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The Good, the Bad, the Meh: YA Trilogies
This review discusses the following trilogies: Ascendance, Chaos Walking, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Divergent, 5th Wave, Grisha, Half Bad, Hunger Games, Infernal Devices, Legend, Maze Runner, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Red Rising, and Shatter Me. If you plan on reading these trilogies, or are in the process of reading them, know that there will be spoilers.
Divergent- I liked the first book, but then it went downhill. At first, I admired Tris for using brains and bravery to get ahead of her own physical weakness, and I enjoyed reading about Four because his character was interesting. But it went wrong in Insurgent, and got even worse in Allegiant. Reading Insurgent was like reading a more violent New Moon. Four: “I’m protecting her by keeping these secrets. It’ll only put her in danger if she makes well-reasoned decisions pertaining the necessary information I’m holding back!” Tris: “I’m a terrible person… I killed someone… I have a boyfriend, friends, and a brother to live for and a revolution to fight in, but… I feel bad. Let’s sacrifice myself!” This happens for the entire book, and leaves the much less interesting Evelyn in charge.
Do I even want to go into Allegiant? Why not, I guess. Question one: Did Four do some mind-meld thing with Tris and become her? Because they sounded exactly the same. I had to flip back to the beginnings of the chapters to figure out who was talking. Not to mention that the author really wrote herself into a corner- Bureau of Genetic Welfare? Really? What kind of hackneyed, ill-contrived plot did you write?! A girl (read: special snowflake) discovers the truth about society and must be the face of a revolution to help protect the ones she cares about. Umm… Hunger Games? I wanted to like this series, really, I did. But the last two books killed it.
Maze Runner- Again, cool idea, poor execution. A maze full of amnesiac boys and robot spiders? How could that go wrong? Well to start, Thomas was unrelatable. I just didn’t really care about him. Again- just like every single book under the Bad Trilogy section, he was a ‘chosen one’, another special snowflake. Only he could beat a Griever; only he was some telepathic little leader. The only character I liked here was Newt.
But my real issue was with the plot. Oh, Lord, the plot. Let me ask you something, WICKED: how on Earth is killing off your only potential cure with weird robot spiders in any way reasonable or intelligent? Where did you get the money to build not one, but two giant state-of-the-art mazes, and why not save people with that money instead? Not to mention that the last book in this series was crushingly dull. Once more, crushed potential.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone- Someone told me I just had to read this. Given that this is the same person who told me to read Twilight, I should have steered clear. But I read this series and wanted to cry for YA fiction. People think this is romantic? Akiva tried to kill Karou with a sword, but she falls in love with him anyway? Really, you’ve got to be kidding me. I did enjoy Brimstone, but he was only alive until the end of book one. Oh- there’s something else. Akiva is partly responsible for Brimstone’s death, for her whole adoptive family’s death, practically, and she still loves him. What? Thiago wasn’t a compelling villain, I didn’t care about the angels, I didn’t really care for Karou- I mean, the girl could practically do anything. She could fly, travel all over, speak a ton of different languages; it’s like asking me to feel sorry for a blue-haired James Bond who was formerly a beast thingy. Not gonna happen. Everyone in this series was either totally OP or utterly useless (hi, Zuzana).
Legend- Again, two overly special characters: Day and June. Perfect June is a perfectly perfect prodigy who is perfect at every skill her society needs and perfect in looks too, because we just have to have a love interest. Perfect Day is a perfectly perfect Robin Hood sort who is perfect at being a people’s hero, and perfect in looks, naturally. I can’t really think of any major flaws that the characters have, and although the first book in this series was decent enough, the other two practically bored me to tears.
Shatter Me- Where to start? Wow. Okay. This series had potential, too: a crazy powered girl and a revolution? Sounds like X-Men meets Hunger Games, right? Well… it was more romance than revolution, and the writing. The writing took ‘purple prose’ and multiplied it times 1,000. It spent a chunk of the book talking about a bird with zero relevance to the plot (not that there was a plot). There were sentences like this: "Her life was too glamorous for the leashed legacy of her loins." "He was wrong. He was SO wrong. He was more wrong than an upside-down rainbow." "I don't understand why I need to wear clothes anymore and I'm a cumulonimbus existence of thunder and lightning and the possibility of exploding into tears at any inopportune moment.” I get that Juliette is nuts, but what the heck do those even mean? The books are peppered with this kind of writing, and it’s like reading the most pretentious poetry you can find, covered in glitter.
Not to mention, Juliette is a Mary Sue if I’ve ever seen one. In the third book, she practically becomes invincible. There is no suspense if the character literally cannot be hurt. And: villains! Where are the villains? Warner had potential, but no, he’s actually a good guy because love interest. His dad/Adam’s dad was a pretty awful villain too- ‘yes, I’ll hand my son who hates me a gun, and tell him he has to kill the person he loves. What could go wrong?’ Then: romance. Okay, no. I don’t care for romance personally; don’t mind if it’s there, don’t mind if it’s not. But this. In the first book, Warner is shown to be a brutal and quite frankly terrible person- he shoots someone, forces the protagonist to torture a baby (so she thinks), makes unwelcome advances, and shoots the main character’s boyfriend right in front of her. Yet oddly enough, she feels some sort of strange attraction to him. What?
So in case I somehow didn’t make it clear, I believe that this series has a lot of flaws. The writing, the characters, the romance, the lack of any sort of backstory for the world. It’s a shame really, because it was a cool idea.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children- I really liked the pictures that this series incorporated. I really liked the fact that those pictures weren’t Photoshopped or edited. I even liked the first book. Although superpowers has been done, and so has time travel and angels-versus-demons, it was neatly done, blended together very well. I could sympathize with Jacob, I liked Emma, and the weird little quirks of the peculiars were great. So what went wrong? The sequels did. Hollow City bored me, until it reached the villain, Caul. Finally, I thought, a villain that didn’t die and isn’t an unintelligible monster. But Caul proved to be a disappointment, with one-dimensional plans and cheesy dialogue. Unfortunately, even an entire third book couldn’t raise my opinions of him, and only lowered my opinions of everyone else. Plus the happily-ever-after ending? This isn’t Fairyland.
The Hunger Games- I loved the first two books. Katniss was strong, didn’t take any nonsense, and had a good personality. She was devoted to her family, to the point of practically agreeing to a death sentence for them. Rue was cute, and her death made me a little sad. Thresh was pretty cool, Foxface was clever, Cato and the Careers were threatening, Haymitch was funny, and Peeta was likeable, even if he wasn’t my favorite. The Games were interesting to read, and the author didn’t spare any of her characters pain- she deafens Katniss, removes one of Peeta’s legs, scars every character mentally and physically- which I can appreciate, because it’s a fight to the death. Of course there’s pain. This series would have made the Good Trilogies, except for Mockingjay.
Mockingjay is when Katniss goes from tough and bold to whiny and narcissistic. She spends the book whining about Peeta and how she just has to be the Mockingjay. I mean, she could go back to living in a coal-mining ghetto and fighting for her life just to entertain futuristic Lady Gagas, but c’est la vie. I didn’t appreciate the change of character there, nor did I particularly like the ending. So this series is great if you don’t count the third book.
The Fifth Wave- Again, first two books were amazing, and the last one made me want to cry for a totally ruined series. Cassie was a sarcastic and fairly realistic protagonist, which I have to give the author credit for: he’s a grown man, writing from the point of view of a teenage girl. While Ben’s being alive was basically a way to have a love triangle, I liked his character too. Sam was adorable, and Ben’s squad was pretty cool. Vosch was a good villain, smart and competent. The twist at the end of Infinite Sea was one that I really enjoyed. I mean, if they’re not aliens, then what are they? My one issue with the first two books is Infinite Sea’s changing tenses- it goes from present tense to past tense all over the place. But then it pulls the same thing that Hunger Games did.
The Last Star. Oh, wow. Umm… that one was pretty bad. Not only did it take up 75% of the book with filler nonsense, but it didn’t answer any of the questions that the other two books presented. Is Vosch really human? I don’t know. Why wreck 99% of mankind? No clue. Why give Ringer abilities? Reasons, I guess. What happened to all of them? Well, Cassie died. That’s all I know, really. That book was a snooze-fest, and I’m doing my level best to erase it from my mind. So once more: great series except for the last book.
Half Bad- Again, same issue. It was an interesting premise, with White Witches and Black Witches competing and Half-Code Nathan caught in the middle. He’s the son of a dead White Witch and the world’s most wanted Black Witch, Marcus. Nathan, as a powerful and rather angry renegade, wants to rid Great Britain of the tyranny of White Witches. So he draws a crowd of witches that feel the same to start a revolution, with the help of daddy dearest Marcus, who finally shows up for the first time when he turns seventeen. You get to watch Nathan struggle with morals, decisions, and sexuality, and watch him see the damage that small and big actions alike can cause.
But once more, I look to the last book: Half Lost. During that book, I was bored and a bit ticked off, because I felt like nothing happened until the very end, and the end was unsatisfying. Nathan’s practically insane at the end, the two tyrants are dead but there’s no new government, and Gabriel died. It just irritated me. So again- read the first two, skip the last one.
Grisha- I’m going to be honest: there are only two characters that I actually liked. Nikolai was funny and clever, and the Darkling was a complex and fantastic villain. Alina was whinier than Katniss, Mal bored me, and the other characters were okay-ish. The first two books were pretty good, but again, not the third one. So why is this series a Meh? The two aforementioned characters were great, especially the Darkling, who made my Best Book Villains list (that article can be found on this website too). And the world-building was amazing. Absolutely amazing. I can imagine the world vividly, and all the Russian roots and legends only add to its appeal.
Chaos Walking- One of the things I love here is that the idea is so original. A new civilization on a new planet, but the planet ‘connects’ with inhabitants, giving them Noise. Noise is basically your thoughts, projected out for all to hear. Anyone who can control their Noise, however, has an immediate advantage- so naturally Noiseless women and the men who can handle theirs are at an advantage. The main villain (who also made my Book Villains list) is a master at controlling his own Noise, to the point where he can attack people with it, or possibly sway their minds. It’s a brilliantly set up series, with a protagonist who really grows and questions to answer, especially about redemption.
Although the first book was a Meh in my opinion, the rest of the series was absolutely fantastic. The writing style was unique, the characters didn’t stick to tropes, and the last two books were full of tension and suspense. So if you’re looking for some good sci-fi, this trilogy may be a good place to start, because it was amazing.
Infernal Devices- I will say that Mortal Instruments wasn’t my favorite series. Other than Valentine, Jace, and Magnus, I didn’t really care about anyone. This series has much more likeable characters, each with their own wonderfully set up dilemma that adds tension to the story. If you liked Jace, you’ll like Will. Jem is sweet and considerate, even in the face of death. Tessa is the sassy bookworm, which I can connect to. There’s also adorkable inventor Henry, proud leader Charlotte, quiet but smart Sophie, the Lightwood brothers, and even Jessamine (even though I hated her). The story successfully blends Victorian-era London with the Shadowhunter world established in Mortal Instruments, showing the past of some of the modern era’s most prominent families and characters.
While I saw the twists in Mortal Instruments coming a mile away, I didn’t see some of these coming- notably Mortmain. He almost made my villains list, because he was clever and disturbing, with a complex plan and the brains to pull it off. I don’t like villains who are shown to be tough and difficult to beat, then go out with ease, and Mortmain did not disappoint. Only through nearly killing herself can Tessa overcome him. If you like historical fiction and the supernatural genre, this series is a perfect blend. You don’t even have to read Mortal Instruments to understand what’s happening, so it works as a stand-alone series.
The Ascendance Trilogy- The rightful heir to the throne is a prankster and a teenager. What can go wrong? Oh, yeah- a load of other countries are ready to invade. The cool thing about this series is that the boy king Jaron manages to win out over his enemies through trickery, and it was believable. Jaron was funny, Imogen didn’t take anyone’s excuses, Roden was conflicted, Amarantha was the commando princess, and Tobias was basically a reflection of the teenage nerd. Stick them in major positions of a country and watch what happens. I might be a bit old for this series now, but it was funny and I really did enjoy it. Good for fans of historical fiction and action.
Red Rising- This series had not one but two villains make my list. That alone shows how amazing the characterization is. Each character had their own distinct personality: the tortured hero (Darrow), the bold genius (Mustang), the conflicted warrior (Cassius), the prodigy wordsmith (Roque), the foul-mouthed but loyal friend (Sevro), and far more than just them with very different personalities. No villain was easily called evil, because you could see the good things they did- the way Augustus cared about his son, the way the Jackal saved his sister in Golden Son, the way the Sovereign protected her grandson. No hero was easily called good, because they were more complex than that and clearly did the wrong things for the right reasons. It made for a multi-dimensional and very suspenseful story, because every character’s actions directly affected each other’s.
And the politics in this story are believable and fantastic. I remember reading The Selection at the request of a friend, and thinking, Why would America go to war with China? It’s not realistic; too much of our business is tied up with theirs, not to mention that war is expensive and it would cause massive damage to both countries. But this story creates a very believable political setup, with hidden favoritism, bribes, schemes for positions of power, blood feuds, brazen rebel factions, and violent civil wars. There are people fighting for positions and warring to keep the ones they hold. That’s hard enough to write on just planet Earth, but this series takes place in outer space, so you have Luna, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, the moons of Jupiter, and the moons of Saturn each with their own political happenings and supports.
There are so many great things about this series: the characterization, the politics, the plot twists, the descriptions, the tension and suspense, the moral ambiguity, and the symbolism. I also loved the fact that the author was not afraid to put his characters through tremendous pain. It’s one of my issues with Mortal Instruments- no one is permanently damaged or scarred; there’s nothing they can’t recover from. Darrow goes through extreme agony in the first few chapters alone, let alone all the pain that all the characters go through in the entire series. This may be one of my favorite YA series of all time, so fans of sci-fi: read this one.