Review: In The Afterlight by Alexandra Bracken

in the afterlight alexandra bracken
in the afterlight alexandra bracken

Title: In The Afterlight  
Author: Alexandra Bracken  
Series: The Darkest Minds #3 
Genre: Fantasy, YA  
Publication date: October 28, 2014 
Rating: ★★★★★ 

Ruby can't look back. Fractured by an unbearable loss, she and the kids who survived the government's attack on Los Angeles travel north to regroup. With them is a prisoner: Clancy Gray, son of the president, and one of the few people Ruby has encountered with abilities like hers. Only Ruby has any power over him, and just one slip could lead to Clancy wreaking havoc on their minds. They are armed only with a volatile secret: proof of a government conspiracy to cover up the real cause of IAAN, the disease that has killed most of America's children and left Ruby and others like her with powers the government will kill to keep contained. But internal strife may destroy their only chance to free the "rehabilitation camps" housing thousands of other Psi kids. Meanwhile, reunited with Liam, the boy she would-and did-sacrifice everything for to keep alive, Ruby must face the painful repercussions of having tampered with his memories of her. She turns to Cole, his older brother, to provide the intense training she knows she will need to take down Gray and the government. But Cole has demons of his own, and one fatal mistake may be the spark that sets the world on fire.

It rained the day they brought us to Thurmond. 
And it rained the day I walked out.

It was always my intention to write a review for this book, but somehow years passed and I never got around to it. Until I got to the point where I didn’t even remember enough to write an honest and coherent recap of the story. But this year I’m taking the time to revisit old favorites and The Darkest Minds is definitely that. A favorite. So here I am.

This book is long and intense. The pacing is slower than we’re used to from Alexandra Bracken but while in some moments it may feel as if nothing much is happening, there are actually a whole lot of wheels spinning in the background. A huge chunk of this book focuses on the relationships between all our favorite characters. And to say those are strained would be an understatement.

Ruby is struggling with her position as a leader of their new-formed side branch of the Children’s League. She learns that it is impossible to keep everyone happy and has to deal with the pressure of being relied upon. There is not much room for failure but she’s constantly doubting herself, feeling like she’s not strong enough to live up to everyone’s expectations. And then of course there is the tormenting guilt over losing Jude, bringing Liam back into the League and every other harmful consequence she is responsible for. These insecurities along with her search for justice, drive her towards the one person who seems to understand what she’s going through. And that person is no longer Liam. It’s his brother Cole who knows what it’s like to step up and take control, who knows what is at stake and is willing to do what it takes to break into the camps and save the children Ruby so desperately wants to free. Spending so much time with Cole inevitably puts a strain on her relationship with Liam. Cole and Liam can barely stay in the same room together, let alone ever see eye to eye. It puts her in the middle, constantly threading a careful path between the two brothers, trying to keep the both of them (along with everybody else) happy, while trying to set her own agenda in motion.

Black is the color that is no color at all. Black is the color of a child's still, empty bedroom. The heaviest hour of night-the one that traps you in your bunk, suffocating in another nightmare. It is a uniform stretched over the broad shoulders of an angry young man. Black is the mud, the lidless eye watching your every breath, the low vibrations of the fence that stretches up to tear at the sky. It is a road. A forgotten night sky broken up by faded stars. It is the barrel of a new gun, leveled at your heart.The color of Chubs's hair, Liam's bruises, Zu's eyes.  
Black is a promise of tomorrow, bled dry from lies and hate. Betrayal. I see it in the face of a broken compass, feel it in the numbing grip of grief. 
I run, but it is my shadow. Chasing, devouring, polluting. It is the button that should never have been pushed, the door that shouldn't have opened, the dried blood that couldn't be washed away. It is the charred remains of buildings. The car hidden in the forest, waiting.
It is the smoke. It is the fire. The spark.  
Black is the color of memory. It is our color. The only one they'll use to tell our story.

They say no one is perfect but here that’s about two hundred percent true. As they all had to live in close quarters, tension rose and all of them made bad decisions. I love Ruby. I love Cole. I love Liam. I even like Clancy in some twisted way. Yet they all did and said things that made them seem like jerks. Ruby kept too much information hidden from Liam. Cole should have given his brother an honest chance. Liam shouldn’t have been so resentful. Except this is exactly what made these characters so very human. Put a group of people together in this particular set of circumstances and of course there are going to be disagreement, distrust and infighting. It’s a natural course of events. So I’m here for it. If anything, it made me so much more invested. This book has some seriously great character development.

And man, I love Cole. Love, love, love Cole. From the moment I met him I was trash. I’m not even sure I can pinpoint when exactly it happened, but there’s no denying my attraction. While I have always loved Liam, it’s Cole that holds my heart hostage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily shipping him with Ruby (I think she and Liam are adorable together), but he’s just such a great character. And damn did he deserve better. All this pain and anger bottled up in him, only to finally find release, to finally find acceptance and then… I won’t spoil, I promise I won’t but dammit.

They don't burn, do they? Not like us.

In The Afterlight is worthy of its high rating. Despite the rather slow start there is a great deal of action and a lot of beautiful scenes between the characters we’ve all grown to love. Zu, Chubs, Vida, Nico… Even Clancy had his moments. But be warned, it fucks with your feelings. Big time. There is some serious heartache, so much pain. I cried so hard, you should have seen me, even if the ending is sort of perfect. Even if it all plays out in the only way it could. Alexandra Bracken is cruel, which we leaned in the previous books, but she’s a wonderful story crafter and after rereading the entire series, I’m still convinced of its greatness. 

Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

red rising pierce brown
red rising pierce brown

Title: Red Rising  
Author: Pierce Brown  
Series: Red Rising #1  
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia, YA  
Publication date: January 28, 2014 
Rating: ★★★★ 

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children. But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class. Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity's overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society's ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies... even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

Steel is power. Money is power. 
But of all the things in all the worlds, words are power.

I’m awfully late to this party… and maybe for once that’s a good thing. In the years it took me to finally pick this up, I’ve seen both rave and disappointing reviews. I think it was good not to read this in the direct aftermath of the whole dystopian hype. To give it some time to become its own story and not ‘the next…’. It did not disappoint!

The story at the heart of this series is one that will never ever fail to move and amaze me. In short, a lowborn nobody is selected to infiltrate the upper class of society to live and fight among them. To gain their trust only to tear the system apart from the inside out. And man, HELL YES. The moment I realised the particular way the story was going, I went all in. I love a good underdog story. I love it when people who come from nothing climb up and then tear the whole gorydamn world apart to find justice. I have no clue how all of this is going to play out by the time we reach book four, but CONSIDER ME INTRIGUED AND VERY EXCITED!

Darrow is a miner in a world where people are divided into groups of colour. He was born into an unremarkable Red family, the lowest of the lowest in the class system the Society has established to keep order in their intergalactic empire. For a long time, he believed the lie the Golds of the upper class fed him, that he was a pioneer of Mars. That his labour and that of his fellow Reds was crucial for the survival of humanity on Mars. But not everyone is as docile and optimistic. Darrow’s wife Eo tries to convince him there has to be more to life than blindly following orders. Than slavery. Darrow doesn’t want to see it. Until Eo does the unimaginable. Until the girl of his dreams sacrifices herself to show that they were made for something more. Until she dies to become a martyr.

Everything changes then. His anger and pain give him the strength to break free of his bonds. With the help of the Sons of Ares, an organisation hell bent on changing the system, he becomes a gold in everything but blood. He forsakes everything he’s ever known and everything he’s ever been so he can help shape his wife’s dream.

Man cannot be freed by the same injustice that enslaved it.

The characters are wonderfully complex and clever. All of them different and multi-layered, all of them intriguing. Besides Darrow, Mustang is my absolute favourite. She’s a really strong character with a sharp head who doesn’t take shit from anyone. But there’s honestly not a single character I didn’t like. Even the absolute bad guys I enjoyed, and especially the good ones with evil twists. They worked so well together. Well, they didn’t, but that’s exactly what made it perfect. I loved how evil Golds got human faces. How I started caring for them. How I really hope some of them will turn over eventually because I really need them to join the cause. I like the Golds more than the Reds at this point, which I suspect is exactly what Pierce Brown set out to do, and it makes me scared for the future.

The writing is beautiful, even if it took some getting used to. It’s honest and vivid. New vocabulary is seamlessly slipped it and that was both challenging and entertaining. But I loved the flow of the words and sentences. Although the pacing is rather slow. Lucky thing I’m not easily bothered by that. In fact, I might even like it.

You do not follow me because I am the strongest. Pax is. You do not follow me because I am the brightest. Mustang is. You follow me because you do not know where you are going. I do.

And then there was the Institute and the Passing and everything else that followed on Darrow’s road to glory. If I hadn’t been sold before, I definitely was now. I don’t know what it is that makes these things so damn irresistible. Initiations. Training. Challenges. Bonding. Alliances forming. Alliances breaking. Friends becoming enemies. Enemies becoming friends. And the game. UGH, THE GAME. To complete their training to become a Peerless Scarred, the young initiates have to do this game that is basically every tactical board game ever combined but in real life and all I could ever think was MAN, I WANT TO PLAY THIS THING. I would have lasted a full two minutes, I’m sure, but I absolutely love this kind of strategic challenge. Especially when there is inhouse rivalry and plotting. And hey murder and backstabbing and the whole party. Such fun ahahhaaha.

But however great some parts were, I did say I understood where the criticism is coming from as well. Darrow, for all that I love him, is just a little too perfect. It’s like nothing can go wrong for this kid. He’s a prodigy, I get that, but everything came so easy. It’s a good thing that I liked him. If not, it would have bothered me a lot more than it did now. I hope this is somethings that will change, there’s nothing like the anguish of seeing your heroes fail to make you root for them even harder.

Also, the world building is decent but not excellent (yet). There are holes in this system that are conveniently covered up. Things that feel… too mhm, easy. Like the way Darrow’s transition to a Gold is handled. It took not enough effort. The way his intelligence was augmented, his body was modified… I also didn’t think Eo’s sacrifice made a whole lot of sense. Too cheap a move for a girl who dreamt of changing the world, not what a fighter at heart would do. At least not as a first act of rebellion. But of course it served the story very well. You can shape a world however you like of course, but some things just felt a little off. Three more books to prove me wrong, Brown. Three more books.

But, as I said, I’m camp rave on this one! I’m very excited to find out what else is about to happen and I’m reading Golden Son as we speak. I hope those damned Golds get wat they deserve. There is a true rebellion here and it’s dark and vicious and I can’t wait for it to break loose.

Break the chains, my love.

Review: If There's No Tomorrow by Jennifer L. Armentrout

if there's no tomorrow jennifer l armentrout
if there's no tomorrow jennifer l armentrout

Title: If There's No Tomorrow 
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout 
Series: Stand-alone 
Genre: Contemporary, YA 
Publication date: September 5, 2017 
Rating: ★★★½ 

Lena Wise is always looking forward to tomorrow, especially at the start of her senior year. She’s ready to pack in as much friend time as possible, to finish college applications, and to maybe let her childhood best friend Sebastian know how she really feels about him. For Lena, the upcoming year is going to be epic—one of opportunities and chances. Until one choice, one moment, destroys everything. Now Lena isn’t looking forward to tomorrow. Not when friend time may never be the same. Not when college applications feel all but impossible. Not when Sebastian might never forgive her for what happened. For what she let happen. With the guilt growing each day, Lena knows that her only hope is to move on. But how can she move on when she and her friends’ entire existences have been redefined? How can she move on when tomorrow isn’t even guaranteed?

Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

illuminae amie kaufman jay kristoff

Title: Illuminae  
Author: Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff  
Series: The Illuminae Files #1  
Genre: Science Fiction, YA  
Publication date: October 20, 2015 
Rating: ★★★★★ 

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded. The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit. But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet's AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it's clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she'd never speak to again.

Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

the cruel prince holly black

Title: The Cruel Prince  
Author: Holly Black  
Series: The Folk Of The Air #1  
Genre: Fantasy, YA  
Publication date: January 2, 2018 
Rating: ★★★★½ 

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King. To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences. In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

shatter me tahereh maxi
shatter me tahereh mafi

Title: Shatter Me  
Author: Tahereh Mafi  
Series: Shatter Me #1  
Genre: Dystopia, Science Fiction, YA  
Publication date: November 15, 2011 
Rating: ★★½ 

Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days. The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color. The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war – and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now. Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

Someone picked up the sun and pinned it to the sky again, but every day it hangs a little lower than the day before. It's like a negligent parent who only knows one half of who you are. It never sees how its absence changes people. How different we are in the dark.
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