Wednesday, December 10, 2014

BOOK REVIEW | Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

Just a warning: there are some spoilers in this review that I did not tag, so read at your own risk.

(Also, I feel like I need to say that this review does not reflect what I think of the author herself or of other readers who enjoyed this series.  You are free to love what books you love!  I'm just not able to jump on this bandwagon. D:  Stay chill, my friends. :))

One sentence summary: Celaena Sardothien is now the King's Champion, and must keep up a daily charade of pretending to be his ally while simultaneously plotting to tear him apart; meanwhile she keeps discovering more secrets below the castle, secrets so deep that they could destroy the world.

I once mentioned that a book made me so frustrated that I actually threw my Kindle. Well, this is the book in question. And it was more of a toss. Onto my bed. But the fact remains that I was so flustered and even angered by the ending of this book that I was willing to make my beloved Kindle airborne.

I desperately wanted to love this book, just as I wanted to love the first in the series. Normally when a series becomes wildly popular, I either appreciate the hype or I can at least understand it, but with this series, I honestly just can't. I really do not understand why this series is so popular, and I really do not understand why people prefer this book to the first. I found this book to be worse.

Let me start with what I did like:

Celaena's breakdown: This actually happened in the fourth novella as well, which was why it turned out to be my favorite. Her breakdown provided a much-needed vulnerability to her character for the reader. It was very human of her, and for once she didn't seem so vomit-inducingly perfect. It also reminded us that she actually is an assassin and will always turn to bloodlust when confronted with such strong emotions.

The underground everything: I was glad to see that the underground passageways were still alive and well, considering they were my favorite part of the first book. The mysteries and discoveries and cool traps and doors and hallways, etc. I do have to admit that it's taking a bit of a weird turn, but I still like it.

Celaena actually killed people!: Yay. Because she is, you know, an assassin.

Perhaps the biggest issue is that I simply did not like any of the main characters or the overall plotline; considering these two aspects are what basically make a novel what it is, I may have been doomed to dislike this series from the beginning. Celaena is too perfect, Dorian is too boring and Chaol is too predictable. They all are so stuck in these personality traits that it's hard to see them as three dimensional characters. They are flat and, quite often, unlikeable. I honestly think that Mass has a lot of good ideas, but they're buried underneath her inability to create complex characters and her juvenile writing.

It's not that she's incapable of creating an interesting character, it's just that there's one aspect of them that's so heavily focused on that any other intended trait gets pushed to the side, making them seem like caricatures. Even Nehemia, perhaps the most interesting character, fell prey to this. Maas made her so noble that she seemed almost inhuman. And that's the issue with these characters - they don't feel real. If I'm constantly reminded of how two dimensional a character is, how am I supposed to get into the story?

I'm also extremely unimpressed with the reliance on the shock value, which this book had. I have been in Celaena's head, both as a first person narrator and as a third person narrator. There should be no reason for her hiding the fact that she's a Queen (which wasn't much of a shock) and that she's a faery (which was) from the reader. How could Celaena not once thought of those things? How, as a reader, am I expected to just passively accept this as valid instead of as a ploy to cover up a mediocre story? The thing is, had Maas no decided to pull this, I might have actually enjoyed the book. If she could have just revealed this earlier and relied on her writing to further explain it to the reader while hiding from the characters, she might have had the opportunity to create something fanastic. Instead, she went the cheap route which only served to highlight all of the other instances in the book that felt poorly written.

The ending felt so rushed and so disorganized that I felt like I needed to just buckle down and finish it in order to get it over with. After the original reveal, which is Celaena's faery power, I honestly started finding everything to be ridiculous. Maas seemed to have gone to such lengths to destroy the image of Celaena as a Mary Sue, and then she adds the superhero power onto her, putting the character right back where she started.

All in all, I am still a bit baffled as to why this series is as popular as it is, but I know that I'm very much in the minority on this. I cannot look past being emotionally manipulated by the author and I can't shake the "big reveals" as anything other than a cheap trick to cover up insecure writing.

Friday, December 5, 2014

BOOK REVIEW | Paradise Regained by John Milton

Paradise Regained, while not at the same level of rhetoric and literacy as Paradise Lost, does offer an interesting insight into Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. Milton uses language in order to assert Jesus as the Messiah, and Satan as an agent of evil, which is being used by God, to help that assertion. Paradise Regained is largely static. There is no real rise and fall of tension and there is no real climax, either. Rather, all of the stress is placed on the importance of language and silence.

When comparing Satan and Jesus' speeches, there is an immediate difference: Satan's speech is clouded in "persuasive rhetoric," whereas everything that Jesus says is plain and accessible. Jesus does not need fancy language in order to convey His message. Instead of trying to make Himself more confusing, the Messiah takes language back to its roots and uses it as Adam did (in a way that would be able to communicate with God directly) by keeping it as simple and as close to God as He can.

In his brilliant essay, "The Muting of Satan: Language and Redemption in Paradise Regained," Steven Goldsmith argues that the language Jesus is using is not the same as the language Satan is using. Rather than stay silent while Satan tempts Him, Jesus uses the fallen language in order to thwart Satan and beat him at his own game. In the process of using this language, Jesus is paving His way towards becoming the Messiah by silencing Satan so that His voice will be heard. Underneath all of Satan's fancy word plays lays absolutely nothing. He is the "linguistic anti-christ," who "has nothing to express."

Jesus finally asserts Himself as Messiah and readies Himself to be "all in all" with God towards the end of the poem:

"To whom thus Jesus: Also it is written,
Tempt not the Lord they God, he said and stood.
But Satan smitten with amazement fell."

At first glance, it is easy to see that Jesus and Satan are opposites: one is standing and the other is falling. However, the fact that Jesus "said and stood" is important. It parallels God's perfect speech during the creation of the world: "God said... and there was." This is the pinnacle of the poem - the point where Christ has officially triumphed over Satan and can now go public as Messiah. Satan is allowed to roam the fallen world and has even created a kingdom of his own in Hell and in the sky (according to Milton) where he perversely "blesses" people with wealth, glory, etc. Jesus has to enter the fallen world and first silence its biggest voice before He can redeem it.

"Queller of Satan, on thy glorious work
Now enter, and begin to save mankind."

According to Goldsmith, "the process of verification that is the purpose of Paradise Regained has been accomplished." By using language, Milton paralleled Jesus' own entrance into the world as Messiah by silencing Satan and glorifying Christ.

While I still believe this is not nearly as fascinating as Paradise Lost (and is also much shorter), it's still well worth the read if you've read the former. They really are two parts of a whole. Satan's temptation of Christ not only mimics his temptation of Eve, but it is also referenced throughout the entire poem whenever he feels foiled. This is the finale to Paradise Lost.