ARC review: Renegades by Marissa Meyer

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So, I love Marissa Meyer.  It’s no secret.  I love the Lunar Chronicles.  I love her short stories.  I even loved Heartless, even though it nearly ripped my heart right out of my chest.  (Fitting, I guess.)  So it’s really no surprise that I also loved Renegades.  To be fair, it’s a pretty big departure from her previous works.  This is no fairytale retelling.  No, this is a fantasy novel set in a futuristic world of prodigies, normal people with superhuman talents that choose to become heroes or villains.

It takes a while to immerse yourself in this story.  Not only is there is a pretty large cast of characters, but they all have multiple names – their real, everyday name and their superhero (or supervillain) name.  In addition to that, you have to remember what side they’re on, what their power is, who their friends are, what their goal is.  Honestly, the best advice I could give you is to take notes at the beginning.  I wish I’d done that because it’s a whole heck of a lot of information to keep straight.

But even with that fairly steep learning curve, this was an incredible book.  Marissa Meyer has such a way with words and characters and intricate plots.  I could easily see this becoming a blockbuster movie.  In fact, I sincerely hope that it does.

Keeping in mind that this is an ARC, I’m really hesitant to go into detail with my review.  The writing is spot-on.  The plot is interesting and unique.  The pacing is pretty even throughout but ramps up in the last third.  And the ending?  My poor heart was beating out of my chest.  I need the next book.  I have so many unanswered questions that I can’t even ask because they would spoil the whole book.

To be honest, I can’t even believe that I somehow got an ARC of this book.  This is like the peak of my book blogging career.  Thank you so much to Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends and Netgalley for the free copy.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

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Book review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Goodreads • Amazon
Publication Date: November 8, 2016
Source: Borrowed

Long before she was the terror of Wonderland—the infamous Queen of Hearts—she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

In her first stand-alone teen novel, the New York Times-bestselling author dazzles us with a prequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

 

“When pleased, I beat like a drum. When sad, I break like glass. Once stolen, I can never be taken back. What am I?”

Heartless is, like all of Meyer’s work, a retelling. This time, she’s retelling Alice in Wonderland from the perspective of the Queen of Hearts. But during the majority of this book, Catherine is just a normal teenage girl. A normal teenage girl who only wants to be a baker. Who only wants to be left alone to live her life. Who certainly does not want to deal with the affections of the idiotic King of Hearts. Who has less than zero desire to be the next Queen of Hearts. All Catherine wants to do is open a bakery with her best friend, Mary Ann.

Her family has other aspirations for her. Her mother thinks that she’d be crazy not to marry the King. A royal life– who wouldn’t want that? So the King’s kind of stupid… whatever. A proposal from him would change Catherine’s life. And so her mother pushes… and pushes… and pushes. Absolutely disregarding Catherine’s discomfort with the whole idea. Not even taking into consideration that Catherine’s affections might lie elsewhere.

Because Catherine is quite taken with the new court joker, Jest. Jest is mysterious, charismatic, and gorgeous. Jest can show her places and things she’s never seen– never even dreamed of. Catherine falls hard and fast for Jest. But are his feelings real? Can their secret romance survive the pressure from her parents and from the King?

Am I still crying? I think it’s definitely within the realm of possibility that I am still crying. I went into this book knowing what would happen. Knowing that Catherine turns into the cruel Queen of Hearts. Knowing that there’s no possible way that everything works out in her favor. But still hoping. Hoping that somehow, some way, Marissa Meyer would work her magic and just let everybody be happy.

Yep, still crying. Definitely still crying.

But I recommend this book so much.

You don’t have to be a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland to enjoy it. The characters from the original are all there, but they’re different than you might remember. It was a simpler, happier time. Much less violence and decapitation. And really, your heart doesn’t get ripped out until the very end. Meyer almost had me fooled.

I wish that I could have lived in this book for a little longer. Part of me wishes that there were a sequel coming, but I also know that this story is finished. Still, I can’t wait to see what Meyer comes up with next.


For my 2016 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #32: the first book you see in a bookstore. (Which was actually the first book I saw on the Overdrive homepage, but close enough.)

  Goodreads   Amazon

This is the only book of the Lunar Chronicles that I haven’t purchased. And why? Because four of these short stories, which is almost half the book, are available online. I’d already read them. It’s not so much that four of the nine stories are online freebies; it’s more that I don’t see the sense in buying something when I’ve already read a large chunk of it. That said, I recommended it to my library and they bought it, so it’s a win-win all around.

There’s not a lot that’s new here. Even setting aside the stories that I’d already read, the amount of actually new information is minimal. What this collection does is fill in the blanks between books. It provides another point of view for scenes we’ve already seen. It’s because of this that, despite how much I may have enjoyed some of these stories, I don’t think I can give this collection more than three stars. At this point, it seems almost like milking this franchise for all it’s worth.

Read on for my impressions of the nine stories. Note that I did not do any re-reads. Links to my original reviews below.

The Keeper (★★★☆☆): Snippets of Scarlett’s childhood, including a lot of new information about Michelle Benoit. It’s a little disjointed, but it fills in the gaps regarding the connection between Cinder and Scarlett pretty nicely.

Glitches (★★★★☆): You can see my original review here.

The Queen’s Army (★★★★☆): You can see my original review here.

Carswell’s Guide to Being Lucky (★★★★☆): You can see my original review here.

After Sunshine Passes By (★★★★☆): Poor baby Cress. This is the story of how she came to be alone on that satellite. Excuse me while I cry.

The Princess and the Guard (★★★★☆): A very cute story about Winter and Jacin while Winter was growing up. Also includes some not-very-cute parts which made me very sad and/or angry.

The Little Android (★★★☆☆): You can see my original review here.

The Mechanic (★★★★★): Cinder and Kai, the original couple. My original ship from this story. I loved going back to the start and seeing Kai’s perspective when he first met Cinder in that mechanic shop.

Something Old, Something New (★★★☆☆): Like an epilogue to the epilogue, this short story focuses on the wedding of one of our four couples. It’s cute and sweet, but I could have done without the other couple getting in on the action. (No names to avoid spoilers as much as I can.)

In my original review of The Little Android, I said that it was a worthy read for a fan of the Lunar Chronicles, but not Meyer’s best effort. I think that applies also to this collection. It’s a brief, rather enjoyable read, but it’s nothing new or exciting. Still, worth it for those who want to hang on to this series for just a little while longer.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

Every time we get a new cover in the Lunar Chronicles series, I think it’s the best so far.  I don’t own Stars Above yet, but it is on my list (and I’m hoping and praying and crossing my fingers that my library will get it soon) and it is glorious.

PS: I’ll read anything Marissa Meyer writes, and there’s a 128% chance that I’ll love it.

   Goodreads   Amazon

The Lunar Chronicles is one of my favorite series in recent memory. I’ve loved it since I first picked up Cinder on a whim and couldn’t put it down. I loved Scarlet, even though her and Wolf weren’t my favorite characters of all time. I loved Cress the most, I think because she’s just a normal girl in love with her idol, just trying to do the right thing and save the world. But Winter, the conclusion of this series, is my least favorite of the books. Don’t get me wrong. I still loved it. But I think there’s too much going on, too many plot threads to be wrapped up, too many characters to save, to really give justice to the end of this series.

There will be mild spoilers for this book, as well as the rest of the Lunar Chronicles in this review.

Let’s start with the good.

Winter herself is an awesome character. As the unwanted stepdaughter of the cruel Queen Levana, she’s been forced to witness public executions in which Levana forces her subjects to kill themselves, often as a result of their honest mistakes or very minor crimes. Levana, jealous of Winter’s developing beauty, forced a young Winter to mutilate her own face so that Levana would continue to be the most beautiful woman alive.

Having seen the devastating effects of Levana’s manipulation, Winter vowed to never use her Lunar gift (or “glamour”). As a result, Winter suffers from the Lunar sickness. She often experiences hallucinations, most frequently believing that’s she’s turning to “ice and glass” or that the walls of the palace are bleeding.

Winter knows that everyone believes that she’s crazy. She herself knows that she’s not completely sane. But Winter uses her own brand of manipulation to do what needs to be done. She can pretend to have a hallucination so that her guards are distracted. She can use her exceptional beauty to convince someone to help her. Most of all, her quirky charm and kind, honest personality are hard to resist.

Winter’s relationship with Jacin is cutest, sweetest relationship in the whole series.  Winter’s father was a palace guard before he married Queen Levana. Jacin’s father was also a guard. As children, he and Winter often played together, and as Winter grew older, Jacin was her only true friend. Jacin later became a palace guard for Queen Levana, but as we saw in previous books, it’s clear that his loyalties lie with Winter alone.

Jacin is the only person who can coax Winter out of a hallucination. He is the only one throughout the book that we can trust to protect her. But this is not one-sided. Winter also protects Jacin. After Levana punishes Jacin for his betrayal in the previous books, Winter rushes to his side. Unable to tend to his wounds, call a doctor, or even bring him food for fear of Levana doing worse, she comforts him until her own guards drag her away. Winter would rather die than let anything happen to Jacin.

While there is a lot of romance in this book, it is not the main focus. A lot of fantasy books turn into glorified romance novels as the series goes on. There’s nothing wrong with romance, of course. I love a good romance novel, but what I don’t love is when a previously action-centered series decides to focus on what’s happening in the main character’s bedroom instead of the conflicts upon which the whole series is based. Luckily, that doesn’t happen in Winter.

Yes, there are a lot of ships. Cinder/Kai, Scarlet/Wolf, Cress/Thorne, and Winter/Jacin are all present and accounted for. Yes, these pairings are so in love. Yes, they are concerned about what happens to each other. But they don’t let that get in the way of exposing Levana’s tyranny. They’re still focused on their rebellion. The pairings are separated many times throughout this book, but they don’t hide in their bedrooms crying about it. They get stuff done.

Now, for what I didn’t like so much.

This book is really long, and a lot of it is repetitive and unnecessary. These characters are fighting a war. Obviously some things are going to happen. They’ll be separated. Someone will be captured. Someone will be tortured. Levana will manipulate someone. There will be near-death scenarios. The characters will come together again. But this happens over and over and over and over again. Ad nauseam.

I get that these things are going to happen. And I’m glad that Cinder and her friends didn’t just storm Artemisia and have Levana fall at their feet, willingly relinquishing her crown for the good of the planet. What fun would that have been? But how many times can I read about Levana manipulating the couples into hurting each other? How many times can Cinder almost die, only to find a way out in the nick of time? How many times can someone think their partner is dead, only to rejoice when they find out they’re alive and well? How many conflicts can be repeated before I start internally rolling my eyes?

I thought that there were some serious similarities between the Lunar districts and what we’ve seen in other YA dystopian novels. In Winter, we find out that Luna is divided into many districts focused on industry. There are mining districts, farming districts, lumber districts, and so on. By design, it is very difficult for these districts to interact with each other. Most of them are very poor.

Then we have Artemisia, the capital of Luna, in which everybody is fabulously rich. The outer districts are told of food shortages while the citizens of Artemisia gorge themselves on expensive pastries. The outer districts wear neutral-colored clothing and expose themselves to life-threatening elements while the people of Artemisia dress as butterflies or glamour their shoes so that it appears as though they’re walking on fish bowls. The outer districts have curfews and watch mandatory propaganda videos while the Artemisians seem to have few rules.

Sound familiar? I mean, I’m not going to accuse Marissa Meyer of copying anything, but I could’ve done with a bit more originality.

SPOILERS AHEAD

SPOILERS AHEAD

SPOILERS AHEAD

Levana’s demise was just a little bit too convenient. We’ve got three books and how many novellas building Levana up as this viciously brilliant ruler. She’ll stop at nothing to get what she wants. She’ll kill, she’ll maim, she’ll lie and cheat and steal. That’s just what her character is. So I was really, really looking forward to finding out how Cinder would take her down. What kind of glorious battles would they have? What kind of propaganda would Levana crank out to deter support from Cinder? What kind of crazy awesome plan would Cinder come up with to cleverly take back Luna?

I was a little disappointed. Because the way Cinder takes back Luna is – spoilers ahead, if you didn’t already notice the warning – by exposing what’s behind Levana’s glamour. A lot of reviewers have taken issue with this, saying that for a series that has focused on Cinder’s struggle with her appearance, it’s unfair of her to rely on Levana’s insecurities to take her down. I understand that, but it’s not the part that I’m most bothered with.

Levana’s weakness has always been her appearance. I mean, she’s outlawed mirrors. She won’t allow herself to be filmed without a veil. She mutilated her own stepdaughter so she couldn’t turn out prettier than Levana. The woman is obsessed with her looks. In a way, it makes sense that Cinder would use that as a means of taking her down. But what disappoints me is that it’s all Cinder (or Marissa Meyer, depending on how you want to look at this) could think to do.

Levana is so upset, so heartbroken, so shattered to be seen without her glamour that she loses control of her soldiers. She loses control of her guards. She can hardly keep control of one person because she is just so distraught that everybody now knows how scarred and disfigured she really is. She pretty much gives up. Sure, she puts up a bit of a fight, but mostly she’s just slumped over in a chair, waiting for the end.

For a character who was so strong, so vicious, so powerful to be reduced to a whimpering blob… it was disappointing. It was convenient. Because Cinder was worn down too. She’d been fighting, she was injured, she was working without her usual cyborg functions. She would have lost a physical fight. Cinder’s made a lot of progress with her Lunar gift, but she’s still no match for Levana. She would have lost a battle of manipulation. I thought maybe we’d get a battle of wits, but no. We get a saddened, defeated Levana basically just giving up. All because people saw through her glamour. It’s unfortunate. All that build-up, just to be let down in the end.

Overall, though, The Lunar Chronicles is one of my favorite series to date. I would recommend it to anybody who’s interested in the YA sci-fi/fantasy genre. I can’t wait to get my hands on Stars Above.

Final rating: 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 given how much I love this series as a whole.

For my 2016 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #18: a book that’s more than 600 pages.

It’s almost February already, and, by the way, February is looking like it’s going to be an awesome month when it comes to new releases.  There are six that I’m really looking forward to.

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– Starflight by Melissa Landers (2/2/16) 
– Stars Above by Marissa Meyer (2/2/16)
– Morning Star by Pierce Brown (2/9/16) 

I just realized that these are all star-themed!

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– These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas (2/9/16)

– A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab (2/23/16)
– The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine (2/16/16)

We’ve also got two shadow themes down here!

What new releases are you looking forward to?