Burning is snuffed out by poor plot development

Burning by Danielle Rollins

Reviewed for Netgalley

SPOILERS

Sometimes when I am reading a book that just isn’t holding my attention, I start a premature review to collect my thoughts on why exactly I am not loving it. So here goes…

First impressions:

Angela Davis is three months away from being released from a juvenile detention center when a new inmate and some sketchy so-called philanthropists show up and strange, unexplained things begin to happen. With her safety threatened, Angela must find a way to free herself and friends before it’s too late.

“Readers will be rooting for Angela and her friends to find the truth and save themselves in this spine-tingling story rich with secrets and conspiracies.” (The book’s blurb) Yeah, that’s what I thought too. That I would be rooting for them to overcome the creeps and weirdness and save themselves. Except, so far, there is nothing to save themselves from because the pace of this book is glacial. I’m 80 pages in and still wondering when things are going to get interesting.

So far, new girl and possible paranormal presence Jessica has arrived, Angela has gotten some hard to explain burnt fingers, and Dr. Gruen and her Stepford-wife assistant have shown up on the grounds of Brunesfield with a paper thin cover story about some science program for gifted young girls. And here is the first major problem with the story. I have a bit of experience working with juvenile offenders, and I can tell you this: while some of them may not have “book” smarts, they all have street smarts. I don’t think a single one of these girls would fall for the SciGirls lies. Why would a program that seeks out exceptional young women start with girls in juvie? They wouldn’t. They’d start in colleges and prep schools and high school honor programs, and the characters in Brunesfield should know this. They are far too smart to fall for such obvious lies.

Final impression:

Burning is a hot mess. For a story that took so long to get going, it wraps up in a quick meltdown of clichés and underdeveloped plotlines. Makes me wonder if a pending deadline forced too many cuts in the writing. There were simply too many half-baked plot points. How can a girl make fire appear out of nowhere and then wield the flames as a weapon? There were hints of illegal human experimentation under Dr. Gruen and her SciGirls, then a claim that the ability is a contagious infection, but I guess we’ll never know.

Gruen is a predictable, stereotypical villain with no character development. In the end, she attempts to kill both Jessica and Angela, yet leaves before she confirms that they are dead. Sorry, but I am not buying that. This lunatic was hell bent on covering up her dirty, soot-covered tracks, yet she doesn’t make sure that her trap actually kills them? She isn’t that sloppy.

Why, when Angela’s brother is brought to the prison for a visit by Dr. Gruen, does she not warn him to stay away from Dr. Crazy? She knows at this point that the doctor is not who she says she is, yet she gives her beloved brother no warning whatsoever?

And where in New York are they that wolves are a huge threat and where a group of girls wearing orange prison clothes can walk through the woods for days without encountering another human being or a convenience store or basically any other lifeform but can find a working telephone in an abandoned shack? Bye-bye, reality!

Underdeveloped and disappointing. Skip this one.

The dumbing down of Damen, a spoiler-ridden review of Kings Rising

Packed with SPOILERS! Just an FYI….

Okay, I guess three days after finishing is enough processing time to attempt a cohesive review of Kings Rising.KR

C.S. Pacat’s first two books in her Captive Prince series are some of the best books I’ve ever read. The depth of the characters and their cruelty, the exotic customs of the societies Pacat created, the twists and deceptions, the scattered truths, and the intense sword’s edge on which the main characters balanced were all spellbinding. Those books were like nothing I had ever read. It was a very long wait between Captive Prince: Volume Two and Kings Rising, loads of anticipation, and I must admit that halfway through the series’ conclusion, it was just meh for me. I thought the story was dragging and dull to the midway point. Fortunately, the pace did pick up after that.

My biggest problem with this whole book was Damen. I felt that Damen’s character was somewhat lost in this third installation. He was so busy pining for Laurent that he was missing or misjudging what was happening around him. Damen, you are a King now so pull your head out of your ass and act like one! Damen’s naivety was irritating and so was the trust he put in others. How many times must this man be betrayed before he learns that people are not trustworthy? How many chances must he give people before he learns the lessons that Laurent has already mastered? Blind trust is what got him enslaved in the first place and, yet, he is repeating the pattern. I believe Nikandros said it best:

‘No. Listen Damianos. You trust blindly. You see the world in absolutes— if you believe someone a foe, nothing will dissuade you from arming up to fight. But when you give your affections . . . When you give a man your loyalty, your faith in him is unswerving. You would fight for him with your last breath, you would hear no word spoken against him, and you would go to the grave with his spear in your side.’ Pacat, C. S. (2016-02-02). Kings Rising: Book Three of the Captive Prince Trilogy (p. 75).

I guess I just expected Damen to be more suspicious of people in general after what he went through in the first book. I hated that he never seemed to wake up and figure out what was happening. Most of the time, Laurent had to clue him in and other times he was just hit over the head with something he’d completely missed. Example, the fact that the Regent sexually abused Laurent. How could Damen not get this? Look at all the young boys who are the Regent’s known victims. Think of how closed-off and uncertain Laurent is in bed. Think of the timeline of Laurent’s life with the Regent. And, hello!, drunk Laurent falls asleep murmuring ‘yes Uncle,’ but Damen still doesn’t get it? Argh!!!! And also, sending Kastor a warning that he was coming? Stupid, stupid, stupid. I guess he has truly learned nothing from his time in Laurent’s presence. It was almost as if Pacat had dumbed Damen down for this book.

Furthermore, I wanted Damen to get angry. When it appeared that Laurent had left him to be slaughtered at Charcy, when Laurent reveals that he’s known Damen’s identity from the beginning, I wanted Damen to be something other than hurt. I wanted him to be furious. I wanted him to react to Laurent’s cold, calculated manipulation as a sovereign would instead of a besotted victim of unrequited love. Instead, he just rolls over and gives in to all of Laurent’s demands. Even as Laurent’s venomous words cut Damen just as deeply as the whipping he endured on the Vere prince’s command, Damen just keeps being endlessly concerned about Laurent.

I thought the story also got lost a bit in the middle with their wagon-burdened trek through Akielos, and Laurent’s saving the day by impersonating Charls. It all seemed unnecessary and overcomplicated. At times, it was disjointed as if there should have been more but wasn’t. I think the best thing to come out of the middle portion of the book were the exchanges between Jokaste and Laurent, two vipers sizing each other up and striking with words. Oh yeah, and the other best part: Laurent finally shows that there is emotion and love under that ice cold exterior. The frigid prince experiences some global warming!

I was not expecting Damen to turn himself in. Frankly, I was kind of hoping he would sneak in and gut the Regent like a fish, but, instead Damen foolishly believes that Guion will keep his word and testify against the Regent. Seriously, D, stop trusting people whom you know have no morals! However, Damen does finally, FINALLY figure something out on his own, and we find out why Paschal is in Laurent’s service. And then came my final disappointment in Damen: his inability to kill Kastor! Why would you trust a man who sold you into slavery to your worst enemy? Who murdered your father and then tried to frame you for it? Nikandros was right, but instead of a spear, it’s Kastor’s knife in your side. And also, as you later state, you know the wound isn’t fatal so don’t just lie there helplessly! Get up, retrieve your sword, and finish it!

Despite my frustration, I do understand why it had to be Laurent who killed Kastor, why that symmetry between the two characters had to be established. Because Damen, who has been so brutally betrayed, still has love in his heart for Kastor, so Laurent killing Kastor is a stabilizer. It makes them equal. Each has now killed the other’s brother. Frankly, it was a brilliant move on Pacat’s part.

After this review, you probably think I hated the book. I didn’t. Even though the execution of the story wasn’t quite what I had hoped for and even though I didn’t think Kings Rising was as good as the first two books, I still love these two characters. I never thought they could have a happily ever after, but they got one, and that makes me very happy. And leaves me wanting more. A nice little epilogue of how they rule one kingdom, united and together. Perhaps Makedon can even bring more griva to toast his new best friend. I look forward to the short stories Pacat has promised because she, like myself, is not ready to give up this wonderful world and these fantastic characters that she created.