Down With Dystopia: The Rise of the Royal Court

When I tried describing a book to someone last week, I realized that I was mixing up characters and plots, pulling from multiple titles I had recently read. Finally setting aside some time, I decided to look into these books a bit more, and then I fell down a rabbit hole. Suddenly, I’m not seeing dystopian books a-la Hunger Games and Divergent anymore. Now, books about princesses and kingdoms (and magic – ooo!) have taken the floor and are proudly waltzing by.
dystopia royal court princess

Is anyone else noticing this? Does this mark the end of depressing dystopian worlds? Is historical fiction donning a fancy new Y.A. get-up? We still have strong female characters completely dominating young adult literature; however, rather than the run-of-the-mill dystopia once dominating popular books, our heroines are now featured in the high courts of fantasy realms and fairy tale retellings.

I’m not saying this is a problem, but, does my observation carry greater meaning when I point out that many…most… of these books are written by debut authors?  I get that these things come in waves, but this seems more like a tsunami. Below are a number of recent, and soon-to-be books that include some aspect of royal courts:

  1. Red Queen (et al) – Victoria Aveyard
  2. Shadow & Bone (et al) – Leigh Bardugo
  3. Girl of Fire and Thorns (et al) – Rae Carson
  4. Graceling (et al) – Kristin Cashmore
  5. The Selection (et al) – Kiera Cass
  6. The Healer’s Apprentice (et all) – Melanie Dickerson
  7. The Jewel (et al)- Amy Ewing
  8. Deception’s Princess (et al) – Esther M. Friesner
  9. Princess of the Midnight Ball (et al) – Jessica Day George
  10. Seraphina (et al) – Rachel Hartman
  11. Cruel Beauty (et al)- Rosamund Hodge
  12. Princess of Thorns – Stacey Jay
  13. Stolen Songbird (et al)- Danielle L. Jenson
  14. The Queen of the Tearling (et al) – Erika Johansen
  15. Grave Mercy (et al)- Robin LeFevers
  16. Winterspell (et al)- Claire Legrand
  17. Stitching Snow – R. C. Lewis
  18. Throne of Glass (et al)- Sarah J. Maas
  19. Cinder (et al)- Marissa Meyer
  20. Suspicion – Alexandra Monir
  21. Legendary (et al) – L. H. Nicole
  22. Queen of Hearts: The Crown (et al)  – Colleen Oakes
  23. Snow Like Ashes (et al) – Sara Raasch
  24. Camelot Burning (et al)- Kathryn Rose
  25. Legacy (et al) – Jesikah Sundin
  26. Stray (et al) – Elissa Sussman
  27. A Wicked Thing (et al) – Rhiannon Thomas
  28. Crown of Ice (et al) – Vicki L. Weavil
  29. Storm Siren (et al) – Mary Weber
  30. Illusions of Fate (et al)- Kiersten White

That’s well over a two dozen titles, not including the respective continuations and sequels, e-book prequels or e-book short of some kind. (Those marked by ‘et al’ indicate some continuation in their series or intended series.) Of the authors that I’ve pulled into this list, there are only three that do not explicitly note a continuation of story.  I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll see more than just one entry in these remaining three all the same.

So what’s with this sudden spike in popularity? Here are some observations:

Women authors — At least in this genre, it seems as though unless your name is George R.R. Martin, most fantasy books are being written by women. There are a few men that are writing for young adults: John Green, Rick Yancey, Patrick Ness, Scott Westerfeld, Rick Riordan… but they’re not necessarily explicitly ‘fantasy’ authors. Where is the new blood? Where are the male debut authors? And where are the male debut fantasy authors?

Princesses — I don’t think I need to point out the dream every little girl (and some boys!) have of growing up to be a princess. Rags to riches, coming of age, reluctant hero(ine)… and other themes are common in such princess fantasy stories. Also present are kings, queens, princes, duchies, nobility, lords, ladies, and the like. Everyone loves to play dress up. Everyone also loves coming from modest beginnings,  and not necessarily entitled to the fame and fortune, but, of course, deserving. Humble = likable.

Gossip — I really, really don’t want to go there, but there’s also a clear connection between certain elements in this genre (such as spies, assassins, espionage…all of which boil down to gossip, lies, and general underhanded-ness,) that are present in many stories with women characters. Perhaps it’s simply an aspect of the everyday feminine culture that is handled in different ways from book to book, but it is undeniable that gossip is a common thread.

**NOTE: There’s much hesitation, self-awareness, and self-censorship I exercise in writing this entry. I feel like feminist readers of my blog will tear me to pieces… but these aren’t meant to be pokes or jabs at the nature of feminism or female culture. I’m not criticizing these points I bring up, but rather I seek to open a thread of conversation to be had with a purity of motive.**

~    ~   ~

At this year’s Horn Book Awards Colloquium, held at Simmons College (Boston, MA), there was an interesting panel held on the diversity of literature for children and young adults. This was headed by individuals in the publishing world, all of whom claim to scour for talent every day trying to find diverse books to publish. Unfortunately, without the talent… there’s nothing to publish.

So much of this time I had been blaming the publishing world. I’d thought, well, of course they are the reason there is not more diversity in books – because they want to take something popular that makes them money and drill as far down into the well as they can… Further illustrated by my list above. Or is it? Are books like these getting published because that’s just what the writing talent is currently producing? Is it because these books are easily marketable to the established audience? Are there writers out there producing diverse literature and the work is just ‘not good enough’ yet to make it to print? I think it’s unfair to place the blame on any one faction of the book world. Everyone simply has to work harder to produce and promote diverse literature.

My final question is this: Does the list above demonstrate the diversity we are all working so hard for?

Advertisements

A Fever in my Blood

 

Boy, this took me long enough! I finally, finally, got around to reading Rebel Heart by Moira Young, book 2 in the Dustlands trilogy. I happened upon Blood Red Road (book 1) while I was in Canada one summer. Without having heard much about it before, I picked it up, because I couldn’t leave a bookstore empty-handed. Honestly, I didn’t begin reading it until a few months later, but once I did, I flew through the pages. Once I realized there were to be two more books following, I pre-ordered the titles as soon as they became available. That was a few years ago now, and since I loved BRR so much, I wanted to be sure Rebel Heart made it on my list of books to read this year.
Rebel Heart, Blood Red Road, Dustlands, Moira Young

 

The first thing you’ll notice about the Dustlands trilogy is the way it is written. That may sound sort of generic, but flip through the pages and you’ll see there are no quotation marks indicating speech. It is also written in the vernacular of the world. G’s are dropped from words ending with ‘-ing,’ instead of ‘for’ it’s ‘fer,’ rather than ‘afraid’ it’s ‘afeared,’ ‘can’t’ is ‘cain’t,’ etc. Honestly, it felt really odd for the first 40 pages or so, but soon you find yourself in the rhythm and you don’t even notice. Sometimes, the line spacing even makes the prose feel like verse… which may sound weird, but it works!

Moira Young does a marvelous job of supplying the reader with just enough detail. Sort of like a watercolor painting, her words suggest description while leaving us to fill in the specifics with our own imagination. It’s remarkable how liberating that feels… but I didn’t realize it until after I was through reading the book. It’s not like other writers that will ramble for pages about the bark of a tree.

Rebel Heart starts with a shift in perspective – we hear from another character’s point of view. Immediately I thought about Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy, wondering if this book would follow the same pattern: book 1, one perspective – book 2, two perspectives – book 3, three perspectives. In this case, the shift serves as a prologue. The book picks up pretty much where the first left off. (I’m purposefully leaving out characters and plot points for spoilers — Yeah, I’m being nice this time. You’re welcome.) Again, it took me a little while to get into the stylized rhythm, but I adjusted. The character names were all familiar, but I had to remind myself who was who from the previous book.

Saba, the protagonist, is the same as she was – stubborn, fierce, and unrelenting. After the events of the first book, it’s rewarding to see her struggle and develop through this next installment. She’s not perfect. Often I feel as though these strong-female-protagonists-in-a-post-apocalyptic-dystopian-world-for-young-adults all start to blend together. Not so with Saba. Her inner conflict is so… I wanna say textured, but that sounds weird… It’s pebbly and rocky, if that makes sense. And a few times, her decisions made me go “what?!” — and THAT’S what makes her such an interesting read. Saba is easily my favorite protagonist in this genre so far.

Oh, and speaking of genre. Something I should mention: this is very much a Western. That may shock you readers, but I urge you to give it a try. There are a lot of John Ford and John Wayne influences… In fact, does anyone remember The Searchers (1956 film)? If you liked that, you’ll definitely like this series. Now that I think about it, I suppose book 1 sort of follows along that same kind of story too.

Hopefully it won’t be another 3 years before I read the final book, Raging Star!

 

Sophomore Slump

Picking up Divergent by Veronica Roth well over a year ago was another one of my impulse buys akin to my urge to pick up The Hunger Games. In fact, at the time, many people were touting certain books as “The Hunger Games Hangover Cure” and Divergent was one that satisfied my appetite beautifully. Insurgent, though it picks up immediately where Divergent leaves us, had me wondering when I would feel the same high I felt before.

 Insurgent

Okay, so I don’t dislike Insurgent. In fact, I found it pretty agreeable. There were a few choices that were made that made me question the direction the story is being taken… Such as *SPOILER* killing the major antagonist (yay for the good guys!… but seriously? There’s a whole ‘nother book!) and *ANOTHER SPOILER* a lot of people being divergent besides Tris (So… she’s not really special after all…?). What I did appreciate was a closer look at the inner workings of the other factions. Perhaps that’s really what this entry in the series was about: fleshing out the society a bit more, hinting at what could possibly be going on outside of the city. It seems as though there’s going to be a revolution within the revolution… which reminds me of the Matched trilogy. This entry still felt more like it was bridging a gap.

Throughout this book, I felt like the scenes were sort of cut and paste next to one another. One scene everyone is talking, talking, talking… Then there’s a lot of action and guns and running… Then back to talking and talking etc, etc. I wasn’t as interested in this book as I was when I first read Divergent – I found the world and premise fascinating, with simulations and faction hierarchy. In Insurgent, I felt like some of the rules were bent a bit: “Oh, you don’t remember what happened? It must have been a simulation.” *shrug*

That said, I am still looking forward to finishing up the series with Allegiant. I still enjoy the characters and their tensions/relationships. (BTW, definitely didn’t see the twist with Caleb coming!) It may be a while before I get around to Allegiant, but I have high hopes!

We Have REACHED The End

Nearly three years later, I can finally say I’ve completed Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy. I looked over my review of Crossed, book two from the series, and realized now how brutal I was in critiquing it (I’m sorry!) After finishing this final entry, I now feel more familiar with the author’s tone and have a better understanding and appreciation for the trio.

matched crossed reached ally condie

When I first read Matched, I was coming off of a Hunger Games binge, so my expectations were set for something much more action-packed or thrilling. Matched was more subdued. The premise hooked me right away: soon after their 16th birthday, teenagers of The Society are introduced to their life match in a grand ceremony. They are presented with a data card to take home and review their match’s profile, but once Cassia inserts her data card, she sees the face of a boy who is not the same as the one she was matched with during the ceremony. Was it a glitch in The Society’s perfect system? Cassia finds herself in the middle of secret love triangle and soon discovers that The Society’s cracked facade is starting to crumble. With the help of her two potential matches, Cassia investigates the mystery of The Pilot — a fabled leader meant to head up The Rising and overthrow The Society.

To sum up Crossed, Cassia is wandering around the Grand Canyon with one of her matches (Ky) and a few more teens and discover tubes containing preserved tissue samples from the members of The Society that have all died… presumably to bring the deceased back in the future. We still don’t know who The Pilot is, but it’s got to be one of the three from this love triangle, right?

Reached gives us the collapse of The Society and the takeover of The Rising by the use of a widespread viral plague. Certain members that have been selected by The Rising (since birth) are immune, and therefore unharmed… until someone pops up with a mutated version and then everyone’s at risk. That’s a big “Oops.” Cassia and her two matches are tasked with helping to discover the cure. Ky becomes infected by the mutation, but of course, he survives and is ultimately paired with Cassia.

There were some unexpected curve balls: The Pilot was just a random guy. The Rising was actually created by The Society as a way to feign a rebellion, to gain the community’s trust, and ultimately still be in control of everyone. There was no big blow-out fight for Cassia’s love. In fact, the two boys were stayed friends throughout the entire trilogy… so a bit anticlimactic.

Overall, though, the series has a very steady flow. The first book gave us one point of view, the second book introduced a new point of view, and the third book gave us three. When I first read Crossed, I found this flip-flopping to be a bit forced, but in reading Reached, I found it to be part of a natural progression in the story-telling. Condie’s descriptions of the setting of the story are vivid and beautiful. All of her characters are likable, but I’m not sure if it’s because everyone in The Society is groomed to be regulated and well-balanced, or if there was lack of more interpersonal conflict. I didn’t find myself disliking any of the characters… and I had a difficult time deciding which of the two matches Cassia should ultimately end up with because everyone was so “nice.”

I definitely would not call this the next Hunger Games. But for a strong young female protagonist living in a post-apocalyptic futuristic society in the middle of a love triangle, it fits the bill.

Oh, and a band of Archivists ran a black market of smuggled historical papers, objects, and other such paraphernalia. My future as a librarian is now justified. 

Every Fangirl’s Fantasy

As I begin to scale these towers of books, I can’t help but point out a recent trend that I have unknowingly subscribed to. This category I speak of is one that I feel I may have passed over or not even noticed in years past. Yet somehow, this particular microcosm of fiction has wriggled its way into popular young adult literature (not to mention my bookshelves) and is swiftly spreading… almost like weeds.

Thanks to the success of other fantasy series such as Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling and The Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer, fangirls (and boys) are coming out of hiding by riding on the coattails of their predecessors. Pouring out of parents’ cars to swarm midnight releases nationwide, teens arrive decked out in what I can only call “Pedestrian Comic-Con Chic.” This seems to be happening more and more. Now book launch parties have become more commonplace for the everyday “flavor-of-the-week” tweener pop craze rather than a spectacular event reserved only for the crème de la crème of juvenile literature. But I digress…

Strong female characters in post-apocolyptic dystopian fantasy fiction trilogies.

Gosh, that sure is a mouthful. And I thought Barnes & Noble was crazy for naming a whole section “Paranormal Teen Romance.”

Now, before I go further, I should probably mention that this topic may very well be a springboard into several of my first book reviews. Honestly, it’s because I have read quite a few already, so please bear with me as I trudge through this mini-genre of books over the next few blog entries. (I’ll try to break things up here and there so I don’t scare away too many potential readers.)

1. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
2. The Matched Trilogy by Ally Condi
3. The Mortal Instruments Trilogy by Cassandra Clare
4. The Dustlands Trilogy by Moira Young
5. The Forest of Hands and Teeth Trilogy by Carrie Ryan
6. The Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth

The six trilogies mentioned above contain books that I have either already read or ones that I own. I will also mention…

7. The Chemical Garden Trilogy by Lauren DeStefano

and a special mention to…

8. The Maze Runner Trilogy by James Dashner

The Chemical Garden Trilogy is a series that I can absolutely see myself buying that will fit right alongside the others in this little collection I already have going on. While The Maze Runner Trilogy on the other hand, offers the same general world setting as the others, but with a male as the central character — though, not exactly a departure from the traditions of what seems to be going on in this genre, a different perspective can shed light on many new things. These last two trilogies I mentioned are ones I do not own, and for the purpose of this blog, I will refrain from purchasing for the time being.

So far, three of the six trilogies are complete, while the remaining three are missing their second and/or third companions. With that in mind, I will start reviewing the completed series first, allowing more time for the remaining series to round themselves out.

~

Will Suzanne Collins will become the next J.K. Rowling?
Is a trilogy ever too long, or not long enough?
Team Peeta or Team Gale?

Tune in next time for my review and insight into The Hunger Games Trilogy.