Review: Asperfell by Jamie Thomas

Asperfell_CoverWithBleed_101918Asperfell by Jamie Thomas

Expected publication: February 18, 2020 by Uproar Books Inc

Pre-order this book on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: Only the darkest and most dangerous of Mages are sentenced to pass through the gate to Asperfell.

Not one has ever returned.

Never did Briony dream she might set foot in the otherworldly prison of Asperfell. She was, after all, neither Mage nor criminal. She was simply her father’s little whirlwind—fingers smudged with ink, dresses caked with mud—forever lost in a book or the spirit-haunted woods surrounding her family’s country estate.

But Briony always had a knack for showing up where she was least expected.

Only by braving the gate of Asperfell could Briony hope to find the true heir to the throne of Tiralaen and save her kingdom from civil war. And so, she plunges into a world of caged madmen and demented spirits, of dark magic and cryptic whispers… and of a bleak and broken prince with no interest in being rescued.

Hauntingly beautiful and lavishly told, Asperfell is a must-read for fans of Jane Austen who always wished she’d dabbled in blood magic.

Rating: 2 star

Review:  ***I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Uproar Books!***

I wanted to like this book. I really really wanted to like this book. It is exactly the type of book that I normally enjoy. A young, spunky female lead character. Magic. Society that seems to be based on a Victorian standard. Mysteries. Prisons. Other planes of existence. But I just couldn’t like it.

The writing is very good and thus why I gave this a two star rating over a one star. The dialogue is engaging, the plot moves at a fairly good pace, and the narrative flows beautifully. The first half of the book seemed a bit on the slow side while the second half was very rushed but that is my only complaint about the writing.

WARNING: From this point on there will be lots of spoilers, consider yourself warned.

This book has never met a young adult trope that it didn’t like….and utilize…..frequently. Let me preface where my opinion is coming from on this novel. The very first sentence, before I even hit the first chapter is that the author wants to “smash the patriarchy one novel at a time!”. Now, I will also explain that I am rather tired of reading militantly feminist literature, it seems to be everywhere these days. Normally I can overlook an author’s personal views or opinions about the book and just take the book for the story it presents. But not when that’s what you open with. The very first thing you told me about your story is that it’s smashing patriarchy with its strong female characters so you need to live up to that. You have now infused that idea into your novel and need to deliver.

This did not deliver. Instead I got the same old tired tropes of the young adult genre that feminist readers complain about constantly. How exactly are you smashing patriarchy? By presenting me tropes that I’ve been reading since I was 13 years old?

Briony is just like every young adult female lead character. She is spunky, sassy, strong willed, and bucks the patriarchal system that she was born into. Her older sister is the perfect lady of the court. This isn’t a new dynamic and it can be a good one when used correctly. I didn’t actually mind this because it set up Briony as a character who is questing to be knowledgeable. Knowledge and wisdom will be her weapon in the fight against what society has said her place is. That’s all well and good. My problems start when Briony gets to Asperfell.

Naturally she instantly dislikes Prince Elyan. He is dour, brooding, and wants nothing to do with her and largely he is exactly what one expects from the young adult male lead. I assumed Briony would be on a mission to find the answer to take him home whether he protested or not. But…..she doesn’t. Within the space of a chapter she seems to have completely forgotten about her mission and just goes along with working in the gardens and learning magic all while throwing a glare at Elyan when he deigns to make an appearance. He, of course, is primarily there to ridicule her efforts before disappearing again.

It wasn’t until about the last forty pages that Briony suddenly remembers that she is supposed to be getting Elyan back to their homeland. And only because someone whacked her across the head with the information that would lead her to that goal. She was far too busy trading gossip, learning magic, gardening, and making sarcastic remarks at Elyan to actually discover the answer on her own.

Another trope, instalove. Authors think that they are avoiding this if their characters start off hating each other. But Briony and Elyan go from coldly tolerating each other to gazing at each other affectionately literally in the space of a single dance. So not quite instalove but maybe 3 1/2 minute love? Microwave love? Be sure to wait for the ding!

Briony was also revealed to not be that strong or much of a feminist either. The most offensive example of this is when another character attempts to sexually assault her. Okay, we kind of have to assume that’s what he’s doing because it doesn’t get very far but I’m fairly confident that’s where this was headed. Briony courageously defends herself. She fights off her attacker and escapes to safety before the situation escalates into anything much worse. I was cheering for her! I was so proud of her for reacting in her own defense so decisively and swiftly. But then she decides to have a whole inner monologue about how she feels shame about the situation. Why exactly? Surely you would be feeling scared but also proud of yourself? She even says to herself that she has nothing to feel ashamed about…..but then concludes that thought with “but I do” and moves on. Is this really an example of a strong woman? Feeling shame about something that you recognize should not be causing you shame and during which you admirably protected yourself? I was highly disappointed.

Next we have the other young adult trope that I despise so much. Briony does something very stupid and reckless. She recognizes internally that it was reckless and stupid. But when Elyan points out that it was reckless and stupid then she yells at him about it. Because, how dare he think that he can control her! He doesn’t own her! She can do what she likes without him! Does anyone actually think that this is the makings of a strong woman? Actual thoughts that she had. No one was trying to control her or prevent her from doing anything on her own. She made a reckless and foolish decision, but because a male confronts her about it then he’s controlling. Then later he, naturally, apologizes for daring to question her reckless, foolish behavior because he was just so scared of losing her. And she gets to walk away feeling smug. Strong women rejoice! Patriarchy smashed!

Finally, the ending. We spent a very long time getting to Asperfell. We spent an equally long time gardening and learning magic in Asperfell. That left about 60 pages for the conclusion. I thought the conclusion was supposed to be the rescue of Elyan from Asperfell and delivering him back home. Except that didn’t happen. The book ends with them in the woods. On their way to a potential way to get home, but they aren’t actually sure it will work yet. And of course, it ends with a kiss. Frankly, it left me wondering what exactly the point was? We couldn’t spare another 30 pages to actually get back to Tiralaen? And then end it once they have successfully left Asperfell? I recognize that we’re setting up a sequel here, but the sequel works just as well starting with the moments after they escape Asperfell as the moments before.

Overall, this story reminded me of every single bad young adult novel I’ve ever read. Exactly the same characters. Exactly the same plot devices. Exactly the same tropes.

Review: Penitence by Mark Campbell

43083591._SY475_Penitence by Mark Campbell

Published July 10, 2018 by Darkest Hour Publishing

Buy this book at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

Synopsis: 

A deadly influenza pandemic.

An escaped convict.

A single mother desperate to protect her only child.

As the insidious virus cripples society, providence brings two survivors together in an unlikely partnership to survive in a world fraught with chaos.

In a small poultry farm located in Delaney, Georgia an antigenic shift causes the H7N9 bird flu virus to jump species. The contagion burns through everything in its path despite the federal government’s ham-handed efforts to mask the mutated virus’ true nature. Its unprecedented mortality rate paralyzes the nation and paves the way for FEMA’s martial law to be established across the country.

At a maximum security federal penitentiary south of Tucson, Arizona, Inmate Teddy Sanders’ world of structure and routine crumbles to dust, as the virus starts spreading within the confines of the prison. As the virus callously strikes down guards and inmates alike, the administration loses control and Teddy finds himself fighting enemies both old and new. Circumstances force him to form precarious new alliances in order to escape what has effectively become a concrete tomb.

Meanwhile, fifty miles away from the penitentiary, a young woman named Jane risks it all to keep her young son Danny safe in a residential tower in the heart of downtown Tucson. Surrounded by armed looters and desperate survivors, Jane ventures out on her own to forage for supplies. Not only does she have to contend with those left behind, but she also faces an increasingly hostile military presence.

As their paths cross and inalterable choices are made, will the unwitting pair find salvation?

Rating: 4 star

Review:

***I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. Thank you NetGalley and Darkest Hour Publishing!***

I am a sucker for an apocalypse novel, especially if there are killer viruses afoot. One of my favorite mobile games is about trying to develop a disease that wipes out the population of the planet, so this is something I have a dark fascination about. I am always willing to pick up a novel with that theme. Often times they disappoint, this did not.

We start the book with Teddy. He is our main character and I expected him to be more of an anti-hero. You don’t want to be rooting for him because he was in federal prison for doing bad things to people, but the world is ending and he’s one of few who survived so go Teddy! He was a bit of what I expected, but also came across as a really big boy scout. I mean, come on, we all know the things you did. We all know because you told us fairly quickly and bluntly. So can we please stop acting like he’s a good ole boy who just got caught in an unfortunate circumstance? I really didn’t like that about him. You don’t end up with a life sentence in federal prison because you had a bad day. But, regardless, the plot was enough to move me along despite my irritations with Teddy. In the end I just had to disregard what I thought his character should be and accept what he was and then we got along just fine.

Jane and Danny were fantastic. Jane is a woman after my own heart and I would like to think that in similar circumstances I could show the same resilience. I enjoyed them both immensely and I sincerely wanted to see the three of them ride off into the sunset together. They made me laugh, they made me cry, and I love it when that happens.

The plot was not quite what I expected but I liked how it worked out, which is always a nice surprise. I didn’t expect so much of the story to take place in the prison. But despite not expecting it, I loved it. A completely contained environment that gets infiltrated by a virus that kills nearly everyone it infects. How do you keep order and at the same time try to keep people healthy too? You’re still dealing with bad people who are violent and unpredictable in nature, add in the threat of death and things can spiral out of control very quickly. And spiral out of control they did. It was deliciously devilish.

I liked how the book ended. I understand that the book is expected to be a series, so it makes sense in that aspect. But if I never read the second book I would also be satisfied with how it ended. Teddy is still looking for redemption, trying to be the man that he might have become if not for the prison stint, and being put into a situation that is at once completely alien but oddly familiar. I thoroughly enjoyed it.