This review was posted on Goodreads in December of 2019. I fell in love with the cover and subject of A Blade So Black and these were my thoughts. This book hasn’t yet made an appearance on our Recommended Reading list.
I’m a bit disappointed…
Where do I begin? A Blade So Black has a lot of potential and, going in, I had very high hopes. I started this book a few months ago, shortly after finishing the Lunar Chronicles series and Girls of Paper and Fire. Those five books took me approximately two months to finish altogether. This one took almost double the time.
Still, because I had such high expectations, I don’t want to just bash the book for not living up to them. Obviously, there had to be something that kept me reading until the end, and I’ll get to that.
So, first, the issues.
There were quite a few from the very start. I cracked this book open with excitement and started reading. The opening chapter started with action, an emotional situation, and the stabbing of a bad guy. All good things. It introduced us to our main character and introduces her to another important figure, her mentor Hatta. It all starts off pretty exciting.
But then, it’s suddenly three months later (or was it one month…it’s not all that memorable, unfortunately). We’ve seen no build-up of the relationship between the two. Now, they’re training. It’s a training/fighting scene in which the stakes are almost non-existent. And we’re only a few pages in at this point. Of course, after the shock of the sudden time skip wears off, I felt like I could get into the groove. Until it happened again.
This time, we’ve jumped ahead a year. We’ve still seen little to no relationship development, but now have to accept that these two characters would die for each other. This is all LONG before we get to the main story line of Hatta being poisoned. We’re only about 50 pages in. By now, the story has jumped so much, yet given so little reason to care about the characters that I’m already struggling to remain interested.
It was around this time that I started taking notes and asking myself why I didn’t like it.
The goal was to figure out what wasn’t working for me so that I could understand what does (especially since I’ve just gotten into YA and it’s still more hit than miss).
One of the things that really irked me was the lazy descriptions of just comparing characters to other fictional characters (mostly from Buffy). I also feel like the slang and references in the book will end up very dated. That’s not always a bad thing, it’s just something I noted. And a lot of the language used by the teens in this book doesn’t sound anything like the teens I know. (I’ve worked with kids and teens for years, so I talk to them a lot.) It sounds like something I might have heard when I was in high school, and kids don’t talk like that anymore. This resulted in none of the characters feeling all that real or fleshed out for *most* of the book.
Because of that and certain character behaviors, I didn’t really get attached to any of them. Of course, I adored Maddie. She’s a mousy bartender who needs potions just to make sense because she’s loopy. And we all know how I feel about the loopy characters. ( #WinterIsMyPrincess ) Even so, I can’t think of any of the characters I could say I cared enough about to be interested in the sequel.
Another thing that really bothered me was the author’s tendency to gush about the beauty of all the white characters. I know this sounds nitpicky, but hear me out. While both Hatta and Alice’s bestie, Courtney, are described as some of the most beautiful people Alice had ever seen in her life, she physically *cringes* at being reminded of how dark she is. That seriously blows. Even the characters of Wonderland with brown skin are given European traits (blue eyes, straight hair, light skin tone) to “enhance” how beautiful they are.
Don’t get me wrong, they really do all sound gorgeous. In fact, I feel like the thing with their traits wouldn’t have been as noticeable if Alice hadn’t actually cringed at being reminded of her darkness literally a few lines after pointing out how Courtney, with her blonde hair and light eyes was oh-so-perfect. As someone who’s had to experience other people cringing at my own darkness, it made me super uncomfortable. (Edit: I didn’t know about her comments online. Those just make this observation even stranger, though. Like, there’s something going on there.)
Finally, the biggest issue, and the main reason it took me so long to read, was that it felt like nothing was happening. For 300 pages, it all felt like an extended prologue. I kept putting the book down and finding other things to do, distracting myself from what was supposed to be a pleasant pastime, because it felt like I was crawling through a whole lot of nothing. Which, as you can imagine, is not fun.
So, the million dollar question: Why’d I keep reading it? Why’d I bother to finish it?
Well, it got better. The last 80 or so pages were where this book shone. And I suppose something about the first 300 clued me in. It could be that I very rarely DNF books. It could be that I am so intrigued with the Alice in Wonderland mythos that I’ll suffer through almost anything. (Confession, I never finished Through the Looking Glass.)
The writing may not have been my preferred style, but the world was vivid and exciting. If nothing else, Wonderland itself, as it always does, pulled me in and kept me there. I didn’t care that much about how this story would end, but I found myself deeply attracted to this version of Wonderland. The creatures, the monsters, the history, the colors. It was all so well done.
So, I followed Alice to the end. I rolled my eyes a lot, but by the last few pages, I actually felt something. I cared about some of the characters, I laughed, I related, I caught a tear. And, while I won’t be buying the next book, I might borrow it from the library to see where the story goes.
All in all, I don’t think A Blade So Black is a bad book. I didn’t particularly like it, but I can see the merit in it. Its strongest points are in the world building and in an exciting ending. Its weakest are with character development and relationships. It definitely feels like the “set-up” to the real story, though, and that left me disappointed. I realize it’s meant to be the start of a series, but it’s nice to feel a sense of completion with each book, and I didn’t get that from this one.
If you’re into YA and Alice in Wonderland, then I recommend you give it a shot. What I like isn’t necessarily going to be the same for you, and it had a lot of good points. You might find it more to your taste. After all, I’m just one person with one opinion.
Until next time…