Discussion | Why I Struggle With YA Fantasy

YA (1)

Let me preface this by saying I LOVE young adult books, especially YA Contemporary. I also enjoy YA Fantasy. I noticed that the reason why I struggle to find something that sticks with me isn’t that I’m outgrowing the YA demographic, but because romance seems to be everywhere—especially heteronormative, vanilla romance. The Harry Potter series worked because the romance didn’t fully come to fruition until the characters became teenagers and struggled with their feelings, but I felt it was done in a natural way. There were definitely some angsty moments, but I personally felt like it was realistic.

Twilight is a romance first and foremost and a paranormal second. However, I noticed that many YA stories throw in the romance unexpectedly. My first thought is to assume, “Well, it’s YA…YA books just do that.” The Hunger Games included a love triangle even though children were murdering each other. We all kind of accepted that as the norm for some reason. As much as I do feel like the relationship between Peeta and Katniss evolves to something truly meaningful, I didn’t get the point of including Gale for an additional conflict. Personally, I felt Katniss and Gale could have remained platonic.

In Francina’s video, Romance is Ruining Fantasy, she discusses how romance and fantasy have two very different plot structures yet they continue to be mismarketed. Lord of the Rings is pure fantasy. The Notebook is pure romance. I notice a great deal of YA Fantasy looks like mash-up of both.

Every time I open a YA book, I wonder: Is it romance or high fantasy? Obviously, some fantasy has a romance subplot but sometimes fantasy feels like a subplot to a romance. Someone said awhile back that the only way they can read high fantasy is if there’s a romance in it and that’s completely fine. There’s something about romantic emotions in a high-stakes plot that draw us into a story. This formula has been successful for the likes of City of Bones, Twilight, and A Court of Thorns and Roses.

In some cases, the blending of genres can be jarring. For instance, ever since I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone I was completely expecting an immersive, urban-fantasy set in Prague about a girl with a mysterious past and for me personally, the romance came out of left field. The synopsis itself states things like, “bestselling epic fantasy trilogy”. The summary has a passing mention of a “star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past.” I remember that 75% of the book only vaguely hints at the romance until the end and it made it difficult for me to care about the big reveal even though I felt like it was a solid book otherwise.

After watching Francina’s video, I finally realized why my expectations with YA fantasy are constantly at odds when she made these points:

“I think it’s very important to deliver what your promise on the blurb and inside the pages because that’s what I’m going to pay attention to and that’s what my focus is on.” 

 “….a problem that I see in a lot of the fantasy I read is I have no idea what I’m getting into because a lot of them don’t differentiate or don’t seem to know where they stand in the romance field. They don’t know if they’re a complete romance with fantastical elements or whether they’re both romance and a fantasy plot go hand and hand, or that it’s a complete fantasy with a romance subplot.”

“I’m not quite sure all of them know that [romance and fantasy as a genre] are two different plot structures. One is low-stakes. One is high-stakes. And you can’t just match them together or mismatch things.”

Perhaps the romance as a main plot makes the story lighter and accessible. It seems like while teenagers are perfectly capable of deciding what’s too heavy and what’s just fluffy enough for themselves, the maturity in fantasy nowadays does seem to pander to older readers.

A commenter made an excellent point here: 

Comment

I feel like some writers who choose to omit any romance go instantly to grimdark. If it has romance, it’s for teens. If it doesn’t, make it darker and scarier. Are those the only two options? Why is the stigma that female writers can only write fantasy with Twilight-levels of romance? Is it demand or is it supply? Look at any top list of YA fantasy and you’ll see hundreds of books written by women. The themes of those bestsellers almost always include: love interest, love triangle, epic love, romance and the politics and battles are secondary.

I recently had to DNF Legendary by Stephanie Garber for the reasons above. I LOVED Caraval when it was first released, but whoa, there was even twice the romance in the sequel and I couldn’t handle it. That’s okay. It’s meant to be a romance adventure story and I realized it wasn’t for me. While I do recognize I’m not the target age market I personally think some stories could be stronger without romance.

To wrap things up, I think the marketing for YA fantasy can be a tad confusing. If I see the synopsis indicate a badass assassin, a kingdom on the verge of decline, evil afoot, etc etc that’s what I expect. Essentially, if I order savory, I don’t want sweet (or vice-versa). Maybe I just have to come expect romance in YA fantasy. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that. It just meant that gravitated toward adult fantasy sooner. However, I only wish the marketing for YA fantasy was a bit more transparent.

Let’s Discuss

Do you think that YA fantasy has to have romance to appeal to it’s target audience (teens)? Do you feel like the marketing is misleading for these kinds of books? Are you a must-have-romance-so-I-can-swoon type of reader or I need a lot of stab-stab-stab sort of reader? Or do fall somewhere in-between?

 

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Lifestyle | What’s in My Bag? Bookish Edition

I feel like in the early 2010s these posts were going around either on Instagram or within the blogosphere. I wanted to change up my blog content a little bit and do more lifestyle or personal posts on Fridays.

I’m something of a minimalist when it comes to what I put my bag. This is not the bag I carry on the daily. This is what I “pack” when I’m planning to be at a coffee shop for a few hours. As you can see, there’s not a lot of make-up. I do a little something on my eyes and if I’m feeling extra spontaneous, I’ll apply some lipstick. I’m pretty natural when it comes to my face.

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This bag is big enough to fit my laptop if I know I’m going to do some writing. I have a pen, a journal, and my headphones to listen to music. I also bring lotion and lip balm because my skin is always going to be dry, especially a vigilant hand washer like myself.

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I like to have a physical copy of a book, but sometimes I bring my Kindle just in case I want to switch to something else. I usually try to bring an apple or a protein bar to keep me full so I don’t have to buy any food at the cafe, which can get expensive. I also try to eat before I got to a coffee shop or spend a day at the bookstore. My drink of choice is usually a cold brew coffee, a chai latte with soy milk, or an iced vanilla latte.

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These days I don’t do much reading at the coffee shop because it’s usually too loud for me and I get distracted (especially at the Barnes & Noble cafe). However, if I’m just trying to get out of my apartment or practice some self-care, I like to prepare for anything!

Items Shown & Where to Find Them

  • Triple Compartment Tote Bag – Target
  • Kindle Fire HD 8 (old generation) – Amazon 
  • Rose gold wallet – Amazon
  • “Blue Nebula” PopSocket  – Amazon
  • Kind Bar – (Any grocery store)
  • Stabilo Point 88 Fineliner – Michaels
  • EOS lip balm – Target
  • Non-prescription eye-ware/Sunglasses – Amazon
  • Hand lotion – (Any store)
  • Matte lipstick (shade: Devious) BareMinerals

*The mascara pictured was given to me free at Ulta Beauty.

Let’s Chat

What’s a must-have for your day bag? Do you like to read or get work done at a coffee shop?

Thanks for reading! XO

P.S. Yes, you can “steal” my idea 😉

WWW: We Hunt The Flame

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Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the king. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways. 

Both are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya—but neither wants to be.

War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the king on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine. (via Goodreads


I’m going to be honest. I was sleeping on this release for a LONG time. Everyone on Book Twitter has been shouting on the rooftops about it. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe the hype, I just felt neutral. But then the pre-order swag caught my eye. It’s the most gorgeous set of character cards and seeing them made me want to actually meet these characters. I’m VERY picky about my YA Fantasy nowadays because I feel like so often they are too short to truly develop the world and end up being rushed. For instance, I think this book is what Rebel of the Sands wanted to be but failed at. Turns out We Hunt the Flame is a 480-page baby, so I trust that the story will unfold naturally. There are very few releases coming out this Spring/Summer that are high priority. Hafsah Faizal’s debut is definitely up there now!

Arabian-inspired. Muslim written. Powerful characters. Magic. Assassins.

What more do I need? 

We Hunt the Flame is published on May 14, 2019 wherever books are sold.

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READ AN EXCERPT HERE. ADD TO GOODREADS.

 

Review | Vengeful by V.E. Schwab

VIllains (1 of 3)

Summary

“Magneto and Professor X. Superman and Lex Luthor. Victor Vale and Eli Ever. Sydney and Serena Clarke. Great partnerships, now soured on the vine.

But Marcella Riggins needs no one. Flush from her brush with death, she’s finally gained the control she’s always sought—and will use her new-found power to bring the city of Merit to its knees. She’ll do whatever it takes, collecting her own sidekicks, and leveraging the two most infamous EOs, Victor Vale and Eli Ever, against each other.

With Marcella’s rise, new enmities create opportunity–and the stage of Merit City will once again be set for a final, terrible reckoning.” (via Amazon

Year Published: 2018

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Page Count: 480 pages

Rating: ☆☆☆½

VIllains (2 of 3)

Review

Vengeful was probably what the first readers of Vicious were waiting for since the original release in 2013. If I waited five years for the sequel, I might have enjoyed it more. Vicious was fresh in my mind since I read it over 9 months ago, therefore making it too easy to compare.

My 3.5 star rating is mostly based on personal enjoyment. I rounded up Vengeful to 4 stars on Goodreads for quality of writing and the sheer boldness to pull everything off.  V.E. Schwab’s writing is so visual (see the Shades of Magic series) and full of intrigue, that I could totally see her becoming a filmmaker someday.

“There was no place for power like that in the world. She would carve a swathe of chaos, until she was put down.”

I found Vengeful to be cinematic albeit somewhat predictable. Nothing of consequence truly happened until the very end. You know how there’s the basic story telling format (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution)? Vengeful was 80% rising action with little to no climax for me. The stakes weren’t there. No one had anything to lose (or gain). I didn’t question the character’s decisions. I didn’t feel conflicted. The story didn’t leave me with anything to ponder. There were even moments where I felt like reading a biology textbook. In the end, Vengeful was about freedom or free will.

“What if death didn’t change a person’s nature, only amplified it?”

I wish I could say that at the very least I was entertained or amused, but instead I found myself growing bored by every character having an internal monologue of how they thought they were the superior EO and deserved to live or the characters against humans with extraordinary abilities thought they either deserved to die or be imprisoned. I did like the addition of Marcella, but I missed the dynamic of Victor and Eli. When all the characters finally intersect in the end, it happens so briefly. I would have liked more inner EO conflict. Vicious felt more interpersonal. There wasn’t as much believable interactions between characters here.

“Our abilities are complementary. She ruins. I regenerate. There’s a cosmic elegance to it, don’t you think?”

On more of a positive note, I appreciated getting more of Eli’s backstory. I almost sympathize with his motivations and character because of it. Through the flashbacks, we get a sense that he may experience symptoms of behavior typical of antisocial personality disorder. Though Marcella’s storyline is a little bit cliched for what I expect for a V.E. Schwab novel, she is the living definition of femme fatale—something I rarely see in literature. I don’t want to play down the importance of Marcella’s character, but that would mean this review would have to be 500 words longer. Instead, I encourage you to read Chaima review’s and skip to the section where she beautifully summarizes Marcella’s character.

While Vicious was a philosophical, morally gray story with a longtime conflict between two best friends, Vengeful felt surface-level in terms of the relationships and plot. If I had to compare the two, the former is more character-drive, while the latter is action-driven without that pull, that hook, to make me feel emotionally invested in the characters. I wanted so much more characterization but instead the focus was on everyone’s end goal, which were all more or less the same.

Ultimately, Vengeful is a adrenaline-inducing sequel with flare that loses a little bit of it’s fire too soon.

“She was done playing by other people’s rules. Done hiding. If you lived in the dark, you died in the dark. But stand in the light, and it was that much harder to make you disappear.”

Content warning: death, gore, abuse, torture

See below for additional thoughts.

Continue reading “Review | Vengeful by V.E. Schwab”