Monday, June 6, 2016

YA Review: The Dark Divine Trilogy Part 1

I have had these books a really, really long time. Like. A really long time.

Like the imprint that published these shut down, long. I still want to talk about them, since I talk about everything I read on here, and, you know, support older books too, and all that. But since they are a bit older, and I do have all of them, I thought I would put them all in one or two posts for convenience instead of like four, and also because I don't want to write a regular review in my usual way. Mostly I just want to do something a little different.

Let's just go with it. Assume that there will be spoilers for the first book in the reviews for the following ones, because that is impossible not to do, like even from just posting the summaries.

The Dark Divine by Bree Despain

Published: December 1st, 2009 by Egmont USA
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 372 plus acknowledgements, and an excerpt that fooled me into thinking there was more when I was outside.
Part of a series? Yes, there are three books and an ebook short story in this series as you'll see.
Got via: I was sent it to review. Probably in 2010. I suck.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Grace Divine, daughter of the local pastor, always knew something terrible happened the night Daniel Kalbi disappeared--the night she found her brother Jude collapsed on the porch, covered in his own blood--but she has no idea what a truly monstrous secret that night held.

The memories her family has tried to bury resurface when Daniel returns, three years later, and enrolls in Grace and Jude's high school. Despite promising Jude she'll stay away, Grace cannot deny her attraction to Daniel's shocking artistic abilities, his way of getting her to look at the world from new angles, and the strange, hungry glint in his eyes.

The closer Grace gets to Daniel, the more she jeopardizes her life, as her actions stir resentment in Jude and drive him to embrace the ancient evil Daniel unleashed that horrific night. Grace must discover the truth behind the boy's dark secret...and the cure that can save the ones she loves. But she may have to lay down the ultimate sacrifice to do it--her soul.

Review: I was supposed to read this in 2010. I probably would have liked it a whole lot more if I had read it in 2010. Don't get me wrong - it isn't bad. But a lot of things have changed since 2009, both with YA in general and with, you know, me. It has become a touch dated. Not necessarily in pop culture references or technology - there aren't recent ones, and Grace's use of technology is limited pretty strictly by her religious parents (although, seriously, dial-up?) - but just in certain tropes, themes, and trends that were very popular in YA around 2009 and 2010.

Okay, I'm just gonna say it - this is one of those books from the "Twilight era", and if you didn't like that trend, you aren't gonna like this. I have four different notes in my notebook that are just, "Yeah, I read Twilight, too," which, is overly snarky. That's why I don't post my unedited review notes. I'm not saying copying or anything, just similarities.

So there's a big reveal that you can see coming from page 42, and it takes until page 195 for the book to get to the revealing, and yes, it is a bit frustrating. If you don't want to know the reveal, just stop reading here because this is way too exhausting to hide. Here's the biggie thing - there are werewolves in this book. And at one point, it's mentioned that werewolves wouldn't exist if there weren't monsters. Some of those monsters are named, and it includes demons and vampires. And... yeah, I read Twilight, too :P

There are just a lot of tropes from books of that era at times. Especially first books of trilogies. It ends up being pretty predictable. If you guess something, you're probably right. I predicted pretty much every "twist", and I'm not good at guessing stuff. I have a feeling that will carry through the series to some extant, especially the tropes.

And I know one thing that will likely continue will be the annoying wolf tropes. Like, if it was just the werewolves, sure, whatever, go with your mythos even if it is annoying. But the characters actually talk about real wolves and a documentary about them, and alpha wolves and omega wolves. Wolves don't work that way, guys. It's annoying, and it's another dated trope based on wolves in captivity, an unnatural environment, not wolves in the wild. It kind of ruins it when you know the "alpha" wolf in the wild is just the dad, and then you start picturing werewolves telling Dad Jokes.

Okay, last of my complaining, and then we move on to the good stuff. Things can be very dramatic in this, and sometimes it comes off a little over the top. I don't always get a good suspension of disbelief going, and some of the super dramatic moments can come off a little cheesy. Grace refers to Daniel as "like her brother" or "a brother" in a lot of situations and that's really weird for a guy you want to make out with. Once, okay, but like four times just creeps me out. Here's a random one - where are people finding these magical 2009 payphones? Were they really that common then? A character says once he's going to walk to the nearest payphone - are you walking to 1998?

There are like no POC, everyone's straight as far as we're told, and everyone's thin and pretty. Grace makes a crack once about if she eats too many doughnuts, she won't be able to fit into a dress - not a specific dress, just any dress. They make dresses for fat people, thanks. I own one, even. It's annoying, not a deal breaker, but a little extra annoying when there are literally no fat people. And I think that is the last of it.

Let's talk some good stuff. It's really trope-filled, and full of those trends you expect. I know, I just complained about that. But it's fun, too. It's like watching Christmas specials. If you go into it for the tropes, it's fun. You've got the mysterious bad boy with a heart of gold, you've got a decoy love interest (not quite a love triangle), there's the paranormal aspect. I mean, a romance between a "bad boy" and an actual pastor's daughter? That's a thing people enjoy - literally as I was reading this, my mom was watching the Footloose remake.

I also really enjoyed the small town setting. It's a different sort of town than mine, and I thought it was a great setting. It wouldn't have been the same book set in a city. Grace especially is a small town girl. She's extremely sheltered. She can be a tiny bit mean to her best friend, and I suspect there's a moment where she carelessly misgenders someone without realizing. Either that, or the narrative might. It's not completely clear, so I'm not knocking total points off, but it's confusing and makes me uncomfortable. I really enjoyed that Grace was an artist, but felt it didn't come up enough unless she was in an actual art class.

I think maybe two more things? Her family is interesting. As I said, she's a pastor's daughter, and it's a really interesting dynamic. Pretty much every character in the book, and both the mythos and the general feel of the book, is pretty religious, so if that's not your thing, maybe skip this one, but I do think it's handled well, if a little unrealistically. (Someone in this town has to be an atheist. Someone. Not everyone is religious.) Not all of her family is entirely fleshed out. Her younger siblings suffer from that a lot. But I really look forward to learning more about her parents especially. Her parents are super interesting. There's this suffocating quality about it, this hidden dark side that isn't entirely uncovered, and I'm excited to find out more. Her parents can be very controlling, from not allowing Grace to have internet access unless her mother can check her browser history to not allowing her to wear clothing without sleeves. It's really, really interesting to read about that sort of dynamic in this sort of book. I just want more.

The romance is okay. The book is definitely focused pretty heavily on the romance, and it works okay for the most part. There are moments where it's a bit overdramatic, and I didn't fully believe in how intense it was supposed to be. But, generally, not bad. It works for what it is.

There is an attempted rape in this, so be aware of that, but it's fairly short, and not incredibly graphic. If I remember correctly (the book is in the other room, and I don't want to get up), it doesn't go past kissing, and it's not brought up too often afterwards or in future books.

Oh, I should talk about the cover - it is very pretty, and I still really like the whole nail polish thing they did as swag where it matches, but wow, those legs are thin. Can we have some thunder thighs on a cover now and then? Blessed by Thor himself? Whilst - this joke is going a slightly inappropriate place. But still, why is every cover model so extremely skinny?

Now, to wrap this one up, this was fun. It's kind of like right now how I'm watching a horror movie I know probably won't be amazing, but I'm pretty sure will be fun to watch. Go into it with the right attitude if you're going to read it. I'm going to give it... three roses. Good, but had issues.



The Lost Saint by Bree Despain

Published: December 28th, 2010 by Egmont USA
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Binding: ARC because I have it and I wasn't waiting for the library to ship me a finished copy.
Page Count: 404 in my ARC, and Goodreads says about the same.
Part of a series? Obviously this is the sequel.
Got via: It was sent to me for review.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): A family destroyed. A love threatened. An enemy returns.

Grace Divine made the ultimate sacrifice to cure Daniel Kalbi. She was infected with the werewolf curse while trying to save him, and lost her beloved brother in the process.

Desperate to find Jude, Grace befriends Talbot, a newcomer to town. But as the two grow closer, Grace's relationship with Daniel is put in danger - in more ways than one.

Unaware of the dark path she is walking, Grace begins to give into the wolf inside of her - not realizing that an enemy has returned and a deadly trap is about to be sprung.

Review: Well, this was... interesting. Most of the things I said in the last book are true for this... and that does include some Twilight-like tropes. (A group of mostly werewolf dudes standing around shirtless with tattoos on their shoulders? Yeah, I've seen New Moon, too, guys.) I guessed the ending and the under-lying plot on page twelve. Twelve. It is very predictable, and that got really frustrating in a sequel. I missed one element, but otherwise, I got it all in one sentence. And the tropes are pretty much as dated as in the first. They're 2010 tropes. They have gotten kind of old. They're, at least, sequel tropes, but they are very overused 2010 tropes.

One in particular is, honestly, the love triangle. I think I'm just kind of over them. Especially when it's so obvious how it's being set up. Nothing is subtle. Okay, I'm going to spoil a thing just to point this out, but it's so obvious. Okay, the guy's name as you can see in the summary is Nathan Talbot. Who goes by Talbot. TALBOT. TALBOT. Surprise, he's a werewolf. That just hurt, okay? And Grace never makes the connection. Meanwhile, she's making references to the old Star Wars pre-The Force Awakens, and the original Karate Kid only six months post-remake and the remake seriously wouldn't have been aimed at teens her age anyways, and then she complains that nobody watches movies when they don't get her references. Watch a movie yourself, Grace! (And seriously, make a reference that wasn't from the 80s.)

Sometimes it gets so overdramatic that it becomes cheesy. There were a few moments I snorted in places I definitely shouldn't have, especially when people explain the mythos and werewolf stuff. It can just be... over the top. And Grace seriously has no self-preservation instincts. Besides that Talbot thing, she literally at one points gets into a white van with tinted windows. That is a murder van, and you should know it. There's "sheltered", and then there's "you're a werewolf with people who want you dead and you just got in a murder van".

There were also some things that were just kind of... icky. Grace's very white mom dresses up in a kimono for Halloween - that's kind of disrespectful. There's also a heavy "white things are good, black things are evil" vibe. At more than one point, Grace actually physically hurts Daniel with her supernatural powers, and it's made out to be a bad thing because of how it might be affecting her and her control of "the wolf". Um, Grace has supernatural strength, and her romantic partner is human. It's like she's let off the hook for the possibility of domestic/partner abuse because she's a girl. That's not cool.

And that's really not the only casual thread of sexism normalized in this. The religious aspect in this is a lot heavier at times, and it becomes really preachy at moments. And alongside with that did come some sex-shaming. Daniel has had sex, Grace hasn't, and at one point he literally says, "You're not like those other girls", and that he wants things to be "right" with them. Because their relationship wouldn't be "right" if they had pre-marital sex? I mean, if abstinence is the right choice for her and them, sure, whatever, do your thing. But do we have to push pro-abstinence in YA and especially do we have to shame girls who have had sex like that? I'm not okay with that.

Now, some things I did like - Grace's family dynamic was still interesting, but I wish there had been even more. It touches on it, but not as much as I would have liked. Her family gets shoved aside for most of the book in favour of romance drama, or werewolf drama. She isn't as mean to her best female friend as in the last one, and her friend demands more respect. Like literally, she stands up to Grace and mentions how Grace thinks down on her sometimes. I really enjoy books where girls are monsters, so points to that.

Um. I'm trying to think of more things I liked, but as I'm writing this review, I'm realizing I've kind of got nothing. I really wanted to like this, but I... don't think I did much. It was super frustrating a lot of the time. It's a good concept, but the ridiculously predictable plot just ruined it for me. I spent more of the book yelling for Grace to figure things out than I did actually reading.

I like the cover still for the prettiness factor, but I'm looking at it and trying to figure out how this model's spine works. Where even is her back? So, yeah, it's pretty, but it's not outstanding.

With the first one, I did like it. It had problems, but it was fun to read. This one... honestly, it wasn't fun anymore. It was just so frustrating so much of the time, and the rest didn't make up for it. I want to be able to say it was fun at least, but this one just wasn't. Honestly, I'm going to have to give this two out of five. Hopefully, the next book is better, but I just... it was so frustrating. Two roses.



So, look for part two of this probably next week, maybe week after, depending on how things go and what other posts I have already scheduled.

Hope you guys enjoy this!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

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