I've always loved reading YA novels (and writing them!) but over the past couple of years, I have to admit that the number I've been reading has gone down. Mainly this is due to the overwhelming domination of vampires/werewolves/angels/demons/zombies in YA fiction. When is too much going to really mean too much? Are there really readers out there for all this stuff? Even dystopian is starting to get "old". Oh dear. So I was looking forward to reading something contemporary, and Going Underground is it.
It's by Susan Vaught, whose books I had not come across before, but who seems to have a range of both contemporary and fantasy fiction out there. Del is seventeen, and struggling with his life that is full of restrictions and rules. Why? Because he did something bad when he was fourteen and is paying for it, big time. He only has one friend left, and his part-time job is digging graves in the local cemetery. His pet is a parrot called Fred who attached herself to him, despite his attempts to avoid her.
I have to say Fred is the star of the book! It's almost that she outshines Del, except luckily Del has depth as a character and we do care about what happens to him (essential!). One of the devices Vaught uses is to hold off telling us what Del did that was so bad, but she gives enough clues that you can guess and then not feel tricked when the big reveal comes. I also like that the romance element is not mushy - Livia has her own problems and comes across as real and believable.
Spoiler alert! Del's problem is that he was caught sexting - while we might think that's wrong and he was stupid (he realises this himself), what comes out of it, which is Del's conviction as a sex offender, is a very current issue for teens, and has come up here in Australia as well. Its long-reaching consequences are really well portrayed in this novel, and gave me a lot to think about.
Given what I said earlier about the vast over-supply of paranormal/fantasy type books around these days (and how I shy away from them in the bookstore), I was intrigued enough by the promotional material for Throne of Glass to ask for a review copy. It did take me about 40 pages to get into the story, but a good part of that was my "shyness", plus I think if you haven't read fantasy for a while, it takes a few chapters to fully get into the world of the story.
Sarah J. Maas is a new writer who started this book (and posted large chunks of it apparently) on fictionpress.com before it got picked up for publication. The main character, Celaena, is an eighteen-year-old master assassin who is plucked from the salt mines prison to compete for the prince in a contest to become the King's Champion. She is a very tough young woman, and I found her abilities as a fighter very credible in this world, given her background and her deep determination and courage. Maas has done a great job of all of the characters, even the minor ones.
I liked the world, although it felt a bit "seen it before" - I think though that this is inevitable in fantasy. It must be so hard to try and write something original in every aspect. There is a romantic triangle with plenty of unresolved tension, and the fight scenes are very good. I kept reading all the way through, which is a positive sign for me! Also there are lots of symbols throughout - I happened to be grading my students' essays on symbolism in literature at the same time, and it struck me that quite a lot of Throne of Glass has echoes of Edgar Allan Poe. I'd certainly read Book 2 of this, just for the main character alone.
By the way, I like the Australian cover much more than the US one!
(Thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copies.)