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Pardon My Manners

Have you ever listened to a song and heard the lyrics incorrectly, but you don’t know that what you’re hearing is incorrect? Then you hear the song again and you still hear the lyrics incorrectly—over and over again. For instance, you hear “Baby, the sound of you is better than a Humvee.” You like the song despite the strangeness of that one line, so you get curious because what does a Humvee sound like, is it really so good that it deserves being in the opening line of a love song, and do people still buy, own, and brag about them? So you decide to look for answers on YouTube.

Then you watch five videos about the sound of Humvee engines—thank you summer. You could have watched 15 more. Then you wonder why there are so many videos about the sound of Humvee engines on YouTube? However, you immediately dismiss this line of thought because you don’t want to get lost in the rabbit hole that is the Internet.

Anyway . . . You discover there is nothing great about the sound of Humvee engines. They sound exactly the way you would expect a tank poorly disguised as a car to sound. They sound like they eat small children. They sound like the roar of the fake dinosaur in Jurassic World 3: Broken Planet. They sound like they would not be included in a love song, so you do what you should have done from the start you google the actual lyrics—“Baby, the sound of you is better than a harmony.” English teacher understand that metaphor.

By now you must be saying, “Hey this isn’t about books.” I respond with, “Give me a minute. I’m getting there. I think. Maybe. Yes, of course I am. Just . . . wait. It’s going to turn into a book review.”

Some confusion can be alleviated. Some confusion can’t be alleviated because there is no right answer. I was able to find answers about a confusing song lyric, but I can’t find answers about how off base a book recommendation can be. The answer of different strokes for different folks usually works for me, but every once in a while that explanation just isn't enough. Such is the case with Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody. It's the story of a sheltered girl looking to unravel the mystery of her mother's disappearance. The only clue she has is a letter from her mother, which leads her to a dystopian city of sin and a crazy cute gang lord with secrets and enemies of his own. Their search will lead them to the darkest of places and the deadliest of circumstances. If you stop reading right now, you might want to read this book because I just made Ace of Shades sound like quite the ride. It is liked by many and loved by some. It is hated by me.

I don’t understand the praise because the protagonist, Enne, is so annoying. If the protagonist was the only problem I wouldn’t be so passionate in my dislike. This book is poorly executed in so many ways—the plot, the characters, and the world building. Perhaps the biggest sin of them all, the book is boring.

The plot is visual dissonance. It’s an ugly patchwork quilt. Pieces of these dystopian novels with pieces of those fantasy novels all sewn together with the weakest of threads. In this case, the threads are the characters. If I could have reached into the book and strangled the protagonist I would have. I would have strangled her until she abandoned her own book. When she talked I hoped a rock would suddenly strike her in the head. I also hoped that someone had tied a note to the rock that said, “please stop talking—forever.” She is absurdly naïve. She lacks even an iota of common sense. She makes stupid choices in service of the plot. She falls in that cliché kind of like with a bad boy who is as bad as the boy who came home 1 minute after curfew. Her character can’t carry this book. You know what else?

This is a book that wants to world build, but it just world dumps. There are paragraphs and pages and more paragraphs and more pages that attempt to world build, but it all comes off as the horrible college professor who spends 90 minutes just spewing information. You sit there bored out of your mind wondering how it’s possible to make history so devoid of joy. Ace of Shades makes world building painful. It’s why I try to avoid high fantasy—not everyone can be Leigh Bardugo. There are examples of showing and imagery and sensory language that prove gorgeous and immersive, and then there is the overdone flowery language and expansive word vomit that rises like a cloying perfume cloud. Guess which one we have here? Near asphyxiation.

The highest praise I can give this book is this: It’s the second rough draft of a novel trying to be the new Six of Crows. Perhaps with the world building out of the way and the protagonist no longer naïve, but possibly still stupid, the second book will rise like a phoenix from the ashes of its predecessor because buried amidst the ashes and rubble there are some aspects that could be better than good. I’ll be hoping those aspects rise to the surface, but I won’t be reading.

I’m just at the point where I feel the YA world is singing one song, but I’m hearing another. What else could explain such disparate views? In 2018, the YA world says awesome and more often than not I’m saying not awesome. I want better than a harmony, but for now I’ll have to settle for that in my real life and keep searching for it in my reading life no matter how long it takes.

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