Monday, November 5, 2018

Let's Talk: "White Stag" by Kara Barbieri

Title: White Stag
Author: Kara Barbieri
Series: "Permafrost #1"
Genre: YA Fantasy
Page Length: 368 pages
Publication Date: January 8, 2019
Date Started: October 31, 2018
Date Finished: November 3, 2018
Rating: 2/5 stars

*I was provided a free advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest, non-spoiler review*
TW for talk of rape in the book and this review., I didn't love it. I didn't hate it, but I'm mostly left feeling underwhelmed and disappointed by this book. There were definitely times where I was somewhat enjoying it, but for the most part, I was just let down by this book. I didn't even go into this book with high expectations, so I'm still sad that I didn't love it like I had hoped.

I think, for me, my enjoyment of this book was colored by personal experiences as well as just my own critical reading skills. After taking numerous creative writing courses, studying literature in college, and reviewing books for years, I have a much more critical eye when it comes to books than I used to. I have no doubt that 15 year old me would have absolutely loved this book, but 19 year old me had a lot of issues with it.

I would like to say that my issues aren't really with the plot, though there are a few things I was iffy about. The story itself, if you described it to me in detail, I would probably have said sounded fascinating. And that's the truth: this book was cool and very different than what I've read before. I've never read a goblin book, or one that pulls from Norse mythology. The idea of this book was a good one, but I thought it wasn't executed in a way that showcased this story the best.

That being said, the actual writing is beautiful. I found Kara's writing to be lyrical and, at times, mesmerizing. But, the other technical parts of this story were lacking. The pacing, character development, etc all could have been worked on a lot further. To me, this felt like a first or second draft of a book. And, again, I was provided an advanced copy of the book, so maybe this will all change with the release. But, I don't think that there will be drastic enough of changes between the arc and finished draft to fix these problems I had.

Problem 1: the pacing. Most of the time, I found myself looking at what page number I was on and seeing how far away the ending was. The pacing wasn't done in a way that kept me interested all the time. Background, informational scenes, and their travels or angsty conversations were spread out for a long time, but most of the action scenes were over in a page or two. And a lot of this was split up with inner monologues from our main character that were very repetitive. Frankly, I spent a lot of my time skimming her monologues and most of this book after I hit 100 pages.

Problem 2: sub-par characterization. Don't get me wrong, the characters were the best part of this book in my opinion. But that doesn't mean that I love them. I enjoyed them, but I already can feel myself forgetting about them. I know that if they were real people and I met them in real life, I'd probably like them. But as characters, I felt detached. The bad guy is the bad guy just because...we don't get any information other than when we're told he's the bad guy and has done terrible things. The good guy is the good guy simply because he's not the bad guy. There was more of a feeling that we were being given information and being told to like them rather than forming connections.

Problem 3: too-easy solutions. So there's a lot of life-or-death situations and many problems that the characters face in this book. And, even though there's a lot of death throughout, every situation seems to be remedied pretty quickly. It makes me wonder why we're told a situation is dire if it can be resolved in a couple of pages? This is a common theme throughout the book, especially when it comes to the ending. I just wish that we'd gotten more time with these scenes instead of the inner monologues.

Problem 4: problematic areas. First things first, the way the main character's rape is handled in this book was not the best. It's used more for shock value and to create a cliche tortured main character than anything else. It didn't add anything to the book (as in, you could have taken it out and it would have changed nothing) and I felt like the use of rape was poorly handled. Also, I like Soren and I like Janneke, but I don't particularly like them in a romance together. We're told, even in the description of the book, that they're the possible romantic pair for this book. But, from the beginning, I couldn't get behind it. Janneke is a thrall--aka a human slave who was kidnapped from her home and brought into the Permafrost--while Soren is her master/owner. While she doesn't call him that, he can give her orders, binds her to him, and she's under his protection when they're around other goblins. I just see this as not the best precursor to a relationship? I don't know, I just can't get behind the idea of her essentially being his slave and then them getting together.

Problem 5: the goblins. So, the goblins in this book are supposedly beautiful and tall and badass, but for most of the first part of the book I could only imagine them as 3-foot tall green things? By the end, I kind of put it together in my mind that they were beautiful, but it still confuses me a bit. It felt more like they were fae or elves but didn't want to be in that specific trope so they were then called goblins? I don't know, maybe this was just me.

Problem 6: the tropes. Oh gosh, there were so many tropes. I just felt like we were going through this book ticking items off an imaginary checklist of most-used YA tropes. Don't get me wrong, I love tropes but only when they're done well. And in this book, I mostly found myself rolling my eyes at them or groaning when another trope popped up.

Overall, I'm not sure about this book. I liked the characters in theory and the idea of the story, but the way it was executed was sub-par in my opinion and that left a serious damper on my enjoyment of it. I probably will not continue with the next book, but I do hope that others can find this book more interesting than I did.

Thanks for reading!

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