Discussion: So you’ve been publicly shamed

I remember when we first got dial-up. I used to race down the stairs on weekend mornings and boot up our old computer. It would tingle a little as it turned on, as if shedding static cobwebs. I’d carefully remove the ethernet clip from the phone, pressing down the plastic top firmly and not letting go until I nestled it into the back of the computer. Knowing I’d have to remove it when my parents woke up, I’d load up seven chapters of whatever Fictionpress book  I was reading and settle in. Back then the internet was unexplored territory. Commercials with rippling text– y’know the late 90s when the text sometimes looked like it was made of slime?– would warn parents to watch their kids. People from all around the world would connect, comfortable in their anonymity. Anyone could do anything!

Then it transformed from unknown to the best tool known to man. The internet solved everything, or so the predominant wisdom at the time went. I remember those heady tech-utopian days when hate rhetoric seemed relegated to a dark corner that barely invaded our collective peripheral vision. There were no articles about how dictatorships could use the internet to reinforce their hold on nations or put out so much content it became difficult to wade through it and separate fact and fiction. There were no think pieces on how the internet village separated us into further categories– the internet was solely a means to freedom and education. It was the universal village! We could talk to anyone in the world.

Nowadays we don’t think of the internet as one big party. We even have internet specific terms for groups, and some of the groups have peeled themselves from internet forums to begin affecting our conversations, and policy, in real life.Perhaps the one holdover from the old unexplored days is the notion that “the internet is forever,” something even more terrifying when we consider what the shifting alliances or group loyalty on the internet can do to people’s lives. One tweet, one blogpost, one video gone viral and you’re an international joke, sometimes luckily and sometimes not. No doubt, not every viral bit stems from naivete or poor wording. There’s a certain thrill to the schadenfreude of watching the bully get punished, but what about the person who stumbles? And what happens afterward?

Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed examines exactly that. In it, he speaks with several people who’ve experienced public shaming for online, or sometimes offline, errors. Like many of us, Ronson had participated in an online dragging before.  Getting credit for a witty riposte or covering your relief you avoided censure with a sheen of schadenfreude when someone else falls into the same pitfall. He remembered when the internet made us all Davids against the Goliath of corporations*. How public shaming could punish the deserving. But what happens when the person we’re ostracizing or shaming has a face?

My third year of college I enrolled in a course on Public Policy. Among other books, we were assigned “How we Choose” by Jonah Lerner. I loved the book, in a sea of dense academic texts “How we choose” offered learning wrapped in effortless diversion.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that Lerner had been famously disgraced by a journalist with a deep love for Bob Dylan.  In a flash, Lerner went from pop science superstar to pariah. Michael, the journalist? He gained little money and little recognition for his investigative work.

Over the course of the book, Ronson met many times with Jonah Lehrer. He talked with him about shame, fear, depression and, later, about how Lehrer nurtured hope for a chance at redemption. Then, he was offered that chance: A speech at a well-known journalism conference. But when he appeared at the conference, still shaky and half-filled with loathing, he wasn’t just giving a speech to a small room. The entire world was watching. And the room? They were watching the world react on Twitter from a screen right next to  Lehrer’s head.  By and large, Twitter was not forgiving.

As I read about the backlash, I couldn’t help but remember an article I’d read some time back about this phenomenon.  The article, titled “Exiting the Vampire’s Castle” was British writer Mark Fisher’s lament about online culture. I can’t say I agreed completely with his propositions, but So You’ve been Publicly Shamed re-etched one idea in particular from Fisher’s article:”The Vampires’ Castle specialises in propagating guilt. It is driven by a priest’s desire to excommunicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and a hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd.” A chill descended upon me as I read this. I’d never be brave enough to admit I’d seen this.

I’d watched this happen when Carve the Mark, the latest book from Veronica Roth came out. The book community divided over Carve the Mark.  ARC readers reported racist tropes and, after reading their reviews, a number of members called for a boycott and declared consumers of the book racist. Another group disagreed.  They asserted that simply reading did not equate to virulent racism**. They accused the first group of a form of social censorship.

A member of the first group, LL McKinney pointed out that customers drive the market. If we support books with harmful representation and ignore more diverse voices, we’ll continue getting the same narratives over and over again. She added the publishing industry, even as it embraces “diversity” still gives space to predominantly white authors.  Eventually, the author broke her silence to rebut some of the claims. The language of the warlike group wasn’t based on North African/Middle Eastern languages but on Romanian and Hungarian. They also weren’t universally dark skinned.  Francina Simone entered the conversation  with an amazing  video dissuading people from grouping people together without examining actions and literature.  Simone spoke at length about her concern with the discourse surrounding Roth and book reading. Not only did the conversation move quickly away from the art in question, but it also took a great deal of time from promoting better books.

During the video, Simone decried tendencies to engage with people making honest mistakes and “trolls” in the same manner. “I want to dismiss that unless you’re being rude and angry about shit, you’re being passive,” Simone continued. Like in the Vampire’s Castle, I watched people launch into defense or attack to gain hearts on twitter from their carefully defined ingroup. Voices who had previously been accepted in the same community who disagreed were immediately jettisoned.*** Time and time again, more attention was given to the first person to spot something wrong,  qualities of virtue were ascribed to those who called for swift punishment, and belonging was gifted to those who went along. The Vampire Castle sucked positivity from the air.

Achieving a balance between acting on positive change and reacting to negative conditions is difficult.  When Jonah Lehrer gave his speech, many people were cynical of his intent. They were concerned that his reentry might affect the validity of the genre as a whole. They were skeptical of his suffering. After all, he was paid for the appearance, and his sometimes questionable word choice elevated instead of humbled him.

Before gave his speech, and before Ronson started investigating thoroughly the stories, and options for redemption of the recently shamed, he relayed Michael and Jonah Lehrer scoop to a theatre director at a party.  Instead of reacting with curiosity or laughter at Lehrer’s fate, the man shivered. “It’s  about the terror, isn’t it?…The terror of being found out.” It was then Ronson, as he inexplicably shivered too, he had a realization. He wrote:

“I had leapt into the middle of the Michael/Jonah story because I admired and identified with Michael.  He personified citizen justice, whereas Jonah represented literary fraud in the pop-science world. he made a  fortune corrupting an already self-indulgent, bloated genre. I still admired Michael. But suddenly, when the theatre director said the words ‘the terror of being found out’, I felt like a door had briefly opened before me, revealing some infinite horror-land filled with millions of scared-stiff Jonahs. How many people had I banished to that land during my thirty years of journalism? How truly nightmarish it must have been to be Jonah Lehrer.”

I can’t say I have any answers about how we should proceed on the internet. I can’t even tell you I know for certain where the lines between Righteous Justice and Vampire Castle begin and end. I can only offer more questions: In this atmosphere, how do people who have made mistakes achieve redemption? Can they? Should they? If so, when?  What does it mean if we create groups force strict in-group/out-group rules?  When anger becomes currency, how do we spend it? Are we the citizen justice or another fraud waiting to be outed?

*How corporations  have learned to use technology now is another topic worth exploring. I shall do my best to resist here since it’s not the point, but just know that I wanted to write about it.
** I should note here that many of the conversations did not consider racism as a matter of degrees but created a dichotomy. Another conversation worth having about how we frame racism and how smaller acts link to larger ones. But, again, off topic.

*** Like Simone, I am not attempting to tone police anyone. Even typing thisI’m afraid of some backlash. I doubt this will get any attention (in the scheme of things I’m not very important), but I still worry. In my time online, I’ve watched people bullied for a less than this. All it takes is one person with a lot of followers to assign new meaning or reframe.  To be clear, I am not attempting to censor anyone who has expressed anger or discomfort while on the internet. I am not asserting dog whistles and other similarly shrouded negative sentiments aren’t shrouded in more acceptable language. My only intention is to express some concern with how dynamics, like the Vampire’s Castle, might encourage us to be cruel, to gloss over nuance or context.

Also, you read all of this?! Holy shit. I’m impressed. Thanks for caring about my tiny blip of word nonsense in the vast ocean of internet entertainment.

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Legend- Marie Lu

I can write rants. I can write gushes. It’s the books in the middle that are tricky. The books that leave you with a lukewarm feeling; that feel like eating oatmeal tastes Legend is a solid book. Not awful, but not riveting. For me, that encapsulated the experience I had reading Legend.

I read Legend six years too late. Penguin, and Lu, published this book at the height of the dystopian craze. Everyone craved it; everyone read it. I missed the train and, now, the  market has been supersaturated. Maybe that’s why Legend didn’t enchant me. Or perhaps I expected more after Leigh Bardugo, one of my favorite new authors, recommended Lu’s writing. Unfortunately, Legend relied on a number of tropes I’ve seen one too many times. I expect it’ll make a great film, and perhaps the following books will build on the outline she’s created, but I expected more.*

*I will say I enjoyed Legend more than Divergent and, perhaps, if I’d read it at a different time, it would have sat with me better.

Plot and World:

Set in a future society, built from the fractured United States, called the  Republic, Legend splits its narrative into two points of view:  June, a prodigy, whose family has served their government and benefited from it, is tasked with bringing in the most notorious criminal in the Republic after her brother’s death. Day is a mastermind born far from the well-cared-for capital, whose circumstances force him to  risk his life to care for his family.

Legend’s best features are it’s structure and pace. She integrates needed information well with an ever-moving plot.  Given the subject-matter, and the knowledge protagonists are always the heroes, the plot-twists can largely be predicted from the beginning. Of course the wealthy-prodigy June discovers the government’s duplicitous actions.

The world functioned more as a backdrop, which is disappointing. The best in the dystopia genre, and perhaps fiction as a whole, uses world to create tone and suspense. The world carries a hefty part of the message After all, the underlying question in all dystopias is: How did they get there? What could cause this? What’s happening now?
These questions are pushed to the side. For that reason, one might argue Legend falls more in the action-thriller category than dystopia.
The author drops mentions of a war with colonies and a network of rebels within the Republic throughout the novel but the story features June and Day’s relationships more than their interaction with the world around them. Still,  the end opens more room for a more prominent role for the world in the following books.

Characters:

Genius characters rarely convince me of their, well, genius. There’s a fine line to walk here. Too much demonstration, the book gets bogged down in terminology and theory, but without some strategic thinking it feels a lot more like the author is telling us the characters are brilliant.
In fact, not until the end do the characters pull some serious strategic moves. Some of them disappoint. Time dedicated to explaining how characters solved problems, or to them working through unexpected obstacles, would have been welcome. The circular logic of “geniuses solve problems because of their genius” doesn’t play well, and other times their solutions felt a little too convenient. Unfortunately, these can’t be explained without spoilers– but let’s say the characters’ actions did not mesh well with what we knew about the world and what we knew about them.  However, given Lu wrote herself into a corner, she managed to move the plot forward with minimal damage.

Characters do have an emotional arc– one more than the other. But, we’ve seen these arcs before. The drawn to each other, genius characters who fell on opposite sides in a cruel, seemingly arbitrary world.  One has lost their family and has had their revenge co-opted by the villains, while the other plays the shining hero Robin Hood type trying to save theirs. It was, okay. Just okay.

Okay enough to pick up the next book? We’ll see.

Three stars out of five to Legend.

Haha,oh, it’s April?: Making book plans

Did I not say I was terrible at plans? Did I not say that? Anyway. We’re like a week into April, so I’m going to cheat a little bit. Here are the books I might/probably read:

Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil

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A former Wall Street quant sounds an alarm on mathematical modeling—a pervasive new force in society that threatens to undermine democracy and widen inequality.

We live in the age of the algorithm. Increasingly, the decisions that affect our lives—where we go to school, whether we get a car loan, how much we pay for health insurance—are being made not by humans, but by mathematical models. In theory, this should lead to greater fairness: Everyone is judged according to the same rules, and bias is eliminated. But as Cathy O’Neil reveals in this shocking book, the opposite is true. The models being used today are opaque, unregulated, and uncontestable, even when they’re wrong. Most troubling, they reinforce discrimination

This popped up in my updates feed on GoodReads, so I added it to my want-to-read list, because I have no self-control. Given the increasing importance of technology and data in our lives, I felt understanding how algorithms can uphold and support an unfair system,  despite the “It’s fair because it’s math!” justifications,  incredibly important. I may or may not have already started it.

So you’ve been publicly shamed by Jon Ronson
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A great renaissance of public shaming is sweeping our land. Justice has
been democratized. The silent majority are getting  a voice, but what are we doing with
our voice? We are mercilessly finding people’s faults. We are defining the boundaries of normality by ruining the lives of those outside it. We are using shame as a form of social control.

Simultaneously powerful and hilarious in the way only Jon Ronson can be, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is a deeply honest book about modern life, full of eye-opening truths about the escalating war on human flaws and the very scary part we all play in it.

I’m all about that pop-science this month, apparently!

I think all of us are a little bit terrified of being publicly shamed. Remember in high school when you were all like “I don’t want anyone seeing what I do on my computer! what if they discover llamas wearing hats. Everyone will think I’m too quirky!” Yeah, let’s be real, llamas wearing hats weren’t your first concern. Like your teacher/parent/librarian always said, “The internet is forever, kid.”

Legend by Marie Lu

 

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What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

I may or may not be picking this up on the recommendation of Leigh Bardugo. Let’s hope I’m not tired of dystopia yet!

 

Peacemakers: The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 by Margaret MacMillan26348

For six months in 1919, after the end of “the war to end all wars,” the Big Three—President Woodrow Wilson, British prime minister David Lloyd George, and French premier Georges Clemenceau—met in Paris to shape a lasting peace. In this landmark work of narrative history, Margaret MacMillan gives a dramatic and intimate view of those fateful days, which saw new political entities—Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Palestine, among them—born out of the ruins of bankrupt empires, and the borders of the modern world redrawn.

Ah, history– equal parts fascinating and fury-inducing. I picked up the book after finishing An Unquiet American, a collection of writings by Richard Holbrooke. A diplomat and one of the founders of Foreign Policy magazine, Holbrooke mentioned the Paris Peace Conference several times, often lamenting the decisions of leaders at the time. To him, the doling out of rewards and punishments, and the drawing of lines during the conference still play a large role in conflict today. I did read most of this book when I first picked it up, but school became too hectic so I dropped it. I’d like to pick it up again this month.   Margaret MacMillan is an excellent historian, as far as I’m concerned. I remember being impressed by the detail she included.

This is a huge tome, so let’s see if I can finish it.

Ancillary Justice by Annie Leckie

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On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Once, she was the Justice of Toren – a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.

 

Ancillary Justice’s premise intrigued me. I loved the idea of a race which didn’t define gender. I think this more experimental side of writing (if you can call me that) drew me to the book more than anything else.

 

Something Fantasy because who do you think I am, anyway?book-cover-question-mark-image

cannot believe I haven’t found a specific fantasy book to read. I. cannot. believe. it. I always read fantasy! It is my favorite genre. Hold this space. Something will come.
But, if you have a few minutes, feel free to post a couple of fantasy books you really enjoyed below!

Under a Painted Sky

Samantha, Sam, fought with her father the day he died. Her father plans to close their dry goods shop in Missouri and move to California with an old family friend. Samantha wishes to move to New York to become a professional musician– not an easy task for a young girl in 1849, much less one who is Chinese.

When a blaze of fire envelops her family home,  the one person who seems to offer “help” intends to force her into prostitution. Within the first few pages, Samantha must come to terms with her father’s likely murder and fend off a man attempting to assault her. The result of her efforts is his death, which is discovered by Annamae, a 16-year-old slave girl. Annamae quickly assesses the situation and offers to go on the run with Sam. The two choose to disguise themselves as boys and head west where they hope to find freedom, family and security.

Cowboys and pioneers; cholera and stampedes; a mysterious gang of criminals on the run and authorities upholding unjust laws all coalesce into a climax that mostly lives up to the tension. In an interview, Lee said tension is her “achilles heel“.  She mentioned revising those sections twenty to thirty times and the work is evident. The book is very well structured with few scenes that do not, in some way, lead to or affect the climax.

The author did a great deal of research for this book, as one must do when writing historical fiction. She “wanted to write a book about what it was like for the first Chinese Americans in the United States. Many of them came during the California Gold Rush, which coincided with the western expansion of the United States via the Oregon Trail.”  But she didn’t stop there, she portrayed attitudes toward race and gender at the time as well.

Themes:

Unsurprisingly, these were some of the main themes of the book,  but the issues that affect us are not our entire identity. Lee knew that, and that is why she included themes like grief and friendship. The relationship Sam had with her father and her struggle to come to terms with the circumstances of his death affects her throughout the book.

Annamae and Sam’s friendship demonstrates positive  and essential methods to survival in harsher worlds. I actively seek out positive female friendships, and this book most definitely had it. While circumstances at the beginning force the two together, they build a genuine friendship  where their differences– whether it be religious or reaction based– are respected and explored. They support each other and this is why they survive.

Characters

 The dialogue between the mischievous group of cowboys, Sam and Annamae was full of droll wit and just enough period language to help set the scene. Both main characters have distinct voices and the interactions between them were some of the most enjoyable sections of the book, for me.

Sam is torn between her dreams, her new friendship, and duty as a daughter. She  is raised to be proud of her culture in a world which views it as uncivilized. At the same time, she questions parts of the cultural wisdom she was raised with, parsing out the traditions which held her back from the ideas which connect her with her family, her people and herself.

Annamae bears an even-keeled practicality which results from facing open and widespread oppression.  Yet she retains a softness demonstrated when she speaks of her lost brothers– one of whom sent her a way to escape from slavery on the same day she met Samantha. Annamae’s choice to help Samantha at the cost of her own escape evinces her true character.

Even so, at times, she did feel more sidekick than friend. If I am being honest with myself, I would have preferred more development of Annamae over the romance elements. The book stumbles here.

Despite some of the more serious themes and plot points, Under the Painted Sky  didn’t feel heavy. On the contrary, it uplifted. Stacey Lee spread scenes which break tension through the book and allows her characters some pockets of happiness.

A unique take on the Wild West  Stacey Lee’s book has my full recommendation.

 

Makin’ a Plan

So, I’m doing a TBR list. We will see how laughable this decision is next month when I discover how closely I followed my plan. I am very much a book flitter;I flit between books. Plans do not work for a free soul like me. Actually, plans are the only thing that get me through most days, but let’s ignore that.

  1. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas16096824

Back in the Fictionpress days (Fictionpress still exists, Leah), I used to  take twenty minutes of our precious dial up diligently loading new chapters from an epic, sprawling novel called Queen of Glass. Later that novel I adored so much became Throne of Glass, and the sequels. To my disappointment, I felt less than enamored with it.  I expected a grand adventure, what I got was mainly a romance. Now that I’ve readjusted my expectations, I am willing to give Maas a second chance.

2. Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

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People have described this book as one of the most positive of 2016 and, let’s be real, after the year we’ve had, we all need a little bit of positivity.

The main character, Juliet, has recently moved away from home after telling her parents she’s a lesbian.  Now  in Oregon, she’s landed her dream summer internship, but she still hasn’t figured out how different parts of her identity– Puerto Rican, Lesbian, undoubtedly other elements I don’t know about yet because I haven’t read the book— fit together.

3.  White Rose: Munich 1942-1943 by Inge Scholl
The White Rose

The White  Rose was an underground organization in Munich, comprised of students and professors, dedicated to opposing Hitler’s fascist regime and the atrocities committed under him.

Now the sister of two of its founders has compiled letters, flyers and stories into this volume to preserve an account of courage in the face of  horror.

History, for me, has always been a collection of stories and I’m hoping to spend more time this year learning them.

4. Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee 

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1849. A young girl dreams of going to New York to become a musician. But life doesn’t afford many opportunities for Samantha, a Chinese girl, living in Missouri. Samantha discovers how many difficulties society can erect after the tragic loss of her father. Now in danger, she is forced to flee. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, she leaves Missouri behind. The two invent new identities, Sammy and Andy, and head west for the gold rush. On the run from the law, the two form a deep bond.

Stacey Lee, one of the founders of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, debuted with this book  two years ago. I’m only catching up now.

5. Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco 30095464

Oh, come on, you didn’t seriously think I would only read one fantasy this
month? Fantasy will almost always be my #1

A witch. A war. A  world on the line. Tea is born special in a world full of witches. While
others might control the Air or the Water, Tea can control the dead themselves. This makes her feared but also powerful. Now with the eight kingdoms on the edge of war,  Tea must hone her skills to defend her family and her home.

Mixed reviews on this one, but the concept is just so intriguing. This one will be released this month so it depends entirely on my ability to get it from, y’know, another country.

Wow I should write blurbs. Just kidding 

And that’s it for this month! What are y’all planning on reading? Tell mmmeeeeeee. Or don’t, I get it. (But actually, do, please )

Everything Everything

I’ll admit it. I picked up Everything , Everything after watching the trailer with Amandla Stenberg. I am not ashamed.I listened to the full audiobook in about a day. This meant I missed some of the graphics and added art, but I console myself with the amazing reading by Bahni Turpin.

Being someone who does not read contemporary often, I had no expectations but, in spite of some of its problems, I enjoyed it.

Madeline, Maddy really, owes her life to HEPA filters, decontamination rooms, her nurse and her mother, the doctor, who helped diagnose her with Severe combined immunodeficiency or SCID. For much of her life she is content with her books, architecture classes and games of honor pictionary with her mother. Then a boy moves across the street.

Nicola Yoon penned some memorable moments and charmed me with her main character. Maddy’s voice is so pleasant to read  listen to that I didn’t even mind when her and the boy’s, Olly, relationship teetered toward the border of instalove.

Everything Everything has been heralded by some as one of the best reads for representation of biracial characters (Madeline).  Madeline’s race is neither ignored/tokenized nor is it made her most defining feature. On the other hand, Yoon’s plot choices and those choices effects have been sharply criticized by some who face similar health challenges (spoilers on this site).

Yoon tried to tackle some pretty big themes in Everything Everything, and how these themes are handled are usually front and center of the criticisms. The book after Olly revolves around Maddy’s internal conflict, namely the choice between risking her life and living a life full of wanting to do things she cannot. The post-Olly part of the book is scattered with quotes like:  “Just because you can’t experience everything doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experience anything.”  and You’re not living if you’re not regretting.” and “I was happy before I met him. But I’m alive now, and those are not the same thing.”  or even “There’s more to life than being alive.” Yoon wrote so many lines like that I felt as if she reached her hand out and pasted “grow and live” across my forehead. It is fortunate, for most of the book, that these are only scattered and Yoon has a number of other strong lines and quirky moments that are classic contemporary YA. What is unfortunate is the message she spent so long constructing, the internal struggle Maddy spends most of the book struggling with, is perhaps a little cheapened by the end.

 

 

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New Favorite!: Crooked Kingdom

I was going to call this a review, but let’s be real here, this is pretty much a fan-girl moment.

Without giving away any spoilers to Six of Crows (if you haven’t read SoC, YOU SHOULD!!!!) Six of Crows went broad, Crooked Kingdom went deep. Not only did Bardugo amplify the characters’ internal lives and dilemmas but she also delved deep even deeper into the setting– Ketterdam, a city filled with inequity, crime and cash.

Plot

Kaz Brekker and his crew return for another daring heist with bigger stakes, fewer resources. But this time, the consequences of their failure dwarf lost funds and reputation. Turns of events and shifting alliances foil the Crew’s best laid plans  time and time again even as time is running out.

Characters & Themes:

Bardugo’s efforts to  create characters with depth is even more apparent in Crooked Kingdom. While Six of Crows introduced several distinctive  characters and hinted at their backstory, the book overall still felt more like a high-stakes heist novel. Though each character had different motivations for joining the crew, and different roles, the members depended upon one another mainly to reach their goal.

Crooked Kingdom, in contrast, focused more on friendships and personal relationships within the crew. The arc of the story depended more on character’s moments of introspection. This, for me, made Crooked Kingdom a perfect companion for Six of Crows. Bardugo didn’t simply jot down another heist novel (though one could hardly “jot down” a novel that requires as much planning as a heist). No, she introduced new themes, changed the dynamics within the crew, and added history to better frame  character’s motivations and development. These moments of vulnerability and self-doubt; of epiphanies and  acceptance; of fear and hope strengthened the relationships forged in Six of Crows.

Fear– its presence and overcoming it– was an undeniable theme in this book, as was sacrifice, both for the greater good and as a result of change. Each character had to confront their past and present fears or prejudices in the course of the book. They all needed rediscover or choose what defined in order for the crew to succeed.
While  Bardugo pulled the world and characters of Crooked Kingdom from her imagination, the lessons, dilemmas and themes in this story echo those found in modern events in our own world. This book reminded me of the power of stories to reflect humanity in  all of its complexity and to push us in the real world to question our situation and our society.

To put it plainly: I adore this story. I love the characters. Their interactions with each other, and with their world, felt authentic and genuine. I haven’t cried upon finishing a book in years, but I cried at the end of this one.

On top of all this, Leigh Bardugo seems like an amazing human.Loving art is made so much easier when the artist is a decent human being.  I give myself three months before I re-read the books. I fully expect to cry again.

For a more in depth Book discussion– fraught with spoilers– check back here next week!

BUT ALSO, SERIOUSLY, READ THIS BOOK. THEN FAN-GIRL WITH ME IN THE COMMENTS. If you wanna, or whatever, I mean.