Monthly Archives: August 2016

Mutation–Nerys Wheatley

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Mutation–Nerys Wheatley

 

Plot: 5/5       Characters: 5/5       Writing: 5/5       Entertainment: 5/5       Word Building: 4/5

Mutation is an exciting, action-packed, zombie-filled thrill ride with something for undead fans an non-fans alike.

Alex MacCallum thought life had gone back to normal. Sure, he’s stigmatized like everyone else who recovered from the zombie virus, but at least no one’s munching on other humans anymore. That is until a new strain surfaces, turning its victims into monsters faster than ever before. Now Alex must find out who let this new disease into the world with the most unlikely partner: an anti-Survivor mob-leader who was just trying to run him out of town. Who will turn out to be more dangerous: the un-dead or the living?

I should mention that I’m a bit of a zombie fanatic. The Walking Dead, Zombie Land, The Last of Us, 28 Days/Weeks Later, The Night of the Living Dead, Zombies Run!, the whole shebang. If it’s got zombies, I’ve probably watched, read, or played it, so I was incredibly surprised that Mutation brought something new to the genre: zombie virus survivors (Warm Bodies doesn’t count!). That’s honestly something I can’t say I’ve seen before (seriously, it doesn’t count) and it was enough to hook me on the first page. Wheatley’s spectacular ebb and flow between action and stillness, character development, and unique, although very bizarre, conflicts kept me reading for hours.

Wheatley’s writing is outstanding. She knows just how to balance action, world building, back story, and character interactions without getting lengthy in any one category. Everything feels just long enough to satisfy your curiosity but still leave you wanting more. Her use of dialogue is impeccable as well. Characters give information, but it never feels like exposition. Their conversations feel very natural, which tells you a lot about their relationships without using narration to explain it. Even if you’re not a zombie fan, I recommend you check out Mutation simply for its craft alone. If you write fiction that relies heavily on dialogue, it’s definitely worth taking the time to study how Wheatley uses it, because she’s awesome.

And then there’s the character development, which is also brilliantly executed. The supporting characters are developed enough to be their own people, but not so much that they take away from Alex and his frienamie, Micah, whom I love. His character development is as perfectly paced and fleshed out as the rest of the novel, which is especially impressive considering how easy it would have been to make him easy to hate and condemn. He plays off Alex so well that, even before we get to know him, he’s hard to completely dislike. I at least wanted to see what he would do or say next, even if he didn’t come across as a great person. While I didn’t enjoy Alex to the same extent, his character arc is well done as well, not to mention unique. I honestly can’t say I’ve ever seen a story about an ex-zombie trying to reconcile what he’s been and who he is in society now, which was fascinating.

So, in conclusion, go read this book. Whether you enjoy zombies or not, there’s enough great writing, character development, and excitement to satisfy anyone who is into speculative fiction. And if you are into zombies, there’s plenty of creative, nail-biting, edge-of your-seat undead gore to really sink your teeth into.

“So You Agree? You Think You’re Really Pretty?”

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“So You Agree? You Think You’re Really Pretty?”

In 2015, 18-year-old blogger Gweneth Batemen conducted a personal experiment: when men on social media complemented her on her appearance she would acknowledge that what they said was true. The men would usually revoke the complement as if Batemen’s confirmation somehow voided the fact that she was physically attractive. Whether she was polite or snarky to the people in question, the replies were the same: the men would retract their compliment as if her being attractive was something they could and give or take away depending on whether they liked her response.

A lot of readers saw exactly what was going on: these guys were acting like they were the gatekeepers of Batemen’s beauty and validity. And why shouldn’t they? That’s how it works according to our culture. Young women are often conditioned to take whatever affirmation or validation they’re handed rather than building up their own. That’s why, in Mean Girls, it threw Regina George for such a loop when Cady Heron responded, “Thank you,” to a complement, resulting in the line, “So, you agree? You think you’re really pretty?” 

Mean Girls is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the phenomenon. Other movies, TV shows, songs, and yes, even books reinforce the idea that young women have to be perceived beautiful before they can see it in themselves, especially is the perceiver is a love interest.

We all know the cliché: a shy bookish girl sees herself as plain, unattractive and uninteresting no matter what anyone around her says. Then her potential boyfriend shows up and helps her see how beautiful and wonderful she really is, triggering a boost in confidence, which is usually followed by a makeover. It’s either that or the protagonist simply doesn’t care about her appearance at all.

There seems to be a shortage of healthy middle ground: female protagonists who actually see themselves as beautiful before prince charming shows up or learn it on their own through the course of the book. They’re definitely out there—Rose from Vampire Academy and Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle come to mind—but I’d say they’re definitely a minority.

I understand that seeing yourself as beautiful can be hard. Growing up I was a chubby girl with frizzy hair, a crossed eye and thick bushy eyebrows, so trust me. I get it. It’s something a lot of girls and women struggle with, but what really sounds like it would have a more positive impact on readers: a girl who looks like them who has to be told she’s pretty by a boy who doesn’t exist, or a girl who looks like them and validates her features on her own as she kicks butt and saves the day?

Personally, I like the second better. I wish I had seen more stories like that growing up. It’s something to model yourself after instead of something to chase. We don’t just need characters that look like us, we need characters we want to imitate. I would rather imitate someone who sees herself as beautiful and worthy to be heard and seen, with or without a love interest, than someone who constantly needs it from an outside source. I’m not saying outside validation and compliments are bad, but they should be icing on the cake. We should strive for more than compliments. We should strive for confidence in ourselves and we should encourage others to do the same, even with characters if your craft so requires.

So, to all the writers out there, I encourage you to preform your own experiments. Write girls who love themselves. Write girls who learn to love and validate themselves through their own strength and the help of people other than their potential boyfriends. Give them flaws other than insecurity about their appearance and low self-esteem as you give them admirable strengths. Readers, pay attention to stories with these characters and share them with your friends. Encourage each other and encourage yourself because, whether your real-life prince shows up or not, at the end of the day we’re all we’ve really got.

All Mean Girls-related material copyrighted by Paramount Pictures. Image originally hosted on billboard.com

 

“Love Stinks”: A Cynic’s Look at the Romantic Genre

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“Love Stinks”: A Cynic’s Look at the Romantic Genre

Despite popular mockery and academic criticism, it continues to outsell every genre, including Classic Literature, year after year. In 2014 alone, Americans spent 1.08 billion dollars on these books and it has sparked some the most popular, and most hated, franchises in the last ten years with no signs of slowing down. I’m, of course, talking about Romance: A genre I have spent my entire adult life avoiding like the plague.

Mention Nicholas Sparks and my eyes nearly roll out of my head. Any talk of “50 Shades of Grey” makes me cringe. Bring up “You Before Me” and I just about have a hernia. Romance has always been a genre that earned my skepticism and annoyance, if not flat-out scorn, depending on the book. Its appeal just never made sense to me.

Before I go any further, I feel like I should mention that I don’t actually think love stinks. I think Jamie and Claire in “Outlander” are the ultimate power couple, I’m happy Katniss ended up with Peta at the end of “Mockingjay,” and the only “Walking Dead” characters I still care about are Glen and Maggie, but those relationships all take place within a bigger story. It’s when the whole catalyst for a book or movie is romance that I don’t understand and its huge popularity flat out baffles me. So, like any modern day free-time scholar, I hit up Google to see if I could find some answers.

The first and least believable hypothesis I came across is that the appeal of romance boils down to biology. At first glance, it makes sense. Our culture teaches that women are relational creatures who want stable marriages with men that would provide for their children, as opposed to men who are said to be visual and supposedly have to be dragged into such relationships, so it makes sense that books designed for women would focus on romantic relationships that lead to commitment. A study that appeared in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology in 2009 looked at 15,000 Harlequin romance novels and, just by the titles alone, concluded that women go to these novels because of the strong, financially secure heroes that could easily provide for and protect a family (“Friday Weird Science”). However, on a closer look, this idea falls apart.

For starters, the study itself doesn’t hold up. The words features in titles that feed into the marriage-and-baby hypothesis don’t actually show up that frequently. The most common word in this category, “Bride,” only showed up in 5.5% of the 15,000 titles. Other words such as “Baby,” “Marriage,” and “Husband,” showed up even less frequently. So, even though those were some of the most common words, I don’t think they were common enough to say these ideas are what draw women to romance. This also signals another issue with this hypothesis: there’s too much variety. The fact that there are so many subgenres signals that these books are written to appeal to multitudes of different women from different sub-cultural backgrounds. If the appeal was based on women’s biological need for marriage and children, there would be more consistency in the love interests’ personalities and backgrounds across the subgenres. Instead, each category speaks to different women’s taste and, to some extent, their desires and fantasies.

The second explanation, which I think holds more water, is that romance allows women to fantasize about what they desire from romantic partners, particularly when it comes to sex. This especially makes sense considering how expansive and, shall we say, creative the erotica genre is on Amazon has come to be. Not to mention the (rather unfortunate) overnight popularity of “50 Shades of Grey.” It’s no secret that our culture breaks into a moral panic whenever women, both famous celebrities and the girl next door, express any interest in anything remotely sexual (Ungar-Sargon). We, as a people, dislike the idea so much that we’ve created a whole slew of hateful names and terms for such women. So, why not retreat into the pages of a book to explore such desires free of any judgment?

There’s also the fact that there aren’t any real consequences with reading romantic fiction. Readers can run away with the hero, fall in love then shut the book or turn off their e-reader with no harm done. Many books are even written for such a purpose. A lot of romances feature heroines that are described in relatively little detail so that the reader can place herself in her shoes while, on the other hand, the hero is described in excruciating detail (Fisher). Stephanie Meyer has even said that’s why she wrote Bella as such a lifeless pawn I mean a blank slate. It allows the reader to put themselves in her shoes and escape to Forks, Washington for a while.

As much as I think this theory has an element of truth, I think its applicability is rather limited. As popular as erotic fiction has become, it’s only one subgenre of romantic fiction and, while sex may be a part of the others, it’s typically only a very small portion of a story that focuses on much bigger elements of a relationship and life in general. There’s also the fact that half of romance readers are already married (Rodale). You can’t seriously tell me that most of those women are desperately looking to escape the relationship they already have. So, there has to be more to explain romance’s appeal to so many women. There must be a reason there are so many diverse stories, character backgrounds, and love interests, despite most of them ending in “Happily Ever After.” Turns out, the answer was right in front of my face: these are hopeful stories about women.

Over the years, romance has gotten the bad rap for being about helpless damsels who constantly need to be saved, but the more I think about it, the more I think this is pretty unfair. There are plenty of helpless, useless, downright aggravating women in other genres, but their genres aren’t given nearly as hard of a time for it. Many people who read and write romance cite the popularity of terrible titles for the reputation, which, given just how truly terrible hot-button romance titles have been in recent years, I’m inclined to believe them. These authors and reads also talk about how most romance novels today feature working women, emphasize the importance of economic independence, and, in a world of hook-ups and dating apps, there are still good men worth waiting for (Bateman).  There’s also the fact that romance fiction reinforces the validity of women’s wants and needs in a time when something so basic and universal is politicized and sometimes even villainized (Crusie). If a woman wants to advance her career, she’s somehow neglecting her family. If she wants to focus on being a mother, she’s too dependent on her husband’s paycheck. If she wants marriage but doesn’t want kids, she’s selfish. If she has a checkered past, no matter the reason, she’s “broken” and unworthy of love. Romance, as a huge, diverse, and ever-changing genre, takes all of that, throws it to the wind and tells the reader that truly happy ending are possible, but in our increasingly cynical culture, that hope is seen as a bad thing.

One argument against romance that I’ve heard repeatedly, and that I even believed until doing this research, is that such hope is unrealistic. It’s much more believable for stories to end in some element of tragedy. However, life isn’t just made up of tragedy any more than it’s made up purely of happy endings. Well-written romance (and yes, by now, I’ve read a few for research’s sake) aren’t usually made up only of happy things, anyway. They tackle complicated real-world issues in the context of a developing romantic relationship and, more often than not, the protagonist and her lover triumph together over these issues the end. This results in a reoccurring theme that crosses sub-genre and audience distinctions alike: “We can be happy. Regardless of who we are or where we’ve been, we’re worthy of love, redemption, and personally fulfillment. Happy endings are real.”

That raises an interesting question: when did the idea of happy endings in the real world become something so unbelievable that reading about it became something to be mocked and scorned? That’s a question that will take more soul searching and research than I have left in this article to explore.

So, after all this reading, research, and thought, can I say I like romance? Absolutely not. I still prefer my books filled with magic, explosions, action, new worlds and concepts, and mystery. And the “You Before Me”-induced hernia is still a real possibility, let me assure you. However, I can see the appeal of the genre itself. It lets women explore sides of themselves and walks of life that are often either considered taboo or they have limited access to. A reader can pick up a romance novel and explore how love and courtship work on the other side of the world or in an Amish community, my grandmother’s personal favorite, or they can figure out what turns them on. More often, however, they can catch a glimpse of the world in a brighter, hopeful light. They can imagine endings where women, who might be very much like them, can find love, happiness, and fulfillment in a larger culture that’s constantly telling that such desires are unrealistic or impossible. It’s hope such as this that makes both the romance reader and writer worthy of admiration rather than scorn, even if their tastes might differ from our own.

I only got to really explore three reasons why women read romance, but I’m sure there must be more. Leave a comment below with the reasons you like or dislike romance, regardless of your gender. I’d love to see what you think!

Work Cited

Fisher, Maryanne Ph.D. “How Much Do Romance Novels Reflect Women’s Desires?” Psychology Today. 16 July 2010. Web. 01 July 2016.

Bateman, Freddie. “Why is the Romance Genre so Popular?” Linkedin. 15 May 2015. Web. 01 July 2016.

“Romance Reader Statistics.” Romance Writers of America. 2014. Web. 01 July 2016.

Rodale, Maya. “Who is the Romance Novel Reader?” The Huffington Post. 07 May 2016. Web. 02 July 2016.

Crusie, Jennifer. “Romancing Reality: The Power of Romance Fiction to Reinforce and Re-Envision the Real.” Paradoxa: Studies in World Literary Genres. Number 1-2, 1997: 81-83. Jennycruise.com. Web. 03 July 2016. 

Ungar-Sargon, Matya. “Can You Enjoy Romance Fiction and be a Feminist?” Aeon.co. 25 Sept 2015. Web. 03 July 2016.

“Friday Weird Science: The Evolutionary Psychology of the Romance Novel.” Scienctopia.org. 21 Dec 2012. Web. 03 July 2016. 

Featured image from clipartpanda.com

Article originally featured on tabbyafae.com on July 28 2016.

Everblue–Brenda Pandos

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Everblue–Brenda Pandos

Plot: 2/5       Characters:3/5       Writing: 3/5       Entertainment: 3/5       World Building: 4/5

Everblue is an imaginative and artistic piece that has the potential to reshape the YA fantasy landscape if it had more press. It takes the world of mermaids, which is surprisingly untouched in the paranormal romance subgenre, and gives it some creative and original spins. Unfortunately, the actual romantic elements is lackluster at its best and cringe worthy at its worst.

Ashlyn Lanski is ready for her life to start. With her best friend Tatiana at her side, Ash wants to leave her sleepy home town on the edge of Lake Tahoe, start college, and explore the world. Maybe then Ash can get over her feelings for Tatiana’s brother, Finley, too. Unfortunately, fate has different plans, due in no small part to the fact that Tatiana and Finley are merpeople. For years their family has guarded the ancient gate to Natatoria, their underwater homeland. When a routine meeting in Natatoria takes a strange turn, the siblings find themselves trapped there with Ashlyn still on shore, none the wiser. Can she figure out their secret and help protect their home? Can Tatiana and Finley escape and return to the place and people they truly call home?

I should mention that this review is bit of a rewrite. I read Everblue some time ago before I started blogging. Since it’s not a very long book, so I went back and reread it because I really do think the well-done aspects deserve credit.

As much as Finley and Tatiana hate the place, Natatoria is a lot of fun. The locations are really interesting, colorful, and creative. Given the conflict it brings with it, Natatoria brings out the best in the siblings as well. Finley’s not only frustrated by being stuck in Natatoria, where he knows almost no one, but his father goes on a special mission ordered by the king, leaving Finley behind. Being a seventeen-year-old boy, he’s hurt, frustrated, and tries to prepare himself for the day his dad decides to rely on him. Tatiana is incredibly limited in what she can do due to her gender and mer-culture, which leaves her frustrated and homesick. Both personal conflicts were well-fleshed out, believable, and I’d even say relatable. Around that age, teens want more responsibility. They want to be trusted. They want to branch out and find who they are, regardless what their culture’s customs dictate. I still think that, if Pandos had made the book purely about that, she could have launched a new YA fantasy fad. But, unfortunately, we have to put up with Ash for half of the book.

She’s blander than I remember. Her whole purpose is still to fall in love with Finley through mermaid ritual called “Promising.” Once a couple kisses, they’re “promised” to each other and fall in love for life. Outside of that subplot, Ash doesn’t really do anything crucial to the story. She just lives her normal human life or mopes around missing Tatiana or gives Bella Swan a run for her money in her obsession over Finley. It’s particularly disappointing since there’s so much going on in Natatoria, minus the mermaid misogyny.

The first time around I didn’t notice it as much, but the whole idea of “promising” and the way mermaids are treated sounds a lot like the toxic “purity culture” that plagues certain Christian denominations. Merpeople are “promised” on their first kiss and they will only ever want each other for the rest of their lives, no matter how horrible the other person is. Mermaids have to be carefully watched at all time lest they bewitched mermen who can’t help but fall under their spell. This all sounds like toxic doctrine that I’ve spent years unlearning so reading about an entire mythos built around it rubbed me the wrong way. Especially when there were more exciting, creative conflicts brewing.

Normally I’d just roll my eyes at the “promising” nonsense (lazy romances are a dime a dozen so what can you do?), but there’s also whispers of merpeople going to war with humans, which lends itself to a lot of excitement and build up. Apparently, mermaid magic works on human men too, so why not use their magic as a weapon? That would be awesome to read. Unfortunate for humans, obviously, but awesome to read.

Despite Ash being a cardboard cutout and the whole “promising’ thing creeping me out, I really do think the parts in Natatoria are worth a read. The scenes themselves are fun because you get to see how a society functions under the sea, what newcomers have to adjust to, and the siblings really are more interesting here. Not to mention the potential mer-human war. That still sounds pretty cool. The nice thing is that Finley and Ash’s chapters alternate, so she’s easy enough to skip. Also, I just found out that Pandos is running a promotion where her book is free to download on Kindles, which is always a perk. So, if you like fantasy in general or paranormal romance in particular, dive on into Everblue, or at least get your feet wet.

Starwatch–Ian Blackport

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Starwatch–Ian Blackport

Plot: 4/5       Characters: 3/5       Writing: 5/5       Entertainment: 4/5      World Building: 5/5

With a bounty on her head and her pursuers closing in, Cyriana has little choice but to take a job stealing from Starwatch, a prestigious institute of learning, to get out of Dodge. With a carefully chosen team of liars, cheats, and thieves at her side, Cyriana throws herself into the most dangerous caper of her life in the hope of earning untold riches, but when dealing with life-long criminals, who can Cyriana really trust?

Blackport’s word building is by far his biggest strength when it comes to storytelling. No detail is missed and no stone is left unturned until the reader has a clear, vivid image of this world and the way it works. The detail put into every step of the heist is incredible as well.  Blackport does an excellent job showing what ideas would work and what ideas wouldn’t, who is responsible for what, and everything necessary to get in and out of Starwatch with some unexpected and exciting twists and turns. I also appreciate the effort he put into building a world outside the country the story takes place in. While the land itself seem to be based on historical Europe, there are characters from a variety of nations and, from what I could tell, several different ethnicities, which added to the world being more fleshed out and three-dimensional. I only wish could have been more invested in said characters.

To Blackport’s credit, the dialogue between Cyriana and her band of criminals is very well crafted and they play off each other well, but it all feels surface deep and the characters are a bit forgettable. Outside of traits that help them in the heist and their need to constantly bicker with one another, none of them have much personality. There’s only one scene I can remember where two characters really connect and share some of their history, but the second character doesn’t even share her story with the audience. The chapter ends just as she’s beginning to talk. Then I blatantly forgot about a character and his roll  until two other characters talked about him because he hadn’t left a single impression on me. When you have as many important characters as “Starwatch” does, that can be a problem. Especially since the whole payoff of the book is to see if they succeed and get out unscathed.

At the same time, I acknowledge that Blackport might have been trying to write a world and/or idea-driven story rather than a character-driven one. If that’s the case, I’d still say he succeeded. It just would have been nice to care a little but more about these people who are faced with such a dangerous task.

If you’re into fantasy, or criminal fiction for that matter, I still think “Starwatch” is worth a read. The heist, which is the main focus of the novel, is expertly crafted, exciting, and full of surprises. The world is well-constructed, convincing and lends itself to a lot of future adventures. I just hope the people in those adventures turn out to be a bit more sympathetic.

Originally posted on tabbyafae.com on Aug 7 2016

Someday Girl (The Someday Series: Book 1)–Melanie Shawn

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Someday Girl (The Someday Series: Book 1)–Melanie Shawn

Plot: 3/5       Characters: 4/5       Writing: 4/5       Entertainment: 3/5

          “Someday Girl” is a well-written, heartfelt love story and a great introduction to the New Adult genre.

Cat Nichols has needed to get out of her famous mother’s shadow for some time now. Moving away to college happens to be the perfect opportunity. As Cat’s life fills up with great friends and interesting classes, she begins to see herself  in a new, healthier light. Then, she meets Jace Butler, the sexy bartender with shadows of his own and an infatuation with Cat that won’t let up. Can Cat and Jace outrun the shadows holding them back from starting a new life together, or will they be swallowed by the demons that lurk there?

As someone who doesn’t usually like romance, I have to say that “Someday Girl” was pretty good. Both Jace and Cat are well fleshed out and believable enough. They play off each other okay. Not great, but okay. Instant infatuation just isn’t my cup of tea when it comes to writing devices. It sort of defeats the purpose of making the characters get to know each other in my opinion.

I really appreciate that Jace is a genuinely good guy, despite his rough past. He never uses what has happened to him as an excuse to be mean or hurtful to Cat or anyone else. If he had turned out to be a total jerk because of what he’s been through, I probably would have stopped reading. My tolerance for manipulative/abusive love interests has been at “0” for some time now. He does inevitably mess up, but you can see why he makes the choice he does and he eventually sees where he goes wrong, which was great to see in terms of character development.

The writing is also well crafted. The narration alternates between Cat and Jace’s point of view and Shawn does an excellent job giving them their own voices. She doesn’t just rely on telling us who’s talking, like I’ve seen in many books. She actually gives both characters distinct idiolects that work great for their personalities and backgrounds. Alternating narrators takes a lot of effort, trial and error, and attention to detail, so kudos to Shawn for pulling it off so well. I just wish the great writing could have made Cat’s self-perception a little more original and creative.

In Shawn’s defense, she does a great job explaining why Cat sees herself the way she does, but I really wish she would have tried a little harder with the resulting insecurities. There’s a few mentions of her feeling a bit awkward in social settings, but most of the focus is on how Cat doesn’t see herself as beautiful. She sees herself as smart and capable, but for some reason she can’t realize that she’s physically attractive. It usually wouldn’t bother me that much–just about every young female protagonist seems to have this issue and I doubt that’s going to change–but everyone constantly harps on her about how gorgeous she is. Apparently Cat is kin to Aphrodite herself, so if she could go against what she’s been told and see that she’s intelligent, what was stopping her from realizing she was pretty before Jace showed up?  If Shawn had focused on one particular physical shortcoming—or if the protagonist actually had a physical shortcoming for once—it could have worked, but as is, Cat’s insecurity about her appearance feels flat and doesn’t garner any sympathy from me as a reader.

But, like most romances, the most important element of the book is the interaction and relationship between the two leads, with Shawn does really well, both through the characters themselves and her excellent writing. So, if romance is your thing and you’re looking for something to read, give “Someday Girl” a try.

Gods Inc.–Sarah King

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Gods Inc.–Sarah King

Plot: 4/5        Characters: 3/5         Writing: 3/5        Entertainment: 4/5         World Building: 3/5

“Gods Inc.” is a creative thrill ride with plenty of twists and turns to keep readers engaged from start to finished, but its unstable world building and bland protagonist hold it back from being anything truly spectacular, which is rather unfortunate considering its potential.

David never believed in the afterlife until he wound up there. After a terrible car accident cuts his life short, David finds himself knocked from his high-flying business executive position down to the rank of ‘rookie’ in a realm called First World. Here, spirits of the dead are called ‘Players’ and control the lives of living people, which are called ‘accounts.’ These spirits compete to prove themselves valuable to the companies of First World so that they can move up the ranks, avoid reincarnation, and even become gods. Give the life he just left, David figures he can climb the spiritual corporate ladder in no time, but when he finds out that a devious Player is in control of his wife’s account, David sends his new career off the tracks and avows to do everything in his power to protect her.

“Gods Inc.” has a strong enough story to keep readers engaged from beginning to end. Regardless of the world and the characters in it, it felt crucial that I saw the book to the end to see if David won, his wife ended up safe, and how many mysteries of First World were solved. Thankfully, the answers for all those plot elements were incredibly satisfying and surprising. Not everything or everyone was what they seemed and First World and King knew exactly what to reveal and when. The twists were set up perfectly, but weren’t obvious, they never broke any of the rules the author set up, and they moved the story along beautifully. She even kept enough mysteries up her sleeve to write a sequel if she wants, which I think could actually be pretty good. The nice thing about fantasy/sci-fi stories like this is that their stories have endless potential and “Gods Inc.” is no exception. Hopefully, if King does write that sequel, she’ll take time to flesh out First World and David, because they both could use some work.

I tried to be open to the idea of a soul’s existence in the afterlife being dependent on nine-to-five desk jobs because I thought it had some pretty funny potential. If David had been disappointed in First World or if other characters were used to make some decent commentary on modern Western society, I think First World could have been a lot of fun, but King takes the idea completely seriously, which is a bit disappointing. Even if it is in the afterlife, who wants to read about the daily goings on of a normal office? Not to mention, if it’s meant to be taken seriously, it doesn’t hold up. It sounds like souls all over the world end up in First World, but how are souls from different regions of the world supposed to adapt to an afterlife where the culture and customs are clearly based on England? Do they just get reincarnated? That’s problematic for obvious reasons. The way demons and guardian angels work isn’t explained very well either. It sounds like there’s a need for balance between the two, but towards the end a character mentions that too many guardian angels are running accounts, but the Gods mainly work for the demonic side. So why not get rid of the guardian angels and only keep spirits who clearly have a darker energy? As engaging and exciting as the story was, the flimsy world building kept pulling me out to ask questions that weren’t answered very well. Hopefully, if King writes another book, she can take the time to work all of that out, because it really does have some potential. Sort of like David.

I understand that David is supposed to be a jerk and is supposed to get a redemption arc when he’s in First World, but redemption arcs don’t work very well when the character in question keeps being a jerk. Maybe it’s because we didn’t see enough of David when he was alive, but his life in First World doesn’t strike me as a huge improvement. His only real redemptive actions involve saving his wife, but that doesn’t feel like a huge stretch since, as a married person, you’re supposed to protect your spouse. Yes, he was never very nice to her, but he never said or did anything that would lead me to believe he would let anything life-threatening happen to her. If he had stuck his neck out for more people who didn’t really benefit him at all, the redemption arc could have worked but, as is, it falls flat.

All that being said, I still think the story alone is worth checking out. It’s simple enough to follow and get invested in, but has enough surprises to keep you guessing and curious. If you just want an exciting story filled with unexpected twists, “Gods Inc.” is an enjoyable read. Just don’t think about any of it too hard.

As posted on tabbyafae.com on July 14th, 2016