Friday, April 19, 2013

Review: Taken by Erin Bowman

Review: Taken by Erin Bowman
Rating: Ugh.

Taken (Taken, #1)

There are no men in Claysoot. There are boys—but every one of them vanishes at midnight on his eighteenth birthday. The ground shakes, the wind howls, a blinding light descends…and he’s gone.

They call it the Heist.

Gray Weathersby’s eighteenth birthday is mere months away, and he’s prepared to meet his fate–until he finds a strange note from his mother and starts to question everything he’s been raised to accept: the Council leaders and their obvious secrets. The Heist itself. And what lies beyond the Wall that surrounds Claysoot–a structure that no one can cross and survive.

Climbing the Wall is suicide, but what comes after the Heist could be worse. Should he sit back and wait to be taken–or risk everything on the hope of the other side?

The cover: I adore this cover. I love the colors, which instantly let you know it's a dystopian novel. I love the silhouette of the tree above them and the smooth reflective surface below them, and how the k in Taken is being slowly lifted into the air, like it's being abducted by aliens or something. Could have done without the unnecessary birds, because birds are the most overdone cover trend, but whatever.

The story: Taken was such a colossal disappointment for me that I'm actually having a hard time putting this review together. Normally I'm good at the ranty ones, but this one pains me. I was so excited to get an ARC of this. I love the premise, and I think the author is a delightful person, but Taken just failed for me on almost every level.

I'll start with the positive: I like a lot of the beginning of this book. I find the concept of Claysoot fascinating. I felt real emotion when Gray was forced to say goodbye to his brother Blaine on the day of Blaine's eighteenth birthday, which is the day that all the boys in Claysoot mysteriously vanish. I like the premise and that aspect of the world-building. But Gray, I'm sorry to say, annoyed the crap out of me.

We meet Gray while he's out in the woods pulling a Katniss, hunting game with a bow and arrow to sell in the market to crabby old ladies. Unlike Katniss, however, at said market he proceeds to beat up a girl half his size until she's bleeding from the mouth, all because she said something bitchy. I... I get anti-heroes. I'm a feminist, so I'm not upset about the fact that the person he pummeled is female, but rather that it was brutal, he was clearly bigger, and it was unnecessary. Hardly self-defense. I get that Gray is meant to be reckless and passionate. I get that the things the girl/victim was saying were almost unrealistically shitty. BUT I CANNOT WITH YOU, GRAY.

I'm not necessarily someone who always requires a main character to be "likable". I mean, there are some books like Lolita, for instance, where of course Humbert Humbert isn't likable. Neither is Madame Bovary. Katniss herself is pretty prickly and unforgiving. For god's sake, I'm completely in love with Jaime Lannister, and that dude has done some of the least forgivable things in literature. But these characters are fascinating in their awfulness, or contain multiple layers, and you like them in a different way. You're interested in them.

But there are certain stories that hinge on your ability to connect with the main character. The author is trying to make them likeable, and wants you to view them as noble, and wants their flaws to become their strengths. This is the case in most YA literature, and it's not a bad thing. In those cases, likeability is super important. Taken is one of those cases. And, to put it bluntly, I wanted to slap Gray Weathersby upside the head about 99% of the time. He starts out annoyingly reckless and douchey, and he ends the story annoyingly reckless and douchey. I never got depth of emotion out of him. Not even when SPOILER his brother was practically dying in his arms. Nothing. SPOILER.

Also, I think Gray Weathersby is a terrifically silly name. Weathersby is so what I would call my British butler if I had one. "Weathersby! Bring me my tea! And butter my crumpets (dirty) while you're at it! Spit spot!" Okay, I've officially gone mad, but I let out a snigger every time that word was on the page. There are a lot of other magnificently stupid names, notably a  little girl named Kale and a girl named Chalice Silverston. Chalice.

So Gray lives in Claysoot, this village with no technology and where boys vanish on their eighteenth birthdays. He's super jealous of his perfect older brother, though he loves him a great deal, which is nice. He also claims to be in love with a dull girl named Emma, but correct me if I'm wrong, but this hardly sounds like true love to me: 

And even though we spent countless hours together as children, Emma was always closer to Blaine. I’ve never been able to shake the jealousy, but I suppose I brought it upon myself. When I was six and the two of them seven, I pushed Emma over and stole the wooden toy she was playing with. She favored Blaine from that day forward, and naturally that’s when it started. As soon as she favored Blaine, I favored her. 

At first it was a childlike thing, but my affection never faded. I watched her change over the years, abandoning her thin frame for the curves that now fill out her dresses. She’s become increasingly pretty as she nears eighteen, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in no one else. I’ve made my rounds in the slatings, (aka the utterly squicky process of assigning these teenage boys to fertile woman so they can make babies) but I’d be kidding myself if I said I didn’t want just Emma. I guess it’s fitting that I’ve never been paired with her. I probably don’t deserve it.

 I've said before that I can forgive a lot of plotting issues if I'm invested in the characters and getting all the feels. But no feels, NO FORGIVENESS. Clearly, strange things are afoot at the circle Claysoot, and because I've seen The Village and read Running Out of Time, I pretty much guessed a lot of the big twists. And once Gray goes over the wall, the book becomes an entirely different story. One that is rife with cliches, and is like almost every other dystopian out there. I don't know. I just didn't believe it. The plot tried so hard, practically going into overdrive, but it didn't work. I didn't care what was happening. The liars were obviously lying.

The first part of this book is intriguing because you want to know what the mystery is. You want to know what the big, shocking secrets are. It's like playing a good game of poker. Your opponent has this look on his face like things are going to get GOOOOD, so you're all excited and keyed up. Then he starts bluffing, and you can tell he's lying his pants off, but you go with it because you want to know the truth of those cards, dammit! And then the first card is revealed... and all your excitement slips away. Because it's exactly what you'd though it would be. And you know exactly what the rest of the hand is. And you're just left disappointed.

Yes, I positively murdered that analogy, but it's sadly still pretty apt.

The romance is where this book REALLY falls apart. From page one, I was not a fan of Emma. She absoltely hates Gray, and her reasons are somwhat unfair, even though Gray does kind of suck. But then POOF! She's changed her mind! She loves him! And I didn't get it, but I was hoping I would by the end. AND THEN. UGH. No spoilers, but Emma does something which I seriously couldn't blame her for, and Gray is an unforgiving, self righteous jerk and I want to hit him with a frying pan.

And then. And then. And then. There came a love triangle. A late in the game, utterly superfluous, bang-your-head-on-the-wall love triangle. And that's about all I'll say about that, because it's not worth our time. It's poorly executed, grating, and makes me cranky.
I used it.

The timing and pacing is strange. Bowman will take you through every second of the day, sometimes tediously so, and then all of a sudden it's like, "The next two months were difficult." Confession: I hate when significant chunks of time pass in sentences like that. It instantly distances me from the characters and plot. One such jump skated over details about the new place Gray was in, making it difficult for me to sense or picture it. The world-building doesn't entirely fly, logic-wise, most of the plot is super convenient and cliche, the characters are flat, and the romance actually made me growl and throw things. Bowman has a nice prose style--clean and direct-- but I can't get past those issues, and I can't get past the narrator. I'm sorry, book, but I'm just not Taken with you. At all.


  1. OKAY OKAY SO. I'm sure you've read A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY by Libba Bray (too lazy to surf archives, so there) and that was the book that made me hate liars in YA.

    They are just SO OBVIOUS. I mean, I get that you need to be a little more open with your hand with a younger audience, but my cousin is in the age bracket and SHE IS SMARTER THAN THIS. Like, in that novel, you know right away that one of the characters in the weird alter-world is a baddie. RIGHT AWAY. Because she says these things that are like... hmm. Yeah, that's not right.

    And then it takes the main character the entire second half of the book to freaking figure it out.

    I just... NO. Thanks for the review, G.

    1. I actually haven't read that! It's been on my list, thought... but that doesn't make me want to rush out and grab it anytime soon. I really, really don't like it when the reader is a million miles ahead of the hero. I particularly don't like it when they trust people who are OBVIOUSLY lying.

  2. This review is PERFECT! I couldn't even finish the book. Like you, I was super excited when I got the ARC, but dammit, it was such a disappointment. Like, from the very beginning. It never even had a chance. And you're right...the romance was the worst of it. It's like she just tried to cram so much into this one book -- even though it's a series -- and she just couldn't make it work.

    1. I basically skimmed the end. It was just... Absolutely nothing was grabbing me. And YEAH, so much was crammed in there and it just didn't work.

      That romance was the worst.

    I think this is like my favorite review ever! Haha. So much negative love of this book going around, and you managed to sum it up completely. Gray was one of the worst characters ever. Soo true. I hated him so much. And you're so right. Because of that hate and dislike it ruined the whole BOOK. And the romance. HECK YEAH. Die die die die. There was No development and hen it annoyed the graphics outta me that the L WORD showed up at 25%… Gimme a break!!!

    Point is, I wholeheartedly agree with you. And I'll bring my frying pan to join in on this smashing session. *calls on Hulk powers for added destruction*

    1. This is my favorite comment ever. HULK FRYING PAN SMASH.

  4. I have yet to read this book, but it is sitting on my shelf. After reading your review I can't wait to see what I think. I feel that I too will be frustrated. Loved your review though, it was hilarious and honest!

    1. Whenever I read a bad review, I'm always MORE tempted to pick the book up myself and see what my opinions are. I'm glad you liked the review!

  5. I agree with you regarding the cover. I've heard some great things about this book and now after reading your review I need to add it to my TBR list.

    1. Well, I'm certainly glad you think you'll enjoy the book, though I'm not sure why you'd decide that after reading my review. I hope you like it more than I did.

  6. I have been looking forward to reading Taken since I first learned of it. The premise sounded great, and I really do believe that it would make a great story. I feel so awful that there appear to be so many flaws, but I still think I'm going to give it a chance. Who knows how I'm going to feel about it? We'll just have to wait and see.

  7. I started reading this one last week and didn't make it past the second chapter. When I can guess the outcome in the first two chapters, all bets are off. Plus, Gray was absolutely horrific and the slatings were icky and Emma was a weakling and I hated it more than anything I've hated in a long time. No thank you. I have better things to do with my time.

    Great review!


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