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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

THE TRAITOR'S GAME by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Hold on to your butts, I have a lot to say about this one...

The Traitor's Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Fantasy, 400 pages
Expected publication: February 27th 2018 by Scholastic Press
Nothing is as it seems in the kingdom of Antora. Kestra Dallisor has spent three years in exile in the Lava Fields, but that won't stop her from being drawn back into her father's palace politics. He's the right hand man of the cruel king, Lord Endrick, which makes Kestra a valuable bargaining chip. A group of rebels knows this all too well -- and they snatch Kestra from her carriage as she reluctantly travels home.The kidnappers want her to retrieve the lost Olden Blade, the only object that can destroy the immortal king, but Kestra is not the obedient captive they expected. Simon, one of her kidnappers, will have his hands full as Kestra tries to foil their plot, by force, cunning, or any means necessary. As motives shift and secrets emerge, both will have to decide what -- and who -- it is they're fighting for.

Although I said (multiple times) as I was reading this that I had a lot to say about it, it's actually hard to recall all of those little, piling-up things that I'd wanted to mention; this book started fading from memory incredibly quickly. . . But I guess we'll start with the quick notes I jotted down in the #30DayBookBinge Reading Log spread in my bullet journal:”Not good, almost unbelievably so, and yet very fast-paced and readable.”

Every now and then a book comes along that gets under your skin with little annoyances, and yet you can't stop reading it. It's bizarre, every page brings you something new to roll your eyes at, but you just keep picking it up. The Traitor's Game was that book for me. It's cheesy, the writing feels shallow and immature, the characterization is bananas, and the plot thin – and yet I couldn't stop reading it. It moves at break-neck speed (almost literally; the characters are so back and forth and every-which-way, I thought they were going to give me whiplash), and it's a very, very easy read, which is I guess what kept me going. But all the while, I was sort of wondering just why I was still going; it almost became a game, to see how far down the rabbit hole of bad writing I could go.

 It moves at break-neck speed (almost literally; the characters are so back and forth and every-which-way, I thought they were going to give me whiplash)

Now, I want to point out: I realize I'm sounding like a dick. There are plenty of people who are going to love this story and writing, I already know it. It's going to be predictably popular, in the way that books that are readable and fast-paced always are; people tear through them, so they think that must mean it was good. I also want to point out: I realize that was pretty condescending. You're allowed to like what you like, and to like it even if you yourself find it “bad” – objectively, Taco Bell is not good Mexican food, but that doesn't stop us from enjoying it on occasion, right? And also, who am I to decide what is “bad” writing? I know some of you are asking yourselves this. That's okay. It's all subjective, yada yada, but for me, the writing was very juvenile. There are certainly YA and MG authors who write down to their audience (which is a whole other issue; some like it, some don't), but it's one thing for writing to seem suitable for an audience of 13 year olds, and it's another for writing to seem written by a 13 year old. I'm not knocking teens at all, I think they're generally not given enough credit, but think back to the type of story you would have composed as a young teen or pre-teen. Little cringey, yeah?

I don't want to come across like I'm trashing the writing, or screaming HOW DID THIS GET PUBLISHED?! and so I'm going to try to be a little circumspect as I try to explain what I mean by this criticism, but the story and the characters were lacking depth in ways that young writing often is. Their motivations, their backgrounds and how it has influenced who they are now, their interactions with each other and the world around them – none of these things felt authentic or entirely believable. They behaved inconsistently and irrationally in ways that required a real stretch to the willing suspension of disbelief. One character in particular, Trina, was basically written off as being a Jekyll and Hyde type because she was so inconsistent, but even that wasn't believable; it wasn't a sturdy enough justification for just how mercurial and borderline multiple-personality she was, and after awhile, her changeable (within the same page, within the same paragraph) nature just became laughable when I think it was supposed to be by turns ominous and sympathetic. The villain was OTT cheesy, maliciously cruel and yet somehow boring, and the inevitable love interest aspect unfolded so quickly and thoroughly that it, too, became cheesy and not at all believable. (Yes, hello, I've just kidnapped you and am threatening your life, are we in love yet? It's been nearly a full 2 days, after all. Oh, we are? Yay!)

The pacing – though fast – was a little all over the place, and so much was crammed into so little time that it started to border on impossible. There's no time for the reader to breathe, let alone the characters. Everything, literally everything, happens within less than four days, and that includes a lot of reversals and secret plots, and reversals of secret plots, and shifting allegiances, and and and. . .
It's a lot. Again, this adds to the impression of young writing, as confident, mature writers don't feel as much of a need to cram everything in, or at least know to stretch the timeline a bit to make it seem more realistic and seamless. I think the short timeframe was meant to heighten the tension, but it also severely hampered the believability.

I try not to knock love stories in YA anymore, because it's just a foregone conclusion at this point, but the instantness of this instalove almost sets a new benchmark for huh?!? I mean, did I mention this all takes place in four days? And did I mention that the male lead literally kidnaps and threatens the life of the female lead, and yet they are twoo wuv? Oh, I did mention those things? WELL IT BEARS REPEATING. But in addition to the romance feeling just, way off, the compressed timeline throws everything askew. As I've mentioned a time or 10, this takes place over four days -- there wasn't even enough time to feel like the characters were physically able to do all of the travelling they did, let alone to adjust (as the reader) to all of the plot elements going on, or to believe that Kestra, the MC, was able to adjust, plan, dupe, come to terms, etc. etc. etc., in the ways she does. It just doesn't jell.

I could go on. And on. There's so much I haven't touched on that deserves to be, like the world/magic system and the creatures (condors? Mothereffing condors?!), and the multitude of villains, each of which made me roll my eyes in their own unique ways. But I realize I've given you a 1k treatise of negativity on this book, so I'm going to stop*. But suffice it to say, I had a lot of issues and pet peeves with this book and style, and it irks my soul more than a little bit to know that the sheer speed of it is going to make it a winner in a lot of readers' eyes. 

End rant.

*For now. I reserve my right to come back and edit this at a later date with future negativity, as my brain "And another thing!"s me with more issues...

Disclosure: I received an advnaced copy of this book from the publisher, in the hopes that I would read and review it, which I am sure they are now regretting. Sorry, Scholastic! 
All thoughts and opinions are honest (clearly) and my own.


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