Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Settling for Settling

This review is for those who have read or are familiar with the previous book, Solid, or don't mind knowing some spoilers for it. Settling, however, will remain spoiler-free.

Solid Trilogy
Book 2
By Shelley Workinger
Series Website

At the beginning of the summer, Clio Kaid was one of a hundred teens brought to a secret Army installation. But it was no ordinary camp and they weren’t ordinary kids...

Picking up where “Solid” left off, Clio and her friends realize that they aren’t ready to go home; they’re determined to stay on campus and continue their journey of self-discovery. But someone doesn’t feel the same way and will do anything to drive them away – even kill.

Friendships will be tested, abilities will evolve, and more secrets will come out as the teens race to stop the killer before he sets his sights on one of them...

This sequel was a hard one to process for me. Now, I'm not sure if it was me —if reading this during a moving day and when I was already tired made me extra cranky— or if it was the book itself that let me down. I wanted to love it, I really did, and I apologize in advance for the snark in the following, but... But let me back up and start at the beginning.

I re-read Solid for a couple reasons: firstly, I wanted a recap since it'd been nearly 9 months, and while a page-long summary is provided at the beginning of Settling, that doesn't help me with personalities or the author's style; and secondly, I love revisiting series from the beginning to get an idea of how it works as a whole—how does one story flow into the next, does the mood shift, is it a natural progression, etcetera. So going into Settling I thought I knew what and who I was dealing with.

Clio, our narrator and main character, seems the same as when we last left off. I mean, she's had all of maybe a week to change between books, so how different could she be? She's still sarcastic and sassy, really tight with her friends, and optimistic about what lies ahead. Then she finds a dead body and pulls a complete 180. She tries to isolate herself whenever possible, dreads talking about anything to anyone, and is super critical of herself at all times.

Okay, I buy that finding a dead body could be pretty traumatic, and it makes more sense than her just going psycho for no reason. What I don't buy is that seeing the dead body of someone she doesn't care about was more traumatic than witnessing the shooting in the last book. I got that she's in a downward spiral and totally needs some therapy ASAP (I'll go more into this later), but the trigger didn't make sense to me. Actually, I didn't even know there was a trigger until I went back looking for one for this review. So, for me, Clio was pretty much a psycho for seemingly no reason for the majority of the book.

The rest of the crew, as explained slightly above, was severely lacking. Since Clio detaches herself from social interaction, we have to suffer through that alone time too. But what we do see of the group is pretty consistent with what we knew them for in Solid.

Bliss still likes to be blissfully unaware of anything serious or scary (my personality is probably not compatible with hers, so I'm sorry for the bias against her). Garrett still tries to turn everything into a joke or pop culture reference (and I love him for it). Miranda is actually my favorite of the group due to her duality of being egotistical and trying not to be—she has conflict and feels the most real to me.

The three new kids (I count Alexis because she was in maybe 4 pages of Solid) have definite potential. Alexis got a ton more 'screentime' here, and I was super glad she did. Even though all the kids are within a few weeks/months of each other age-wise, Alexis seems more experienced and wiser, and it made her a great sounding board/therapist for Clio when she needed it. Rae and Xavier were great for their short stints, and I hope we see more of them in the future.

Then there's Jack. Jack...how do I say this...Jack feels like a cardboard cut-out to me. He has since book one. Now, I know this is me being cynical, but I don't believe that there is a perfect guy. The fact that everything he says and does is perfectly tailored to Clio's (and most other peoples') needs, screams ROBOT to me. Obviously he's not a robot in the story, but he doesn't read plausible to me. Even his conflict (not having an ability) seems to be for Clio's or the plot's sake—for them to respond to/utilize.

Which brings me to my biggest complaint of the book: the plot-character-relationship didn't feel organic. I've read some great books that have character-driven plots, and I've read great books with plot-driven characters. Character-driven plots either involve a villain making hell for the protagonist who must grow and meet the challenge, or the protagonist continually makes decisions that sends him/her into challenging situations. A plot-driven character is one thrown into an impossible situation randomly (falling down a rabbit hole, in a zombie apocalypse, etc.) and must learn to cope with what's thrown at them. Either one makes for great literature if utilized properly.

Settling, however, seemed like the ending was written first and everything else needed to lead to that.

We need Boy to be alone at Point W - How do we accomplish that?
Make Girl and Boy have fight at Point U - About what?
Make Girl do something stupid at Point L - Out-of-Character moment, why?
Make Girl experience trauma at Point E - Explanation plausible.

I never felt like the character's actions naturally led to the next point, leading me to see everyone as either out-of-character, or acting implausibly. It irritated the hell out of me for easily the majority of the book.

Which brings me back to my point about Clio obviously needing therapy and receiving none. This is a military complex, not a public school, not a volunteer soup kitchen, a freaking military complex. They know about post traumatic stress. Why Clio didn't receive anything after the shooting in book one is beyond me, but that she had NO follow-up after the dead body, not even a debriefing is just plain negligent and bordering on implausible.

And speaking of implausible, I don't even know what to say about the "romance". Let me just include a couple snippets from the make-out scene:
Then, by none of my own volition, I abandoned my chair to meet him in his — uninvited maybe, but not unwelcome.
So this is why Eve was the slandered one, the seductress, I thought. That first taste of him, like the first bite of the apple, was the drop that knocked down the floodgates. And in that same instant I knew there was no going back, that nothing could stop the wave I was riding. He stopped fighting and met me at its crest, joined me in the us.
[Settling, Location 1892-1901 in Kindle ARC]
After the extremely tame cuddling and single kiss in Solid, not to mention the fairly innocent cuddling earlier in the book, I was neither expecting nor prepared for this interlude. And that's not even half of what's there.

I know I haven't touched on the majority of the plot, or the mystery therein, but I'm sorry to say it felt bogged down by all the aforementioned problems. The mystery plot really wasn't all that bad, but similar to the previous book, it showed up and starred primarily at the end, with absolutely no clues leading to the big reveal. Clio's inner struggle was the lead for the majority of the book and, once the pesky murder thing is solved, it's straight back to her at the end.

Ultimately the book didn't work for me. It's the second in a trilogy, but that doesn't give it the excuse that it doesn't have to stand alright on its own, and it really really didn't. Clio's story lacks the beginning-middle-end structure it needed, and the ending suffered greatly for it. If I wasn't already wow'd by book one, and if book three wasn't already the predetermined ending, Settling would be the end for me. I feel like I'm settling for Settling, just because Solid was good and Sound should have a big bang for the finale.

Overall, I can only recommend Settling for those who enjoyed its predecessor and are looking to finish the trilogy with Sound's upcoming release. It's still in the YA Sci-Fi/Romance category, though I'd recommend the age-range of the series be bumped up to late high school. Language and gore are consistent with the previous installment, but the romance/sex has gone up considerably and is geared toward more mature readers. I do plan on checking out Sound pending its upcoming release Summer 2012, and I dearly hope it gets better, not only in plot, but for poor Clio too!

Approximate Reading Time: 4.5 hours

Disclaimer: I received this ARC from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.