Thursday, March 7, 2013
March Fantasy Month Review: Prophecy by Ellen Oh
This review is part of my awesome MARCH FANTASY MONTH project with the lovely Lili of Lili's Reflections. Click here to see Lili's review of Prophecy, and follow both of us so you don't miss any of the fantasy madness!
Review: Prophecy by Ellen Oh
Rating: Eh. Great concept, plot, and setting (magical ancient Korea!!!!). Cardboard characters, not enough detail, too-fast pacing. More MG than YA, both length-wise and content-wise.
The greatest warrior in all of the Seven Kingdoms... is a girl with yellow eyes.
Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and the prince’s bodyguard. She’s a demon slayer and an outcast, hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And, she’s their only hope...
Murdered kings and discovered traitors point to a demon invasion, sending Kira on the run with the young prince. He may be the savior predicted in the Dragon King Prophecy, but the missing treasure of myth may be the true key. With only the guidance of the cryptic prophecy, Kira must battle demon soldiers, evil shaman, and the Demon Lord himself to find what was once lost and raise a prince into a king.
Intrigue and mystery, ancient lore and action-packed fantasy come together in this heart-stopping first book in a trilogy.
The cover: I think this cover is beauuuuuutiful. You see the Korean inspiration in the absolutely stunning blue background and the lettering. I love the swirling mystic mist (mist-ic?) and the color of the ruby, if not the precise shape of it. It would have looked prettier if it was less square. I am also not a fan of the cheesy tagline. It makes me think of Mulan (Emperor: And yet you have saved us all) and Lord of the Rings (One ring to rule them all).
The story: I did not do this book any favors by reading it right after Graceling. Both have K-named female warriors with weird eyes and fearsome reputations. Both fiercely love their royal male first cousins, heirs to their respective thrones. Both are females dealing with a lot of prejudice for their supernatural gifts and the way they buck male tradition. Katsa, however, is a complex, layered character. Kira, while likeable enough, never really felt alive.
And that was my problem with the book: it didn't live. It didn't feel. To me, it didn't have that spark, you know? It wasn't... magic. I'll get all the bad stuff out of the way before I get to the good, because there was good. Kira was, admittedly, pretty bad ass.
The characters were so bland they were practically interchangeable. I so wanted to love this book. It has so many elements that appeal to me: a strong female heroine, a NON-WESTERN setting, magic. But it didn't work for me. The writing was very tell rather than show. The dialogue was stiff and unnatural. Jaewon, the "love interest" (there was actually zero romance in this book), did nothing at all. He was just there, for no reason other than a monk saying "Clearly it is fate for you to be on this journey," and everybody else shrugging and saying, "Sounds good. Welcome aboard, random person." Every now and then he and Kira would exchange one or two lines, and she'd think, "It's nice to have a friend," and I'd be like, "When did you become friends?" I don't see where their relationship came from. I have no idea why Jaewon was so ready to "do whatever (Kira) ask(s)" right after meeting her, or why Kira is utterly convinced of his trustworthiness. Because the truth is, I don't know these characters at all. Except for Taejo, possibly.
The pacing was soooo strange. Everything happened so quickly! (And there were a lot of exclamation points in the dialogue, incidentally. It got annoying.) The chapters were like five pages long. None of the action had time to breathe. We were constantly being whisked about the Seven Kingdoms like it was the size of Disneyland. Every journey felt like it was a couple days long. And then I'd blink and apparently weeks went by. I don't like sentences like, "Six days later, they glimpsed the glistening peaks of the Diamond Mountains." Why not spend those six days of travel for Kira and Jaewon to get to know each other? Why not show us something?
There was a lot of reliance on magic jewels, spirits, and prophecies (YES, I SAW THE TITLE, but you know what I mean. They should inform the narrative, not dictate it. I am not a fan of the Deus ex machina, a while there wasn't really one in Prophecy, it came close). Kira is able to heal really fast, and I didn't like that. Let her bleed. Let me see her humanity. She had one too many special snowflake elements. She's got a tiger spirit, precognitive dreams, super warrior strength, and is the only one in all the Seven Kingdoms who can smell and see demons when they are possessing people.
None of the characters felt human, to me. I mean, I didn't want them to die, or anything, but I didn't know them. Some of the characters lost family members very dear to them, but I didn't care about those family members at all, so the effect was lost. Kira's emotions weren't carefully delineated. Simply writing "Kira was in anguish" or "Kira thirsted for revenge" doesn't make me feel those feelings. Again, it's not bad writing. Oh is very talented, and her world-conceiving is top notch. I just feel Prophecy suffers from many of the pitfalls of a debut novel.
The best character, in my opinion, was Taejo, even if he is pretty useless, whiny, and serves no function other than to have Kira rescue him over and over. His emotions were believable to me. His relationship with Kira was the sweetest and truest of the whole book. The bare bones of the plot is pretty good, with a lot of action and travel. I would have loved a hundred extra pages or so sprinkled throughout this very short book. I would loved more space for the characters to develop, so I could at least vaguely picture what Kira's life was like before the book started, and so it meant something when certain characters died.
The absolute best part of Prophecy is the setting. This Korean-esque world with demons and Dragon Warriors and shamans is plain awesome. I wanted more of it. I wanted details galore! I loved the mythology and all the research Oh clearly put into this.
It wasn't until I was about halfway through Prophecy that I realized what my issue with this book was: it was more like a video game than a novel. An awesome, epic, battle-laden game where you play the warrior maiden Kira, and it is your duty to protect the prince. Gain extra points by collecting all three Dragon artifacts. Watch out for imps and demons. Along the way, you will meet various characters who will speak in info-dumps to tell you what you need (one demon that Kira is sparring with literally divulges a huge secret to her for no reason. There are a whole bunch of monks and magic people sitting around waiting for Kira and Taejo to show up so they can tell them more magic stories. The magic stories are wonderful, seriously, but come on). But you don't go much deeper than that. And with what Oh provided on the surface, I wanted to, so badly, but it wasn't there.
This is one of those books that has been very hit or miss for people. Some adore it, others felt more like me. This one is seriously up for interpretation. The plot is pretty good, if too fast and too convenient. I think it's more suited for Middle Grade, personally, but Middle Grade is not a bad thing.