Free copy received from the author in exchange for an honest review.
I'm torn. Very torn. On one hand, the world-building is interesting and the premise is intriguing. On the other hand, Elsdon's characterization is generic and bland and seems to change when it suits the author, and therfore makes no sense. But then again, maybe part of the point is the flux in his personality development. But what if it's just a "the curtains were fucking blue" moment and I'm reading too much into it/trying to give the author too much credit? I mean, the romance was pretty bad. Bad romcom bad. And not good bad-romcom bad; just bad-bad. Moments were cliche, lines were trite, Elsdon got borderline Edward Cullen a few times. Garrett was also kind of annoying. As in really goddamn annoying. He's like a less subtle and more bitter Laganja this'll give you an idea, but without seeing the rest of the show and the Untucked, then a lot of the moments in this video, taken on face value, really does seem like "oh, wow, why is everyone attacking her" when really, she's often the only one victimizing her own goddamn self. Yes, mama. Ohkaaay?
, and he inspired that in Elsdon, which just increased the painfulness of reading.
So...I have no idea. I liked the concept, liked the background, didn't so much like the story itself. It had its moments, but then something would happen that would ruin it (for me, at least). I mean, there were peripheral characters I didn't mind, and maybe even rather liked, but thing is, they were
2 star overall, 4 for world concept, 1.5 for characters.
As with always, below are the comments I made as I was reading.Semi-running Commentary:
It's...odd. There was no set-up for a romance at all in the first one, and yet, it's somehow a given that there'd be romance there.
The premise is different, so the entire feel is different. Whereas the first book had a sort of stark edginess about it, Bk 2 feels more...volatile. Fallible. Layle's sort of lost his implacable "Mr. Smith" aura. It's interesting because his last name is so interchangeable and generic, while his first name is quite singular, at least to me.
I guess maybe that's the point? Book one built this aura of mystery that is, in many ways necessary, but book 2 is about deconstructing that, demystifying the processes, seeing as Elsdon is now on the other side.
Still, I don't quite understand why Elsdon suddenly is crushing hard on Layle. Some measure of hero-worship, I can conceive, but just to suddenly have this "I have feelings-feelings for you" that's taken so for granted... It makes the telling ("He was very observant, and used his observation to good measure now") rather than showing a bit harder to swallow. It also renders the supposed show of emotion on Layle's part gimmicky and cheezy and really unbelievable. I cringed at the meal analogy, complete with an audible "ugh" and everything.
Because I had a hard time wrapping my mind around this supposedly budding romance, I found a large part of it hard to swallow. There's a major turning point at around 37% where Elsdon confronts Layle about his feelings for Layle, and supposedly Layle's feelings for him, that just didn't work for me because I, as I said, couldn't figure out the basis for the feelings. They just one day decided to exist. Or were decided would exist.
From there, it seemed to turn into a romcom. Heroine's gossiping with her bestie about omg I can't figure this guy out at ALL, and bestie's like, "well, I mean he seems to respect me because I don't fawn over him, so maybe he's looking for that," heroine's like "well, he does
seem to like it when I'm assertive; maybe he wants me to assert myself more." They do this as the bestie sorts through her clothes. (Okay, fine it's probably for laundry in this one, but close enough.)
This whole "everyone else assuming MC has never had a hard life" trope is definitely not my thing. Any and every time I see a character speculating, "I wonder if MC has ever had to do a hard day's labor in his life," or "I have to do a whole bunch of chores; he's probably never had to do these sort of chores," it really irks me.
MC is the ingenue that isn't an ingenue; don't underestimate him, for all that he seems fluffy and harmless.
And oh, god, we have secretly vengeful bestie who's hell-bent on offing the LI so that, possibly, he'd have a chance with MC? Are we going to have a dramatic final death scene after the Big Reveal where the bestie apologizes with his dying breath and says something like "I only wanted you to love me"?
42%: only time will tell.
But yeah, after the turning point, I couldn't get into the rest of it. The peripheral intrigue stuff, sure, intrigued me a bit, but then you had odd romance parts that...just didn't work for me also because of their nature. You've got Layle resisting, and Elsdon insisting he's in love with Layle, so he'll get his way no matter what; Layle can't hold back forever. That is coercion, and considered romantic in prior generations, but after reading a really nicely fleshed out BDSM-verse fanfiction, I've come to realize it's part of the fallacy of the whole Twilight-esque romance stories, that stalker-ish persistence is not, in fact romantic, but, you know, stalker-ish.
BUT APPARENTLY THAT'S WHAT LAYLE WANTS, SO IT'S ALL OKAY. And I do get it; it's part of Elsdon's plot to Be More Assertive because Layle likes that, but...I dunno, the phrasing of it, and the implications...
I guess somewhere along the line, I felt like I had no idea who the characters were? I had no idea why Elsdon was so viscerally repulsed by seeing the racking. And so utterly betrayed. I guess it didn't help that I started identifying him with Bella by then. But really, what is his personality? We know he's more amazing than he perhaps gives himself credit for, like Bella, and seems to have drawn a dangerous LI, like Bella. Only difference is he's more the predator than Layle is.
Yet another moment that had me "Oh my god"ing and "ugh"ing out loud: "Why were you really ___?" *confession* "You monster. Stay away from me. I'll kill you if you ever come near me." So...what? True love wasn't true love? You only thought you loved him? You loved who you thought he was, not the monster he turned out to be? And then: *overly dramatic* "I should have known! I should have seen! Nevermind that that was the whole issue I had before with him, that he wouldn't show me anything abotu himself and that maybe in this case, I'm still missing a buttload of information. I should have known he was a monster! He lied to me! He tricked me! Never mind he tried to push me away and I insisted I'd make him confess his love for me. Clearly he's a horrible rogue!" And then omg, even more: "I should have made sure he'd never hurt me again, never hurt anyone else! I shouldn't have left! I should have protected those he was hurting! I took and oath to protect the prisoners, and that's what I should have done!I guess bestie isn't lusting after MC.There's this nonsensical part where some speaker - can't tell if it's Elsdon or Garrett - says something about turning the rack to nine and that it's horrible and shit, but wasn't there a part earlier where Smith showed Elsdon the rack and it barely stretched.
And then there's the stupidly cliche "D: they're just like everyone, just like humans, so evil." God it's a Laganja moment *shudders*
Also, wow, Garrett. Projecting much?
What, pray tell, is the point of this farce? To create some sort of drama?
*throws hand over forehead in fake swoon*
Ay, me. For aught that I could ever read, Could ever hear by tale or history, The course of true love never did run smooth.
It's stupid. I can kind of see what the author's getting at, but I still think it's stupid. It does kind of come together, but that still doesn't excuse the stupid. It's sort of overly convenient. It does come together, sort of, and it got interesting again for a moment, but then this "It's all right, love. If you have to torture me or rape me or whatever...it's okay. I give you permission." It's so goddamn patronizing. From Elsdon? That doesn't make sense. He's on one hand ingenuous, then conniving when it suits? Okay, the "bindings upon a sadist" revelation was great, but then pushing the romance was like ending Captain America The First Avenger on the "it's just...I had a date note." It pushes the romance to the forefront as the main focus and essentially negates any sort of plotty stuff going down.
Still, ending with another "textbook" excerpt helps negate that effect a bit. Still, I don't quite know if I want to read on or not. On one hand, the character exploration is somewhat interesting (Layle, not Elsdon, yeesh), and the peripheral world-building and more plotty sort of stuff is also intriguing, but when this..."romance" is pushed to the forefront, it makes the entire thing hard to swallow.