Review: The Gauntlet

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Cora and her friends have escaped the Kindred station and landed at Armstrong—a supposed safe haven on a small moon—where they plan to regroup and figure out how to win the Gauntlet, the challenging competition to prove humanity’s intelligence and set them free. But Armstrong is no paradise; ruled by a power-hungry sheriff, it’s a violent world where the teens are enslaved and put to work in mines. As Nok’s due date grows closer, and Mali and Leon journey across space to rescue Cassian, the former inhabitants of the cage are up against impossible odds.

With the whole universe at stake, Cora will do whatever it takes, including pushing her body and mind to the breaking point, to escape Armstrong and run the Gauntlet. But it isn’t just a deranged sheriff she has to overcome: the other intelligent species—the Axion, Kindred, Gatherers, and Mosca—all have their own reasons to stop her. Not knowing who to trust, Cora must rely on her own instincts to win the competition, which could change the world—though it might destroy her in the process.

I did not reread the previous two books before I started this finale, and it left me feeling very unconnected with the characters, or interested really. I was not in the mood for this type of book when I picked it up, and I know that affected my view of it because I enjoyed the previous two in the series, as well as Shepherd’s other series.

This picks right back up from where the second one left off and I felt a little lost at first, but pretty quickly got back into the swing of events and the new goal. The time spent on the moon with the human colony didn’t make much sense to me until towards the end of the book. I felt like we were wasting time in the beginning and I think there could have been some altering to the timeline to pick up on what our main threat was faster. When the twist is revealed and we find out what the main threat is, it brings in a whole other layer of subterfuge, and I would have loved to see that revelation earlier in this book.

Though I was a bit underwhelmed with the pace of this finale, I was pleased with the amounts of growth all of the characters are going through. Leon is finally seeing himself as a good guy and trying to act like one; Rolf and Nok have let go of their selfish naivety and are taking on leadership roles; and in general they all coming full circle, learning how to use their best skills to represent humanity and achieve the goals needed in their own personal and group challenges.

While I had hoped Cassian would have a larger role in this, when he is back I really enjoyed the interactions between him and all of the group. The end of this was bittersweet, but it really fit with all of the characters and their personalities. I would have loved an epilogue though!

Overall this was a satisfying ending to a good series. I think I will enjoy it better on the second go around.

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Revisiting: The Cage

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Re-reading this, and my previous review, I don’t really have much to add. I was still just as enamored of the world as I was the first time I read this through.

I guess the only thing that I really felt myself questioning was that, knowing the twist in the end, I didn’t really see any links that made it make sense. If that sentence even made sense. I guess for the general purpose of the experiment I can understand, but I also feel like it was kind of a split personality for the character it centered on – he was the one he wanted to be when presented to us, and the one he was required to be when hidden from us?  

Anyway, still really enjoyed this re-read. 

Goodreads Summary:

When Cora Mason wakes in a desert, she doesn’t know where she is or who put her there. As she explores, she finds an impossible mix of environments—tundra next to desert, farm next to jungle, and a strangely empty town cobbled together from different cultures—all watched over by eerie black windows. And she isn’t alone.

Four other teenagers have also been taken: a beautiful model, a tattooed smuggler, a secretive genius, and an army brat who seems to know too much about Cora’s past. None of them have a clue as to what happened, and all of them have secrets. As the unlikely group struggles for leadership, they slowly start to trust each other. But when their mysterious jailer—a handsome young guard called Cassian—appears, they realize that their captivity is more terrifying than they could ever imagine: Their captors aren’t from Earth. And they have taken the five teenagers for an otherworldly zoo—where the exhibits are humans.

As a forbidden attraction develops between Cora and Cassian, she realizes that her best chance of escape might be in the arms of her own jailer—though that would mean leaving the others behind. Can Cora manage to save herself and her companions? And if so . . . what world lies beyond the walls of their cage?

There are a lot of mixed reviews on Goodreads about this book, but personally, I thoroughly enjoyed it!

This is such a different alien story than other that I have read. There is the usual attraction between the alien and human, but it is so different, neither of them turn against their own people or abandon their core beliefs of what humanity is. And the way it ends! Oh my goodness there was a twist I didn’t see coming!

The other characters were all really interesting in their own ways as well. I started out liking Lucky and Rolf and disliked them to certain degrees as we got deeper into the book, then they both redeemed themselves a bit. Then there was Nok, who I didn’t like or trust from the beginning and was proven right about. And then there was Leon, who seemed like he’d be the stereotypical bully but ended up extremely complex and I enjoyed every time we got to hear from him. Mali, I don’t even know how I feel about her but she’s definitely an important one.

I loved how Shepherd mapped out how twisted all the characters were becoming. I didn’t know who was crazy and who was sane at moments. And while Cora was pretty rash sometimes, I sympathized with her the entire time and loved how determined she was to not be a victim. She had let so many things slide in her life and had grown accustomed to doing what others said that I really appreciated that when she decided to be strong she didn’t let it go. And as we learned more about her past it became clear that she had always had that strength and it wasn’t a stretch for her at all.

Cassian is so interesting. His interest in humans and their humanity is really intriguing considering what his people value in society. And when we bring in the evolution of the people in the cages it just gets more complex. I can’t wait to see what happens between he and Cora in the next books, I think it’s going to be a hard road for them, but I have faith because I really like them together.

The “love triangle” in this was also really well done. As well as the general originality of it all, the world building was fantastic and the character development so interesting. Overall, another great book from Shepherd.

A Cold Legacy

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Goodreads Summary:

After killing the men who tried to steal her father’s research, Juliet—along with Montgomery, Lucy, Balthazar, and a deathly ill Edward—has escaped to a remote estate on the Scottish moors. Owned by the enigmatic Elizabeth von Stein, the mansion is full of mysteries and unexplained oddities: dead bodies in the basement, secret passages, and fortune-tellers who seem to know Juliet’s secrets. Though it appears to be a safe haven, Juliet fears new dangers may be present within the manor’s own walls.

Then Juliet uncovers the truth about the manor’s long history of scientific experimentation—and her own intended role in it—forcing her to determine where the line falls between right and wrong, life and death, magic and science, and promises and secrets. And she must decide if she’ll follow her father’s dark footsteps or her mother’s tragic ones, or whether she’ll make her own.

With inspiration from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this breathless conclusion to the Madman’s Daughter trilogy is about the things we’ll sacrifice to save those we love—even our own humanity.

Juliet is going down a dark road and the control and consciousness I thought she had grasped at the end of the second book disappeared immediately in this one. She’s sinking into her morbid fascination with pleasing her dead father, tossing aside the morals the guided her through the first book and she clung to in the second, and shutting out everyone who cares about her. Poor Montgomery, he puts up with a lot of her issues and she’s treats him like poo for the majority of this book.

Anyway! I think it’s really interesting how Elizabeth justifies her use of Frankenstein’s science, and the almost uncontrollable thirst Juliet has for outdoing/pleasing her father’s ghost provides an interesting difference b/w the two scientists. However, the degree of secrets Juliet kept from Montgomery regarding her learning of the science really disappointed me. I mean they are engaged, she plans to spend the rest of her life with him, but her view on their relationship seems to be: it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission; even though we all know that he will do anything if she wants it bad enough. I was just all around disappointed in Juliet for the majority of this story. And I thought the “man hunt” was a bit lacking, but I guess it made sense.

The last 100 pages or so was when it picked up a bit and Juliet pulled her head out of the clouds and faced reality, and the reality of what she had been allowing herself to do. The “Big Secret” that Montgomery had been hiding didn’t come as much of a surprise to me, and I think he should have told her sooner, but whatever. The impact it had on Juliet’s view of herself, the actions of her father, and how it affected her justification for their use of science was . . . well, I still haven’t completely figured out how I feel about it. A part of me thought it was way too much of a turn around too quickly; but another part of me was just received she was seeing things in a different light already – and I also hadn’t realized how deeply she was tied to the idea that she had no choice but to become her father’s daughter. Overall, I thought the resolution was really good and it tied everything up in not too tidy bows, but with closer.

Her Dark Curiosity

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Goodreads Summary:

Inspired by The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this tantalizing sequel to Megan Shepherd’s gothic suspense novel The Madman’s Daughter explores the hidden natures of those we love and how far we’ll go to save them from themselves. Perfect for fans of Libba Bray.

Back in London after her trip to Dr. Moreau’s horrific island, Juliet is rebuilding the life she once knew and trying to forget her father’s legacy. But soon it’s clear that someone—or something—hasn’t forgotten her, as people close to Juliet start falling victim to a murderer who leaves a macabre calling card of three clawlike slashes. Has one of her father’s creations also escaped the island?

As Juliet strives to stop a killer while searching for a serum to cure her own worsening illness, she finds herself once more in a world of scandal and danger. Her heart torn in two, her past bubbling to the surface, and her life threatened by an obsessive killer—Juliet will be lucky to escape alive.

Watching Juliet slowly sink into madness in this book was so interesting, and I pretty worried about her to be honest. In the first book she hates her father and his experiments and is sticking to her moral guns. In this one she’s going through so many emotional issues that he’s loosing her hold on her morality and is getting desperate to find a cure to her worsening condition. It’s a roller coaster of emotions!

The relationship development in this book are so interesting. At first, Juliet thinks Montgomery abandoned her, she’s trying to acclimate back into a life where she answers to others, and has a certain amount of respect within the community. She’s heartbroken, lonely, and doesn’t know where she fits in – and she is trying to discover herself.

Then Edward shows up and it all goes to hell – he’s the Dr.Jekyll / Mr.Hyde aspect of this book. Juliet is sucked into his strange hold over her again, almost immediately – she’s no longer alone and has someone who knows all of her secrets and the darkness within herself that she suffers with. I think how Shepherd illustrates their strange relationship is so intriguing. Even when they are intimate (which happens once and I hated it, but I understood why it happened, and Juliet regretted it as soon as it happened.) there is this lack of emotional connection; it makes it clear that Juliet is still in love with someone else, but more importantly it emphasizes her deep loneliness and starvation for a connection to someone.

I also really appreciated that when Montgomery does show up, she doesn’t immediately fall into his arms, he broke her heart, made her think she didn’t matter to him, and abandoned her – she’s hurt beyond words by his actions. So they have a fight where they make stabs at each other and purposefully hurt one another – but that’s a real relationship, it’s not always pretty. And even though they are mad at each other they are still devoted to one another and they work to find a middle ground and to be together. I was surprised by how serious their relationship got, but it makes sense if we are sticking with the historic context. However, I think it’s going to get rocky before it gets better because it’s clear that Juliet is losing her hold on her dark curiosity (see what I did there) of her fathers genius, and Montgomery is doing all he can to support her without letting her go over the edge.

The level of corruption this takes on is really interesting too, and it really makes one question the morality of certain actions when wealth and reputation are for the taking. I can’t wait to delve into the next one, which takes influence from Frankenstein, which I have acctualy read.

The Madman’s Daughter

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Goodreads Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father’s gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.

Accompanied by her father’s handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father’s madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island’s inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father’s dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it’s too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father’s genius—and madness—in her own blood.

Inspired by H. G. Wells’s classic The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Madman’s Daughter is a dark and breathless Gothic thriller about the secrets we’ll do anything to know and the truths we’ll go to any lengths to protect.

I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did, I loved it actually.

The concept is amazing, a lot like what we’re seeing with the rise of fairy tale retellings; and I think the use of classic novels – horrors in this case – is fantastic. The tale is dark and gritty and mind bending, while still being modern.

The characters are fantastic. I love Juliet, she’s fiercely independent, outspoken, and completely conscious of her faults. Yet, there is still a vulnerability that makes her relateable and explains her desperate actions.

Montgomery is so much more complex than you realize at the beginning. His feelings towards Juliet are obvious as well as his inherent goodness, but his reasons for working with her father give him a shroud of mystery for a good portion of the story. Slowly his compassion is revealed, his sense of loyalty and protectiveness, his intelligence and need to prove himself, and most of all his survival instinct. I also love the relationship between he and Juliet, it’s so natural and they meld together like two halves of a whole without detracting from any of the personal traits that make them compelling as individuals.

Edward is a mystery, and remains that way until the very end. His pull towards Juliet has something almost sinister about it, yet its clear he doesn’t want to be a bad guy at any stage. Juliet’s interest in him is understandable as she often admits that his darkness calls to hers. Obviously, he and Montgomery construct the love triangle to Juliet, but I thought it was done pretty well, she is drawn to each of them for different reasons, and I think her ultimate choice will reflect who she wants to become – and I don’t think that will happen until she comes to terms with her demons.

Her father is an interesting one. As the villain of the story its so well done, he believes in what he’s doing so much he’s blind to the wrongness of it. It’s made even more interesting with the juxtaposition between he and his creatures. I didn’t read the original story this was based on, so I don’t know how much of the traits stem from it, but this was fantastic.

The ending is full of so many reveals and twists, it’s crazy and leaves you breathless for a minute, but I’m really interested to see how it all plays out.

Also, as a side note. I had already pre-ordered The Cage, by Shepherd, so now that I have read this I’m even more excited for that!