Book Review: Fantasy: The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán

The Dinosaur Lords Cover

A world made by the Eight Creators on which to play out their games of passion and power, Paradise is a sprawling, diverse, often brutal place. Men and women live on Paradise as do dogs, cats, ferrets, goats, and horses. But dinosaurs predominate: wildlife, monsters, beasts of burden – and of war. Colossal planteaters like Brachiosaurus; terrifying meateaters like Allosaurus and the most feared of all, Tyrannosaurus rex. Giant lizards swim warm seas. Birds (some with teeth) share the sky with flying reptiles that range in size from batsized insectivores to majestic and deadly Dragons.

Thus we are plunged into Victor Milán’s splendidly weird world of The Dinosaur Lords, a place that for all purposes mirrors 14th century Europe with its dynastic rivalries, religious wars, and byzantine politics…and the weapons of choice are dinosaurs. Where we have vast armies of dinosaur-mounted knights engaged in battle. And during the course of one of these epic battles, the enigmatic mercenary Dinosaur Lord Karyl Bogomirsky is defeated through betrayal and left for dead. He wakes, naked, wounded, partially amnesiac – and hunted. And embarks upon a journey that will shake his world.

Title: The Dinosaur Lords
Author: Victor Milán
Category: Adult Fiction
Genre: High/Epic Fantasy
Publisher: Macmillan-Tor/Forge
Publication Date: July 28, 2015
Format: NetGalley Excerpt
Length: 166 pages (out of 448 pages)
ISBN-10: 0765332965
ISBN-13: 9780765332967

Series or Standalone: The Dinosaur Lords #1

Literary Awards: N/A

Themes: Court Politics, History vs. Mythology
POV: Third Person, Multiple POVs
Tense: Past Tense

Reviewer: Atsiko Ureni

Where I Got It: Net Galley

Why I Read It: Knights riding dinosaurs, of course.

Review:

1. World-building: The world-building in the story largely consists of imposing 14th-century Europe on an extra-terrestrial planet with populated by dinosaurs.  Clear alternate names for European countries and various aspects of society.  Kind of an alternate history with an extra-terrestrial twist.  Not the most original, but it does have the advantage of thousands of pounds of lizard-flesh to liven things up!

2. Characters: There are three main characters in the story: Imperial Princess Melodia, referred to affectionately by her friends as “Dia”; Count Jaume, head of a Holy Order of Dinosaur Knights; and Rob, an on-the-outs dino-tamer with little to lose and a lot of money to gain.  Jaume is your standard martial hero.  Good with a sword, but a bit one-note personality-wise.  We probably could have skipped most of his sections.  Melodia wasn’t particularly intriguing, either.  A spoiled teenage girl, though apparently quite skilled in the martial arts.  Rob was a bit more interesting.  If nothing else, his stakes were a lot higher.  But again, no major swerves from your standard minstrel.  The minor characters don’t do much to make up for the lack in our protagonists.  The real star here is Dia’s younger sister, whose name I will not embarrass myself by trying to spell.  Never has an annoying little sister been so fun.

3. Story: The story itself is nothing special, either.  The standard political shenanigans.  Quite exciting, and lots of action, of course.  The book was published for a reason.  If politics and fighting s your thing, this is definitely the book for you.  Who could resist jousting on Trexes and hunting Triceratops like a common boar?

4. Writing: Is this the next Game of Thrones, but with dinos?  Not even.  But it’s quite well-written, and the prose does nothing to get in the way of a rollicking good yarn, as it were.  The characters come to life, whether or not you care for them as people.  It can’t quite overcome the conventional story elements, but it does keep the book readable and fun.

5. Extras: The book uses chapter-starters, as has become popular in SFF novels lately.  In this cases, excerpts from two books about the world of the story, Paradise.  They come with beautiful ink drawings.  Definitely something I enjoyed, as insubstantial as they may be in comparison to the rest of the book.

 

Please keep in mind I am reviewing an excerpt consisting of only a third of the full book.  But I think that after 166 pages, it’s still a pretty accurate analysis.

Conclusion: 57/100 (Readable but average)
Premise: 5/10 (Dinos are the only saving grace)
Plot: 5/10 (Interesting, but predictable)
Setting: 5/10 (Score another for the dinos)
Main Character(s): 7/10 (Well-written, but limited in depth)
Romance Subplot: 6/10 (Well-drawn, but predictable)
World-building: 5/10 (Pedestrian, if well-detailed)
Supporting Characters: 5/10 (Same as for main)
Writing: 8/10 (Skilled if not brilliant)
Themes: 4/10 (Lightly touched-on, insufficiently explored)
Resolution: 7/10 (For a cliffhanger.  If the true ending is half as good?  It’ll be fun.)

Buy Or Borrow:  Buy if you love military fantasy and giant dinosaurs.  Maybe borrow if that’s not your cup of tea but you still want to give the book a shot.

An Interview With Victor Milan on Suspension of Disbelief

Similar Books:

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Beauty in Ruins
Publishers Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
The Bibliosanctum
Zirev
Lone Star on a Lark

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
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On John Green and How YA Authors Interact with Their Fanbase

Just recently, there’s been a huge dust-up over someone saying some things about John Green, and him responding to those things in perhaps not the best manner. I’m not going to take sides in this, or give my personal feelings on the opinions of John Green expressed in the tumblr post or thread. Instead, as a book reviewer who reviews YA literature writing on a blog that reviews YA literature between half and two-thirds of the time, and finally, as a person who is no longer a Young Adult, I want to talk about something else. I want to talk about how our society views adults who interact commonly with children and Young Adults, especially men, but also women. And then I’m going to give my take on the most positive ways for adults involved in the literature community to interact with their young adult co-fans.

Young Adult literature is an odd duck. It’s written mostly by people who are no longer young adults, though they may know many due to being parents or their day job. It’s read by both actual young adults and also adults, who for various reasons enjoy it as much or more than a lot of adult literature. There are many reasons why an adult might get involved in Young Adult literature as an author, fan, or occupationally connected person. The two mot obvious categories are librarians–especially school librarians–and authors. There are many writers who would be classified as young adults, but very few of them get published while they are that age. The vast majority of YA writers are adults, either in their early 20s and 30s or much older. The possible writing-related reasons for this aren’t relevant to this post. This is the reality we are dealing with.

Now, adults who interact with kids are often in a delicate position in our society. Biologically, adults are more mature thank kids in terms of thought processes and socialization. (Actual behavior is another story!) This, as well as other aspects of our society, give them a form of power over children and young adults, and in many cases, a lot of power. That power can be and all too often has been abused. That abuse can be sexual, but it can also involve many other things. Stoking egos, getting monetary favors, or convincing kids to do something that benefits the adult and not the child, etc. We’ve become so much more aware of those power dynamics in the last few decades. This is a good thing. It means people can no longer get away with exploitative and abusive behavior the way they could only 20 or 30 years ago. But there are also false positives. Or smaller issues getting magnified. There are various statistics on how common these false positives are versus false negatives, and I won’t debate the ethics issues involved here. These false positives happen, and they can really suck for the person they happen to. Especially in this Internet Age where the tiniest rumour can be magnified into a dog-pile or a witch-hunt. it’s hard to tell when such a thing will happen.

All this leads up to my first point: even mature, well-socialized adults can make mistakes. Especially when they are dealing with the transient rules and murky social systems of young adults, who are transitioning between child and adult socialization.

As a creator with a huge fanbase, John Green has more power than many adults, and also more ardent defenders. For these reasons, it’s on Green to be the more responsible party in interactions with both his fandom and his haters.

This article from The Mary Sue gives a good example: http://www.themarysue.com/john-green-female-ya-readers/

This could have been a chance for John Green to take a moment to discuss why while he’s attempting to do something positive for teens, it’s still important for teens to keep an eye out for possible red flags. As a public figure who has courted (in a neutral way, this is not an implication of creepiness) his target audience who happens to be mostly teenage girls, it’s his responsibility to make sure that the relationship between himself and his fans remains appropriate. And I think he’s done a good job of that overall, and I have not a single suspicion there’s some ulterior motive behind his behavior or his writing.

John Green may have privilege, but he is still merely human, and he responded as a large majority of people might have responded to such comments. But, there are other ways he could have responded to create something positive out of this:

  1. He could have chosen not to respond.  That’s hard when you’ve been tagged into the mess, but he could have chosen that path.  In which case this would have been just another tempest in a tumblr.
  2. He could have posted on his blog without linking to the specific tumblr post and talked about how he may not have misused his platform to groom and/or assault teenagers, but that it does happen and gone on to describe the issue of power differentials between adults and teens, creators and fans/consumers, men and women.
  3. He could have talked about how creators have to deal with negative publicity in various forms, and how to keep a thick skin and deal with those issues.  I’m sure that would have been an interesting topic for many of his fans and for his friends, writers and otherwise.
  4. He could have used it as an opportunity to talk about the differences between the cafeteria table and the Internet, and how a social media network like tumblr is not really private, even if you have strong privacy settings.
  5. He could have talked about the dangers of snowballing on the internet, and how one voice alone may not be that big of a deal, but how the nature of the internet encourages people to pile on, to engage in social signalling and how in-group/out-group posturing plays out online.  In this case, Greenies and non-Greenies.  He could still talk about that, except in this case he started the snowball rolling and his fans and friends piled more snow on it until it may have crushed the original commenter.  A fate that person probably did not deserve, despite the contentious issues involved here.
  6. He could even have talked about how he chooses to engage his fanbase and why, and the pros and cons of this approach, both for him and for others considering making themselves into such a brand.

The fact that he did not do this doesn’t make him an evil monster.  But his response was a bit like like destroying a damn above a little ant-hill because one ant bit him thinking he might be attacking the nest.  He must know by now that no matter what he says, his fans and friends will leap to his defense, even if it’s unnecessary and possibly excessive.  That’s something I hope he’ll be thinking about when situations like this arise in the future.

We’re Back!

Due to a combination of personal and professional reasons, we’ve been MIA since the beginning of October. But as of the middle of July, we’ll be back to reading books and posting reviews here on the Dark Net. These will be a combination of previously scheduled reviews and new reviews, depending on whether we feel it’s still worth reviewing ARCs which are well past their release date, and whether a given ARC is still available to us. We apologize to our readers and the publishers who so kindly approved us for review copies. It’s mostly likely we will be posting a combined review per week, although depending on what ARCs we get, we might publish more or less in a given week. We really enjoyed our previous review period, despite a bit of stress from a busy review schedule, and we feel we’ve better organized our time this go around.

We will be following our traditional format for the most part, though a book review here and there might diverge a bit.

Book Review: Young Adult: Dead Zone by Robison Wells

Dead Zone Cover

The invasion has begun—and a group of teens are caught in the crossfire.
I volunteered to be a spy, not an assassin.
I know this is war . . .
but I just want to do what’s right.
If you ask me, none of us should be here—but no one gave me a choice.
And I won’t blindly follow orders.
I am essential to the plan.
And I will be a hero for my country.
If I were normal, I wouldn’t be
old enough to join the army.
But I’m not normal. I’m a weapon.
We’re a perfect match—
on and off the battlefield.
I hope that means we’ll both survive.

Title: Dead Zone
Author: Robison Wells
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Science Fiction Thriller/Action Adventure
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Format: Paperback ARC
Length: 373 pages
ISBN-10: 0062275046
ISBN-13: 9780062275042

Series or Standalone: Blackout #2

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Following Orders, Greater Good
POV: Multiple 3rd person
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Nick

Where I Got It: Thanks to Atsiko for finding a trove of 2014 ARCs. We’ve both spent time listening to Brandon Sanderson’s Podcast, Writing Excuses, on which Wells was often a guest, so we were very excited to have someone reviewing this book. For scheduling reasons, that someone ended up being me.

Review:

This was a difficult review to write. I knew about a third of the way through this would not be a favorite of mine. I like the premise. Superpowers, especially limited and diverse superpowers, are inherently a fun idea for me. But, because I enjoy the idea so much, I might be more inclined to a tough rubric. There have been several well-known books/multi-media franchises based on the concept of large numbers of people with starkly varying super-powers. X-Men is probably the most famous. The TV show Heroes also achieved a good deal of success with this premise. Going further afield, there have been several anime and manga series using a similar idea: Gakuen Alice, and more recently Tokyo ESP. None of these stories are perfect. And neither is Dead Zone.

One of the major issues I had with the book was the characters. They were, to my mind, very cliche representations of teenagers. The character voices and their behavior didn’t feel natural to me in many scenes of the book. The supporting characters were more complex than the main characters, while being more cliche stereotypes. The main characters, while less cliche, were also much less complex, and I had trouble buying some of their emotional quandaries. You’re going to have a certain amount of apparent cliche in any YA book, just because your average teenager has fairly similar experiences to their peers, and also because of media stereotypes popularized by well-known television shows and movies. It can be very hard to break out of those narratives, especially for older authors who may be more distant from their teenage selves.

The plot of Dead Zone was also a fairly standard war plot. I felt like I saw quite a few of the plot twists coming. They followed a common pattern.

To be fair to Wells, I can definitely see why a publisher picked this up. It’s got that high concept and breakneck pace that makes thrillers so popular. The problem-solving ability of the main characters was great fun to see in action, and he created that sense of righteous indignation at the way the characters were co-opted by various groups that can lead to a strong emotional investment even in weakly-drawn characters.

I haven’t read Variant, or any of the books in that series, so I can’t say how Dead Zone stacks up. It is an improvement on Blackout, so readers who enjoyed the first book in the series will likely enjoy this one. I personally wouldn’t have bought this book after reading Blackout. I don’t mind the few hours it took to read it, but I think I would have minded the money I’d have had to spend to buy it.

Conclusion: 66/100 (Readable, but not compulsively so)
Premise: 6/10 (Done before, sometimes better)
Plot: 7/10 (Cliche)
Setting: 7/10 (Decently-drawn)
Main Character: 7/10 (Nothing special, but nothing terrible)
SF Elements 6/10 (Cliche)
Mutant powers 7/10 (Cliche, but well-used)
Supporting Characters: 7/10 (Cliche)
Writing: 3/15 (Competent, but no more)
Voice: 2/5 (Not great)
Themes: 7/10 (Common and mediocre execution)
Resolution: 7/10 (Cliche)

Buy Or Borrow: Worth buying if you like super hero stories, otherwise borrowing might be the best option.

Similar Books:
Very similar to the X-Men franchise and also the TV show Heroes. Your standard kids with superheroes story.

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus Reviews
YA Books Central
This Blonde Reads
San Francisco Book Review

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
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Book Review: Young Adult: Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

farizan cover

High-school junior Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is something of a relief. Her Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates; if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual. Struggling to sort out her growing feelings and Saskia’s confusing signals, Leila confides in her old friend, Lisa, and grows closer to her fellow drama tech-crew members, especially Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise, and sometimes painful. Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own.

Title: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel
Author: Sara Farizan
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary with a side of romance
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Publication Date: October 7, 2014
Format: NetGalley DRC
Length: 306 pages
ISBN-10: 161620284X
ISBN-13: 9781616202842

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes:GLBT
POV: First person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Marisa

Where I Got It: I asked Nick to keep an eye out for interesting contemp novels on NetGalley, especially involving diverse authors or characters. He gave me the summary for this one, and it sounded fun. Even though the cover was pink and had lips on it, it didn’t seem like a standard romance, so I figured why not?

Cover Notes: I really liked the cover here, although it was a bit pink. I think it implies a more classic romance plot than is really present, but that might just be me. I wish there had been more of an actual image here.

Review:

There were a lot of things to like about this book. The main character, Leila was a very good YA MC. She was a bit clueless, and a little privileged; which is fairly standard for YA protags. She also had a bit of a social misfit vibe, which Farizan handled very smoothly. It never felt forced or overdone. Despite Leila going to a fairly elite school, Farizan managed to make the story and Leila’s school life feel accessible to me, a middle class public school kid. That’s something I really like in an author.

Leila’s family, was also well-written, from my perspective. I felt like there was a strong theme of unreliable narration there, in the sense that at first, you really only see them through Leila’s eyes, but as she grows throughout the book, you realize she’s just as clueless about everybody else’s true selves as any teenager. It’s a common theme in YA, but only because it’s pretty common in real life.

The romance plot in the book was also great. Better than many YA romance plots I’ve come across. Saskia is exactly like many of the girls/boys who seem most alluring as a teenager. Now, there are a few cliches common to GLBT romances (and straight ones, too, to be fair): the clueless straight best friend with a crush, etc. But they’re handled pretty well by Farizan. There are some fun twists and turns, and they all felt pretty natural.

I said earlier I didn’t see this book as a classic romance; I think I should elaborate a bit. What I mean is that there’s so much more going on here than a straight romance plot. Many (but not all!) romance stories have way more focus on the romance than I’m interested in. Especially with love triangles–(I’m looking at you, Twilight!). There’s absolutely a strong romance component in this book, and it’s marketed that way. But there’s more than just that romance plot, and I think that gives a book more depth. I think a fair number of readers who aren’t romance fans could still enjoy this book.

Finally, this is a coming-out story. Not only is Leila not out, but she’s also a bit naive about the whole thing, and she believes many stereotypes about lesbians. The coming-out plot itself is fairly standard. There’s nothing shocking or unique about Leila’s experience, although her cultural heritage–she’s Iranian–does add some flavor to it. Farizan telegraphs many of the developments coming-out-wise fairly early, although she manages to keep the romance aspect of it a bit less obvious to the reader. That said, I’m not really criticizing her handling of it. Any readers not familiar with the coming-out narrative in modern fiction will find Farizan’s version accurate and interesting, and there are no real stereotypes perpetrated by the author herself.

Conclusion: 79/100 (Not brilliant, but very enjoyable)
Premise: 8/10 (Interesting, though not unique)
Plot: 8/10 (Engaging)
Setting: 8/10 (Well-depicted)
Main Character: 8/10 (Standard teenager, fun and not irritating)
Coming out plot: 7/10 (Nothing new or unique, but well-written)
Romance plot: 8/10 (Strong and realistic, but still cute and fun)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (No cardboard cut-outs here)
Writing: 4/10 (Engaging)
Voice: 5/10 (Very realistic)
Themes: 8/10 (Well-executed)
Resolution: 7/10 (Very optimistic but not contrived)

Buy Or Borrow: If you’re looking for a contemp with strong romantic or GLBT themes, this is definitely worth a buy. If not, you might be better off borrowing it.

Similar Books:
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth
The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George
Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
Empress of the World by Sara Ryan

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
YA Midnight Reads
Good Books and Good Wine
Writer of Wrongs
Little Hyuts

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
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Book Review: Fantasy: The Dark Defiles by Richard K. Morgan

thedarkdefilescover

Ringil Eskiath, a reluctant hero viewed as a corrupt degenerate by the very people who demand his help, has traveled far in search of the Illwrack Changeling, a deathless human sorcerer-warrior raised by the bloodthirsty Aldrain, former rulers of the world. Separated from his companions—Egar the Dragonbane and Archeth—Ringil risks his soul to master a deadly magic that alone can challenge the might of the Changeling. While Archeth and the Dragonbane embark on a trail of blood and tears that ends up exposing long-buried secrets, Ringil finds himself tested as never before, with his life and all existence hanging in the balance.

Title: The Dark Defiles
Author: Richard K. Morgan
Category: Adult Fiction
Genre: Science Fantasy
Publisher: Del Ray Spectra
Publication Date: October 7, 2014
Format: Netgalley DRC
Length: 692 pages
ISBN-10: 0575077948
ISBN-13: 9780345493101

Series or Standalone: A Land Fit for Heroes #3

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: The Creation of a Myth, What is a Hero?
POV: Third Person, Multiple POVs
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Atsiko

Why I Read It: I’d heard a lot about Richard K. Morgan’s foray into the fantasy genre, how ground-breaking it was. There was a lot of hype, and I’d never read any of his
science fiction books before. Sounded over-hyped, so I read other things instead. Then Nick managed to score an ARC of the third book in the series. I figured I might as well give it a shot, and it was outside my normal reading, so why not?

Review:

There’s a lot of talk about Richard Morgan breaking new ground in the fantasy genre with this series. First, to get things straight, this series is the bastard child of sword and sorcery and science fantasy, with the Grimdark aesthetic so popular in fantasy right now being the icing on the cake. In that sense, it’s not even part of the high or epic fantasy genres. Now that we have that out of the way, the book on its actual merits.

1. World-building: This is one of the major points of fantasy or speculative fiction in general. Morgan shows himself to be a very competent world-builder in this book. Although he makes use of a lot of subverted cliches, or even cliches played straight, there aren’t any major wholes in the world-building. What he does best is history and the other-world part of the setting. Quite interesting, lots of cool takes on older fantasy staples. The main world of the story, though, doesn’t fare so well. There’s an Empire, a “League of Free Cities”, and some barbarians in the form of “steppe nomads”, but with the steppe replaced by the Great Plains of middle America. Nothing new or even particularly interesting here. Although, he has improved a great deal on the previous novels.

2. Characters: The characters have much improved in this book. They are more developed, and make more interesting decisions. Ringil in particular develops his anti-hero personality, much more. Especially vis-a-vis his family. And yet without any of the over-indulgence that was present in the last book. Further, he comes more into his powers, and Morgan shows more of the process.

Archeth, too gets a boost in ability, and her relationship to the absent Kiriath and the Helmsmen they left behind is greatly expanded upon.

Egar Dragonbane also receives much more development. A good thing considering he was the weakest character in the previous two books.

3. Story: The threads of the story are much better balanced than in the preivious two books. A great deal of info-dumping occurs, as Morgan attempts to set up for the climax and resolution of the story. A climax that could have been very interesting if handled better, but here fell rather flat and felt rushed. There were several interesting scenes, and the book recovers incredibly well from the second-book-slump of The Cold Commands. In fact, the middle two-thirds of the story is perhaps the best part of the entire trilogy.

In the end, as much as it does to counteract the weaknesses of the rest of the trilogy, it can’t quite manage to bring the trilogy from your average mid-list fantasy series to the heights promised by the initial hype leading up to the release of The Steel Remains.

Conclusion: 69/100 (Readable but not the brilliance it’s made out to be)
Premise: 6/10 (Meant to be ground-breaking, isn’t)
Plot: 8/10 (Coherent and interesting)
Setting: 6/10 (Fairly standard fantasy cliches)
Main Character(s): 8/10 (Standard tropes, well executed)
World-building 8/10 (Some very interesting points but not brilliant)
Magic system 7/10 (Fairly standard)
Supporting Characters: 4/10 (Very cliche)
Writing: 4/5 (More than competent, not brilliant)
Voice: 5/5 (Very strong voice, easy to distinguish between characters)
Themes: 7/10 (Good, poorly expressed)
Resolution: 6/10 (Predictable and boring)

Buy Or Borrow: Worth buying if this review intrigues you.

Similar Books:
The Coldfire Trilogy by C.S. Friedman
The Corean Chronicles by L. E. Modesitt
The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock
The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus Reviews
_
_
_
_
_

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
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Book Review: Young Adult: Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Love is the Drug cover

Emily Bird was raised not to ask questions. She has perfect hair, the perfect boyfriend, and a perfect Ivy-League future. But a chance meeting with Roosevelt David, a homeland security agent, at a party for Washington DC’s elite leads to Bird waking up in a hospital, days later, with no memory of the end of the night.

Meanwhile, the world has fallen apart: A deadly flu virus is sweeping the nation, forcing quarantines, curfews, even martial law. And Roosevelt is certain that Bird knows something. Something about the virus–something about her parents’ top secret scientific work–something she shouldn’t know.

The only one Bird can trust is Coffee, a quiet, outsider genius who deals drugs to their classmates and is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. And he believes in Bird. But as Bird and Coffee dig deeper into what really happened that night, Bird finds that she might know more than she remembers. And what she knows could unleash the biggest government scandal in US history.

Title: Love is the Drug
Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Thriller
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Format: DRC from Netgalley
Length: 355 pages
ISBN-10: 0545417813
ISBN-13: 0545417813

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Family, Trust, Epidemics, Bioterrorism
POV: 3rd person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Marisa

Where I Got It: Nick scored the DRC from NetGalley. I’m glad to find something in the thriller genre that doesn’t also touch on dystopia. Not that I dislike dystopia, but it’s nice to have a break now and again.

Cover Notes: Simple, but effective. It does follow the thriller dystopian trend of having a basic color and a symbol, but I would totally pick this up in a bookstore.

Soundtrack: I found my X-Files soundtrack perfect for this one.

Review:

This is a difficult book to review. It had many elements that I loved in isolation. The main character is a well-off black girl living in DC. There are shady operatives everywhere, and the plot is based on biology and epidemiology. The main character is coming to a realization that not everything is the way she thought it was, and that “perfect” is an illusion. I love all these things in a book, especially a YA book. But!

This book is smack-dab in the thriller genre, and so is basically every single trope, convention, and character archetype. There’s basically nothing seasoned thriller fans haven’t seen before. Seasoned romance readers will also be quite familiar with the way this book goes. For the most part, the pace was fast enough that I did’t stop to think about these things too hard, but when I did, the cracks showed pretty clearly. I’m sure many readers will say it’s just a consequence of the genre. For that reason, didn’t mark the book down in those areas as much as I might have otherwise.

Another issue I had with the book was the love interest. Coffee is a drug dealer. We first meet him snorting coke in the basement at a party. He seems like a nice dude. He claims drugs to him, especially his own personal formulas, are mind-expanders in his pursuit of enlightenment. But I dislike the fact that the cynic whistle-blower in these sort of books is always a criminal of soe sort. He also takes the role of the magical poor person, because of course all the rich folks are clueless or corrupt, and can’t see past their selfish goals. It’s quite a “teenage rebellion” cliche with all the tropes, including the “perfect”, popular boyfriend who’s going places, that everyone knows the MC would be perfect with, pitted against the bad boy loner with a few good friends who’s so “real”, and “bad” for her supposed goals. Again, this could just be my personal preference. Plenty of books with similar romance plots have sold very well, so I didn’t mark the book down too much for this.

The plot itself is quite tight, and has few holes. It’s no particularly creative, but the writer has a great sense of pacing, and you’ll keep turning the pages. You can see most of the twists coming, but at least they make sense for the most part. There were a few times when the book was confusing, such as when it would switch to first person seemingly randomly. I think it was a narrative device the author was trying out. I don’t think it worked too well.

The main character, Bird, has a good teenage voice. That’s an important aspect of a good YA novel, and Johnson has it nailed down. The fact that she is black comes across very clearly. I didn’t find myself falling into the default white MC trap. She responded mostly realistically to the various revelations, and she had that teenage flip-flopping/back-and-forth thing going on, especially in her romantic life. There was strong but realistic peer-pressure. She didn’t come across as whiny or immature. This was one of the more positive aspects of Johnson’s writing.

I found this book pretty average. I’m writing this review a few weeks after finishing the book, and I had to remind myself of a few things. But I would definitely pick up another book by this author, assuming the back cover sounded good.

Conclusion: 74/100 (Mildly entertaining, but not fantastic)
Premise: 6/10 (Standard thriller premise)
Plot: 8/10 (Well-constructed but not very original)
Setting: 7/10 (Could have been anywhere, really)
Main Character: 8/10 (Good concept, decent execution)
Romance sub-plot: 6/10 (Cliche, but decently written)
Love Interest: 7/10 (Not a fan of the noble badboy trope)
Supporting Characters: 7/10 (Standard thriller cliches)
Writing: 4/5 (Not bad enough to make me stumble)
Voice: 4/5 (Good when not confusing)
Themes: 7/10 (Fairly cliche approach)
Resolution: 8/10 (Nice twist)

Buy Or Borrow: Definitely worth a buy, if you like thrillers or conspiracies

Similar Books:
There are a surprisingly small number of YA thrillers that don’t strongly overlap with another genre such as dystopia or speculative fiction. I might update this section as I run across more.

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Publishers Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
Lit Up Review
Teen Librarian Toolbox
YA Books Central
Dreams in Tandem

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E-Books:
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