... or where I ramble on about two books instead of one.
So this past week I read two books, Rampant by Diana Peterfreund and Demon Girl by Penelope Fletcher. Rampant I bought at the store, mostly because the cover was pretty kick-ass (I mean, swords and unicorns. I'm in.) Demon Girl I had grabbed up for free for the nook a few months ago and it's been just sitting on there waiting to be read. I had high expectations for Rampant, I'd heard some great stuff about it, the ratings and reviews on GoodReads were pretty positive, and after reading the synopsis I was pretty stoked to dive in. Demon Girl on the other hand I had no expectations for. I hadn't heard anything about it and hadn't even looked it up on GoodReads. Needless to say, it didn't really have anything to live up to. Now here's the thing about expectations, they are usually unattainable. Occasionally a book will totally live up to the hype, but it's rare. Look at some of the great series' whose final entry falls short for one reason or another (ahem...Mockingjay). The chance for disappointment is huge. Now, having no expectations? There's really no where to go but up. Either the book is just meh, which isn't a let down since you weren't expecting anything to begin with, or it exceeds expectations and you are pleasantly surprised. It's probably easy to see where I'm going with this as it pertains to Rampant and Demon Girl but I'll let the reviews speak for themselves. Fair warning though- there will be some spoilers in these reviews, I couldn't really get around it, and since these are not new releases I think it's fair game. So let's get to it...
By: Diana Peterfreund
Release Date: August 2009
Forget everything you ever knew about unicorns...
Real unicorns are venomous, man-eating monsters with huge fangs and razor-sharp horns. Fortunately, they've been extinct for a hundred and fifty years.
Astrid had always scoffed at her eccentric mother's stories about killer unicorns. But when one of the monsters attacks her boyfriend—thereby ruining any chance of him taking her to the prom—Astrid finds herself headed to Rome to train as a unicorn hunter at the ancient cloisters the hunters have used for centuries.
However, at the cloisters all is not what it seems. Outside, the unicorns wait to attack. And within, Astrid faces other, unexpected threats: from the crumbling, bone-covered walls that vibrate with a terrible power to the hidden agendas of her fellow hunters to—perhaps most dangerously of all—her growing attraction to a handsome art student ... an attraction that could jeopardize everything.
So, as you may have guessed by now this book fell way short for me. I was excited to read it, I liked the idea that we were going to see unicorns in a new light and I especially liked that the main character, Astrid's, path was dictated by the life of Alexander the Great. I saw so many cool ways this could go. And go they did. I was really into this book for about 90% of the pages.
To start I really liked the mythology behind who the unicorn hunters were, that they were descendants of Alexander the Great who had a great war horse, which was actually a unicorn. I liked how that whole plot line played out, the interweaving of Alexander and his horse, the mythology surrounding Diana and the virgin hunters and then how these girls are called upon to take up their place in the line of hunters when the unicorns re-emerge. Peterfreund does a phenomenal job creating this world, I felt like I could very clearly picture everything from Astrid and Giovanni to the Cloisters to the different types of unicorns. I never felt the need to page back and remind myself which was which- from the Zhi to the Karkadann I got completely what they were and what they looked like. Each hunter was well thought out and their reasons for being there played out nicely. I was completely with them as they struggled to become not just good hunters, but good unicorn hunters and as they contemplated what being a hunter meant. It was all very well done and then, for me, it crumbled.
Going into the last section I felt like there were a lot of loose ends. What ever became of Brandt, Astrid's sort of boyfriend who was attacked by a zhi and then miraculously cured by a unicorn poison remedy and then subsequently disappeared? To me it seemed like it was heavily hinted that the Gordian, who was bankrolling the hunters training may have taken him to perform tests on him. How about Seth, the seemingly good guy who we end up finding out was being paid by Gordian to deflower Astrid's cousin? He also disappears, but to where. What of the other hunters that the Gordian is supposedly keeping and running tests on? We know one was sent in to be a spy at the Cloisters (she changed sides), but what of the others? These are just three plot lines that are left completely unanswered. The final battle is supposed to be epic, but to me it was an epic let down. There was none of the gore and violence we saw earlier in the book, I wanted to see the girls really fight, but instead it seemed like they just walked on in and got down to slaughtering the unicorns. It ends and the head of The Gordian is taken out by the Karkadann and then it's over. I finished it and literally thought "Huh. So that was odd." Not the best way to end a book.
Others loved this book, so it's entirely possible I missed something, or that these things will be answered in the sequel, but on it's own I thought this book could have been great if it wasn't for these few things that closed the book out. (I'll talk about sequels in a minute)
By: Penelope Fletcher
Rae Wilder has problems.... Supernatural creatures swarm the earth, and humanity is on the brink of extinction. Stalked by a handsome fairy who claims she is like him, demonkind, Rae thinks maybe it was a mistake breaking the rules by going over the Wall into demon territory. Plunged into a world of dark magics, fierce creatures, and ritual sacrifice, she is charged with a guarding a magical amulet. The changes to her mind and body are startling, but rather than accept her purpose she struggles against who she is destined to be. Throw in a big lust for a vampire who can't keep his hands off her, and life starts to get complicated. Rae is forced to make the ultimate choice: to live and die human, or embrace her birth-right and wield magics that could turn her into something wicked, a force of nature nothing can control.
As noted I had zero expectations going into this book. I picked it for three reasons.
1. Cool cover.
2. It's YA Paranormal/Dystopian
3. It was free.
That simple. I grabbed it several months ago and let it sit on the Nook for a rainy day. To be sure there were some things about this book that I wasn't a huge fan of. I know formatting is sometimes not the authors fault with eBooks, but there was definitely some wonkiness going on. Random paragraph breaks and extra letters floating around here and there. I've taken other authors to task over things that could be fixed with better editing so it's only fair I mention it here, but honestly, the issues were few and far between, and it didn't really take away from the experience at all. So with that out of the way, did Demon Girl exceed expectations? Absolutely. This was a really interesting story that mashed together dystopian (which I love) and the supernatural (which I also love).
Our main character is Rae and she is a bit of an odd ball. She's an orphan, in training to be a cleric (aka Demon Hunter) and, oh yeah, she also happens to be a demon. I liked that Fletcher jumped right in with the fact that Rae is a demon. There was no beating around the bush, no "is she or isn't she", just Rae is a demon, the worlds about to go to hell in a hand basket (again), so what is she going to do about it. I really appreciate that. That being said, I would have liked a little more background on some of it. There were a few moments where I stopped and thought "huh?" but all in all it was well done.
So to the story, the Rupture was an event where the balance of power tilted and vampires began eradicating humans who began walling themselves off for protection. Rae lives and trains in one of those enclosures, but ventures outside to run despite the dangers of demons. It's outside where she meets Breandon, a fairy who revels to her that she is a fairy as well. Then her world pretty much spirals out of control as various demons come out of the woodwork and they all want something from her. She's bonded to Breandon, she has some crazy attraction/attachment to Tomas (a vampire) and the various fairy factions all want her on their side as a new war flares up. She not only has to deal with understanding who and what she is, she has to decide what her place will be as the power struggle comes to a head. Another thing I appreciated was that Fletcher didn't shy away from taking out a character in the process of building up the tension. Violence wasn't hinted at, it was shown. Fletcher did a great job at showing the good, the bad and the ugly of what life post-Rupture would be like.
And now the so what moment of this post...
So what does all this mean? Well, I guess what struck me was how expectations really change how I look at a book. I'm not trying to compare the books in any way, since they are really too totally different stories, but how I went into them certainly is worth thinking about. It's possible that Rampant never stood a chance with me, with what others were saying any little thing would mean that it simply couldn't live up. The fact that there were some fairly big things missing meant that, for me, it was a huge let down. Demon Girl on the other hand couldn't really fail. Even with the minor issues, it still was better then expected. Had I gone into both expecting nothing, then both may have been seen as successful. The opposite applies as well, if both were supposed to be fabulous then any issue in either would have resulted in my disappointment. It's funny how expectations can do that.
Awhile ago I mentioned sequels- and I'll make one brief observation about those before I end this colossal post and call it a night. Both Rampant and Demon Girl are the first book in a series. Book two in both are out now. My library has neither, so if I want to read them and find out what happens I have to purchase it. I already bought Demon Day for my Nook (it was $2.99), I might not read it right away, but I intend to find out what happens next. The sequel to Rampant, Ascendant, is also available for the Nook ($6.99) but I just couldn't buy it, no matter how badly I want to know if those loose ends are ever tied up. I felt like the level of disappointment that would occur if I spent more money and still was left empty-handed would be too much. My expectations have now flipped. I fully expect Demon Day to live up to Demon Girl, so I'm willing to pay for it. I expect nothing from Ascendant, if I get the chance to read it for free (come on library!) I will and hope that it leaves me pleasantly surprised.
So what do you guys say? Do you hate it when books just don't live up to the hype or do you ignore the hype completely (which is seriously hard to do!)? And finally- want to give any of these books a read? Head to the library, or your local bookstore and see what you think!