Saturday, January 30, 2016

Bits of Books: Murder Girls

"Bits of Books" is a recurring series, full of summarized book reviews, for titles I just can't invest as much time in!

Here's my problem... some of the final books that rounded out my 2015 reading have been stuck in my head. It's a new year and a new reading pool, and yet, I still couldn't let them go without a couple of quick comments. After thinking about them just last night, I decided to dig through the memory banks a little bit, and put together a Bits of Books review for some very similar - yet distinctly unique - books that I soared through over a month ago.

What do they have in common? They're all relatively recent YA releases, with leading lady characters, who sometimes make a habit of killing people. Like, a lot of people. That isn't to say these fearsome females are all alike, though: we've got a trained assassin, saved from an abusive marriage and trained in a convent; a rough-and-tumbleweed Westerner who's looking to take out the gang that killed her father; and a guardswoman, seeking atonement for the covenant she made years ago with a creature of the night, which resulted in the death of her mentor.

Distinct, but still similar enough to make me ponder over these plot choices more than a month after I finished reading them. Do you detect the theme? 

Grave Mercy, Robin LaFevers

Ismae has been marked by Death since the day she was born, and no domineering father nor abusive arranged marriage will ever change that. Spirited away from her confining existence in her village into the welcoming convent of St. Mortain, run by women who still serve the old gods of Brittany, Ismae quickly excels in their tutelage of the arts of an assassin. Soon enough, her skills are needed at play in one of the most dangerous arenas she's ever encountered: deciphering the intrigue and deception of nobility, in the high court of Brittany. 

I heard quite a bit about this book when it first came out from quite a few of the bloggers whose reviews I really trust, but hadn't felt compelled to read it until I was looking to make a quick catch up on my Goodreads goal for 2015. When it comes to the scope of period-set YA, it did a good job building the time setting as a cohesive world, and excelled in fast-paced action; however, I felt the characterizations were fairly two-dimensional, especially in the form of the weak-tea romance. Overall, I gave  this book a solid three stars. 

Vengeance Road, Erin Bowman

Westerns aren't typically found in the YA canon; however, Kate Thompson is just the kind of girl to fix that. After finding her father brutally murdered and her house gutted by fire, Kate rides to the tune of revenge, swearing retribution on the gang that killed him in order to get the map to a secret gold mine. Disguised as a boy to be safer on the trail, Kate is joined by two meddling brothers, and a young Apache girl, and together, they discover secrets that might be best left to die in the Arizona Territory dust. 

I'd heard this novel described by more than one person as being more akin to True Grit than typical YA, and I have to agree: this book is bloody, with more than one significant death, and plenty more gruesomeness mentioned offhand. The West was a wild place, and Bowman definitely doesn't hold back. There are issues discussed in here that might turn people off - for instance, I get my hackles up whenever Native American stereotypes play their part - and I did have some problems with the plot resolution at the novel's climax, but this was honestly one of my favorite YAs that I read in the past year. 4.25 stars. 

Crimson Bound, Rosamund Hodge

A guard on behalf of the realm, after being exiled from her home village due to an act of bitter betrayal against her mentor, Rachelle serves the king as a force against the evil creatures of the night. After being appointed guard of the king's heir, Armand, Rachelle is drawn into a quest for an ancient power that is the only thing that stands between their world, and the world of the Forest. What she might not realize, is that their search has a deadline... and will bring consequences she has no way of predicting. 

After being disappointed by Rosamund Hodge's other fairy tale-inspired standalone, Cruel Beauty, I was a little hesitant to take up this title; however, my good friend Callie already had a copy, and kept me from having to purchase it myself. I was shocked to find that I actually really enjoyed the plot, which had just enough twists to keep me from predicting too much, and the enthralling world that our characters occupied. Additional points awarded for integration of a disabled character, and for not glossing over any of Rachelle's imperfections. 4 stars. 


But like I mentioned before, these books didn't leave an impression on me just by action, world-building or plot alone; it was the cohesive characterizations of each of their female leads, as someone capable of killing - and good at it, too - which made me take pause. 

I'm curious to what kind of social constructions support this recurring theme, as a trend in fantasy and hero-genre novels. We find it everywhere from YA - like Celaena Sardothien, from S. J. Maas' Throne of Glass series - to fantasy - like the lovely ladies of G. R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. The fact that these kinds of female characters are not just so popular, but so well-written, must stand for some moment of greater cultural consciousness in how feminism plays a part in the ways we write our young women. 

What are we, as murder girls, fighting against, or standing for? Why does it lend itself so well to fiction? 

Can you think of any other cool Murder Girls in YA, or general fiction? Have you read any of the books in this list? Let me know, in the comments below! 

No comments:

Post a Comment