April 22, 2020

Review: Girls of Storm and Shadow

Girls of Storm and Shadow Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I looked back at my review of the first book in this series (Girls of Paper and Fire), attempting to understand why I had such a hard time getting into this book. And I did: I started it and set it aside more than once to read something else. This was definitely not un-put-downable, shall we say. Reading that first review crystallized the problem for me--or rather affirmed it, since I already suspected what was up: this story is focusing on the wrong character.

In this book, just as the first, the protagonist Lei is simply not a compelling character. She is bland and unmemorable, despite the author's best efforts. She has golden eyes, she looks for the best in people, she is the Moonchosen, blah blah. None of this makes her stand out. On the other hand, every time her lover Wren Hanno, the white-eyed warrior sorceress, comes on the page, the entire book snaps to attention. Wren, ruthless and conflicted and driven by guilt, indoctrinated from the time she was born by her father's hatred for the Demon King, willing to sacrifice everything, including her friends and any sense of right and wrong, to achieve her goal. She and her father make quite the pair, the former murdering the daughter of an ally to prevent the girl from spoiling a fragile new treaty, the latter faking raids by the King to anger the populace into rebelling. No, she's not a nice and/or noble character, but she's far more interesting than Lei. Once I realized why my attention was flagging, I wished the entire book had been rewritten from Wren's point of view.

(And don't tell me narrating an entire story from the viewpoint of an anti-hero at best, dipping into an outright villain more than half the time, can't work. One of the best examples of this is R.F. Kuang's outstanding novels, The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic. To be sure, Kuang is a better writer than Ngan. But Kuang does not flinch from exploring the depths of her lead character, Rin, in all her grimness and nastiness, and in the process makes Rin's story one you can't turn away from. Perhaps the publishers of Ngan's trilogy aren't willing to offer up what would be a thoroughly grimdark tale, if Wren was let loose in these pages. But I think it would make for a better book.)

Due to all this, the book feels like a sloppily written placeholder, marking time until the final volume of the trilogy. Right now, all that would save this series for me is if the third book turns out to be Wren's story. Otherwise, I'm checking out of it.

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