This week, I read three books, and while all of them could certainly be said to display "girl power" in spades, I don't think that phrase does any of them justice. All three are about girls going through intensely difficult, scary circumstances, and trying to figure the right path to take. And all three are excellent, dark, tough reads.
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the kind of book that, at 549 pages, I wish was even longer. It felt like the most exciting historical fiction ever--as well it should, since it heavily features real historical figures.
(See my full review here. Or you could just skip the rest of this blogpost and go read this book. It's that good.)
Dark Triumph by R.L. LaFevers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you loved Grave Mercy for its suspense, its historical setting, or its awesomely skilled assassin heroine, then you will maybe love its sequel Dark Triumph even more. All of those elements are back and even stronger than they were before. This book focuses on two fairly minor (but clearly fascinating) characters from Grave Mercy, Ismae's convent sister Sybella and Duval's brother-in-arms, "Beast". I was thrilled to learn their stories and excited that Ismae, Duval, and the Duchess--characters I adored--were still very present in the story.
Sybella's life is many shades darker than Ismae's (yes, there are things WAY worse than being the nearly-aborted, scarred, despised daughter of a turnip farmer who is sold off in marriage to an abusive, addle-brained oaf!) Because of this, her whole story is darker, with some elements that are hard to read about. I think a real strength of the storytelling here is that LaFevers gives us insight into the motivations of many of the seemingly terrible characters, and why they do what they do.
While I do love both Sybella and Beast, I had a few issues with the power dynamic between them. There are a few times when the Beast uses his physical stature and strength to make choices for Sybella, and while she is mad, and tells him so, I never get the sense that he wouldn't do the same thing again if he felt he needed to. That element of their relationship didn't quite sit right with me, but I loved most of the rest of it. They are both, in their own ways, killing machines, and the understanding that develops between them is strange and lovely.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and found myself frequently on the edge of my seat. It's almost unfair of me to compare it to Grave Mercy for the simple reason that I don't think any male lead will ever come close to Duval in my...ahem...esteem. But aside from the tragic flaw of not being 100% about Duval, this was an excellent follow-up, and I look forward to reading Annith's story, Mortal Heart, next year.
17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Nova Ren Suma is an absolute master of the strange and haunting. I read Imaginary Girls nearly a year ago, but the characters from that book occasionally pop into my head, because they were so peculiar and vibrant.
17 & Gone feels very different--but not in a bad way. I almost feel as if the main character, Lauren, faded into the background as she stumbled across girl after girl--all 17, all missing--who crowded out her own self. I wound up feeling like I hardly knew Lauren at all--but then, I think maybe so did Lauren.
When I wrote about Imaginary Girls, I found it nearly impossible to talk about the plot or characters much at all, because I was afraid of giving things away. Here, I'm facing a similar problem--this isn't a book where the central conflict is clear and resolvable. Lauren knows she needs to help these girls, missing and all but disappeared from the world; even though the cops tell her there are far too many missing seventeen-year-old girls for them to actively search for each one, Lauren knows that each girl is a whole, real person. After all, Lauren is seventeen, and a girl--wouldn't someone come looking for her?
I was completely sucked in to the smoky, gray world of this book, and I think the ambiguities of the story were written with great skill. But the scene in the police station is the one that I think will stick with me. After the police officer shows Lauren the number of entries in the missing children's database matching "current age: 17; sex: female," Lauren articulates the heartbreaking idea that drives the whole novel:
"I was 17.
I was a girl.
Didn't we matter?"
(ARC, p. 102)
I received an ARC for free through the Goodreads First Reads program in exchange for an honest review.
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