Okay, so here’s the thing. There’s a lot of different kinds of DNFing a book, I think. Or there’s just one kind, the kind where you don’t finish it. But this is my blog and my book pile and my reading choices, so you can believe there’s only one kind of DNF but you still have to sit here and listen to me tell you there’s more than one, because the door snapped shut behind you and there’s spikes or something, I don’t know.
When I took this picture, all three of these books were existing in various stages of DNF. But they were all still here and all still had the potential to be F’d, so more like Schrodinger’s F. Something like that. Spoiler: one got finished, one might still get finished, and one is never going to get finished, and if you stop this blog post right here, I think in theory they all exist in some kind of hovering finished/unfinished state. I think that’s physics? I don’t know. I have a philosophy degree.
Just now, when I stood up from the exhausting task of inserting an image and writing 150 words — which honestly is less than I say to my toothbrush and toothpaste each morning as I verbally walk them through the task of tooth maintenance — to wander to the pantry even though I’m not hungry and eye the kitchen even though I know there’s no food there, only ingredients to make food, and besides, I am not hungry, I was thinking the order for talking about these books and it suddenly struck me that what all of these three had in common, for me, was issues with characterization and not that they all, at one point or another, hovered in an undecided state of F’d/not F’d. You’d think I’d go back up to the title and reattempt my approach with this new angle in mind, but that’s because I took such a long time off blogging that you forgot that there’s no turning back for either of us, once we get going, and that’s how it’s been for like 15 or 20 years now. Spikes, etc.
I just took another break to think about who has actually been reading my various blogs for a whole 15 or 20 years and you know what, I think it’s Brien. Just Brien. Hello, Brien. A professional, at this point — probably doesn’t even look back anymore, well aware there’s no point. Spikes back there, only way out is through.
All right, let’s get all the mystery out of the way immediately – this is the book that is hovering in the state of “I haven’t finished it, but I am still allowing for the possibility that I might finish it.” I’ve sent two batches of books back to the library since I started this one, started and finished other books since I started this one, started and not finished and returned to the library other books since I started this one, but it has stayed on my shelf, started but not finished but also not sent away. I don’t know if I’m going to finish it. I’m not feeling especially pressed to finish it. I haven’t sent it back, though, because it seems like it should fall right into #1 on the list in my post of 14 unnecessarily specific features, tropes, and plot points I like in books, which is “any sort of game element.” It’s got “game” right in the title, and seems to call back directly to The Westing Game, with a mysterious unknown rich person dying and leaving money to the protagonist and the protagonist is like, wait, what the fuck? But also kind of rolls with it, for reasons.
Since it seems like it will fall so directly into one of my own listed favorite things, I feel like I have to give it more of a chance, because admittedly, so far, I haven’t given it much of one. We’ve found out that an old rich person has died, and we’ve found out that our main character has been left all the money and stuff, and there’s a ton of complicated family who has not been left the money, and there are conditions on the protagonist receiving the money, of course, which I guess will be the “games” portion. But I haven’t gotten to any games yet. Are there going to be clues? Is it a scavenger hunt? Is it a structured game or more of a free form thing? I must find out the nature of the game before I can quit entirely.
The reason I haven’t gotten very far, though, is a reason that isn’t exactly fair, and I understand that it’s not fair, so I hope you will understand that when I tell you this reason, I am not shitting on the book for this reason, or acting shocked and upset about this reason, or let down specifically because of this reason, it is just a reason that I have. It’s all going to be fine.
Within the first three pages of this book, we are hit with SO MUCH character info about Avery (I had to go look up her name, obviously I don’t remember characters’ names, you know you have to look them up, too). In three pages, this is what we learn: she plays chess with a homeless man in the park to earn the right to buy him food without him complaining, she doesn’t have much money herself though because she has no parents, she takes on extra shifts at work for more money in a calculated risk that she can afford to spare that time from schoolwork and get a 92% instead of a 98%, she’s the first person ever to get a perfect score on a teacher’s physics test, which the school authorities are suspicious about, so she insists on taking a makeup test right in front of them, which she knows she will score perfectly again, she’s underestimated by adults, she takes care of herself, etc. I am not exaggerating when I say this is all within three pages, and it does carry on past that, laying on thickly how she works, supports herself, crushes it in school, is more adult than her older sister, is basically a take no shit, no-nonsense high school junior with all her ducks in a row and plans for the future and basically perfection, oh but also, “invisible” at school as people like her are meant to be, so she’s definitely unassuming, too.
I am not saying any of this is bad, I am just saying it was a lot, and leads into what has made me really hover with this book – it reads very distinctly YA. “BUT,” you bellow at me, “IT IS YA, SO HOW DARE YOU FAULT IT FOR BEING YA?” I’m not faulting it, calm down. Lots of adults read YA knowing they’re reading YA and being totally fine with it. I read a lot of YA knowing I’m reading YA and I’m totally fine with it. It’s just that I don’t find that this YA book is appealing to me in the same way it might appeal to a Y-er A. You know? You know what I mean? I would… hm, not necessarily relate better to the character if I was a Y-er A myself, and I don’t need to relate to every main character in every book I read. And it’s not that I find her unappealing. I just do not find her compelling to me now as I can imagine I might have in my Y-er days, and besides, the book is still here. I still might read it! Calm down!
It’s got a game (maybe!) and I’m into that. I will give it some more chance. I will update you.
Although, I did just go look it up to get the Amazon link for above and I see it’s a duology and ehhh that one Chrissy Tiegan grimace gif. You know the one.
This is the DNF. It is not getting F’d. For me, this book is un-F-able. I don’t rate books I don’t finish, for the most part, nor do I log them in my totals of books read, which really chaps my ass when I look at my read count for the year, and makes me seriously consider changing my tracking to books processed instead of books read because I process way more books than I actually finish and I feel like that should count for something, especially when I have given a book more than a fair shot. If I did log and rate books I don’t finish, though, this would be a solid 1 star “not for me,” respecting of course that it may be exactly the thing for you.
Again, characterization was a problem for me in this book. It has a fairly decent-sized cast of characters and a rotating first person perspective each chapter. Fine by me, I like that kind of stuff.
The book opens with a blackout, a scream, and an apparent murder, so no spoilers or surprises there. The set up is a wedding on a semi-remote, largely uninhabited island. The only people who live on the island are the couple who owns the venue, who are also the wedding planner and the chef, and the general do everything-ers in an event space. The perspectives we get in this book are the bride (an online magazine editor, which, come on, we all know is just a blogger who has outsourced some of the writing) who is marrying a hot Bear Grylls-esque outdoor adventure TV star guy; the bride’s sister and only bridesmaid; the wife of the bride’s childhood best friend; a groomsman who is one of the groom’s childhood friends, and the wedding planner.
The chapters are short, and almost every single one of them has a sort of not exactly cliffhanger line, but one of those “allude to a dark past/tragic event/bit of deep information unknown to the reader” sort of things, the kind of “and I almost told her about THE THING and I never tell ANYONE about THE THING and I thought better about telling her about THE THING,” with the implication that THE THING matters or will matter, and we’ve been informed that there’s A THING, but we’re not going to be told about THE THING until later in the story and come on. Tell me or don’t. It’s a suspense/thriller/one of those novels, I know there’s going to be THE THING or several THE THINGS, giving me five different notifications about five different THE THINGS two hundred pages before you’re going to tell me what any of THE THINGS are is just maddening. You can bait me with one THE THING. Maybe two. MAYBE. But so many THE THINGS and I am not eagerly flipping pages to find out what THE THING is, I am instead thinking “wow, this book has too many THE THINGS and it feels like it’s going to be exhausting.”
I could have possibly been interested in a THE THING or two, maybe, if any of the characters were compelling, but giving them each a THE THING that clearly matters to the character/is part of the character and the character’s motivation, but declining to tell me any of the things seemed to leave the book relying on almost cartoonish character development since we can’t actually know THE THING that has made them this way. The bride is so exacting and fussy, she can’t finish the table arrangements and harps constantly on her sister. The sister has some kind of traumatic THE THING, but we don’t know what, so all we get is extremely closed off and spooked “everyone look out for my poor sister” outline. The wife of the childhood best friend has some kind of complex about the bride. The groom’s childhood best friend is unsettled and disconnected and seems to know something, but WE DON’T KNOW THE SOMETHING SO ALL WE KNOW IS HE’S BEING A WEIRDO. And on and on.
You gotta tell me THE THING or you’ve got to create characters I give a shit about until I can discover THE THING. I lost patience, it’s gone back to the library, goodbye.
I read this one! All of it! And I liked it! But it did, at one point, hover in the F’d/not F’d space, and again it came down to characterization, in part.
This book is set at the Scholomance, a school for magical kids. If you’ll recall, both boarding school and magical/other training schools come up on my list of SHIT I LOVE, so this was another one that was right up my alley, which kept me pushing through when I initially thought I might put it down. On top of that, Naomi Novik was also mentioned in the comments of my post about my project with the ultimate goal of joining as many enthusiastic fandoms as I can (link), so two birds, one book.
I’m not gonna lie, this was a rough start for me. Likable characters is not something I require in a books I read, unlikable or evil or mean or bad or morally grey characters are all valid things in all kinds of books, and I have enjoyed books featuring all of them. But from the start, our main character Galadriel (who goes by El, not that anyone speaks to her) is so unpleasant, so bitter, so unhappy that it is just not a good time to be in her head. The actual reading experience was harsh, because she was so harsh. Add on to that the fact that the book throws you right in with a lot of information that can feel like a bit of a slog, and it left me feeling a lot like “why am I even doing this, I am not having ANY FUN.”
I did stick with it, though, for the same reason that I will probably pick up The Inheritance Games again – it’s got some of my stuff in it, and I seek out and want to enjoy that stuff.
The Scholomance has no teachers, no authority, no school holidays, no breaks. On top of that, it is full of monsters who absolutely will kill you. You get zooped right in there at a certain point in life and you stay there for several years until graduation, at which point you must battle your way out the single exit which is absolutely PACKED FULL OF MONSTERS WHO WILL ABSOLUTELY KILL THE SHIT OUT OF YOU.
Obviously, this would make one wonder why the fuck anyone would want to go to this school, and it does take a while for that to come to light. While all the pieces are being doled out via not-quite-info-dumps but still quite a lot of information to absorb along with the plot, we learn a lot about how the school works. Specifically, about how there’s pretty much NO WAY to be able to live, let alone get out, all on your own, and alliances must be made, and about how certain privileged kids come from long-standing magical alliances/families on the outside and have entered the school already loaded up with every advantage possible, which is not the case for El, who is not just on her own but a magical person of a whole different type all together.
All of the information about the way the school works and how one would eventually leave the school is part of what made reading about El so hard in the beginning — she knows she needs people, she even currently exists by hovering around the outskirts of groups who will acknowledge her, just to be able to halfway ensure her own safety when doing basic ass shit like eating and showering. When we enter the story, she’s started to figure out how she’s going to put some kind of plan in action to show the students what she’s actually capable of, maybe killing a big ol’ monster in front of them, in order to make herself an appealing asset for a possible alliance, as her own graduation is approaching the next year. Her plans keep getting foiled, though, by this guy Orion Lake from one of the powerful family groups. He just runs around rescuing everyone from everything, seemingly inexhaustibly, and she is NOT THRILLED to be rescued by him.
She’s existed this far on the absolute edges of what could be considered “social” groups in a school where you’re just trying not to die and is frankly kind of a real dickhead, so I didn’t know if I wanted to follow this whole thing — I didn’t think I’d be super compelled by a story where she kind of just pity-latches herself onto one of the advantaged groups, nor one where AND SUDDENLY SHE WAS VERY POWERFUL AND KICKED ASS ALL ON HER OWN STRAIGHT OUT THE DOOR, but none of that happened.
Instead, we follow her slow but steady process as she makes the necessary alliances and forms what could be called solid “friendships” (again, murder school, hard to judge what counts as friends) with people who will have her back just as she will have theirs. On top of that, she starts to find out a bit more about Orion Lake, the school hero, and why he does what he does, and further along, the consequences of his actions.
What really ended up kind of blowing me away about this book is hard to put into words. There is a lot of info in this book about how magic works, how one uses their magic, the different ways one might use magic. What the outside world is like, why the school exists, how the school exists, why the school is important even though it is ABSOLUTE MADNESS in there. Some things go wrong in the school (WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONGER IN A MURDER MONSTER SCHOOL, YOU MAY WONDER), some interpersonal stuff between both individuals, groups, and those inside and outside the major groups in the outside world is revealed. And the thing is, the thing that got me… there are no loopholes. Everything is wild and everything makes sense, right down to why Orion Lake is running around rescuing people all over the place, why El is not, why something went wrong, why the ways some people want to fix what went wrong are motivated the way they are — again, it’s hard to explain, but when you step back and look at this book and the world building and the society and the magic system and the interpersonal relationships among the kids inside the school and how the school itself exists and functions — it’s all so connected and so solid with such an unshakable thread of internal logic that holds it all together that it’s a fucking feat and a half of writerhood. Like, holy shit, for real.
I liked it a lot, but it’s not my favorite thing I’ve ever read, but at the same time, I am absolutely going to read the sequel as soon as I can because what the fuck? I’m just impressed. I’m just, you know, wildly impressed and it’s not even that I want to read more of the story (though I do), I just want to sit on the sidelines and wave a Naomi Novik pennant and CHEER HER ON. LIKE MY PROJECT GOAL SAYS. IT’S ALREADY ALL HAPPENING!
Anyway, F’d, not F’d, un-F-able.
That’s it. Thank you for your attention.