Monday, December 2, 2013

Review: Warrior by Ellen Oh

Review: Warrior by Ellen Oh
Release date: December 31st, 2013
Publisher: HarperTeen
Series: #2 in the Dragon King Chronicles
Source: e-galley
Rating: Flat characters, convenient plotting, and amateur "tell-not-show" writing make this an epic fantasy failure.


First an outcast, now a hero.

But her fight rages on.

Kira, the yellow-eyed demon slayer who fiercely protected her kingdom—and the crown prince—has been proclaimed the Dragon Musado of the prophecy. With the defeated the evil shaman.

But it wasn’t enough.

Hansong is in chaos. The Demon Lord’s minions have infiltrated the city, treason is brewing among the military ranks, and Kira is buried by the overwhelming loss of her parents. She’s also plagued by the annoying feelings that blossom whenever she’s around Jaewon. But she is determined that nothing will stop her from finding the second treasure needed to fulfill the Dragon King’s prophecy. Not even the army of half-breed demons hot on their trail. If only she could learn to trust others…

Her father always said one person can change the world. Will it be Kira?

Ugh. I wish there were another way to go about this, but the bottom line is that is book is terrible. It's flat, boring, un-engaging, and full of amateur writing. This series should be GREAT. It's fantastical ancient Korea! It has a bad-ass warrior girl and romance and a dragon and a prophecy! Why isn't this great? Well, sadly, it's not only not-great, but bad. It's not often I use that word to talk about a book in its entirety, but sadly I have to pull it out for Warrior. Bad. This is a bad book. It's badly written, plotted, and characterized, and I did not enjoy it on any level.

Basic plot overview: Kira is the cousin of the heir to the throne, small and useless Taejo, in a fantasy version of ancient Korea. She is a demon hunter/special snowflake/warrior with all the powers IN THE WORLD, including a healing tiger spirit, and she is the prophesied Dragon Musado who will SAVE US ALL for... reasons? I don't know? There's a demon invasion, and she'll stop it. Somehow. She has to collect the three Dragon King artifacts because... the prophecy says so. This will make her save the day because... the prophecy says so.

Can you tell I really hate plots that are driven by prophecies and not the characters? Kira goes on all the quests because the prophecy says. Because Brother Woojin says. Simply because. Well, she found the tidal stone, the  jewel that allows her to control water (MORE POWERS), in the last one, and this time she needs to find a dagger. Because the prophecy. She doesn't figure the steps out herself, mind; she just conveniently runs into a bunch of people who can tell her exactly how to accomplish the thing she needs to accomplish next.

I said this about Prophecy, but Warrior also reminds me of a really bad video game, in which you find the helpful character who then infodumps all the things and tells you what to do and where to go next. Level one: find the tidal stone! Kill X number of demons. Yay! You have found the lair of the Heavenly maidens! Now they will explain all the next levels to you in detail!

There's a rule they talk about ad nauseum in all writing classes: Show, don't tell. If you're ever confused about what that means, Oh's second book is a textbook example. Every single tiny thing is told to you. Even the action scenes are practically summarized. Not only is the prose awkward and stiff, but it's like everything is coming at you from a great distance.

Here is the part where I fling a bunch of examples at you and see if you understand my frustration. (Note: these quotes are taken from an advance, uncorrected proof. All quotes are [sic])

"He is just a boy! He cannot be king!" General Kim's voice was filled with anger and despair.

"But then where do we go?" Kira was frustrated and upset. 

The chief subsided, unhappy with the turn of events.

Kira was overwhelmed and moved by their gifts.

Stating the obvious.

The reader can figure these emotions out. They don't need to be stated! It makes already cardboard characters seem even flatter, because I'm not given the chance to feel what they feel. We're told of Kira's grief for her parents, who have even less personality than she does, but we're not shown it, and we don't feel it.

"The city's turned into a madhouse," Kwan said. "People are leaving Hansong because they don't feel safe anymore. And to make matters worse, more Guru soldiers are deserting and wreaking havoc."
"This is terrible news," Kira said.


"He's right, Oppa," she said looking up at her oldest brother.  "We don't have a choice."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea," he replied.
Kira shook her head. "No, Oppa, this is something I must do," she said.

They literally sit down and have a whole very boring conversation about all the treasures Kira must find because of reasons to save them from the bad guys because of... reasons? And for like twelve lines in a row, every one has a dialogue tag. It's annoying. Kira said, Brother Woojin assured, Kyoung cut in, Kwan asked. Kill the dialogue tags. Kill them all.

There's a mildly amusing scene where Kira has to dress up like a gisaeng in a hanbok and fancy makeup so she can flee the palace. It's the first time she shows any real personality, and those deadly but beautiful women were pretty fascinating. Their advantage came from being underestimated because they were female and pretty.

But it's also indicative of a serious flaw in the novel. Kira and company (Kira; her little cousin, Prince Taejo, who only exists so Kira can have a motivation to protect him; her elder brothers, Kwan and Kyoung, whose only personality traits seem to be wanting to protect Kira; Brother Woojin, who is a priest and therefore knows The Truth of The Prophecy And How to Fulfill It; Seung who... um, who even is he?; and lastly, the love interest, Jaewon, whose only discernible personality trait is that he gets really, stupidly seasick.) Anyways, Kira and company are always running into people who are super eager and happy to help them and never betray them and are always inconceivably boring.

More telling!

Kira gave him a deep, respectful bow from her waist. She was so proud of him.

Jaewon's face changed as intense grief overcame him.

Jaewon's face contorted with despair as it closed up.

Throughout the entire novel, Jaewon is competing in some sort of facial gymnastics.

She opened her arms and embraced him, letting him cry with wild abandon.

Wild abandon. Honestly. There's this weird juxtapositon of boring, flat prose and then BAM, a completely  melodramatic sentence, which just makes it seemed all the faker and less engaging. Wild abandon. Snort.

The two guardsmen who had gone after Jeong stopped in confusion. Just then, villagers poured from the center buildings and rushed forward. They attacked the guide first, ripping him apart as they gorged on their internal organs. The guards who tried to escape were also quickly surrounded and pulled off their horses.


What a thrilling action sequence. Did you feel like you were there? Didn't you enjoy all the details? Didn't you love the passionate way in which those gory, horrific sights were described? Couldn't you feel Kira's anguish and  horror at witnessing that?

What's that? You couldn't? Right. Because it wasn't there. It's never there. A second later, a major character gets his leg savaged. Do we hear screams of pain from him or Kira, who witnesses it? No. Do we see the blood? No. Do we even know which part of its body the demon used to savage him? NO! Teeth? Claws? Toenails? For all I know, these demons attack with their elbows! WE SEE NOTHING. Do we see the horses' eyes rolling, mouths frothing, hooves pawing restlessly against the snow? No. Instead:

Their horses were frightened and hard to control.

You are in the middle of a battle make me feel something anything please just one tiny emotion besides boredom and annoyance I am begging you

Kira was relieved to see (spoiler) but shocked to see that only two of their soldiers had survived.

I am blown away by the depths of your emotions, Kira. Truly. I can feel just how torn up you are about CONSTANTLY LEADING MEN TO THEIR VIOLENT DEATHS AND WATCHING THEM DIE OVER AND OVER RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE. People die and it has NO impact on the page. There is a core group of about seven characters, and various anonymous soldiers are always joining their ranks and helping them through the next obstacle on their bath to collect the MacGuffin treasures. These soldiers, of course, always all die awfully and then are replaced by more anonymous soldiers. The core seven? Totally fine and dandy, of course!

This book contains the driest action scenes I have ever read. The stakes are zero and the details are zero and they last about two paragraphs. Kira's freaking bathing scene is described more in depth, with all the evidence of Oh's evident research shoehorned in. "LOOK! In Ancient Korea women totally bathed in ginseng and honey and used this particular tool to scrub themselves and that particular isntrument to comb their hair and isn't this far more interesting than actually giving characters personality?"

The romance. Ughhhh. An actual note I made for myself during a sappy and ridiculous and cheesy moment was "angry noise in the back of my throat like a cat". Because that's the sound I made. It sort of made me want to die. Like watching two wooden dolls whose faces were being shoved together. I'm not even going to talk about the love triangle because we all have other things to do with our lives.

The comfortable friendship she'd had with him was now marred by a tension caused by her awareness of him as a man.

Kira is whatever the plot demands her to be in the moment. The most frustrating incident is when she's in the shadowy demon world place (let's not even talk about how narratively stupid and cheatery her "visions" of the demon lord are) and the only way to get out is to solve a riddle like it's the damn Ravenclaw common room. And this riddle? I had no damn clue what anybody was even talking about, but all of a sudden Kira is this fucking philosopher and excuse my language but the passage where she Confuciouses all over the place deserves all the fucking expletives everywhere. BECAUSE WHAT. You cannot just SUDDENLY become fucking Plato with no buildup!

Nothing that happens has any impact. One character gets impaled through the stomach and then apparently heals during the following conversation.

I don't even know what else to say. The plot is SO predictable and convenient and boring. The final "battle" is LAUGHABLE in its brevity. Oh managed to make a freaking dragon boring. I don't even know.

I'll finish this off with a gifset that speaks to my soul:


  1. Nothing like a Bea Arthur gif to really get your point across. :D Her sarcasm and snark just beats them all.

    Great review, Gillian!

  2. I was going to download this one off of Edelweiss but I am so glad I didn't. What a mess! As always, fantastic gif's mixed in with the review.

  3. WHY AM I READING THIS IN CLASS? Thanks a lot, Gillian, I just snorted so loud that my teacher singled me out in the back of the room, and asked me to answer a question... (no worries, I got it right). :) Your reviews for "bad" books are always the best!!

  4. Oh man, I am SO ready for this. And I probably shouldn't comment buuuuuuuut whatever. Also, I just learned not to stretch out but with multiple t's, a process which involved me snorting very maturely and attractively.

    You know, SOME people say that reviewers should never actually say a book is "bad," because that's mean. It should just be "not for you," but you know what? Some books are fucking bad. Or even terrible. And, generally, you can tell the difference.

    But, seriously, why isn't this great? WHY? Can someone take the idea and rewrite it? Please? I want some hot Koreans in my fiction. At least Katie has my back on that.

    Small and useless = Taejo's whole character. He's one of the most dynamic of them all. TWO DESCRIPTORS.

    Well, if the prophecy says I should go get drunk and throw this book off a bridge, then I guess I should. But, seriously, you are a woman of action, so make your own choices. You're not a strong character if you just do what people say ALL THE TIME.

    I never actually took a creative writing class. They actually TELL you (ironic) to show not tell? Then what was with all those authors going NO THIS IS THE BEST WAY SHADDUP.

    Kira was a stone imitating a person. In the Hollywood version of Prophecy, Kira would be played by Kristen Stewart, because she's probably 1/88th Korean or something. You can totally see it. *refers to morning's discussion that I think you missed*


    The dialogue tags are important because that is literally the only way emotion is conveyed ever. These books are the equivalent of someone reading in a monologue.

    Battle over in four short sentences. IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? OR IS IT JUST FANTASYYYYYYY?

    "isntrument" *coughs*


    Kira becomes Plato? O_O LOL WUT. When characters reveal a skill they never exhibited before because of plot needs, that's good writing. Oh wait, no, scratch that. It's the other one. I meant bad. I'm looking at you too, LEGEND OF KORRA.

    OH MY GOD THAT GIFSET. This review was amazing and I love you.

  5. I am thankful for this review because A-Excellent gif usage and B-I now know not to waste my time reading this series. I was giving it serious consideration, but if it was bad enough for you to call it bad, I know better than to waste my time with it.

  6. I'm sooooo glad I just skimmed the ARC at the beginning and at the end. (And for mentions of Shin Bo Hyun. I'm honestly amazed I still remember his name, but the crackshipping opportunity present with him helps.) This sounds like it could be a little more fun if Kira decided to fuck around with the idea of the prophecy (not doing things because prophecy says to do them only for things to happen anyway and her frustration at that/riffing on the trap of prophecy; I don't even know because it would take some serious work to make any of this even remotely entertaining), but the writing is a killer. The bad, lock-me-up-copper kind of killer.

    Also, I have never seen that entire six-gif set together before. Them being together like that is almost hypnotic.

    At least you know to stop here and not try again with the third book, right? Riiiiiiiight?

  7. OMGGGGGG those Judy Garland GIFs at the end are epiccc. Holy SHNIKIES this writing is baddddd. This review is hilarious and written with way more emotion than that book is. Well done. *bows from the waist* *as if there is any other way to bow* *NO, JUST NO*

  8. OMG that was hysterical! Thanks for making my day:) I'm going to run out and buy this book-NOT. I also love the Thomas the Tank Engine frowny face (or whoever that is)

  9. Great and funny review! Though i'm a little disappointed I was hoping to start the first one. Now probably not


    I could say I'm surprised that this book was terrible, but that would be a lie. Looks like there was no improvement from the first book. What a shame. Thanks for taking the bullet, Gillian. Your pain has amused me greatly. :D

  11. OH dear GOD. This is like the entirety of my feelings about Prophecy, which makes it all the more depressing to know that NOTHING CHANGED and Oh's writing didn't get any better. Ugh. I tried to warn you about this but, man, you are stronger than I am. Applause for your endurance. I could not have taken that. The first book was already so tempting to DNF. I dunno what Harper was thinking with this series... The editor needs a reality check (or preferably be fired). *pouts*

    Awesome review though xD I definitely giggled far too much to not be apparent here in the office.


  13. I.. have not yet read my copy of book one. Yet I pre-ordered book two. But now, because of your awesome and honest review, I'm cancelling it. THANK YOU! <3 Love your review. But aw, so sorry the book sucked :\

  14. Well, thanks for your very honest and thorough review! I don't know if I'll find the strenght to check out this series, but if I do, I'll know what awaits me!


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