Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.
I’ve reading through a few books this week, trying to keep them all separate in my mind, so I could decide which one to write about. But in their continual effort to use me as a beta tester for various petty torments, the fates have seen fit to fill my TBR with a plethora, nay a cornucopia, nay a group of just three very similar books.
A Patriot’s Tale by Nicole Peirman is historical fiction in which Lily lives a crazy person orphan life in the woods, and wants to join the Rebel Alliance or the Washington’s Wizards or whatever the American army was calling themselves back in Yore times. The Combatant by Julie Falango follows ostensibly orphaned Lexi as she lives in the woods and wants to join the Medieval-but-with-motorcycles elite fighting force of her kingdom. In the legally distinct science fantasy novel A Shimmering World: Book One of the Shimmering Saga by A. C. Lowry, it’s Em who wants to be an elite fighter, but she’s only a second degree orphan and her crazy people cabin is a barracks. The common thread seems to be a classic YA genre trope, the 5½ P: perfect, persecuted, pugilistic, (partially) parentless prodigies. So why limit ourselves to just one PPPpPP? If these three titles represent three attempts to get an idea right, surely all three at once will give us our greatest chance of success. Welcome to the first installment of Frankenbook, where I review the book that is living rent-free in my head after absorbing several self-published YA fantasies. I’m going to blend the details of each book together like one of those tiny Asian washing machines that turn all your clothes into Klein bottles, in the hope that what comes out will be better than the sum of its parts. Allow me to summarize the first act, as best I can.
“She shook off the tears of hopelessness after the twenty-fourth survivor had spit on her shoe and cursed her name.”
At the age of five, Princess Lilexem (Lil’ XM to her friends) of the Kingdom of Odessa has it all: an intact, loving family, an intact, un-burnt house, a teddy bear. If there’s a pleasant thing you can think of pertaining to being a privileged little girl who lives in a castle for the time being, she’s got it. Her completely alive father loves to give her presents and big hugs, and her older brother Damion teases her the way only still-extant older brothers can. Everything is happy and perfect, and presumably will be forever. But then! One night our heretofore untragic heroine wakes up to find that she’s on a lot of fire. She curls up into a ball under an asbestos blanket and waits for death.
Prince General-Kirigan-slash-Hans-from-Frozen proposes to his father King Malachy that the Maq, a magical race of humanoids with jet black skin and glowing red eyes, do not need to be hated anymore. The old man is not buying it, still seeing the Maq as a tribal enemy to be exterminated. This is relevant because our protagonist LXM (940 to her Ancient Roman friends) has become a Maq somehow! She is living with her mystery replacement mother, who is very… what’s the female version of avuncular? (checks internet) Materteral? Seriously? Jesus Christ, English. Just when I’m done being mad about the word “authoress” you go and pull this shit. Anyway, her surrog-aunt simultaneously lives in an isolated cabin in the backwoods of South Carolina and a fantasy version of Kowloon Walled City. It’s very pastoral, but also one of those gritty places where nobody’s nice to each other for some reason. Even our plucky (Oo! Another p!) heroine is kind of a Mean Girl (she has this uncomfortable way of describing all the other women in the story by their hair style and color). And the closest thing she has to a mentor kills poor people to make tchotchkes out of their bones. One person I did enjoy was the sloppy foul bestie who just wants drunk cake. But she doesn’t get much screen time, probably to make room for more boys.
Now twenty years old, Lixmy doesn’t remember her life before bring raised in the cabin by her substi-tía and her ersatz brother and friendzoned sparring partner, Cole. A word of advice, ladies. If any human male roughly your age is practicing martial arts with you in a book or a movie, he’s in love with you. I don’t know if that rule applies at the dojo in your local strip mall that turns into a zoomba studio after five, but in books it’s a hundred percent of the time. Do with that knowledge what you will. Anyway, Lesmex has joined some murderous organization of fantasy super soldiers so she can one day become a field medic. Apparently there’s an engineered shortage of medical supplies in the kingdom, and I guess joining the steampunk Hitler Youth is the only way to address that.
Bourabon Van Verot towered over the naked man strapped to his dining table.”
Meanwhile, British soldiers ruthlessly burn villages across the part of South Carolina where our fantasy story has been taking place, leaving the survivors to fend for themselves. Our girl is elated to see starving families shuffle down the country road by her orphan cabin because she can chat them up about the war and maybe find a way into the rebel army. Because the elite combat organization she’s already in isn’t good enough. She rescues a hot boy with chocolate colored hair, and casually explains to him how much of an orphan she is, since she believes the local British corporal (who in the film adaptation looks suspiciously like Prince Not-a-Bad-Guy-Pinky-Swear) murdered her brother and parents. I guess it was him who set the fire in her bedroom, and she just assumed that the rest of her family was killed, except she also doesn’t remember the fire. Jeez, try to keep up. She shows off her badass knife-throwing skills (which in my opinion is any amount of knife-throwing skills), and probably talks to the squirrels she hunts a little too often (which in my opinion is any amount of talking to squirrels), about how useful she would be to the rebels. The chocolate-haired love interest is skeptical.
For the time being, Emmalily is merely a cadet at the top of her class in the city guard of Evil Ankh Morpork, set to replace the prince’s own guardian after the peasant-knickknack-making weirdo’s imminent retirement. Resentment follows her everywhere she goes, because on top of beating every boy and girl in training, she has the whole Maq thing going on (you probably remember from high school what a burden it is to be better than everyone else). Her protagonist-hating instructor acts on this resentment by ambushing her with a sex-fight against four armed cadets. Only the speedy intervention of the Prince himself prevents possible death. But then he shoots the instructor, and enjoys it. This is never framed as a bad thing, by the way. The instructor lives, and the Prince is obviously being set up as a “I can’t believe the evil guy was evil the whole time” twist anyway. But still, it’s weird that everyone seems to be cool with it.
One day Cole comes home with a mysterious knife wound, and Allie Maq has to use her medical skills to suture it, which inevitably leads to her wondering if maybe she was wrong to overlook him as a potential source of vitamin D. A word of advice, fellas. If any human female roughly your age tends your wounds in a steam-peasant science fantasy, she’s into you. The two go into town, where everyone loves our super swell protagonist. “Everyone simultaneously loves and hates me” is like a Madonna-Whore complex that you can inflict on yourself! But she has to duck into a combination book store and library when she notices a shadowy figure following her. I’m not sure how a book store library works; it kind of seems like a book store that has no revenue, but we can’t be dwelling on these things. At the very special birthday picnic Cole made for her, Cole admits that the knife wound was inflicted by Kill Squad cadet Damion! Oh, it turns out her whole family is alive, and I guess someone set fire to just her bedroom specifically, but of course she doesn’t put these pieces together yet. Just as this information is revealed, Damion and the rest of the jocks crash the picnic with nothing good on their minds, and the two galaxy-crossed youngsters have to flee.
“He was quite short too and looked like he would be a librarian.”
Despite being “just a woman,” LAX sets out with Hot Chocolate to find the rebel camp. They arrive just in time to see a spy get shot, a grim reminder that the fantasy Revolutionary War is no joke. HC takes another try at changing her mind, insisting that she can’t hide her sex, and besides, fighting grown men on a bloody battlefield is not the same as hunting squirrels in the woods. But it’s no use. She needs to join the rebellion to fight the invaders who destroyed her royal Maq family. She impersonates a man, fights in a gruesome battle against the fantasy British (who presumably wear horned bowlers and blast drizzly weather from their fingers), and gets captured. When she awakes in a stately Georgian bedroom, wearing a poofy gown, and tended to by a maid, it becomes obvious that she has been found out. She is now the personal “guest” of the very same corporal who has been laying waste to rural South Carolina. How will she escape from Prince Corporal McEvilFace? Which boy will she pick? Will she rediscover her old family?
That’s just the start of our Frankenventure. I’m not sure if jamming everything together like that made the end result any better, but it definitely makes the whole experience more efficient to read. Maybe there should be an app that does this senseless smashing together for us, so we can read entire genres in one sitting. Kind of like watching American Horror Story, but for books. A Patriot’s Tale, A Shimmering World, and The Combatant cost a cumulative fourteen dollars on Kindle.
I thought they would get better, but if anything Madeline’s opinions are only getting worse.Tweet