in the book, like gravity. It has drastically improved since I read Winter, which honestly could have been crisper. Ms. Meyer aced the art of showing, so much that I could literally echo Catherine’s joy, frustration, misery and also the heartlessness. I do not know how she made it possible but really after the events that led to Catherine’s transformation, instead of feeling the agony, I could only feel numbness. The ending was every bit as heart breaking as it could be, and the only solace I can provide myself is that we already saw it coming!

Additionally, Ms. Meyer has added history and layers to many of the wonderland’s characters (Mad Hatter, Mock Turtle, Cheshire Cat etc.) as well as made up some legends that makes the world of Hearts (And related kingdoms) even more intriguing. She has played with the riddles, inspired elements beyond Wonderland and based a part of plot on a nursery rhyme. The best part is she ties up all the loose ends for us to find by the end of the novel things as Alice had found them to be.

What the book fails to deliver is an exciting plot, it only focuses on Catherine’s journey and most of it is through her emotions and reactions to the happenings in her world. And maybe the plot wasn’t the point as the outcome was already known, however, I sincerely feel that involvement of some just talked about characters could have really made it even more unputdownable. As the writer claims that this is going to be a standalone novel, I can only hang on to the impossibility of her penning down additional series  becoming possible and her adding to them more of plot. Also, we see less of other characters to understand for ourselves-like Jest or the Duke of Tuskany etc., and our views shaped by how Catherine perceives them. Other than this, the book has been delightful in every way!

This has been my first read of 2017, and it has been unexpectedly magical. So I would really recommend you to pick up this book if you are looking for another dream like adventure and some madness. However, if you are looking for a romance filled story, sorry to say, but this would not be much to your liking.

*Cinder from Cinderella, Scarlet from Red Riding Hood, Cress from Rapunzel and Winter from Snow White

The Timekeeper: Prologue

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Image Courtesy: http://www.realspeaking.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/sepia-clock.jpg

The clangor of the bell tower echoed throughout the ancient city, stirring a heavy chaos in the afternoon quiet; the racket of the disturbed birds deepening it further. Amidst the ugly clamour, the timekeeper observed the city calmly. His features contorted into seemingly grave expressions, yet as he stood at the edge of the arched corridor, that connected the two stone towers on the fifth floor, he was relishing the commencement of the time. His Time, as was promised. Smiling to himself, he slowly moved his hands to his cloak pockets and brought out a golden stopwatch. The stopwatch that would make him the owner of death.

It was a pretty little thing to see, glinting even as the sky had turned red; the glamour of this antiquity deftly disguising the monster it possessed. The timekeeper admired it for a while, then shut it hastily, pulled up his hood, and stormed off in the direction of the farther tower.

He warily climbed down the stone steps, keeping close to the wall. Whether it was his mysterious appearance or daunting demeanour, he couldn’t tell, but it did ward off prying strangers. He entered a narrow alley through a back door, and then turned right, into a crowded bazaar. The business was at peak; the liveliness was a stark irony to the indolent city he was watching few moments ago.  Looking above the heads of people, the timekeeper located his overly conspicuous destination, and then paced slowly towards it, his eyes set down all the while.

Two well-dressed  men guarded the large wooden green doors. On seeing him approach, they straightened, and asked in their hoarse voice, “And what is your business here, mister?”

He took out a paper and held it out to them. “I go by the name of Jacobs. I was invited here personally by Mr. Caylos,” he said brusquely. The guards handed back the paper immediately and bowed, “It is a pleasure to see you here Mr. Jacobs. Mr. Caylos inquired about you few moments ago. Please come in.” The guards pushed the door open.

The atmosphere inside was heavy with music and smoke. The timekeeper waved his hands in the air, trying to unclog vision; and spotted Caylos sitting at the centre table. A lean figure, Caylos sat there crowded by uninterested people, guffawing at his own jokes while he gulped down the liquor. The ever drunken fool, the timekeeper said to himself, I almost pity him sometimes. He walked towards Caylos, and asked in an innocent manner, “Mr. Caylos?”

Caylos turned to face the caller, bewildered. “I am Jacobs,” the timekeeper replied instantly.

On hearing the name, Caylos’s expressions relaxed, and he exclaimed, “Come in, come in, Jacobs. You’re well in time. The party has just started. I was beginning to fear–”

The timekeeper interrupted him abruptly, “Mr.Caylos, if we could have a word in private?”

Caylos blinked at him stupidly. “Private?” he repeated, “Why should we talk in private? It is a party, you idiot. Didn’t anyone tell you that?” Saying that, Caylos broke into peels of forced laughter and took another hearty swig from his glass.

The timekeeper did not look amused. He stood there; watching as Caylos retched, choked on his own wine, and waited patiently for the drama to die down. Caylos took control of himself, went to the table, and picked two full glasses. “Now, now, let us rejoice and celebrate before we get into the business of doing it,” Caylos thrust one glass in the timekeeper’s hands, clanking it loudly with his own in an attempt to toast.

The timekeeper was losing his patience. He gripped Caylos’s arm and muttered, “The business deal can only take place in private. You understand that, don’t you?” Caylos continued to sway and drink. I’ve never seen a worse pig, thought the timekeeper. His anger had begun to reach dangerous levels now; and though he tried to keep calm, the glass shattered in his hands.

A perturbing silence spread around at once. Everybody now had their eyes on the timekeeper, as they flinched back from him. Caylos seemed to have noticed that, as he put down his glass and eyed him suspiciously. Trying to pacify him, Caylos put his hand of the timekeeper’s shoulder and said in the most amiable manner, “You take things too seriously, for a young man like you, Jacobs. Come; let us finish our deal first. I will not annoy you any further.” Saying that he refilled his glass, and said to the others, “Please don’t mind our little altercation. That does happen with this,” he tapped his glass.

Caylos turned to go to the room in the right corner, sipping continually from his glass. Leading to your own death, the timekeeper thought as he followed him into the room.

“Be seated comfortably,” said Caylos, as he spread his body lethargically across the two-seater. The timekeeper moved to the opposite seat and began to loosen the clasp of his cloak.

“Carltos briefed me about the offer, which I must say, is alluring. You definitely have a mind for business. He also told me that you–” Caylos stopped speaking midway, as the timekeeper pulled down his hood.

“You?”, Caylos whimpered, paralysed by fear. He started to crawl back into the corner.

The timekeeper smiled. “Yes, it is me. Are you surprised, my dear Caylos?”

“But…but…Carltos should have…He is one of the most loyal men in my service. He didn’t warn me that you were coming. He didn’t even mention you,” Caylos uttered, his words a blurry.

“He wasn’t supposed to Caylos. You see, he was acting under orders,” said the timekeeper, with a satisfied grin.

The line vaguely reminded Caylos of something. Something dreadful in the past, though it had completely transformed his life. “I didn’t have a choice. And you were just a boy back then. What would you know of my situation?” Caylos tried to reason.

The timekeeper studied him for a while. “You know, you’re right Caylos, I wouldn’t,” he replied, lazily toying with his golden stopwatch, “And I don’t intend to.” Saying that he snapped shut his stopwatch, and moved to where Caylos was cowering.

“Please! Please! Have mercy. I employed you, I gave you shelter in times of strife–”

“And threw me out when my true identity was revealed. Then stripped me of all prestige. Have you forgotten that, Caylos?” the timekeeper completed. The watch now dangled in the air from his left hand, oscillating in front of Caylos’s eyes.

“My men, they’ll kill you, when they know you’re here. I just need to call them,” said Caylos, mustering all the courage he had. The thought gave him certain hope.

“Really, Caylos? And who will come to your rescue?” the timekeeper said, grimly. Caylos looked outside, and his eyes grew wide. People stood rooted to their places, their conversation stopped mid air. Dishes stood lop-sided, so did the glasses. It was as if….the time had frozen.

Caylos confronted the truth, terrified of his looming end. “Not my life…please. Please. Anything in return…what do you want?” he pleaded, sobbing hysterically.

“Your time. Your remaining time,” replied the timekeeper, inching closer.

“But I–”.  Caylos’s statement was punctuated by a brief click. His limp body stumbled on to the floor, a trickle of blood flowing from an invisible wound.