Spirit Bound by Richelle Mead

The set-up: After Rose failed to kill her ex-lover, Dimitri, who turned Strigoi (evil vampire) in a previous book, Dimitri sends her creepy-stalker death threat messages. Meanwhile, Rose graduates from the Vampire Academy and goes to the Moroi (nice friendly vampire) Court. From there, everything falls apart. Not the plot, really, although the thread of it winds around, but Rose’s life and handle on the world.

 

Main character’s goals: Rose wants to change Dimitri back from his evil vampire state (think Buffy wanting to save Angel), but failing that, she is determined to kill him (think Buffy wanting to stake Angel).

My reaction: BIG SPOILER HERE, BUT IT ISN’T REALLY A SPOILER BECAUSE THE BOOK DOESN’T EVEN HAVE AN ENDING….Please please please can we just have a beginning, middle, and end in a YA fantasy anymore? Please? I thought this was the last book. Imagine my surprise when instead of a happy ending we are left with Rose about to go to trial for murdering an important Moroi vampire. Imagine the swear words that poured from my mouth in a very un-mommy-like stream. Mmmkay, spoiler over.

Of interest to writers: You CAN write a sequel-begetting ending without cliffhangers. I have seen it done before and done well. Try Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien, for one of my favorite examples, or The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, which I have reviewed here and here, respectively.

Bottom Line: I love Rose Hathaway. She’s tough and gutsy and not afraid to call the Moroi queen a “sanctimonious bitch.” Bella Swan would pee her pants even thinking about doing that.

Second Bottom Line: I have had it with YA fantasies not ending. I am now all about the contemporary fiction. Well, after I read the last in the Vampire Academy series.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

It sounded like a werewolf story to me. And something about the cover art reminded me of Annette Curtis Klause’s Blood and Chocolate:

Hmm, now that I look at it, why don’t we throw Fallen (Lauren Kate) up here?

Lots of unhappy girls’ profiles.

A likeness of my main character will be grinning like a cheesy idiot from the cover of my book if/when it’s published. Because I hear authors totally get their say in cover art.

Yes, yes, this is actually a book review. You know I get side-tracked. By my own brain.

As I was saying, I thought this would be (another) werewolf novel, but no! It’s a post-apocalyptic zombie story! Way cool. A risk with zombies is they end up totally ridiculous (brain flashes to Shaun of the Dead). However, I was pleasantly surprised. Mary, the main character, begins her story with the statement, “My mother used to tell me about the ocean.” Mary has lived her entire life in a fenced village surrounded by wilderness inhabited by zombies, or, as the Sisters (the ruling religious sect of her village) call them, “the Unconsecrated.”

Right away I started making connections to M. Night Shyamalin’s film The Village. While there are a striking number of similarities, I was able to forget them as the novel progressed, because as Mary’s story developed it moved further and further away from The Village.

Besides, Mary’s character is so fascinating I sometimes paid more attention to her than to the plot. I mean, here is a character who has some pretty distinguishing personality flaws, yet I can’t help but love her anyway. She is selfish, obsessive, and utterly winning. The sequel to The Forest of Hands and Teeth doesn’t feature Mary as a protagonist, but I hope she plays a major role.

Not only was the heroine awesome, the writing was lovely! Who knew a zombie story could be so beautiful? The language in this book is so lyrical, the voice so dark, so perfect for the story. I am a sucker for lyrical prose (Roy’s The God of Small Things and Ondaatje’s The English Patient are forever-favorites of mine because of their language, even though the stories are dead depressing and rival Nicholas Sparks’s sob stories for potential in creating tear-filled oceans. But I digress). This novel was not a gory romance teeming with the walking dead. Okay, so it was. But it was so much more than that because of the poetic flow of the language.

Like Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver, The Forest of Hands and Teeth proves that a romance-driven horror story can go beyond the romance and horror if it has memorable characters and simply beautiful prose.

That said, I’m taking a break from YA literature with fantastical elements. I am so saturated in this genre that I’ve started to get pruny, and it’s time for some fresh bathwater. I read a couple of middle-grade books last week, so maybe I’ll review one of those next.