Romance v. Friendship

It’s the Romance v. Friendship poll!

Do you like your YA Dystopia with a dash of romance? Maybe the romance is the point, and the story is all about getting your favourite characters together.

Or do you prefer stories based on die-for-each-other friendships? Maybe you enjoy an ensemble cast – groups of friends helping each other – or perhaps a strong central relationship that has nothing to do with romantic love?

We’d love to know what you think!

Romance or Friendship in YA Dystopia?

Give me all the romance!
It’s good to have a love interest as part of the story.
I don’t mind, as long as the story is exciting.
Die-for-each-other friends all the way!
It depends on the story (tell us more in the comments!).

Created with Quiz Maker

Of course, the Battle Ground Series is based around strong friendships. There’s some romance (mostly off-camera), but the survival of the central characters depends on a group of friends who look out for each other. Bex and Dan would die for each other, but their relationship is not romantic. Toph’s story begins with a romance, but he quickly finds himself fighting back against the society that destroys his relationship.

YA literature, and YA Dystopia in particular, is about growing up, challenging yourself, and finding out who you are. The characters might do this with a love interest at their side – or in their sights – or with friends they can trust.

Which do you prefer? And what’s your favourite example?

YA Review: Slay

Title: Slay
Author: Brittney Morris

Seventeen-year-old Kiera has top grades, a great boyfriend – and Slay, a massively popular online game that she coded herself. While her friends and family know all about the grades, as well as her boyfriend and their plan to go to college together, no one in her real life knows about the game. She has an in-game friend who helps her to manage and develop the game-play, but she hides her online identity from everyone else in her life.

And there’s a twist. Slay is a role-playing duelling game with an extensive virtual world, designed to be a celebration of Black culture. Kiera’s own experiences of racial abuse and systemic racism in other online environments inspired her to create a safe space for Black gamers. Entry is by invitation, intended only for Black players around the world – and Slay has half a million of them.

When a young player is murdered for his in-game currency, everything Kiera has built begins to fall apart. There are threats of lawsuits against Slay, and when the story hits the news, Kiera finds herself accused of racism for excluding non-Black players from her game. The more Slay is in the headlines, the more certain she is that she must hide her involvement from everyone she knows.

I loved this book. I loved the joyous celebration of Black culture, in everything from the duelling cards to the players’ costumes and the virtual environment Kiera built. I loved the central characters, and their contrasting views on how to be Black and proud in the USA today. And I loved Kiera – her intelligence, her friendships, and her commitment to the game that brought so many people together. I followed her through the highs and lows of the story, feeling her heartbreak at the attacks on her creation, and punching the air with her victories. The in-game duelling scenes were exciting, and the descriptions of the players and the settings were wonderful. As the threats closed in, I couldn’t put the book down – and I couldn’t guess what would happen next.

I’m giving a very well-deserved five stars for this exciting and inspiring YA novel. Highly recommended!

Have you read Slay? What did you think of the story? And what about Kiera – were you on her side? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.

Please keep your comments YA appropriate. Be patient! We want to hear from you, but comments are moderated, and may take some time to appear.

YA Review: King of Scars

Title: King of Scars
Author: Leigh Bardugo

More Grishaverse! More Nikolai! More Zoya! More Nina!

I was so excited to read another Grishaverse novel that I accidentally picked this one up before the sequel is available in paperback, and now I’m counting the days until its publication. The story picks up pace as the book progresses, and the ending brings everything together to set up the second book. I can’t believe I have to wait so long to continue the story!

Nikolai Lantsov, King of Ravka, has a secret. Before the dramatic events at the end of the Shadow and Bone trilogy, Nikolai was cursed – and the curse is growing stronger. As the General of Ravka’s Grisha army, it is up to Zoya Nazyalenski to ensure the king’s safety, and the safety of everyone around him. As Zoya’s task becomes more and more difficult, she and Nikolai agree to search for a cure, however dangerous it might prove to be.

Zoya’s challenge could not have come at a more inconvenient time. There are rumours of planned invasions from Fjerda in the north, and Shu Han to the south, and Nikolai is in need of supporters to strengthen Ravka’s political and military position. A politically significant marriage offers the perfect solution, and arrangements are underway for a grand party where the King will be able to meet the eligible daughters of his potential allies. His absence would be a disaster, but so would any failure to conceal the curse. Zoya must put her own feelings for Nikolai aside as they travel in secret to discover the truth about an ancient ritual that might hold the key to his fate.

Meanwhile Nina is working undercover in Fjerda, smuggling persecuted Grisha to safety in Ravka. As a powerful Grisha herself, Nina must avoid detection and capture while seeking out and rescuing as many Fjerdan witches as she can. When she convinces her team to visit a town where the river is rumoured to be poisoned, and girls have begun to disappear, she finds more persecuted people, and nightmares she wasn’t expecting.

King of Scars is the setup for whatever will happen in the second book. The narrative jumps between three plotlines – Zoya and Nikolai, the Ravkan court, and Nina’s mission – building each to a climax and a cliffhanger ending, ready for Rule of Wolves to complete the story and tie up the loose ends. It’s not a satisfying story in itself, but as half of a Grishaverse duology it is gripping and exciting with unpredictable plot twists and plenty of peril for the characters.

Nikolai is probably my favourite Grishaverse character, and even subdued by the curse and the mounting threats to Ravka, his personality shines through. He is always quick with a witty remark and positive even in the face of a dangerous curse, while remaining aware of the reality of his position. He understands his place in the world, and the necessity for sacrifice as well as charm and charisma. I adored him in the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and King of Scars adds depth to his already wonderful portrayal. (Yes, he’s my Book Boyfriend. Definitely not sorry.)

Zoya has grown and evolved since her adventures in the earlier trilogy, and she makes a highly competent General. Her friendship with Nikolai makes the dangerous parts of the story hard to read, as it is evident to the reader how much she is suffering in her quest to protect the King, even if no-one else can see it.

Nina is still a wonderful character, only just coming to terms with her unique powers, and determined to protect as many Grisha as she can from experiencing her persecution it the hands of the Fjerdan government. While her story does not connect with Nikolai or the Ravkan court in this book, the ending places her in a very interesting position for the start of Rule of Wolves.

I cannot wait for publication day!

Have you read King of Scars? What did you think of the story? Did this return to the Grishaverse live up to your expectations? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.

Please keep your comments YA appropriate. Be patient! We want to hear from you, but comments are moderated, and may take some time to appear.

YA Review: The Forevers

Title: The Forevers
Author: Chris Whitaker

This is a UK-set high school novel with a difference – the world is probably ending, and the characters are living their lives against the clock. It’s a powerful idea, following a group of teenagers as they navigate an uncertain future in a world that is slowly falling apart.

The asteroid has been headed to earth for ten years, and so far every attempt to divert it has failed. The final mission might succeed, and life might go on – but what if it doesn’t? Will the teenagers of West have the chance to live before the end?

Mae, a girl with a reputation as a troublemaker, searches for the truth about her friend’s death. Did Abi Manton kill herself, or did someone in town have a motive for murder? As normal life begins to unravel, Mae uncovers her classmates’ secrets, finding friends, allies and enemies in unexpected places.

With this setup, readers might expect a complete collapse of law and order, or a sense of apocalyptic panic, but that’s not story the author sets out to tell. As the end of the world approaches, the characters definitely become more brave and less law-abiding, but they still go to work and school, practice for concerts and make plans for the final school dance. This could have been a book about what people do when their actions don’t have consequences, but if the final mission succeeds they will all still have to get up in the morning and navigate the rest of their lives. The threat of success is a clever twist, adding balance to the story and allowing normal life to continue as the clock counts down.

I didn’t get on with the book at first. The author introduces a large cast of characters, and jumps straight into their relationships, rumours, crushes, and cliques. To begin with I had trouble remembering who was who, who was rumoured to be sleeping with whom, and who liked or hated the protagonist. While Mae’s sister and her best friend are well drawn and rounded, the other characters were harder to tell apart, and I found myself struggling to care about their stories.

The plot develops slowly, with fragments of evidence about Abi’s life and death surfacing among all the other secrets and lies. Every character is hiding something, and it feels as if Mae is constantly sidetracked by the scandals she uncovers in her classmates’ lives. There is an answer, and all the pieces fall into place in the end, but not before we’ve heard about every other scandal in town.

Mae is an interesting protagonist. She doesn’t think twice about breaking and entering, particularly in the expensive part of town. She has no problem stealing from the rich kids to support her younger sister and the grandmother who is struggling to look after them, and she’s always top of the suspect list if anything happens at school. She’s learned not to care what other people think of her, and her only soft spot is for her sister. As the book progresses, she finds herself caring about the people around her. As she finds out more about their lives, she begins to understand that life isn’t plain sailing for anyone – even the families in the biggest houses in West.

The asteroid that might tear the world apart ends up bringing the teenagers of West closer together. If you’re looking for a slow-burn murder mystery with a large cast of friends and enemies, or a high-school gossip story with a twist, this is the book for you.

Have you read The Forevers? What did you think of the story? Would you be a Forever in the same circumstances? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.

Please keep your comments YA appropriate. Be patient! We want to hear from you, but comments are moderated, and may take some time to appear.