Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Review: Burned by Karen Marie Moning

Title: Burned
Author: Karen Marie Moning
Series: Fever, Book 7
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 20 January 2015

It’s easy to walk away from lies. Power is another thing.

MacKayla Lane would do anything to save the home she loves. A gifted sidhe-seer, she’s already fought and defeated the deadly Sinsar Dubh—an ancient book of terrible evil—yet its hold on her has never been stronger.
When the wall that protected humans from the seductive, insatiable Fae was destroyed on Halloween, long-imprisoned immortals ravaged the planet. Now Dublin is a war zone with factions battling for control. As the city heats up and the ice left by the Hoar Frost King melts, tempers flare, passions run red-hot, and dangerous lines get crossed. Seelie and Unseelie vie for power against nine ancient immortals who have governed Dublin for millennia; a rival band of sidhe-seers invades the city, determined to claim it for their own; Mac’s former protégé and best friend, Dani “Mega” O’Malley, is now her fierce enemy; and even more urgent, Highland druid Christian MacKeltar has been captured by the Crimson Hag and is being driven deeper into Unseelie madness with each passing day. The only one Mac can depend on is the powerful, dangerous immortal Jericho Barrons, but even their fiery bond is tested by betrayal.

It’s a world where staying alive is a constant struggle, the line between good and evil gets blurred, and every alliance comes at a price. In an epic battle against dark forces, Mac must decide who she can trust, and what her survival is ultimately worth.

First things first, this cover. I hated it from the moment it was revealed. I mean, COME ON! We'd gone from beauties like this:

Beautiful. Each and every one of them. Then we get that monstrosity up there. It telegraphs sex. I guess that's pretty fitting because it's damn near all anyone in this book thinks about. That cover did not fill me with a great deal of hope, though. Not that I had a whole lot of it to begin with. Iced made me rage. I won't get into it here, but you can check out my review. Then there was the whole testing of the bond between Mac and Barrons that's alluded to in the blurb. I went into this book with some serious reservations. On the other hand, this is Karen Marie Moning! The author that blew me away in the original five books of the Fever series! I have faith! I had hope! I couldn't wait to see her make me eat my words of hate and irritation at Iced.

I'm avoiding SPOILERS for Burned in this review, but fair warning - there are going to be SPOILERS for Darkfever through Iced discussed.

Burned did not do that for me. While I didn't finish it wanting to throw it out the window, stomp on it, burn it, and then scatter the ashes, I also didn't finish with that beautiful feeling of having stepped from a world that amazed, having just listened to the most incredible story, told by a girl with verve, audacity, passion and brains.

I want to end this review on a positive note, I want to think positively about where the series is going in the future - so, I'm starting with the negatives. It took me about 3 days to read this book, only reading a few hours a day, because I spent the entire time taking notes. In the end I have over fifteen pages of notes on this book, and a severe disappointment - but again, I have hope (why, yes, I might be a masochistic optimist) for the future of the series.

Instead of the consuming story I had hoped for, I was treated to 400 pages of the author explaining everything that I, as a reader, was too dense to understand in Iced, sprinkled with a few truly great moments and teasers. Yes, I complained - a lot - about the adult, immortal men in Iced lusting over Dani, a 14-year-old-girl and abusing her. Yes, I said, on more than one occasion, that if KMM wanted to include sex (or innuendo) in this series I wanted it to wait until Dani was older. I don't think that's too much to ask. I was told by the author in interviews that I'd read the story wrong.

That went over well.

So, KMM took to Burned to explain exactly how wrong I was. Every.Single.Thing I had an issue with in Iced is contemplated, dissected, discussed and thought about. That's not even counting the moments where previous canon is being re-written. Things that were clearly stated in the previous six books were suddenly not the same. Facts are twisted. All of it telling me how wrong I was in my interpretation of the events that occurred. From multiple character points-of-view. There were meta-speeches in characters minds repeating the same words I've read KMM say in interviews. I can't even say how much this pisses me off. SHOW me I was wrong, don't tell me; don't have (multiple) characters TELL me. I want to SEE that I was wrong, not hear it. I've been hearing you, KMM, say how wrong I was for the last couple of years. Luckily, this is the only real rage-inducing thing I experienced while reading, and I'm pretty much over it. I get it. I do. KMM took a lot of flack and answered a lot of questions about the choices she made in Iced. Pedophilia was brought up frequently, frequently enough for her to address it in a FAQ (which has since been removed from her blog). That's bound to put anyone on the defensive. So I'm trying not to be too mad about this. I just wish that she'd not felt the need to cram this stuff down my throat and let the story speak for itself.

They fence me in with teenage rules that don’t hold me for shit, seeing how I grew up. You can kill but don’t cuss. Break any rule necessary to save the world but don’t watch porn or even think about having sex. How do they come up with this stuff--hold parental powwows for brainstorming diametrically opposed ethics?

You probably know, if you've read my Iced review, that Ryodan was my biggest problem in its pages. The vibe that he gave off when he was with Dani - one of waiting for her to grow up (she's FOURTEEN, and he's been watching her a LONG time), so he could have the woman she'd become - squicked me out. Then there's the abuse: holding her without food or water for three days, because reasons; slamming her face into a stone pillar, repeatedly; breaking her finger...Yup. I hated him. I hated everything about him. Prior to Iced I had kind of liked Ryodan. I didn't know enough to love or hate, but I was leaning towards like. Then all of that went down - and honestly that felt kind of out of character, too - and I'm not sure I'll ever like the bastard again. I can love an asshole - see Barrons; I can get down with manipulative - see Barrons again; I can handle secretive - hello? Barrons still; but abusive and a pedo vibe? Not so much.

"That's not why I watched over her."

"Bullshit. We all saw the woman she could become."

Anyway, that's rehashing the past. However, that's something that KMM excels at in Burned, so I guess I'm not too far off point. In these pages we learn that everything we thought we knew...we were wrong. Ryodan's not an abusive asshole - he didn't mean to break her finger, he forgot how fragile humans were; he didn't hold her for three days, chained in his basement, because he's a controlling freak - he did it for her own-fucking-good. There wasn't a pedo-vibe to his interactions with her, he was a guardian angel, protecting her, being her pillar, holding the roof up while she re-laid her foundation. What-the-eff-ever. I'm not buying what you're selling, KMM. No matter how many different characters sit and extol Ryodan's virtues, realizing what a nice guy he is.

I find myself questioning everything I thought I knew about Ryodan. Running prior conversations through my mind, realizing the man I believed moderately intelligent and highly manipulative of others--to their own detriment and destruction--is in fact highly intelligent and enormously manipulative of others, but I've begun to suspect it's because he's trying to fix what he perceives as the things they want fixed but don't know how. He sees the bird's-eye view and takes the hard, catalytic actions. Unsettling, disturbing to those of us that don't, makes it easy to call him bastard, heartless.

But why would he bother?

There are only two possibilities: either he wants whatever goal he will achieve by altering that person, or, unfathomable as it is, he cares about the world he pretends to scorn, and the people in it.

Now, maybe, just maybe, if I'd been shown that I was wrong about Ryodan, instead of having every character possible think about it, talk about it, and reflect on it, then I might have eaten my words. I still would have hated what he'd done, but I might have grown to like him again. There was one moment in the book where we were shown that Ryodan might be kinder than we've previously seen - his interaction with Jo - however, it's so heavy-handed, especially on top of all the virtue-extolling everyone else is doing, that it just made me roll my eyes. Take away? Ryodan's not a bad guy. In fact, he's a saint. Check.

This is already getting long, so I'm just going to skip to what I feel like was the checklist for this book.

1. Ryodan's an abuser and giving off strong pedo-vibes? No! He's a nice guy! Here, let me tell you! Check.
2. Dani's too young? We can fix that. Into the Silvers, you go, my girl. Check.
3. We miss Mac! Ahh. Well, she can be the narrator again. Check.
4. What's she been up to? Recap. Recap some more. Recap again. Recap stuff you just were there to experience. Check.
5. End scene of Iced, with Mac holding the Spear on Dani and being pissed at her, not make sense? Explain it away. She didn't know. Don't mind the previous stuff you've been told. It'll change as needed. Check.
6. Christian's too creepy. Can't have that. Fixed. Check.
7. Pedophilia? No way! Meta-speeches by several characters. That'll get the point across. Check.
8. More about the Nine - we must have it! Insert plot-device to allow us to spy on them, getting much more intimate with their thoughts and feelings - which apparently they talk about in private. Check.

One last thing I'm going to complain about...no, two last things. One: Mac's boring internal monologues got on my last nerve. I skimmed a lot of them. There were pages and pages and pages of her telling me stuff I already knew. I know some people complained about these in the first five books, but I swear she wasn't this bad. I guess I'll find out when I re-read. I haven't re-read the books in several years (granted I've re-read them several dozen times so I know them well) but I don't need to be hand-fed every single bit of information. And I know what a freaking linchpin is!

Two: the focus on sex! O.M.G. Honestly. I get it. If I were around Barrons, or probably any of the Nine, sex would be one of my main goals, too. But there's a freaking catastrophe happening around every corner! How about focusing on some of them? The random inserts of sex, thoughts of sex, and voyeuristic viewing of sex throughout the book was just...gratuitous.

Okay, I lied. I'm going to talk about one more thing I didn't like. Going back to the Dani-age thing. Yes, I wanted her older, but I wanted to see her grow up and become the woman she was meant to be. Even if it was in snatches, gradually, whatever. I didn't just want it to happen. And the way it happened? Not loving it. I see where KMM is going with this, and I get it, but I think it's the easy way out - and I never thought of KMM taking the easy way.

Shit. I lied again. Last thing. I promise. I hate, hate, hate, hate that Barrons calls Mac, Ms. Lane still! The intimacy that was gained in Shadowfever is apparently gone. Now they're "islands." Then there's some irritating, manufactured drama that is completely pointless. I could not believe how much drama Mac allowed this to cause.

Speaking of Mac (no this isn't another "thing"), she's no longer the kick-ass, Mac 5.0. She reverted to Mac 2.4 or something. She's passive, in the extreme, a mere narrator for events happening around her, and lacking in any initiative. Apparently, she's done what she came to do, and the rest of the time she's going to sit around watching her version of "reality tv" - and don't get me started on that. She's just lost everything that made me love her. Every once in a while I would catch a thought or action that flitted through her head, but mostly I was amazed that this was the same Mac I'd previously fell in love with.

One thing I do know is things can always get worse, most often at the precise moment you've decided they can't.

And so I remain, as Barrons would pithily say, idiotically passive.

The other effect her passivity has is making her interactions with Barrons seem ... less, somehow. He's the same asshole that I love, but without Mac strong it makes him seem even more an asshole. Of course while Mac is being an idiot - and trust me, she's an IDIOT at times - Barrons really shines, too. Actions speak. I've always trusted his.

Okay. I'm done now with that. I swear. Onto the good - and there are tidbits of good in this novel. They're what is going to make me pick up the next book (where I'm hoping and praying that KMM gets back on track). Unfortunately, most of them could be considered spoilerish - and I'd never do that to you guys. So, I'll be as vague as possible and see what I can do.

I started with a checklist - how about a much more enjoyable list?

1. WeCare - I'm still super interested in this! I need to know what their deal is, who they are, and what they're up to. I feel like they're going to be a problem for Mac and Co. at some point.

2. Mac/Sinsar Dubh - Holy.Shit. I did not see that coming! This storyline is the one I wanted to see the most of in Burned. It wasn't really dealt with a whole lot, so I'm hopeful that the future installments really delve into it. There's some really interesting evolutions and stuff going on here that I need to know more about.

3. Christian - Despite the 'quick fix' I feel that he got for part of his problem, he's not out of the woods yet. I can't help it. I love this guy. I want to see him conquer his demons. I want to see him thrive.

4. Lor - Who knew he'd end up being one of my favorites. Funny as hell, he was one of the bright spots in this book.

5. New Unseelie - YES! That's all.

6. Mac's ... entourage - MUST KNOW MORE! MORE!!!

7. Unseelie King/Concubine - consistently the best scenes. I love them separately, and even better, together. They have real issues that need solving, and I can't wait to see them do it. I hope we get to see them conquer their hurdles. Plus I just want more of the UK, and all his incarnations. There's definitely some interesting stuff going on here.

8. Barrons - He's Barrons. 'Nuff said. One of the few characters that maintained their personality. He is who is he. Period. And I love him. Forever. A quote from a friend of mine, Casey strikes me as absolutely perfect in regards to Barrons: I think Barrons is totally off the charts in terms of sex appeal but I hate all of broody silence and secrets. He makes me feel equal parts I need to punch you in your face/please wear my thighs as earmuffs. Hell, yes. This. For sure.

"Son of a bitch, Mac's ass is--"

"Mine," Barrons says flatly. "You will never go there. You have a problem with Mac, you work it out with me. I am her shield, I am her second fucking skin."

Sexy. That is so damn sexy.

There's actually quite a lot in that list of things that I loved, liked, or am interested in. However, they were bright, shiny moments in a otherwise dull book. The plot was nearly non-existent, Burned suffered from 'middle-book-syndrome', and there's virtually no movement on any of the interesting plot-lines. My big hope is that now that KMM has 'fixed' everything, Feverborn will get everything back on track. Though there was a lot I was disappointed in, I can actually see how it could - mostly - be brought back to the glory that was the first five Fever books. And I'm hopeful. And a masochist, because I'll definitely be reading the next one.

Grade: C-/D+

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