‘Sup readers? Welcome to this week’s On The Shelf, Fan Fest’s book review column. I read and review new releases so you don’t have to; thus, you can make an informed decision about which books to show off on your shelf, which to relegate to your ereader, or which books remain unpurchased in favour of buying the latest and greatest in geek merch.
This week’s read is The Waking Land, a YA fantasy by debut author Callie Bates. It’s got magic, it’s got romance, it’s got intrigue and brainwashing and a beautiful— seriously, A+++ with this design— cover. But like many things that sound too good to be true, The Waking Land makes promises and fails to deliver on each one.
The Waking Land follows Lady Elanna, daughter of the Duke of Caeris; as a child, she was kidnapped by Antoine Eyrlai, king of Eren. 14 years later, Elanna has come to love Antoine as a father, believing her birth family to be ignorant, poor savages (brainwashing at its finest). But when Antoine is poisoned, members of the court are all too eager to blame Elanna, accusing her of carrying out the work her parents— by all accounts, rebels who detested Antoine as king— began. Before she can even declare her innocence or the right to a fair trial, Elanna is swept away by a band of rebels from all over the empire of Paladis, who want nothing more than to reunite her with her parents and put a new king on Eren’s throne.
Sounds awesome, right? There’s even a handy little map at the front of the book, which would be helpful if— if— Bates actually bothered to show you her world, rather than assume you’re in her mind and know everything about it, and therefore care about each and every one of its details. Bates has the tendency to present people and places in regular, if confusing, info-dumps that have nothing to do with the actual story. Imagine you’re being given the backstories of people you’ll never meet (ain’t nobody got time for that), and places you’ll never see; it’s clear that this world is very much a living, breathing thing in Bates’s imagination, but it doesn’t translate well to the page, and feels as if she’s making it up as she goes along, hurling names and dates and locales at her readers as if they are expected to memorize everything for an upcoming test. There’s too much context in parts of the book and not enough in others, leaving the pacing uneven, giving it a drunken seesaw effect.
Another issue was that I couldn’t connect to the characters. Taking into account the fact that Elanna was obviously gaslit in regards to her family and her old way of life— nope. That still doesn’t explain or excuse the fact that she is a paper-thin character with motivations that flip-flop like a raggedy umbrella in a windstorm. We spend so much time in her head— and despite her traumatic past, it is boring and repetitive as heck. Elanna was difficult to grasp as a character simply because she was mutable; the only thing consistent about her was her inconsistency.
The romance was sweet, but terribly one-note. It was the stuff of fanfic legend; lots of Looks Fraught With Meaning and accidental hand-touching and instant attraction that pays no heed to any kind of common sense (Elanna, girl, your love interest magically knocked you out and kidnapped you, which is a pretty decent reason to be mad at him for more than a few hours. Instead, you sulk for awhile, then get over it because, when you guys share a horse, his body-heat is swoon-worthy? Get out of here and never come back). None of the characters are developed beyond their names, and Bates telling you what their personalities are. We don’t see much of their actual growth, more like perpetual stagnation.
One thing The Waking Land had going for it is its magic system. I really enjoyed Elanna’s powers, her ability to communicate with the earth and plant life, and how utterly bad-ass those powers turned out to be.
But then the ending happened and I was like:
Um. I mean, cool, if that’s your thing, that’s your thing, but like… I dunno, I’m out.
With that said: I know this book will tick off someone’s check-boxes somewhere. I can’t recommend it a place on the shelf, but if this sounds like your thing, you can grab a copy here.