Sunday 23 October 2016

'Young Adult' is in need of a definite shake-up

Ensnared By AG Howard Amulet (2015) €11.99 HHIII

I WAS speaking with a pal who is an actual young adult - although at 20-something, she's just that bit too old for the genre, which is designated for readers from ages 12 to 18.

I was saying how tired I was of the relentless use of the love triangle and she rolled her eyes, agreeing with me that the literary device was getting boring. Here, in the last of a trilogy (also: trilogies! We are both pretty fed up with those, too), the author has 'solved' the problem of having to choose one boy over the other - or, has completely copped out, depending on your point of view.

Alyssa Gardner is a direct descendant of Alice Liddell, who was made famous thanks to Lewis Carroll's famous books.

Alyssa's adventures, however, are to be tainted by notions of mental illness - her mum, after all, has been committed due to her emotional instability.

Alyssa is afraid she's inherited the condition via an ability to hear the voices of flowers and insects.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was pretty dark; here, we go deeper, and are constantly questioning the difference between creativity, imagination and delusional madness.

In this series, Alyssa embraces her heritage and enters Wonderland, taking with her Jeb, her best friend from the human world and her unrequited love, and is guided by Morpheus, a sexy and slightly scary dude who becomes the third corner of the triangle.

Alyssa is torn between the two, as each offer her something different, and no matter the battles without - she needs to save Wonderland and by extension the 'real' world, from the Red Queen - Alyssa's internal battle is, of course, as big a part of the narrative.

I didn't warm to Alyssa, even after three novels; this could have been deflated into two books, if duologies were a thing in publishing (they're not).

I do give Howard credit for making the adults in the novels rather meaty as opposed to being two-dimensional totalitarian obstacles, and she has a handy way with the Wonderland language.

Still not convinced by the romantic conclusion though: the 'cake and eat it too' vibe is just too handy.

Descent: Son of a Mermaid

By Katie O'Sullivan Wicked Whale Publishing (2015) €6.32 eBook HHIII

The adult characters here are along the lines of those unfortunate two-dimensional totalitarian obstacles, both on land and sea. Shea is uprooted from his home in Oklahoma and sent out to live with his gran in Cape Cod, following the death of his dad in a tornado.

His mum disappeared when he was young - or did she? Poor dude can't a straight answer from any of the grown ups - which is certainly part of the journey, but here, the obstreperousness of the older generation is pure caricature.

Under the sea, mermaid Kae isn't having it any easier: her family serves the royal clan, and there's all sorts of political wrangling going on, and she spends most of her time eavesdropping - a handy way to get all sorts of pesky facts out of the way for the reader.

The story on land flows much better than that under the water (paradoxically); yet many of the devices give a feeling of déjà vu:

Shea carries a special mark on his skin, and has green eyes just like his missing mum, there's a prejudice for mixed genetics in the undersea world - all shades of Harry Potter.

Some of the writing is fun, and the character of Hailey, Shea's landlubber pal, is especially enjoyable, but I can't imagine how this tale will hold up beyond this first instalment.


By Michelle Madow Barclay (2015) €3.42 eBook HHHII

Another love triangle, another trip through time and space - sort of. Lizzie Davenport is already feeling disillusioned about her relationship with long-term boyfriend Jeremy, but when new guy Drew shows up at her school, she's even more confused.

How can she feel so attracted to this dude, especially when he starts dating her BFF Chelsea? She can, if she's been reincarnated from Regency times, with special emphasis on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

It's a clever idea, because if social mores have changed, emotional mores haven't.

There are intimations of class differences too, that ring as true as they did in Elizabeth Bennett's time, if not quite as strictly. Lizzie begins to get flashbacks that might explain her connection to Drew, if she could manage to explain the phenomena at all.

Here, the story gets a bit woolly: she meets a genially mysterious shopkeeper who just happens to give her, among other things, a first edition of Pride and Prejudice; the first flashback is so far removed from the second that their use as a narrative driver loses steam; and Lizzie herself lacks spirit.

Her inability to stand up to soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Jeremy is worrying in the extreme, and her general lack of backbone doesn't make for a very interesting main character. All's well in the end, which I didn't quite understand as this is, of course, a trilogy.

A sneak peek at the next instalment is all about Chelsea and her long-time love of Jeremy. This isn't a spoiler, as it is made known almost from the first page, and one wonders why we were told that up front, rather than letting this little bombshell unfold dramatically.

Madow's grasp of adolescent politics and challenges is very good - enough so that I shuddered at the thought of having to go through that ever again.

Reincarnation certainly has its drawbacks!

Hero Born

By Andy Livingstone HarperVoyager (2015) €26.99 HHHII

A medieval vibe with some Game of Thrones thrown in, here we have a boy who becomes a slave after the pillage of his small town.

Brann is clever, though small - or clever because he is small, and works his way up from galley slave to page in the court of a lord who has more enemies than is probably comfortable for the young boy's wellbeing.

Heroes aren't forged in complacent societies though, and naturally, there is enough conflict for Brann to hone his burgeoning gifts.

There's quite a lot of over-writing going on, and explaining to excess.

Livingstone has a way with action scenes, and despite these being the biggest culprits of the exhaustive description, they are often breathtaking in their drama.

It's Brann though, a truly wonderful character, that makes it worth it all in a somewhat slow, if rich, read.

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