Friday, October 17, 2014

Faces of the Dead by Suzanne Weyn

Genre: Historical fantasy
Series: Nope, standalone
Pages: 201
Rating: ***
Princess Marie Therese Charlotte, daughter of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, lives in a bubble. When she switches places with her maid, Ernestine, she expects to find adventure and freedom. Instead, she stumbles into a gritty, poor world where the people of France cry out for bread and royal blood. Then revolution strikes. Marie Therese and Ernestine switch places again, this time for her safety. She finds work as a head collector at the guillotine and romance with Henri, a peasant boy. But Marie Therese isn't the only one who's more than she seems. Their friends Madame Groshaltz and Rose (the future Madame Tussaud and Josephine, Napoleon's wife) conduct strange experiments on the decapitated heads that seem designed to raise the dead.
At barely 200 pages, Faces of the Dead is scrawny for historical fiction, especially one that takes place in such a dramatic time period. The French Revolution comes to life through grotesque details, like the way Marie Therese comes home from work covered in blood splatters each day. We see her fall from princess to pauper, which means character growth for her and balanced perspective for us. Fantasy elements and historical elements compliment each other, and though it's more factual than fantastic, the magic gives the story a dramatic twist at the end. The romance doesn't develop as much as I would've liked, again, thanks to the length. I read it in a day easy. If that's what you're going for, Faces of the Dead is quick look at the French Revolution with more grit than glamour. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Blackout by Robison Wells

Genre: Dystopian
Series: One sequel, Dead Zone, released earlier this month
Pages: 426
Rating: ****
Jack and Aubrey just want to survive homecoming night. But when superpowered terrorists destroy the nearby Lake Powell Dam, they're rounded up along with the rest of their school for military testing. The Erebus virus only mutates the young. That means any American teenager could be a terrorist-or the nation's only hope. Alec and Laura are captured, too. Alec's just biding his time until he finds a way out, but Laura couldn't be more thrilled. Finally, she's on the inside.
Wells' characters' powers are more diverse than stock abilities, like flight and shape shifting. Jack's senses are enhanced and Alec can subtley alter memories. Those who do have common powers, like Aubrey's invisibility, get unusual twists. Aubrey's powers only affect those standing near her, leaving her vulnerable to snipers and security cameras. They also come with physical drawbacks ranging from weight loss to kidney failure.
The terrorist's motives are extremely vague. It's not until the end that we find out which country Alec and Laura work for. Though they often allude to being trained as terrorists from childhood, we don't get many details. No doubt we'll learn more in the sequel, though.
My favorite, tried and true dystopia tropes are here. Post-apocalyptic hysteria! Rot and ruin! Tyrannical government! Black Out takes place close to the present day, so we get to watch the government crumble instead of picking through the rubble, and the characters comment as it falls. And, of course, what would any YA dystopia be without the oppressed teens? Emphasis on the teens. The author uses the word "teens" in dozens of situations where a real teenager would say "people", "guys", or "crowd.
Aside from that, Black Out's wholly enjoyable. Chapters are short and readable, but not so short that they lack substance. The POV switches off between the four main characters, but it's told in third person, so no confusion there. Yes, Alec and Laura are main characters. No, they aren't sympathetic. They're manipulative liars who aren't content to let the world burn unless they light the match. Some readers, those who look for relatable protagonists, will be turned off by this. But I read for variety.  They're a refreshing departure from the typical Good Heroes.
Black Out is another great read in the ranks of YA dystopia.