Yes, I meant it when I said I would start reviewing things more. To make it easier on myself (and probably on you), I’ll review series, or at least, chunks of series, a bit at a time, so less reading for you, less writing (but equal fangirling!) for me, overall, less time-consuming. Sound good? Good.
Lately, I’ve been reading a LOT of really, really good stuff. And when I say, “good stuff,” I don’t mean the popular, “on trend,” super publicized junk. *Some* (though certainly not all) of which gets a lot more attention than the story, world-building, crappy characters, etc, actually deserve.
Which breaks my heart, because I now know at LEAST three (maybe soon to be four!) either indie or self-pubbed authors. We’re not talking your average, run-of-the-mill, throw something, anything, onto CreateSpace and make a few bucks off Amazon. No. We’re talking writers whose word-smithing skills parallel the Suave Sabaa Tahir, the Brilliant Bardugo, the Amazing Amie Kaufman, the Magical Marie Lu. Easily.
Then why, might you be wondering, are these fantastical, equally talented authors often kept hidden in the dark? Simple: They are self- or indie-pubbed.
(Keep in mind, again, I do not do this for just any indie-or-self-pubbed. Only the ones who are very professional, and that I deem truly worthy. Not every self-or-indie-pubbed author I know will get advertised and recommended by me. That being said, I’ve extremely high standards, and am very, VERY picky!)
I view this as an incredibly unfair advantage to them, and think they deserve every bit as much love and attention as their more well-known counterparts. A few of these lovely authors include Janeen Ippolito (also head of Uncommon Universes Press), Sarah Delena White, and, more recently, Angie Grigaliunas. Janeen is more well-known in her territory for an interesting mix of supernatural, fantasy, steampunk, some snarky romance, and occasionally shifters (i.e., especially dragonshifters, unicornshifters, and a cat-dragon, who will soon get a major say in another anthology 😉 ); Sarah, while incorporating fantasy and steampunk as well, seems to prefer traditional fae lore, along with traditional (and very chivalrous) romance; lastly, Angie’s style. Angie’s is a nice, heady blend of fantasy, medieval dystopia, and some VERY snarky (but utterly adorable and fangirl-worthy) romance. Her writing is similar to that of Sabaa’s and even Veronica Roth’s, with drops of Bardugo here and there (especially when it comes to the MEN! *whistles*). I just wrapped up reading the first two books in her “Purification Era Series,” and the series was SO GOOD it mounted the top of my Fave YA List (Note: I need to make a post on fave YA series, and why)— beating the Shadow and Bone Trilogy by only a hair breadth. Which is HUGE, because not just ANY author can do that (although Marie Lu, Amie Kaufman, Janeen and Sarah all come dangerously close).
So, I am here to explain why.
And instead of giving a pros and cons like normal, I will just go on a mini-rant of things I liked, loved, and thought could be improved. Fair? Fair.
*MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD– READ AT YOUR OWN RISK*
First off, will say this: I do not recommend any of the YA series I read to anyone younger than 15. Tops. The Illuminae Files and this in particular, I do not recommend to anyone younger than 16 (if they are VERY mentally and emotionally mature– I know, so many teens think they are, but not all are. Trust me. Been there not too long ago, myself.) to 17, bare MINIMUM. (But I’ll get into why in just a bit.) There are just some things I’d rather not have young minds witnessing/picturing, before they reach a state of maturity. (Just as you normally wouldn’t let a five to twelve year old watch a slasher horror flick. Common sense. You don’t want to scar the poor kids for life or anything, right?)
I’m told there are a total of six-eight books, roughly, in this series, and while so far only two have been published, they are. Utterly. And. Jaw-droppingly. Superb. As in, for the most part, I cannot gush over these books enough. Here’s why:
*cue monkey on steroid noises off in the distance*
*clears throat to sound more professional, because that’s what proper reviewers do* Annnnyyywwaaaayyysss, I meant to say that, the world-building skills and character relationship skills in these books are just AMAZING. A. Maz. Ing. You have a complex political system of apparent protectors/oppressors (depends on whose side you view the situation from!), a stirring rebellion, combining some aspects from AEITA, The Giver, and the Shadow and Bone Trilogy alllll rolled into one fabulous package. Here’s what I absolutely adored about the series:
The issues it dealt with. I give her kudos for tackling what she did. Most book series wouldn’t go too in-depth with topics like sisterly love and protection (think similar to Frozen), an abusive parent, or overcoming personal struggles in order to even have a healthy relationship (more on that in a moment). Angie is not interested, for the most part, in fulfilling the character stereotypes. She is not interested in love triangles, or typical “weak to strong female” characters, “100% bad boy characters,” etc. Everyone has depth and meaning, complexity. Layers and layers of COMPLEXITY. I cannot harp enough on allll the YA series I’ve read where certain characters fall short of realism in that department; they may be the average guy or girl next door, but that is legit it. You don’t learn much of their hobbies, habits, fears, dreams for the future, worldviews, what it means to them to truly be human and be ALIVE. Most YA barely scratches this surface, and ends up disappointing me a bit in this area (the main exceptions being The Illuminae Files and The Shadow and Bone Trilogy). I loved how the characters were layered in this series. Different characters saw different sides to each other, brought OUT different sides to each other, challenged one another with questions like that.
And it was utterly terrific.
The personal romantic struggle and the MEN! PHEW!!! OK, granted, I was warned in advance that Hul men were all super-genius, witty hotties, with secret lil soft sides. And, as we ALL know, THOSE are the kind of guys I end up falling for (in fiction, anyways). Initially, it took me some time for the Huls to grow on me, but I eventually added a certain INTJ Hul to my “NT Type List” (more on that in a different post– MBTI thing), along with the rebel leader, Sorek, who could EASILY give Nikolai Lantsov a run for his money, and have a battle of wits, with all the snark he’s shown us. In fact, if you loved the Nikolai snark in the Grishaverse, you will ADORE Sorek (although, I will guarantee you will hate him at first. But give him PLENTY of time– he grows on you. Like Nik, he tends to persona-shift to suit the needs of the circumstance, and, also like Nik, is also an ENTP!). I was HOWLING at all his playful (and often very flirtatious!) banter with Rabreah 90% of the time. Just splitting at the SEAMS laughing. While the other, more popular YA reads may have given me the occasional fangirly smirk, giggle, or laugh, none have made me outright laugh for AGES on end like Sorek does. And this book’s genre isn’t even comedy! 🙂 The other guy, Masrekah (who ironically reminds me of the Darkling a LOT… read and see why!), isn’t as outright WITTY persay, but has a very dry and sarcastic sense of humor, nontheless. He’s very calm, intelligent, calculated, and SEEMS cold… but you find out, like ALL good INTJs, that underneath that exoskeleton, there’s some well-guarded soft mushiness. (Especially for a particular young lady, whose name I shan’t reveal) This made me squeal in delight as much as Sorek’s interactions with Rab did.
All Imma say is: Quelling. Horseback riding scenes. That is all. xD 😀
And the romantic STRUGGLES. Again, we are not talking the stereotypical, often-used “romance triangle/rectangle/whatever shape is “in” ” nowadays. We’re talking a female MC, Rabreah, who has been sexually threatened, and who has an ardent fear of men (i.e., gets defensive when they get close or look at/touch her, thinks men are the dung of the earth, etc.). She has to physically, emotionally, and mentally JUMP OVER THAT HURDLE if she wants a relationship with So-and-So, a desire that comes into conflict frequently with said fear, so she’s constantly denying her attraction (but we ALL know otherwise 😉 😉 ). As for her little sister, Ariliah, well, Ari’s almost entangled in a deadly and dreaded romance triangle trope. Key word: Almost. Like many YA female protags, she’s a bit confused about who she wants, and initially, who would be best for her (and definitely vice versa). But unlike many, many, MANY female protags who heart-breakingly string guys along (looking at you, Katniss Everdeen, Bella Swan, Laia of Serra, etc…), playing both sides of the field, Ari doesn’t look at it that way for longer than maybe a few chapters, and makes her decision of who she wants to be with. I mean, I’ve read other whole books (and a half or more!) that take like half the series or longer to get that stuff all sorted out. It’s very tedious to me, unnecessary “soap opera drama”. Find a guy, a good guy, stick with him, move on. Ari, even as an INFP like Alina Starkov, knows what’s up and has a good bit of common sense with this whole situation. (Which is one of the many reasons I love my sweet lil cinnamon roll! T_T )
Grey “bad” guys. I remember once reading something Leigh Bardugo said, about not everyone being straight-up good and evil, one or the other– we’re all a mix of both. And for a while, as a Christian, I was unsure whether to agree or disagree (more in a future post!). But here, I would definitely say agree, and that it is portrayed in SEVERAL characters VERY realistically. Rab is kind-hearted, smart, and passionate, yet secretly seems to fear her passion for justice will turn her into something like her abusive mother. Sorek has to pretend to be one of his enemies in order to blend in and spy properly– even if that means doing questionable things. Masrekah reads, “grey and mysterious” ALL over, and even little Ari has her moments. This only adds a layer of complexity to Angie’s characters, a layer many characters in many YA novels would not touch.
The world-building. Angie excelled at this, and it was often the little things. The different, foreign lands, how the names and sounds of names were different, country to country. Different cultures. Itzalin and their story, their cultures. Fascinating.
Overall, if there was one or two things I would advise Angie to improve on, I’d say, add more detail and clarification, here and there. I had a tough time initially picturing the itzalin because of this (and for future readers, no, they do NOT resemble werewolves!). Some of the unclarified stuff tripped me up, a smidge. There was also one or two moments of convenience, where things *just happened* to be in play that way, but thankfully, those situations were relatively few and far between.
I give this series, so far, a 4.5 out of 5. 🙂 Way to go, Angie! Can’t wait to read the next installments!
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Image Credit: https://www.amazon.com/Quelling-Young-Dystopian-Fantasy-Purification-ebook/dp/B07CVT9D6S