I want to think about what second book syndrome is and why it's a problem, why it's so hard to avoid. But I also really, really want to talk about the two big problems I had with Rae Carson's Crown of Embers first.
Okay, right off the bat, I really enjoyed reading this book. It's not fabulous or a stand-out by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a good, fast, engaging YA read, and I like Elisa. The book actually did a very good job of minimizing the Second Book problems (they were there, but they weren't as problematic as they often are). But there were two big glaring annoyances that I want to just get out there.
First, Elisa's body. In the first book, Girl of Fire and Thorns, Elisa starts out as a very fat whiner. Over the course of the book she becomes strong and thin. The point is made several times that she'll never be truly thin, of course, but she's not fat anymore, so thank god for that, right? Yeah, ugh.
But in this book, her awakening to romance is accompanied by discussions of her body, and if this book had a face I would punch it. She talks about how she can't imagine someone being interested in seeing her body--a very sympathetic concern--and the point she cites about that is how her thighs brush together a bit while she's standing. Seriously, I hate it enough that here's the quote: "Would someone look past...the way my thighs just brush together when I stand?"
Seriously?!? In what normal place and time is THAT the standard of a good body image? Only here and now in America, and I am appalled that this is even in here. The other stuff in the scene--her scars, her soft belly--either make sense or can be read to make sense (a soft belly can mean different things to different people), but that line....ugh. (Tangentially related: see Rainbow Rowell's blog post on what it means that Eleanor in her amazing book Eleanor & Park is fat.)
The other issue is tied to this: when the romance kicks in (which you can see coming; Elisa loves Hector, I love Hector, this is all very good), but when it really starts to be a thing, it is SO CHEESY. It is cheesier than the cheesiest romance novel than I've read. The cliches that are used to describe her feelings, the ways he touches her, the totally macho things he says that are maybe very sexist I haven't decided yet--it's all just boring to the point of being ick. And I LOVE a good romance.
Geez, this is already huge. Okay, I'll finish up the review and come back to talk about Second Book Syndrome next time. I've told you the things that drove me crazy, but seriously, we're talking about two passages of body stuff and then about thirty pages 3/4 of the way in where the romancing gets all brie and Roquefort and you just have to skim.
Other than that, as I've said, a ripping good read. I love Elisa's competency and uncertainty, I love that she has different kinds of relationships with all these different people in her life, and that many of those relationships change in both good ways and bad ways over the course of the book.
I think the other positive stuff will come up soon, when I talk about why this isn't a problematic Second Book. Stay tuned!