Friday, September 16, 2016

Baaaa Goes the Black Sheep | Air Awakens by Elise Kova

This isn't exactly a review...it's more of a discussion on my experience with Air Awakens. I guess that's still technically a review, but it's not the formal type in the way that I will be cross-posting to Goodreads and Amazon. This is just for the blog!

Before I go on, I do want to say that I'm a definite black sheep for this book. I thought of just going without posting about my thoughts on it, but some of the things I bring up may be good sources for discussion.


~~~

I had a REALLY hard time with Air Awakens. It started out fine, but then I started having trouble making myself read it. When I sat down to read the last big chunk of it, the issues I had started snowballing and I ended the book feeling ridiculously upset. (I had a long bout of hiccups right after finishing the book, and it felt weirdly induced by my negative reactions. And then I got more irritated because HICCUPS. That was a bad night...) Hopefully, this post won't feel too ranty because I really don't like ranting online. But oh well. Let's see how this goes.

Issue #1 - Not Feeling Engaged

This book didn't grip me. I found myself constantly distracted. I spent almost an entire day avoiding reading by binge-watching booktube and maybe doing some blog-hopping and post scheduling. And I know I wasn't distracted because I simply wasn't in the mood to read. It was that I just didn't want to read Air Awakens.

Should I have DNFed at that point? Sure. I thought about it, but decided that I wanted to have the option of continuing the series if I wanted and not have to worry about going back to book one.

Issue #2 - The Hype

The plot, characterization, and world all felt . . . standard. Even the magic didn't feel fresh. I don't think this would've been a big deal to me if this wasn't such a HUGELY HYPED BOOK.

Here's what you should know about me: hype hasn't burned me a lot. It hasn't made me wary of books until recently because, well, popular books usually go very, very well for me. I'm not a black sheep very often. If I am a black sheep, I can usually say, "It wasn't for me, but I can see why it's so well-loved."

With Air Awakens . . . I just didn't see that. I didn't feel like this book deserved the hype and that was such a frustrating feeling for me. And I hate even thinking that because I know so many people that absolutely love the series, but I simply couldn't see the appeal. That brings me to the reason I can't give a rating to this book: did I not like the book because the hype confused me or because I genuinely think it's not for me? How much did my reaction to other readers' excitement over the book affect my own reaction? It doesn't feel right to me to those two so closely connected, so I'm going without any rating. 

(Side note: This is why the second half of the Throne of Glass series isn't a part of my TBR at the moment. There's been SO MUCH surrounding this series, including hype, drama, fighting (wtf?!?), probably way more. I don't know where my own opinions end and my reactions to other people's reactions begin! So, I recently decided that I need to be able to separate the books from the entire online community and continue it when I can do that.)

Issue #3 - The Conflict Between Those With Magic and Those Without It

Hey, IT'S TIME FOR AN ACTUAL CRITIQUE

My notes while reading: 

There's supposed to be hatred towards magic and sorcerers, right? The way the main character and other characters react to magic, it seems like there's deeply-run prejudice against it. Right? But that hatred feels so . . . weakly written. WHERE'S THE DEEP-SEATED HATRED ROOTED IN YEARS OF VIOLENCE AND SUPPOSED INJUSTICE? I don't get it.

More notes about a quote: 
"'But-but she's not a person. She's a freak.'"
Whhhaaatt? Where does that even come from?? It feels like possibilities with this class conflict of sorts--sorcerers vs. everyone else--was only scratched at. This lost me. Without feeling that hatred, some of the events in this book just didn't make much of an impact on me. I didn't feel anything in response to them. It also made sure any emotional depth flew right past me. I was frustrated with this because, damn it, this story should've had more to it.

It's been a few days since I read the book, and my thoughts on this have actually strengthened. 

A few things may have influenced my reaction:
  • The last fantasy I had finished before starting AA was Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell. The world is BRUTAL. It's a very fun book, sure, but there's a lot of despair. Like the supposed hatred towards sorcerers in AA, there was this deep hatred towards Greatcoats. Everywhere Falcio, Kest, and Brasti turned, there was someone treating them calling them Trattari (a slur referring to their "tattered" and traitorous coats ) or trying to kill them or reminding them how hated they were in the world. AA felt like it was trying to have this divide between sorcerers and everyone else based on some sort of hatred and having Traitor's Blade's world fresh in my mind, AA's conflict felt like a joke.
  • I read a big chunk of AA a few hours after watching Adriana's Let's Talk: Systematic Oppression & "The Fifth Season. Now, I know. I'm 90 percent sure oppression isn't a part of AA. But Adriana's video is so insightful and made me think about class conflicts/divides/prejudice in fantasy. Then I went into AA and got NONE of that. I wouldn't be annoyed if it simply wasn't a part of the world, but let me repeat this quote that one random character said about the heroine: "'But-but she's not a person. She's a freak.'"
  • I really, really like class/group/etc. conflicts in fantasy worlds. I find them really interesting to read about and they can oftentimes relate back to conflicts in the real world. So, I don't react well to seeing them barely developed.
    • I wonder if this is a bookish pet peeve of mine?  Hmm...
I have a feeling that most readers didn't have the same issues with the conflict as I did and that other parts of the book (the magic, characters, romance, writing, etc.) made them like the book more. But, I had an issue with almost every aspect of this book felt poor to me: one-dimensional side characters, bland heroine, uninteresting world, eh romance, very little romance (on the page--why must so many big things happen when the heroine passes out??), simple plot, very little depth, an absence of the "anger and pain" that was apparently present, a bad attempt at dangerous events.

Issue #4 - Where The Story Is Headed (SPOILERS)

There's a slight chance that I'll continue this series, though I was recently reminded of how many other fantasy series I have yet to finish. (It's a lot.) This series is very low priority.
Soldier… Sorcerer… Savior… Who is Vhalla Yarl?

Vhalla Yarl marches to war as property of the Solaris Empire. The Emperor counts on her to bring victory, the Senate counts on her death, and the only thing Vhalla can count on is the fight of her life. As she grapples with the ghosts of her past, new challenges in the present threaten to shatter the remnants of her fragile sanity. Will she maintain her humanity? Or will she truly become the Empire’s monster?
The most ranty I get in my AA notes is in reaction to the sequel's description because it just solidifies this idea that there's supposed to be more hatred and darkness among the characters. It's supposed to affect Vhalla deeply. "Will she maintain her humanity? Or will she truly become the Empire’s monster?" I look at these words and I'm so . . . confused. There doesn't feel like there's even remotely enough foundation built to make a struggle with humanity and being a "monster" POSSIBLE. Also, she apparently has a fragile sanity and I . . . WHAT. WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN?

*thinks of Adelina from The Young Elites**Thinks even more of Falcio's bouts of madness in Traitor's Blade**compares both to Vhalla*

This doesn't make ANY SENSE to me.

Oh, I've remembered that I don't actually want to read the sequel.

Hype, though. It makes me want to give the series a second chance.

Likes?

If I were to rate this book, the lowest I would go would be 1.5 rounded up to 2 on Goodreads. There were a few things I liked:
  • I appreciated the way that AA addressed sex. It was a super small detail--two or three sentences worth--but it felt refreshing. Vhalla has a little bit of experience, but it wasn't made into this big deal. She has at least one ex, but I highly doubt anyone she was with before the book began will have significant impact on the rest of the series. I don't see this a lot in YA fantasies!
  • The ending was okay . . . or at least, that's what my notes say. Um. I forgot what happened.
  • The idea of the magic was decent. Even though I said it didn't feel fresh, that was a matter of execution. Looking at the magic alone and not considering how it executed in the book, I liked the idea of the different elements. I love magic based on elements.
Discussion Prompts
Where do I even begin? I feel like there are soooo many points for discussion in this post, though my closing questions shall be on hype:

Has hype (or just other people's thoughts on a book/series in general) ever strongly affected your experience with a book? Do you ever get upset with a book and wonder if it was due to frustration with not understanding the hype or your reactions to the book itself?

Happy Reading! ~ Kaitlin ☺

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