Saturday, November 17, 2012

Review: The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress

This is the first review I've written in a few months. That's what a ridiculous major does to you. Bear with me. For the record, I received a copy of this book for review from Dial. And I'm "internet friends" with the author. Moving on --

The Friday Society is not the first of its kind. YA steampunk’s been going strong (and, please, do not make the mistake of assuming I'm using that word in a positive way) since the publication of Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel, the first of her Infernal Devices series. As Cassandra Clare is a well known hack of the first degree, I have not read, and have no desire to read Clockwork Angel. But to be honest, I haven't read any steampunk fiction unless what I read of The Golden Compass, the first novel of the His Dark Materials trilogy, counts as steampunk. And according to my more genre savvy friends, it does not. Nor does Howl's Moving Castle.

You were warned. This review comes from a place of ignorance. Assuming that steampunk follows different rules from dystopic fiction (most YA "dystopic" fiction is not, for the love of God, dystopic, anyway) and paranormal romances, despite all of the above being speculative fiction, I will try to the best of my abilities to give this a fair go.

FYI: I am listening to this song as I write this review: Kanye West vs. The xx - Touch The Sky (Carlos Serrano Mix). Kanye's egotism in no way effected this review.

The Friday Society follows three girls: Cora -- our tough leader girl; Nellie -- our sexy, sassy girl; and Michiko -- the solemn fish out of water. It takes place in what I assume to be the standard alternate history of England’s Victorian/Edwardian period -- where steam technology was popularized instead of coal. I'm under this impression because Nellie mentions traveling in a steam taxi multiple times. Other than that, I would've assumed it was just a rather creepy English setting in which the Brits seemed slightly off, but no more than usual.

We're given two chapters to introduce each character before we get to the actual plot. Unlike my attention span deprived peers, I'm a fan of set up. I like droolishly long plotless movies like The Graduate and American Beauty. I like character studies. There, I said it. Granted, I don't like boring shit like Twilight and Beautiful Creatures and Shiver where there's no actual character study -- just pages and pages of navel gazing wangst and purple prose and emo poetry -- but I don't mind a good bit of set up.

But this is the problem -- the entire book feels like set up for some awesomely awesome adventure that has the potential to blow your mind into a million different pieces. It's 400-plus-pages of something that could be THE NEXT BIG THING if only the plot would wake up and get, I don't know, interesting.

Yes, The Graduate takes a million years for young, virginal Ben to finally get into Mrs. Robinson's pants. But this is the thing -- we know he's going to get into her pants. That is just set up for the actual movie. And movies back then were different. Do you actually think something as god awfully boring as Citizen Kane or Casablanca (which I actually like) would get made in this day and age? No. This generation is too ADHD to give two fucks about slow, contemplative, thoughtful movies. They (meaning we, not me) watch shit like Transformers and Battleship Earth. God awful crap that makes me wish I'd had the common sense to spontaneously abort myself before I had the displeasure to be born into a generation that let The Dark of the Moon (what the fuck? it rips off of one of the greatest albums of all time and it can't even get the goddamn title right) become one of the highest grossing movies of all time.

But I digress. Have you seen The Prestige? It's one of Christopher Nolan's lesser known movies, right in front of The Following. Yes, I've actually seen every single movie Nolan's made except for Batman Begins. Anyway, the plot of The Prestige is simple -- revenge. That's it. Revenge. Magician #1 killed Magician #2's wife so #2 is going to fuck over #1 even if it kills him and destroys his soul by destroying #1's life. It's a tragic, under-appreciated movie filled with the usual Nolan-isms (dead girlfriends, women in refrigerators, complicated plot twists and turns and the nonsensical story arrangement that us Nolan fans love). Unfortunately, Edward Norton's The Illusionist (not a bad movie, but it was ruined by the rather bland Jessica Biel), came out that very same year, confusing witless audiences and making a general mess of the success it could have been.

Stick with me. There's a point in here. Somewhere.

The plot of any good movie (or book) can usually be summed up with one word. And it is most often the exact opposite of the character's fatal flaw. I have hammered on and on in my reviews about fatal flaws. Here's a quick summary: A fatal flaw is what a character has to overcome in order to succeed and further the plot. Aang -- childishness, Eragon -- being a loser (I kid), Riddick -- being a douchebag, Ripley – caring too much. You get the point.

But here's the problem with The Friday Society. There isn't really one word to sum up the entire plot. In fact, the two girls on the left side of the cover don't even have real, fleshed out arcs. Yes, you heard me. The brunette -- Cora -- the main featured character on the cover -- does not have an interesting plot line. Well, at least she has one. It's something about duality and sexism and classism. I'll get back to it later. Nellie does not. I wish I could describe what her plotline was, but honestly, it's just not coming to me right now. Probably because it doesn't exist, but who knows? I could be wrong, right?

Nah.

I bet you're thinking "But what about the Asian chick on the right? She's interesting, isn't she?"

And the answer to that question would be --

YES!

SHE IS!

SHE IS SO MUCH MORE DAMN INTERESTING THAN THOSE OTHER TWO GIRLS I WISH THIS ENTIRE NOVEL WOULD BE ABOUT THE BADASSNESS THAT IS MICHIKO AND NOT BORING WHITE GIRL #1 AND BORING WHITE GIRL #2.

Okay, okay, Cora isn't that boring. She's kind of like a blander Rachel Bernstein, from the Animorphs. And I love Rachel, despite her Tobias obsession (I will never forgive you for that KA Applegate (MarcoxRachel ONTF!)). Rachel was a badass of the first degree. She was THE badass of the nineties. More so than Buffy or Sabrina or the countless other blonde action chicks that would later spawn up to show that gurl powah could be sexah AND empower-wang. Rachel was fucking awesome and to see Cora come so close to that awesomeness was rather disappointing.

And Nellie.

Nellie.

Sigh.

Well, Nellie could be played by Scarlett Johansson if this ever became a movie. That tells you all you need to know about her character. She's hot. She's got a few good lines. And I'd probably -- yeah, you don't want to hear that.

We're introduced to Cora first. She's a lab assistant for an ingenious opium addict. We're shown that she's a badass because she goes into an opium den to save her boss from... something. See, this scene has the potential to be really cool. But it isn't. I just don't feel Cora coming through. She's a watered down badass.

She's also kind of insecure about her place in society. One moment, she's uncomfortable about being a super rich guys assistant. The next, she's not. See, her boss rescued her from being a street rat or a prostitute, or something. It's not really elaborated on. And that's what could've made her interesting. More backstory. Conflict. Maybe more guilt about leaving her fellow street rats behind to become child sex slaves. I don't know. It was all very... weak.

Cora is also the only girl with a love interest. Well, kind of. Nellie gets one too, but she doesn't get any action. Not that Cora does either. Sure, she talks about maybe, kind of, having sex. Maybe. It's all kind of alluded to and danced around. Remember this for later.

Cora's love interest, Andrew, is interesting. Underdeveloped, yes, but interesting. The duality plot line surrounding him could have been a good short story but it is not enough for an entire plot line. I don't even know how it ties into the rest of the book.

Nellie is... um... yeah. Well, we know that she's a magician's assistant. She used to be a burlesque performer. That's about it. Her plot line is about... well, I don't really know. She meets a cute guy. Other things happen. I don't really know what flaws she has to over come. At least Cora has the pretense of a fatal flaw. Nellie does not, unless being a guy magnet is a flaw? She also has an Irish accent. And she likes to hug. A lot.

So, what is the main plot of the book? Someone is murdered. There's a mystery. Blah. Snore. ZZZZZ. What's that? I fell asleep. I'm sorry. That's how captivating I found the plot. Not quite as bad as the plot of the Inkheart sequels (fuck you Cornelia Funke for ruining one of my favorite childhood stories by giving it not one, but TWO sequels that are HORRIBLE), but still pretty boring. It's about on par with Men in Black. Can you imagine that as a novel? Yes, it's a pretty movie, and the acting is great, but on paper, it'd be pretty damn dull.

There's a generic bad guy. A generic group of bad guy thugs. A big reveal scene. A dramatic fight scene. Heroes refusing to kill. Join me! All of the things I hate about mystery/fantasy/action/adventure novels. If you were a villain, would you really spend twenty minutes explaining your big evil scheme to a group of teenage girls right before you planned kill them? I wouldn't. I'd just kill them. Kill them dead. And then I'd let my thugs ravish their dead bodies because when you're evil, you just don't give a fuck. I suppose that's why Kanye West could never be a legitimate villain in a superhero movie. I mean, can you imagine him opposite the Joker as Lex Luthor in a Batman/Superman movie?

"Now hold on Superman, imma let you finish dying, but my boy the Joker's deathray is the greatest deathray of all time and it's gonna blow you mind like yeezy, huh. And when we kill you, we gonna get that hoe Lois and...  etc... etc... "

Hmm... nevermind. I can actually see that. Moving on.

So, yes, the main plot is completely unoriginal and boring.

And I see you asking, yet again, "But Cory, why did you give this three stars if you've done nothing but complain?"

And here is my answer to you -- because I like complaining. Would you actually read my reviews if I didn't complain? No, you wouldn't, because you people don't like reading positive mindless fluff filled GIF reviews (I like those, by the way) by people who only like weird books no one else reads. You like reading my rants. You like my digressions and my cussing and my whining. You expect me to hate every single book I read. So stop complaining. No one is forcing you to read this.

Now, for the *gasp* positive section of this review. Skip the next few paragraphs if you're allergic to positivity. I'll see you misanthropic baby hating puppy eaters on the other side of the rainbow in grouch land.

An open letter to Michiko:

Dear Michiko,

You are the best part of this book. When you first appeared, I was unsure of your character. I thought you'd be the token Asian, devoid of personality traits and flaws. Boy, was I wrong. Adrienne Kress, the author of this book, actually seemed to know what she was doing. She did motherfucking research for god sake! She knows the difference between kun and san and sama, something millions of Japanophile idiots still can't get down. It's like the bulk of her Japanese research didn't come from Wikipedia! That's an odd notion, isn't it? Not using Wikipedia as a main source for cultural research.

It's almost like Kress wanted you to be the star of this novel, but was too unsure of herself to have you feature as the title character. You are the only character with a fatal flaw, a plot line, an arc, a fully fleshed out character arc -- and interesting companions. You were the only character who's chapters I never skimmed. Your first scenes were interesting. Your doubt in yourself was convincing. I believed that you were a warrior, a true samurai.

And I love that you reject this to find yourself. To realize that it's okay to have fears -- to have emotions.

Kress, if you're reading this letter to your character, rewrite this novel. Do it for me. Tell it solely from Michiko's POV. Write the novel that Stormdancer wanted to be. The series that The Legend of Korra wanted to be.

Yours,
Cory

PS -- Give Michiko a love interest that sits in the background. I like a well done romance. I like sex. There, I said it. I. Like. Sex. A tasteful romantic plotline, like that of... um... I'm coming up short, but I'm sure they exist. That, or someone her age who speaks her language so I'm not left wondering why you didn't make her Chinese or Indian every time Nellie and Cora start speaking English so she can participate in their conversations. Because the English colonized parts of India and China. Meaning that the likely hood of someone Chinese or Indian speaking English would be greater. You do know that, right YA readers?

Why do I bother? I keep forgetting that we’re the Transformers/Kanye generation.

At least Michiko isn’t a Chinese samurai and there aren’t motherfucking pandas in London. If you get those references, you are awesome.

PPS -- Readers, this girl ran away from home to escape an arranged marriage, trained illegally with a samurai, and lived with geisha, all before running away to England to further her training while upstaging her boss at every turn skill wise. Need I say more. She's a BAMF.

PPPS -- Hayao is awesome too.

Okay baby eating puppy haters -- I mean, puppy eating baby haters -- I'm done. You can unshield your eyes.

At first, I thought this novel would be like A Great and Terrible Beauty, the first book in the Gemma Doyle Trilogy. Not really. While Gemma Doyle reads like a YA novel, both in tone, content, and character, The Friday Society reads more like Upper MG. And that's not a bad thing. I guess. But I was expecting something more mature. The juvenile voice hurt this novel. The writing isn’t bad, but I didn’t believe any of the girls were older than fourteen. I mean, I'm eighteen. Not less than a year ago, I was seventeen. I know what seventeen-year-old girls sound like. And they think about sex. A lot. Well, my sixteen-year-old female friends do, anyway. That is a joke, by the way. Though it's true.

These girls sound like Judy Blume protagonists. And, as I said before, that's not a bad thing. It's just not good. A well placed curse word does not change that fact.

I suppose I could go on for a bit longer, but I don't really have anything else to say. And it's 11:59 AM. I'm seeing Skyfall tomorrow. Good night readers. Hope you enjoyed this review. And do read the book when it comes out. Despite my negativity, it's a lot more enjoyable than most YA crap out there right now.

And just because I was harsh does not mean this book isn't worth the read. I did give it three stars. That, from me, is not, I repeat, NOT BAD. It'd be a good Christmas gift for your preteen nieces/nephews. It's certainly something I'd buy for my thirteen-year-old sister.

3.25 stars. Not bad, but it could be so much better.

FYI, this book comes out December 6th, 2012.

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